Border Legends of Scotland: Tales of magic and monsters

folklore. scotland. literature. novels. novelist. writing. stories. Image from Britannica

After writing about Sir Walter Scott, I had to track down the Border stories that inspired him to write great movements within literature, because, well, frankly, I think it’s  really cool. I mean, the Loch Ness monster counts as one and he’s pretty cool! Regardless, I found a few stories to share, and I think they give a bit of insight into some of the early writings of Sir Walter Scott, and other writers, too!

The Worm of Linton

The first story I thought I would tackle is The Worm of Linton. Here it goes: The Worm of Linton was a horribly massive worm-like creature that could breath fire and sprout wings and devour men whole and all sorts of other terrible things. It lived in Linton, Roxburghshire and was active around the 1100s. Apparently, it would terrorize farmers by eating their sheep and just being an all around murderous roustabout.

“Quite naturally, the people of Linton were thrown into a collective state of fear when the slithering thing decided to target their little village,” states Nick Redfurn in an article for Mysterious Universe. “People became petrified to leave their homes, lest they became the victims of the marauding beast.”

Then came John Sommerville.

Sommerville was looking for a little fame, was a bit too brave, but was of stout and resolute nature and was definitely an honorable man. So, he headed out to defeat the Worm of Linton for his own namesake and a little renown. Little did he know that what awaited him was truly an intemperate beast.

As states:

“When he arrived at the village he witnessed a scene as though some strange magic had made every villager disappear. The village did not look ransacked, it merely looked empty…still. The stillness was eerie…”

The town had emptied due to the horrible worm’s general aura, and they migrated to nearby towns that were less bedeviled by such an awful creature. After getting directions from a lone blacksmith, Sommerville traveled to the lair of the worm at sunset to kill it with a creatively crafted lance (thanks in part to his blacksmith chum).

“Fortunately, he did exactly that, by setting the spear aflame and plunging it into the throat of the monster, after seeking it out at Worm’s Den,” Redfurn writes. “The beast fought back, its wormy form writhng and turning and twisting violently atop the hill, but it was to no avail.”

The beast had been fell by Sommerville.

As for the brave man, his image was carved into the Linton Church, he was given a title, and the town was relieved of their worm for good. It’s definitely a story about a knight on a quest to defeat a dragon and I think it’s a great story.

The Brownie’s Coat

I think one of the most helpful-sounding creatures I’ve ever heard of is the Brownie. I think being so steeped in English lore and of East coast ghosts, we think not of spirits and monsters that are noble and good, but specters that haunt the hallways of castles and country-side estates. While it might be far-fetched to suggest that the Scottish Brownie is noble, it certainly does seem doting.

David White, writing for Folklore Scotland, kind of nails the appearance and lore of the Brownie when he writes:

“ … for while shaggy, short and unkept in appearance, quick to upset and generally opting to lurk in the darkness avoiding human company, they hold a certain endearing quality … some have drawn comparison between the brownie and the house elves of Harry Potter for like their novel counter parts, brownies too carry out chores for the family they care for and they too work in the shadows so as not to disturb the great family they served.”

Their relationship to the Scottish borders can be found in a story describing their subservient nature to the families that lived there. A popular story regarding the Brownie features an ailing wife (perhaps in the throes of sickness or in labor) who would not allow her husband to traverse a storm in the middle of the night to fetch the mid-wife and instead sent an errant servant who failed spectacularly in his task by not even attempting the voyage. The Brownie instead took it upon himself to venture to the town to ensure that he would have a well-kept home on his return (they are a bit selfish in their wants but proud of their work). He took along with him a large coat to keep him warm during his travels.

The Brownie did indeed return with the mid-wife and made sure to punish the errant servant with a flogging. Now, typically Brownies only care to be rewarded with food placed by the hearth, or food left in some location about the house, so its only mission was to see the family residing in the home alive and well so that it could reap the rewards of being a somewhat caring tenant. The man of the house, having heard of the Brownie’s good deed, gifted him a coat of his own and then the Brownie left—never to be heard from again.

Works Cited