[TBT] William Wallace, Epic Adventures, and THE Book of My Childhood

[TBT] William Wallace, Epic Adventures, and THE Book of My Childhood

(Okay, first off: I know it’s supposed to be Throwback Thursday, but, hey, it works!)

For no reason in particular, I happen to be reading a lot about Scotland right now. As I’ve chronicled in recent “6 Things” posts, two books named Scotland happened to be lined up side by side on my shelf. I’m about a third of the way into the massive 700+ pages of the second, which means I’ve spent the week reading about William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and the Scottish Wars for Independence.

I know: everybody loves this stuff. But for me, it goes beyond fascination to serious nostalgia.

The Scottish Chiefs

My family was totally not a reading family, but one day when I was nine or ten, my dad happened to bring home a great big book called The Scottish Chiefs. It was 500 pages in its own right, written in 1810, and gorgeously illustrated by the great N.C. Wyeth. My dad started reading it to my siblings and me.

Scottish Chiefs NC Wyeth

My younger brothers and sister lost interest pretty quickly. But I was hooked. I have incredibly vivid memories of curling up beside him on the couch, reading along as he read aloud.


6 Things That Have My Attention This WeekAs I’m now reading Magnus Magnusson’s non-fiction account in Scotland, Jane Porter’s story comes back to me so strongly, it’s crazy. I still visualize all these historical personages through the lens of Wyeth’s illustrations. I’m still disappointed by the discrepancies between the truth and Porter’s highly romanticized version.

Behold the DawnWithout a doubt, this book was a huge influence on me. It had to have been the foundation for my own medieval novel Behold the Dawn (which is still my favorite of anything I’ve ever written). Its influenced my love of epic fantasy and larger-than-life heroes.

Ironically, when I finally got around to seeing Braveheart for the first time a few years ago, I loathed it for its egregious inaccuracies (prima nocta–puh-leese!).

It’s interesting, too, to revisit the facts of the story outside of the highly romanticized lens I viewed it through as a child.  Just in case you’re interested, here are the bare bones of the real story.

William Wallace & Robert the Bruce


Wallace started out as a twenty-six-year-old rabble-rouser, attacking the English out of “principle” and general hot-bloodedness. He was then stirred to fury by the murder of his young wife, at which point he swarmed through the country, gaining support. (Totally a guess, but he strikes me as an ESTP, via the Myers-Briggs personality typing system.)

He wasn’t tremendously strong in strategy; he needed the young nobleman Andrew Murray for that. He got lucky at the small-time Battle of Stirling Bridge, which surprisingly turned out to be a crucial turning point.

After the disaster at the Battle of Falkirk (which he arguably lost because Murray had previously died), he backed out of the limelight as Guardian of Scotland, but kept on raiding the English.

Seven years later, after King Edward of England finished completely subjugating Scotland, Edward promised leniency to other Scots (some exiled to France) if they would deliver him Wallace. Wallace was forty-five when he was executed.

Scottish Chiefs Jane Porter


Bruce grew up in the English-oppressed south of Scotland, which had been, essentially, politically subjugated to England. After Edward’s reversal of Wallace’s victories and his complete subjugation of Scotland–and after Wallace’s execution–Bruce decided to make a play for the throne.

It was a costly gamble. He got himself crowned king, which instigated another English reign of terror in Scotland. Seven times, he was defeated that first summer. He escaped (perhaps to the Hebrides Islands), but his brothers, sisters, wife, daughter, and supporters were captured, punished, and executed.

The next spring, he returned for another go at the the incensed Edward, who remained, perhaps foolishly, intractable toward Scotland. That last go, of course, would go down in history as the victorious Battle of Bannockburn.

One of these days, I’ll reread The Scottish Chiefs. I wonder if I will find it as melodramatic and incorrect as it probably is. Or will the old nostalgia rouse again? In the meantime, that same old much-loved volume from my childhood keeps its place of honor on my bookshelf.

Scottish Chiefs Jane Porter Shelfie

Let’s chat! What is the book you remember most vividly from your childhood? Tell me in the comments!

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  1. It’s very hard to narrow it down to just one, but here are a few of the books that made a big impression on me or I remember rereading a lot. They’re more of “kid’s books” than the Scottish Chiefs, so please don’t judge. 🙂
    Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
    The Ramona Books by Beverly Cleary
    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (like you, my dad read it to me, and then I read it on my own many times. I loved this book so much- what can I say, I adore wordplay.)
    The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (first read it when I was seven years old, and finished when I was eight. I wanted to start The Lord of the Rings right after I finished. Let’s just say it took me a while to finish that one. :))
    D’Aulaire’s books of Norse and Greek myths
    The Redwall and Castaways of the Flying Dutchman books by Brian Jacques. (I was a bit older when I started these, but I zoomed through them. My older brother was a huge fan and had them all, so I would finish my schoolwork early and grab the next Redwall book off his shelf to speed through before bedtime. Now, I’m aware that Jacques is under fire for “recycling plots”, but when you write plots that good, how can you resist reusing them? Plus, when you consider he was working as a milkman when he wrote Redwall and most likely had little writing instruction…)
    I think that’s about it. I was a voracious reader as a child (still am), so this list could go on forever, but I will stop before I think of anything else.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      I used to read the Redwall books aloud to my siblings–and do all the accents. The moles, in particular, were fun. 😉

      • My brother read Lord Brocktree aloud to me. His “Eulalias” were really loud, and he always stopped in the worst places! But he did a great job with the accents.

