Wayland: The Tale of the Smith from the North
This beautifully produced book is a retelling of the Norse and Germanic legend of Wayland the smith. The story is told in rhyming verse by award winning poet Tony Mitton, and it benefits from being read aloud. John Lawrence’s wonderful wood engravings are earthy and robust and bring the text vividly to life.
Wayland and his two brothers trick three swan maidens into marrying them by hiding their cloaks of feathers. Some years later, the women find the cloaks, turn back to swans and leave the brothers. Wayland’s brothers search for their wives, but the smith chooses to stay at his forge, certain he will be reunited with his wife in heaven. Word of Wayland’s great skill as a smith reaches greedy and powerful King Nidud, and the king captures, hamstrings and imprisons the smith on an island. Wayland is forced to produce fabulous treasures for Nidud and his family. He bides his time until the chance to take his revenge presents itself. He kills the king’s sons, and sleeps with the king’s daughter. He then makes a pair of wings and escapes from the island just as the king arrives to kill him.
This version of the legend differs from earlier ones in places. Originally, Wayland rapes the king’s daughter, but that detail is changed in Mitton’s version, perhaps to make it suitable for a younger readership. Even so, with its violence and adult themes, this is not a children’s picture book. This is an illustrated story for adults, though older children with an interest in history and legend might enjoy it.