832)The Lady of the Lake
by Sir Walter Scott (1771
– 1832)
Type of Work:
Romantic metrical poem
Sixteenth-century Scotland
Principal Characters
James Douglas, outlawed uncle of the Earl
of Angus
Ellen Douglas, his daughter (The Lady
of the Lake)
Roderick Dhu, a rebel Highland chief of
Clan Alpine, and protector of the Douglas’s
Allan-bane, the Douglas’ minstrel and
devoted servant
James Fitz-James, a Saxon Lowlander Knight
Malcolm Graeme, Ellen’s young love
Story Overveiw
James Fitz-James, a Saxon knight from
Stirling Castle, became lost as he hunted in the Highlands. Sounding his
horn, he was rescued – not by his comrades, but by Ellen Douglas, who,
with her father, lived at Loch Katerine under the protection of her Highlander
cousin, Roderick Dhu. Although the men were away, Fitz-James was taken
in and extended Highland hospitality. It disturbed Fitz-James that this
girl bore such a resemblance to members of the hunted Douglas clan. Nevertheless,
he was smitten by Ellen’s beauty and kindness and dreamed of her as he

On the next morning Fitz-James left the
island with a guide. Later, Roderick and Douglas returned home from their
separate journeys, Douglas accompanied bv young Malcolm Graeme. Roderick,
a fierce, plundering, middle-aged warrior, hoped to i-narry Ellen, both
because he loved her and because their marriage would unite Clan Douglas
with Clan Alpine to create a powerful political force. Although Ellen appreciated
Roderick’s protection, she was frightened by his manner and had set her
heart on Malcolm Graeme, her first suitor, whom Roderick despised. When
Roderick extended his marriage proposal to her in the company of all, Malcolm
detected Ellen’s deep disquiet, but before he could speak, her father interceded,
explaining tactfully that such a union would be a political misalliance;
Roderick was a sworn enemy of the King, while he, Douglas, in spite of
his outlawed status, still loved his monarch.

The great chieftain hated the King and
could not understand Douglas’ loyalty. Now his disappointment at losing
Ellen rose to intensify Roderick’s anger. He sent out a terrible signal
– a fiery cross summoning his Clan Alpine to war. As the cross was carried
over the rocky highlands, all the clansmen rallied to support their chieftain.

Roderick now petitioned Brian the Hermit to use his magic to give him an
augury for the forthcoming battle. The oracle read: “Which spills the foremost
foeman’s life that party conquers in the strife.” Roderick was reassured,
for Clan Alpine had never fought but they were the first to kill a foe.

Meanwhile, before setting out for Stirling
Castle to give himself up in hopes of averting war, Douglas had conducted
his daughter, with the minstrel Allan-bane as her escort, to the safety
of a wilderness cave. Ellen knew her father’s intentions: , He goes to
do what I had done,/ had Douglas’ daughter been his son!” There the refugees
were found by James Fitz-James, returning to see if he could persuade Ellen
to accompany him to Stirling Castle. Ellen was dismayed. Hadn’t Fitz-James
seen the preparations for war, the hills alive with Roderick’s men? No,
the Saxon replied. The countryside had appeared quite serene. But this
was the surest sign of danger, said Ellen; the wily Roderick’s troops must
already have him surrounded. She promised to help him escape, though she
confessed that her heart belonged to Malcolm Graeme. The knight remained
determined to help her save her father, however. He presented her with
a ring from the Saxon royalty, saying that it would help her in her journey
through Lowland territory and gain her an audience with King James.

Fitz-James departed, still following his
guide, Red Murdoch. Soon they came upon Blanche, a poor, crazed woman living
in the wilds. Long ago, on her wedding day, Clan Alpine had captured her
and killed her bridegroom. From his green hunting attire, Blanche recognized
Fitz-James as a fellow Lowlander. In a cryptic song she warned him to beware
of Murdoch. The knight, acknowledging this warning, drew his sword just
as the guide discharged an arrow from his bow. But the shaft missed its
true target and felled the poor old woman. After chasing down and slaying
the treachtrous Murdoch, Fitz-James returned to dying Blanche, who gave
him a broach made of a lock of her dead sweetheart’s hair, with the charge
to seek out Clan Alpine’s Roderick Dhu and avenge her pitiful life.

The Saxon set out, stealthily picking his
way through the undergrowth. Many hours later he stumbled upon a lone knight
from Clan Alpine, bound by the same code of honor as he. The enemies shared
food and a campfire,