The Lewis Chessmen

I was just looking up “chess pieces” for reasons completely unrelated to my research, and stumbled across an interesting bit of Harry Potter trivia: the chessmen which Harry and Ron use in the The Philosopher’s Stone movie, at Christmas when they’re playing in the great hall, are replicas of a famous chess set, the Lewis Chessmen, a group of twelfth-century chess pieces that was found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. They are mostly made of walrus ivory (I didn’t even know such a thing existed), and there are seventy-eight of them, so not just one set but a number of them (the fact that there are eight kings and queens each would already point to that idea). Nobody really knows where the chessmen are from or whom they belonged to, but there is strong reason to believe that they might have come from Trondheim, in Norway; so they possibly were part of a trader’s stock and meant to be sold off somewhere in Scotland or England.

Not that any of it matters, really; I just thought it was interesting that Ron’s Wizard’s Chess Set in the movie is “real”. However, I very much doubt that the Lewis Chess Queens are prone to smashing defeated bishops into shards with their chairs when they’re taking them. If I ever make it to the British Museum to see them for real, I’ll be sure to check them closely for signs of violence.

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