Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Bows and Arrows

‘Bows and Arrows’ in literature is the topic of this week’s Guardian Review ‘Ten of the Best’ column, in which (among others) Homer’s Odysseus, George Eliot’s Gwendolen Harleth and the Tolkienian Elf Legolas all feature by virtue of the memorable quality of their marksmanship.

I would be inclined to add a few more instances from Morris and his contemporaries. Felix Aquila, in Richard Jeffries’s After London (1885), is rather shamefaced about his awesome prowess with the bow, since in the post-apocalyptic feudal society he inhabits it is the sword alone which is considered the noble aristocratic weapon. From Morris’s own copious oeuvre, A Dream of John Ball gives us in its opening Kentish battle a spectacular lesson in the power of ‘one of the most terrible weapons which a strong man has ever carried, the English long-bow and cloth-yard shaft’ (ch.V); and the most gifted of all Morrisian archers, who are surely worthy of comparison with Tolkien’s elvish marksman, are the bowmen of the Woodlanders and the Wolf in The Roots of the Mountains, ‘huntsmen, cragsmen, and scourers of the Waste; men who could shoot the chaffinch on the twig a hundred yards aloof’ (ch.43).

Plenty of archery in Morris, then. I’ve occasionally wondered what the William Morris Society might look like if it modelled its activities and fellowship, not on its hero’s craft or political practices, but rather on the fictional world of his late romances. Might we all then be reaching for our longbows for a spot of target practice with the butts in the fields around Kelmscott manor?


Tony Pinkney said...

As an afterthought, I wonder if we would welcome the presence of the sport of archery in 'News from Nowhere' itself. It might have played a role there a bit like the controversial 'war-games' of Ernest Callenbach's 'Ecotopia', i.e. as affording a benign outlet to impulses of rivalry that might otherwise turn socially nasty (and which lead in Morris's utopia to sexual jealousy and manslaughter).

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

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Thomas Venney said...


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