The Lewis chessmen (or Uig chessmen, named after the bay where they were found) are a group of distinctive 12th-century chess pieces, along with other gaming pieces, most of which are carved from walrus ivory.
The British Museum claims the chessmen were probably made in Trondheim, Norway, in the 12th century, although some scholars have suggested other Nordic countries.
Discovered in 1831 on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, they may constitute some of the few complete, surviving medieval chess sets, although it is not clear if a set as originally made can be assembled from the pieces. When found, the hoard contained 93 artifacts: 78 chess pieces, 14 tablemen and one belt buckle. Today, 82 pieces are owned and usually exhibited by the British Museum in London, and the remaining 11 are at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
While the Perry Childermass uses the chessmen as a device for bringing about world peace, in reality the pieces were probably used much the way modern pieces are used. A number of replicas have been made, some are sold as souvenirs at the British Museum and a giant, wooden replica of the king stands near Uig beach.
- The pair of "giant Norse chessmen"-like statues guarding both ends of Bishop's Bowes Bridge resemble the chessmen, particularly the set's king piece with his sword resting on his lap (The Face in the Frost, 114).
- In Stone Arabia, Maine, Edmund Stallybrass drops a case he is carrying and chess pieces spill out on the ground:
- "The chessmen weren't the ordinary kind that you see in stores. They looked liked little men and women, with bug eyes and glum expressions on their faces. They were intricately carved from ivory, or maybe bone, and they looked as if they belonged in a museum" (The Chessmen of Doom, 36).
- Later Professor Childermass learns the British Museum in London was robbed recently and what was stolen? "Some of the little carved chessmen from the Isle of Lewis. They're eight hundred years old, and they're made from walrus tusks, and they were found in a sandbank on that lonely little island off the north-west coast of Scotland." (The Chessmen of Doom, 46-7). Knowing this, the professor is able to discover the reference to "pallid dwarves" in the poem left by his brother, Perry, is to the chessmen.
- Murgatroyd Freel publishes a leaflet that proposes the origins of the chessmen, including wondering if they were in the Great Pyramid or can be used to unlock the secrets of Stonehenge (The Chessmen of Doom, 153-4).