23 February 2015

The Lewis Chessmen and What Happened To Them

This is the story of an extraordinary discovery and a great adventure. That it was experienced by The Lewis Chessman, which were found on the north side of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 1831, makes it even more intriguing. 

Delicate and intricately carved from walrus ivory, it is not known how the Chessmen came to be where they were found. The exact story of their discovery ‘has been lost.’ It is believed they were manufactured in Norway, dated around 1150 AD.

Their adventure forms a sequence of events; found, sold, separated and reunited- after 162 years. Most of four sets of Chess pieces ‘plus a few extra pieces with rather a shortage on pawns’, their reunion took place in 1993 at a special exhibition of Chessmen at the British Museum in London.

This is an amazing story of historical significance and a rare subject to read about. It is told in a strong third person narrative. The personifying of the Chess pieces allows them to have opinions, feelings and the use of all their senses. This device makes the telling of the story personal and immediate.

The language is scintillating and highly entertaining like exchanged conversation in an English parlour of the 1800s. It’s a fascinating read and will undoubtedly lead to further reading about the subject. It is a thin book, but I see it as a valuable addition to any book lover’s collection.

The Lewis Chessman and What Happened to Them is also available on CD, read by David Attenborough, from the British Museum Press, with the same ISBN number.

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Title: The Lewis Chessmen and What Happened to Them
Author: Irving Finkel
Illustrator: Clive Hodgson
Publisher:  Thames & Hudson
Publication Date: May 2014 $9.95 RRP
 Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780714123240
Type:  Historical

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