Wyrd reading – Other writers on wyrd

Probably the best-known writer on wyrd is Brian Bates, whose seminal The Way of Wyrd – a scholarly presentation dressed up in a fictional guise – was first published by Century in 1983 (ISBN 0-7126-0493-6). It’s a good story, a ‘good read’; the only practical problem is that because it’s set strictly in its ‘correct’ historical period – ‘Dark Ages’ Britain – it’s often difficult to translate its ideas into a modern context.

Brian Bates’ subsequent foray into the wyrd arena, The Wisdom of the Wyrd (Rider paperback, 1996, ISBN 0-7126-7277-X), is also well-written, but perhaps less rather than more useful in a modern context, because it focusses primarily on the mythology of wyrd, from the original Nordic and Anglo-Saxon sources such as ‘Beowulf‘ and the ‘Prose Edda‘. He does attempt to apply this to ‘the concrete jungle’: “What I believe we can learn from the wisdom of the Wyrd is the essence of the deeper aspects of the relationship between people and nature which our forebears experienced. It is in these deeper aspects that the implications of their world view, developed in their environment of forests and glades, has relevance for our lives in the concrete jungles of our cities.” But somehow it doesn’t seem to work: the magic just isn’t there – his mind needs a fictional format to reach deeper into the heart and soul of wyrd, perhaps?

One academic writer who has managed to reach into the heart of wyrd is Bryan Branston: his magnificently-illustrated The Lost Gods of England (Thames & Hudson, 1957/1974; ISBN 0-500-11013-1) captures the full complexity and depth of wyrd within its Anglo-Saxon context, yet somehow manages to bring it to life – and relevance – in the present day. The book is almost certainly out of print, but it’s well worth chasing up if you have more than a passing interest in early English or northern-European history.

As with Bates’ The Way of Wyrd, many wyrd concepts can be portrayed most easily in fiction. Much of the ‘sword and sorcery genre’ depends on wyrd for its underlying motif – Katherine Kerr’s ‘Deverry’ stories are good examples. But one of the best is Marion Campbell’s The Dark Twin (Turnstone/Club Leabhar, 1976; ISBN 085500-005-8), which explores wyrd and geis (see Wyrd and Fate), and the way in which can find ourselves almost trapped within an historical archetype with extraordinary intensity and clarity. Even the origin of the book itself was somewhat wyrd, and seemed almost to write itself, as Campbell herself commented: “Usually, when I am writing children’s adventure stories, I surround myself with timetables and factual notes; with this one, I floundered through the débris of a cutting-room floor from which there coiled up fragments of scenes and snatches of unintelligible dialogue”. (Much the same process happens often in a musical environment – see Wyrd Music.) ‘Unintelligible’ though it may have seemed at the time, it does work as a whole: the book is now long out of print, but well worth finding in your local library.

No mention of wyrd fiction would be complete without a mention of that very English master of weirdness, Terry Pratchett. For any student of wyrd, his ‘Discworld’ novels, together with Good Omens (co-authored by Neil Gaiman) are an absolute must. Pratchett manages to bring together a delightfully wry and bawdy sense of humour and a masterful eye for the quirkiness of Reality Department and combine them with occasionally startling insight – seen, for example, in a throwaway line by Death (one of the regular Pratchett characters) in Soul Music, that “some shadows are so long, they arrive before the light”. If you haven’t already discovered Pratchett, you’re in for a treat… and some excellent ideas about the nature of wyrd which, whatever he may have originally intended, certainly do make sense in practice.

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