A horned helmet was not required. It wasn’t just the skulls of their opponents that they drank from or the bodies of their dead that they burned (at least not very often). “Raiders vs. traders” is an argument that’s been going on for a long time, but I wanted to move beyond that in Beyond the Northlands.
Even while there was a lot of raiding and trading, the genuine Norse tale is far more complicated. From the Arctic wastes of the north to the vast empires of the south, it takes place on a global stage that reaches as far west as the edges of North America to the Russian steppes in the east. The Norse have left us a lot of information, but I wanted to dig deeper into how they saw the world, what they remembered, and what they imagined by reading the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Imaginative and bizarre characters abound in these tales, including time-traveling adventurers, man-eating trolls, poison-spewing dragons, and pagan gods dressed in risqué costumes. However, some of these stories take the form of heart-wrenching tales of familial strife or nail-biting political intrigue. Because of this, the Norse heritage has provided fertile ground for writers of various genres, inspiring tales of sex, bloodshed, and adventure in everything from action-packed historical novels to contemporary retellings of myths and comic books.
The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley
After being exiled from Iceland for murder, Erik the Red established up a colony on Greenland in 985. Though it lasted for centuries, the colony’s demise is still up in the air. Saga depicts life in Norse Greenland in the final decades of colonisation. Before I came upon this book, I had spent two summers in Greenland touring Norse sites and learning about this period in Norse history. To my surprise, reading The Greenlanders gave me a new perspective on what it must have been like to live in a community on the brink of extinction.
Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga edited by William Fitzhugh and Elizabeth Ward
As a result, it’s safe to say my edition of this book is “much loved,” with creased pages and dog-eared Post-it notes adorning nearly every page. It is organized into several parts: Viking Homelands; Raider; North Atlantic; America and Greenland; Norse Greenland and Legacy. This book is like traveling to the world’s best Viking museum display, but without the aching feet. It is packed with color images and graphics.
Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
In the city of Boston’s back alleys, Magnus Chase, an orphan, is an outcast. He is also the son of the pagan god Frey, and will spend eternity in the Hotel Valhalla following his death. First in a series of young adult novels, readers don’t need any knowledge of Norse mythology to enjoy this one. Njord, the sea god, is portrayed as a hipster with a love for microbreweries in Riordan’s rewriting of old legends for a new generation: my favorite detail.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
American Gods is one of the best examples of Norse myths reinvented for the modern world. Immigration to the United States has resulted in a loss of faith in the gods and guardian spirits that immigrants brought with them. Ragnarok – the final battle in Norse mythology, where the gods must be destroyed – has arrived, and new deities have risen to take their place. He has a new book out this month titled, Norse Mythology.
Echoes of Valhalla: The Afterlife of the Eddas and Sagas by Jón Karl Helgason
Newly published, this is a fascinating look at how the tales and sagas of the Viking Age have been used in comic books, plays, music, and films over the years. In particular, there is a discussion of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and the emergence of the Viking metal subgenre (the strains of which can be heard coming from my office door when I need inspiration).
Ohthere’s Voyages edited by Janet Bately and Anton Englert
To be honest, the book’s title isn’t all that enticing, but it’s a collection of articles about my favorite Norsemen. An Arctic explorer and trader visited the Anglo-Saxon court of King Alfred at the end of the ninth century. According to him, his home was “furthest north among all the Northmen” and that he had a close relationship with the Sámi, who are today’s Sámi descendants. The sole real Norse voice from the ninth century, even if it is mediated via a different language, is Ohthere’s (Old English). An interesting aspect of Norse history that most people aren’t aware with is trading and tribute-taking in the Arctic.
The Long Ships by Frans G Bengtsson translated by Michael Meyer
In this classic Viking adventure epic, published more than 70 years ago, historical fiction is at its best. Orm Tostesson, a stoic hero, compassionate lover, and incurable hypochondriac, stars in this psychologically deep, unexpectedly humorous work. Muslim Spain, Kievan Rus and Viking-ravaged England as well as Denmark on the verge of converting to Christianity are just some of the places where the action takes place.
Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas by Sabine Baring-Gould
Onward Christian Soldiers and The Book of Were-Wolves are two of Baring-best-known Gould’s works, although he also had a strong interest in the Old Norse-Icelandic sagas, like many educated Victorians. To “study the famed in saga settings,” in 1862, he rode across Iceland on horseback, aged 28. In his travelogue, he retells the sagas in a classic, theatrical Victorian style. He also had a lot to say about his companions on the trip, including the portly Mr Briggs, who brings a “wonderful and comfy” bed with him wherever he goes in Iceland so he doesn’t have to sleep rough.
Viking Raiders by Anne Civardi and James Graham-Campbell
Children will learn about the Norse as more than simply raiders in this colorful book, which depicts the Norse as a diverse group of people who engaged in everything from farming to trading to exploration. Despite the fact that this book is geared toward children, the historical accuracy makes it an excellent teaching resource for adults as well. Since the author is James Graham-Campbell, a former professor of medieval archaeology at the University of London, this is not a surprise.
Valhalla series by Peter Madsen
Since the Mighty Thor comics of the 1960s, the Norse gods have been reimagined in a variety of ways in the world of comic books. Asterix and the Normans came in a close second, but this is my personal favorite. In keeping with their source material, the tales are as grim and visceral as the originals, from Thor’s cross-dressing as a bride to the Fenris wolf escaping its confines to signal Ragnarok. Modern themes like as gender equality are equally relevant in Valhalla, where large blokes with beards don’t rule.