*Greece. An unnamed Greek island is the place where the wanderers and city elders gather to tell stories, after one of the elders encourages the Norsemen to recount their adventures. The hosts tell stories from classical mythology, many with specific sites, such as “Atalanta’s Race” in the Arcadian woods, “Pygmalion and the Image” in Cyprus, “The Love of Alcestis” in Thessaly, “The Story of Acontius and Cydippe” in Delos, “The Golden Apples” on a ship from Tyre, and “Bellerophon at Argos.”
*Norway. Native country of the Norse wanderers, who originally sailed away from it to escape a pestilence—a terrifying example of the fear of death that is their impetus for seeking the Earthly Paradise. The wanderers’ stories derive from Norse and other medieval tales and reflect William Morris’s admiration for Icelandic sagas and the Norsemen’s skilled craftsmanship, courage, and endurance. Places in the Norsemen’s tales include mythic lands in “Ogier the Dane” and “The Fostering of Aslaug,” an identified dreamland in “The Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” and Laxdaela in “Lovers of Gudrun,” a chivalric episode from the historical saga.
*England. Morris’s inspiration for this collection of tales was Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400), and England’s King Edward III represents something of his idealized view of the precapitalist world of the Middle Ages. The force that drives Morris in The Earthly Paradise is a feeling of despair and hatred for the contemporary Victorian world, with its troubles and cares. Morris sees himself as a dreamer of dreams of other times. The lyrics in The Earthly Paradise that introduce each monthly section of tales record seasonal changes and describe the English landscape.
Earthly Paradise. Imaginary place that is the object of the Norse wanderers’ desperate and hopeless quest, a place that evokes a mood that swings from melancholy to sensuous ease. Morris’s poem was enormously popular when it was published, probably because it offered a refuge from the ugliness, drabness, and tedium of industrial life in nineteenth century England.