  2. Intriguing post. Starting out with Scotland is amazing for a child. Sidebar, but is his name really Magnus Magnusson? He could be a roman emperor.

    My childhood favorite was THE one and only, Incredible Hulk. Yep. The great big green guy. Epic! Read a lot of comics back then. I read others like Berenstain bears, Shel Silverstein and the awesome Dr. Seuss.
    Besides comics, I read the Sunday funny cartoon section. Dennis the Menace, Better or Worse, Garfield etc. But the Hulk takes the cake for the most admirable. He’d beat me to a pulp if I didn’t. ?

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Yep, that’s really his name! He’s Icelandic, actually.

    • Hmmm, I don’t like the rubbish the book you loved as a child, but I would seriously question the accuracy of the accounts it gves about Bruce and Wallace. We know almost nothing about Wallace from contemporary sources, and there is no evidence for the murder of his wife.
      If fact, I think I read that the first time he appears, its him who was in trouble for violence or brawling or some such.

      Also, Robert the Bruce’s family had strong connections with England and held land in Essex, his father retired there, and Bruce jr himself spent time in England as a youth, and I think was even a retainer of Edward I at one point. We have to be very careful about putting the figures from this period into ‘Scottish’ and ‘English’ boxes, as many of them don’t fit neatly into them. Many of the Scottish nobles were of Norman descent, not ‘Celtic’.

      • K.M. Weiland says:

        Oh, totally. Scottish Chiefs is maybe only sightly more accurate than Braveheart. But it’s still a good story!

  3. Mirkwood says:

    I too read the Redwall books growing up and have always loved them. Another author who I really liked when I was little and who still holds up now is Marguerite Henry. I devoured her horse books, and she was one of the few writers who could write for kids and keep the story meaningful. I read a lot growing up, but Brian Jacques and Marguerite Henry are the two who I remember liking the most, and still like now.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Two of my favorites! I read Henry a lot when I was young and in the grip of my horse-crazy phase. Jacques came a little later, early teens or so, when my siblings discovered him.

  4. Like Mirkwood, I loved Marguerite Henry’s books. I must have taken King of the Wind out of our library 80 times. My mother finally bought me a copy for Christmas, and I still re-read it. My other favorite of Henry’s was White Stallion of Lipizza. I also loved The Scottish Chiefs, and immediately put a copy on my Kindle.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Ah, yes, I King of the Wind was one of my favorites. The illustrations were so gorgeous. I’d forgotten all about that book! Thanks for reminding me. 🙂

  5. Not to mention kilts were not worn in that time period either, the battle of Stirling Bridge non existent, and a host of many other problems… yet, I loved the movie – it just should’ve been created as a fictional character though and inspired by Wallace. But I don’t think whatsoever, there has ever been a completely factual account from history to screen, much less from novel to screen. Hollyweird always has their own versions… That includes the comic book genre as well…

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      It’s true. Gladiator is one of my all-time favorite movies, and it is decidedly *un*-historical.

  6. Garrett says:

    Hmm, that’s very interesting about Scotland. I had no idea Braveheart was so inaccurate, but I had a feeling it wasn’t 100% true either (I mean, come on, it’s a stylized movie). I do really like Braveheart though, especially the early dream (prophecy) scenes. Then I realized Gibson hasba version of these in EVERY picture he’s directed in one form or another.
    Anyway! As far as book from my childhood, I’m not sure. I remember the Alien ate my Teacher series, the Bernstain Bears (ha! Have you heard the controversy over this?), and the Mouse on the Motorcycle! Those were fun years. Although, my parents didn’t encourage reading either and now I have a lot of catching up to do!

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Yeah, Braveheart is pretty egregious historically. I’m not sure why it bothered me so much when movies like Gladiator don’t. The score and the cinematography are fabulous though.

  7. Since you are reading about Scotland lately, I have to tell you about my favorite childhood books. They were written by Sally Watson, and she wrote about Scotland. The Witch of the Glen’s, The Hornet’s Nest, and Highland Girl were all about Scotland during the 45′ and the English Civil War. I blame her for my fascination with Scottish History, and most of my books having something to do with Scotland. Otherwise, I read everything…All the Betsy-Tacy books, to Heny’s books, to K.M. Peyton, who wrote the Flambards series. Loved them.


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