While in previous posts about the Rollright Stones, I’ve reviewed the archaeology and folklore of the monuments, and the folk practice of chipping away stone from the King’s Man. I’ve also dealt with the contemporary art of the King’s Men and the dancing fairies sculpture, as well as the recent/present-day votive practices (offerings of coins, flowers, ribbons and also the memorial benches) at the Rollright Stones ceremonial complex in Oxfordshire/ Here, I want to briefly update my thinking about the Whispering Knights as stones that conspire and fossilise inaudience conversations through their form, texture and proximity.
Originally a Neolithic dolmen, perhaps a portal dolmen, the folklore anthropomorphises them. On New Year’s Day, the stones go down to the brook ‘to drink’: so apparently they need sustenance. In a related story, the stones are the fossilised bodies of five knights who were plotting against their king before a witch turned them to stone. Or were they in prayer? It’s unclear why, if the knights were conspiring, the witch would bother to do this, having turned the king himself (The King’s Stone) and his men (the stone circle known as the King’s Men) to stone. Who knows why witches do this stuff? Perhaps that is one question too many…
The idea that they speak to us, as well as to each other, is told in another local tale: that women can ‘hear’ them as an oracle if they climb upon them.
I guess the narrative embodies multiple aspects to their appearance:
- As with the other stones, each stone is a person, fossilised long ago. In particular weather conditions, they might appear as figures from a distance, notably from the road;
- They are set apart, downslope and to the east of the rest of the megaliths, and therefore it might be taken they are are off-stage: conspiring in the wings of the main drama;
- Their upright nature of three, and the close proximity of all five, make them appear ‘huddled’ together, in communion regarding matters out of earshot of viewers. They are thus frozen in their act of conspiracy: their secrecy revealed and their treachery on show for all to see for all time.
As mentioned previously, the fenced enclosure creates the opportunity for votives to be thrown onto them and not to be so readily retrieved: as with holy wells, coins are being tossed into a basin-like area on one of the recumbent stones.
So the Whispering Kinghts are the focus of a cluster of stories and practices linked to their inaudible vocality and lithic personality.
Has anyone talked about this trio of uprights as the possible inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s fossilised trolls in The Hobbit, who then make an appearance as statues in The Fellowship of the Ring? As well as the similarity in number – three knights, three trolls – the trolls in The Hobbit are – like the Whispering Knights – also fossilised under the agency of a magician (indirectly and male in the case of Tolkien). Also, the trolls were fossilised for talking too much: being engrossed in dialogue as they are turned to stone, just like the Whispering Knights. Now I come to think of it, the pitted texture of the stones could be readily seen as more trollish than knightish… In any case, I’m not saying Tolkien copied the folklore, but the anthropomorphised and in-dialogue close proximity of the three uprights of the five Whispering Knights might have taken his mind in a path away from knights and towards trolls.
I suspect someone has already noted these points… If no one else has thought of this possibility, you’ve heard it here first!