Nathan (vovat) wrote,

These Boots Were Made for Walkin' Seven Leagues

Since suegypt requested a post on seven-league boots, I might as well tackle them now. Fantastic literature is full of shoes with magical transportation properties, including Hermes' winged sandals, Jack the Giant-Killer's shoes of swiftness, and the Wicked Witch of the East's Silver Shoes. Seven-league boots, however, are a particular kind of magical footwear that, in one stride, will take the wearer...well, seven leagues, which is the same as twenty-one miles. Why this distance? Well, the Wikipedia article suggests that it was traditional for a horseback messenger to change horses every seven leagues, meaning that was the only time that their boots would touch the ground. Certainly an intriguing idea, but this could easily be one of those origin stories that everyone repeats but that turns out to most likely be bunk, like "Ring Around the Rosie" being about the plague or "the whole nine yards" having something to do with machine guns. Anyway, seven-league boots make appearances in several European fairy tales, and still show up from time to time in more recent literature. There's a pair in Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle, and Howl's assistant Michael tells Sophie that a single step will actually only take a person three and a half leagues. Terry Pratchett's Discworld series plays on the idea of seven-league boots, saying that they're no longer in use by the wizards there because of the strain that walking seven leagues at once will put on the human body, particularly in the groin area. I think I'll stick to magic carpets, thank you!

Tags: books, discworld, fairy tales, mythology

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