November’s Autumn Classics Challenge Prompt

November's AutumnI decided to do level 2 of this month’s prompt and I’m writing about the character Norna of Fitful-head. She appears in The Pirate by Walter Scott.

Level 2
How has the character changed? Has your opinion of them altered? Are there aspects of their character you aspire to? or hope never to be? What are their strengths and faults? Do you find them believable? If not, how could they have been molded so? Would you want to meet them?

Norna is a sort of prophetess/white witch of a character and as such she is held in high esteem by the inhabitants of the isles of Shetland, who also have a healthy fear of her because of her seemingly magical qualities. You can’t help but admire a woman who makes a good living by selling fair winds to sailors and anyone else who needs help. I suppose she’s a bit of a con woman really but there’s no real nastiness about her. She has just had to acquire her reputation as a way of surviving in a male dominated and harsh environment. I would have been quite happy to meet her.

She has had to put a lot of work into exploring the islands so that she knows all of the hiding places which were used by previous generations when Viking marauders came raiding, and she knows all of the short cuts, which means that the other islanders think she uses supernatural means of getting about as they don’t think she could possibly travel around so quickly otherwise.

At the beginning of the book Norna is living in a tower on a cliff, with a dwarf who is her servant, far away from anyone else.

Towards the end of the book we discover that as a young woman Norna had been an unmarried mother and her kinswomen had given her son to his father who had sailed away with him to Spain. She also believed that she had been the cause of her father’s death and the guilt had caused her to withdraw from normal life.

Years later Norna mistakes another young man for her son and her actions end up putting her real son in danger. When she discovers her mistake the shock changes her character completely. She refuses to answer to the name Norna which she had adopted and reverts to her real name Ulla Troil.

From the book:

“From that time Norna appeared to assume a different character. Her dress was changed to a simpler and less imposing appearance. Her dwarf was dismissed with ample provision for his future comfort. She showed no desire of resuming her erratic life; and directed her observatory, as it might be called, on Fitful-head to be dismantled. She refused the name of Norna and would only answer to the appellation of Ulla Troil. But the most important change remained behind. Formerly, from the dreadful dictates of spiritual despair, arising from the circumstances of her father’s death, she seemed to consider herself an outcast from divine grace; besides that, enveloped in the vain occult sciences which she pretended to practise, her study, like that of Chaucer’s physician, had been “but little in the Bible.” Now the sacred volume was seldom laid aside; and to the poor ignorant people who came as before to invoke her power over the elements, she only replied – ” The winds are in the hollow of His hand.”

I must admit I preferred the character of Norna but as The Pirate was first published in 1822 it probably wouldn’t have gone down very well with readers if Norna/Ulla didn’t have some sort of experience which caused her to become a good Christian woman again.

You can read my review of The Pirate here.

10 thoughts on “November’s Autumn Classics Challenge Prompt

  1. Very fascinating character! I love that she had a dwarf servant and knew all the short cuts around the island. It’s so sad that her son was taken away from her and sent to Spain- was that was a better life for him?

    • Anbolyn,
      Sadly it wasn’t really a better life for her son. Things would have been far better for him if he had stayed at home on Zetland. That’s meddling relatives for you!

  2. I have simply got to find time to read Sir Walter Scott. I was completely captivated by this: “…a woman who makes a good living by selling fair winds to sailors.”

    Your selection of Norna has fueled my passion to read Scott and soon.

    • Jane GS,
      I know isn’t it a great idea. Apparently the critics didn’t like The Pirate at all but it was very popular with the public. Scott’s writing is very wordy and dry at times but I’m going to try The Talisman next as that’s the one I gave up on when I was at school. I think his books are probably all slow to get going. I hope you enjoy whatever you choose to read.

    • Heather,
      Thanks for the comment. I must just warn you that The Pirate is quite slow to get going but it definitely has good bits and I liked the fact that the islanders still had some Norse customs. I don’t think she was supposed to have converted it was just that she had never truly left off being a Christian but had pretended to as she had to ply her trade as a Norse prophetess so she could earn a living. I see you’re a Viking moma. I’m from Viking stock myself!


    • Debbie,
      Thanks for the comment. All those and pirates too! It’s just a pity it’s a bit slow to get moving as I think a lot of readers nowadays would probably give up on it.


  3. How shocking that I haven’t read any of Scott’s books. I do have one on my iPad but as I hate reading on it I haven’t got round to it. I think I will try to this year as I love the sound of this one. Norna sounds like a fabulous character.

    • Karen,
      Thanks for dropping in. That was the first book by Scott which I managed to finish and I’m well used to reading classics. He’s worth giving a go even although The Pirate was a bit ‘curate’s eggish.’

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