The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World
by Nancy Marie Brown
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2015
In the early 1800's, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: ninety-two game pieces carved of ivory and the buckle of the bag that once contained them. Seventy-eight are chessmen.
Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world.
Harry played Wizard's Chess with them in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Housed at the British Museum and the Scottisch National Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects.
Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where?
Nancy Marie Brown's Ivory Vikings explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games.
In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea-road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America.
The story of the Lewis chessmen explains the economic lure behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s.
And finally, it brings from the shadows an extraordinarily talented woman artist of the twelfth century: Margret the Adroit of Iceland.
Nancy Marie Brown is the author of highly praised books of nonfiction, including 'Song of the Vikings'. She reads Icelandic and Old Norse, and spends her summers in Iceland.
"The absorbing story of long-ago links between the British Isles and Scandinavia that puts the Lewis chessmen into a vivid and much broader cultural context of Viking trade, plunder and sophisticated gift-giving (..) An engaging, accessible tale.”
Marilyn Yalom, author of 'Birth of the Chess Queen':
"Erudite and accessible. Fascinating history for lovers of Old Norse society and chess."
The New Yorker:
"Full of exciting detective work, along with absorbing excursions into the history of the Vikings, of chess in the Middle Ages, and of walrus ivory (known as “arctic gold”)."