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  The Legend of Snorro the Dwarf

Snorro at the Dwarfie Stane: Illustration by Sigurd TowrieThe tale that follows is not found in "common" Orkney folklore but I chanced across it as a child in a book of fairytales.

It is certainly based on an episode recounted within the Orkneyinga Saga, concerning the Earls Paul the Silent and Harald Smooth-Tongue, the sons of Earl Hakon, the murderer of St Magnus.

There is no mention in the saga version of the Lady Morna, who it would appear, has been added at a later date to provide the "love interest" common in all good fairy stories. The Countess Fraukirk, on the other hand, is a variant of "Frakkok", Harald's aunt and sister to Helga Moddan's-daughter, Hakon's mistress.

There is no mention either of the tales main character, the evil dwarf Snorro. Although the episode involving the poisoned shirt does appear in the saga, in it we are left to wonder about the origin of the poisoned material.

To read the Orkneyinga Saga's Version of the events, click here.

Ward Hill's mythical gemstone

One element found within the tale that parallel's local folklore is the existence of an "enchanted carbuncle" - a mythical gemstone found somewhere on the slopes of Ward Hill. For more details of this legend, see the page dealing with the Dwarfie Stane.

I suspect what we have here is a variant or retelling of the old Orkney tale that has made its way to the Scottish mainland, possibly with migrating Orcadians, where, over time, elements of history were mixed with pure fantasy to produce the fairy-tale we have today.

In the original version of the fairy-tale there are some incorrect references made that would not appear had this version been recorded by an Orcadian - for example, the story referring to "Pomona" as a "place on the mainland". "Pomona" is actually an erroneous other name used on maps to represent the entire Orkney Mainland. Click here for more details of this.

The derivation of "Wart" as in "Wart Hill" is also incorrect - see origin of Ward Hill placenames in the sidebar of the Wideford Hill cairn page for more details - although this was indeed once the name of Hoy's "Ward Hill".

Click here to read The Tale of Snorro the Dwarf.

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