Re: High King's Hall and Hearth

From: John Hughes <nysalor_at_...>
Date: Sun, 14 Mar 2004 12:52:11 +1100

Nice Oliver.

I have a bit of a literary theme to apply to the hall and hearth. It comes from my reading about comitatus (Anglo Saxon hero bands) and applying this to the Heortling situation, extending the ideas I floated in Thunder Rebels and taking note of the evolving role of the hero band in Heortling society. This will probably surface as an article in Thunder Brothers.

Briefly, though, in Beowulf and other heroic verse, you have the concept of the anti-hall - the place that is the opposite of the hall and its values in every way. The best example of this is Grendel's lair.

Now while hearth is certainly not anti-hall, I can see a tension and oppositional character between the two, especially as hero bands and their claims to a loyalty not based on kin and clan become more important. Its something I'd like to develop and emphasise in Whitewall, and may be the way to build a sympathetic rendering of Scathach, Broyan's unloved and unloving wife, current Hearthmistress of the King's household.

The Hall is for warriors. It's language is of warfare, and valour, and reputation, its values are bravery and generosity. It is largely a closed, elite, male realm, an extroverted domain of boasting, drinking and competitive oath-making. Entry is restricted. The king is its centre and focus, his warband guest warriors, and hero bands are its denizens. It is the place for building relationships between kings and clans, for the making of treaty and battle plans, for the planning of heroquests and extraordinary rituals. Skalds help maintain this ethos with songs of epic valour and praise. Its drink is mead, and meat is its food. Its currency is the gift (torc, jewellery, swords, weapons, cloaks, horses, gold, silver) and this is returned by oaths of loyalty and promises of valour. Kinship is less important than direct loyalty to the king or hero band leader.

The hearth stands in strong contrast. It is for kin. The hearth is a female realm, open, egalitarian, overseen by females, a place of cooking and sleeping and caring for children. People can relax there. The running of a stead or city may be planned there, but in a consultative, and inclusive way. The Hearthmistress overseas the activities of junior wives, and organises the care of children and the old. Stories are told around the hearth, but are as likely to be myths and farming tips and clan histories and childrens' rhymes as valour tales. It is the place of kin, the place for building bloodline bonds. It is the place for organising household and stead activities, for planning matches, stock breeding and everyday rituals. Its drink is ale, its food is pottage. Its currency is reciprocal giving of time and labour, and this is reciprocated through strong bonds of kinship. Kinship and marriage bond are what is valued here.

This is not an absolute opposition of course, especially in a place like Whitewall. But it is a dramatic tension I'd like to explore in developing some of the main character relationships, especially between Broyan, Scathach, and the mothers of his children.



nysalor_at_...                              John Hughes

To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration  To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions covering  To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination. - William Blake.

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