The House of the Wolfings is a pseudo-history about the men of the Mark (yes, that’s what they call it) in their fight against the invading Romans. In particular it follows Thiodolf, the leader of the Wolfing house. He is the most beloved of the people and their greatest warrior. Unbeknownst to his people, he loves and is loved by the Wood-Sun, the daughter of the gods. Their daughter is taken into the Wolfing house and Thiodolf “adopts” her as his own. She becomes the Hall-Sun, the maiden who is to tend the sacred lamp of the people.
News comes to the people of the Mark that there is an invading force that seeks to take their lands. As the men prepare for war, Thiodolf goes into to forest to see the Wood-Sun. She is afraid for his safety and begs him to wear a dwarf-made hauberk, despite the men’s tradition of going shirtless into battle. He is suspicious of the hauberk, knowing the dwarfs have no love for mankind, but she assures him it is safe.
What follows is the tale of the battles between the Marksmen and the Romans. The foes are nearly evenly matched, but the Marksmen are fighting for their lives and their homes, while the leaders of the Romans are fighting only for glory and wealth.
In the last critical battle, Thiodolf finally dons the dwarf-made hauberk and swoons on the battlefield. This happens twice more before he realizes that the hauberk is indeed cursed. The night before the final attack, he confronts the Wood-Sun and she confesses that she lied. He assures her that, though he loves her and always will, it is better for him to die in battle and save his kin than to live in shame for her sake.
It’s difficult to read this book and not think of the Rohirrim. Not only is the land called the Mark, but the speech and character of the people is very similar to that of the Rohirrim. The forest surrounding their dwellings is even called Mirkwood!
Even apart from the obvious influence this story had on Tolkien, it’s an enjoyable read. The battle scenes are well-written and the characters are interesting. A lot of detail is given regarding the land, the houses of the Mark, their histories, and even their marriage customs. It’s unusual to read such convincing world-building from a book written in 1889.
Tolkien referenced The House of the Wolfings when he addressed the influence that World War II had (or rather, didn’t have) on The Lord of the Rings.
Personally I do not think that either war (and of course not the atomic bomb) had any influence upon either the plot or the manner of its unfolding. perhaps in landscape. The Dead Marches and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme. They owe more to William Morris and his Huns and Romans, as in The House of the Wolfings or The Roots of the Mountains.
In reading this book, it’s hard to imagine that Morris influenced Tolkien only in relation to landscape. It is equally likely, of course, that Morris and Tolkien were both likely inspired by the same source material.
Where to Find
I originally bought this book on my Nook. However, the formatting is terrible (which is a common problem for older books on the Nook store). It’s particularly difficult for this book because at least a third of it is in verse.
The good news is there’s a LibriVox recording. Not all of the readers are amazing but I’ve heard worse. There is a woman with a German accent who I found particularly pleasing. While there were times I struggled a little to understand her pronunciation, I felt that her accent added to the realism of what I was hearing.
Photo Credit: Alejandro Escamilla