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The Water of the Wondrous  Isles
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The Water of the Wondrous Isles

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Author: William Morris
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 1971
Kelmscott Press, 1897
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

Stolen as a child and raised in the wood of Evilshaw as servant to a witch, Birdalone ultimately escapes in her captress's magical boat, in which she travels to a succession of strange and wonderful islands. Among these is the Isle of Increase Unsought, an island cursed with boundless production, which Morris intended as a parallel of contemporary Britain and a vehicle for his socialistic beliefs. Equally radical, during much of the first quarter of the novel, Birdalone is naked, a highly unusual detail in Victorian fiction. She is occasionally assisted out of jams by Habundia, her lookalike fairy godmother. She encounters three maidens who are held prisoner by another witch. They await deliverance by their lovers, the three paladins of the Castle of the Quest. Birdalone is clad by the maidens and seeks out their heroes, and the story goes into high gear as they set out to rescue the women. Ultimately, one lady is reunited with her knight, another finds a new love when her knight is killed, and the last is left to mourn as her champion throws her over for Birdalone.


Excerpt

Whilom, as tells the tale, was a walled cheaping-town hight Utterhay, which was builded in a bight of the land a little off the great highway which went from over the mountains to the sea.

The said town was hard on the borders of a wood, which men held to be mighty great, or maybe measureless; though few indeed had entered it, and they that had, brought back tales wild and confused thereof.

Therein was neither highway nor byway, nor wood-reeve nor way-warden; never came chapman thence into Utterhay; no man of Utterhay was so poor or so bold that he durst raise the hunt therein; no outlaw durst flee thereto; no man of God had such trust in the saints that he durst build him a cell in that wood.

For all men deemed it more than perilous; and some said that there walked the worst of the dead; othersome that the Goddesses of the Gentiles haunted there; others again that it was the faery rather, but they full of malice and guile. But most commonly it was deemed that the devils swarmed amidst of its thickets, and that wheresoever a man sought to, who was once environed by it, ever it was the Gate of Hell whereto he came. And the said wood was called Evilshaw.

Nevertheless the cheaping-town throve not ill; for whatso evil things haunted Evilshaw, never came they into Utterhay in such guise that men knew them, neither wotted they of any hurt that they had of the Devils of Evilshaw.

Copyright © 1897 by William Morris


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