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Havelok the Dane: A Legend of Old Grimsby and Lincoln

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By: (1856-1913)

Troy, Athens, Rome... each has its founding legend. So too does the Lincolnshire town of Grimsby, once the largest fishing port in the world.

Havelok the Dane probably derives from a folk-tale, orally passed down before assuming written form - first in Anglo-Norman French, later in Middle English verse (c. 1280-1300). It tells of the rescue of the Danish prince from a wicked regent, who has tried to procure Havelok's murder. Grim the fisher, the appointed hit-man, thwarts the plan by spiriting the lad to England, where Grim settles with his family on the coast, adopting Havelok as his foster-son and naming the new community after himself.

C.W. Whistler's clever adaptation of the tale (published in 1899) draws on the various medieval sources. The English poem is particularly suited to 'novelisation'. It abounds in homely detail, and the hero's progress from half-dead waif to the triumphant fulfilment of his strength and kingly destiny makes a satisfying arc for the development of plot and character. At the same time, the legend's origins in oral performance are suggested through the choice of a first-person narrator, namely Grim's sober-sided son Radbard, whose plain-spoken account conveys something of the older saga tradition.

Our reader, the gifted Tony Foster, has worked and travelled in Scandinavia. His subtly-inflected narration brings a truly Nordic flavour to this re-creation of life in sixth-century Britain.

Since Charles Whistler published his novel, both Grimsby and its local heroes have been celebrated from time to time - by Elton John in his album Caribou (1974) and recently in a folk rock musical by local band Merlin's Keep (2014). (Introductory

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Havelok the Dane: A Legend of Old Grimsby and Lincoln.

By Charles W. Whistler


If any excuse is needed for recasting the ancient legend of Grim the fisher and his foster son Havelok the Dane, it may be found in the fascination of the story itself, which made it one of the most popular legends in England from the time of the Norman conquest, at least, to that of Elizabeth. From the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries it seems to have been almost classic; and during that period two full metrical versions one in Norman French and the other in English were written, besides many other short versions and abridgments, which still exist. These are given exhaustively by Professor Skeat in his edition of the English poem for the Early English Text Society, and it is needless to do more than refer to them here as the sources from which this story is gathered.

These versions differ most materially from one another in names and incidents, while yet preserving the main outlines of the whole history. It is evident that there has been a far more ancient, orally preserved tradition, which has been the original of the freely treated poems and concise prose statements of the legend which we have... Continue reading book >>

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