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Extreme History

Battle Scene from Mel Gibson’s Braveheart

Talk about history: Scotland has had it. Think about how much mythmaking occurred when the Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. Well, Scotland was put through the mill by Perfidious Albion (England) for upwards of a thousand years—and they’re still chafing under the collar.

I am currently reading Nigel Tranter’s The Wallace about William Wallace’s revolt against English rule under Edward Longshanks (alias Edward I Plantagenet). It brings Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart (1995), though it is a much more detailed work about Wallace’s battles at Stirling Bridge (1297) and Falkirk (1298). We get to see in greater detail the treacherousness of the Scottish nobles, who were mostly in it for themselves.

Nigel Tranter (1909-2007)

Over his long career, Nigel Tranter wrote prolifically—not only the historical novels for which he is famous, but a five-volume history of the fortified house (read: castle) in Scotland, children’s books, novels set in the present day, and even Westerns. There is very little of the vast pageant of Scottish history that Tranter did not touch upon, from St. Columba and Kenneth MacAlpine and MacBeth to the present day.

To date, I have read about a score of his novels, hardly making a dent in his total opus. And not a single one of his books has been a stinker. I regard him as one of the best writers of historical novels who ever lived, and also the most vivid describer of battles throughout history. His description of Wallace’s victory at Stirling Bridge is so vivid that I didn’t feel that I needed a map to follow the action.

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