The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is a novel set in Thisby, a fictional island whose main town is called Skarmouth. The whole thing has a very Scottish or Irish feel, and the phrase capaill uisce (the bloodthirsty water horses) sounds very Gaelic. But, aside from the feel of the setting that anyone familiar with that part of the world can recognise, is there anything to indicate where in the world Thisby is located within the story? (Even given that it is in Scotland or Ireland, which one?)

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    While the Water Horse name is clearly Gaelic-esque, Thisby is more likely based in Norse, ‘by’ is something like farm/homestead and the first part denoted whose farm. Eg in Caithness ‘Duncansby Head’ is the headland of Duncan’s farm. So you need to look at areas of Norse influence as well as Gaelic. I’ve no knowledge of the book, but I wouldn’t rule out the Northumberland or North York’s coast with names like Whitby and Scarborough and places like Holy Isle and Farne Isles.
    – Spagirl
    Mar 24, 2021 at 20:49
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    I believe it's on the other side of the sea wall from Pyramus
    – verbose
    Mar 24, 2021 at 21:23

1 Answer 1


Well, I found the answer myself in an interview with the author. TL;DR: the location of Thisby is deliberately ambiguous but intended to evoke the idea of Scotland or Ireland.

That leads me to ask, is your island of Thisby in England? The setting felt vaguely North Atlantic but I couldn’t decide for certain.

Thisby doesn’t exist but I was going for quasi-Irish or Scottish. I wanted the reader to bring their own ideas about island culture to it so I left it deliberately vague. My editor [David Levithan] was sure it was off the coast of Maine, but I think that was because he had just been to Maine.

It's worth noting that not all aspects of the culture of Thisby are inspired by Scotland or Ireland. The annual event of the Scorpio Races quite possibly takes inspiration from the real-life (but much less bloody) annual event of the Chincoteague Island Pony Swim, featured in the award-winning novel Misty of Chincoteague which Maggie Stiefvater devoured as a child.

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