Past to Paper: The Vikings

You might be aware of the fact that I’m a history student – so that means I absolutely adore all things in the past and will never get bored of talking the leg off a chair about it. So I had the thought that I should share with you guys more of my rambling thoughts on history. Here’s my idea: I’m going to start a series of posts called “Past to Paper” and each post is going to feature a different aspect and period of history that I think could and should be written about more. Or from a different perspective. This week, I’m doing Vikings, *charges into battle*.

I’ve recently been studying the Viking and I have learnt so many things. The most disappointing thing?

Vikings did not wear horned helmets.

I give you permission to cry. That’s truly a heartbreaking thing to learn. However! There are so many cool things that could be done with these very interesting ship-sailing people. My ultimate dream, right now, would be to see a YA book set in Vikings times. In fact, there are so many historical periods glanced over by fantasy and fiction alike that I’d love to see given more attention – but you’ll have to hang on until next month to see more of my ideas.

Lingberg Runestone

Sure, you have your Bernard Cornwell who’s pumping out historical (medieval) fiction like there’s no tomorrow, and whilst I haven’t  actually read his stuff I think there needs to be even more. 

What areas do I think are lacking some adventurous Vikings? Young Adult, Romance, Middle-Grade, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi.

So here’s what I think.

 Who Were the Vikings?

“Vikings” is the term given to the Scandinavian people who were around from roughly the 8th-10th centuries (at their peak). They were great explorers and warriors and travelled huge distances. They participated in a lot of trade and believed in what we call Norse mythology – think of Greek Mythology, but different. They also set up camp in various locations across Europe and the Middle East and, when you look into it, assimilated well into certain societies.

The actual term “vikings” refers to the male warriors – but pfft, it’s much more fun to just call them all by that name. They have a very interesting history that is a lot more sophisticated than you might think. Their past is largely reflected through incorrect or exaggerated stereotypes today and I think you’d be greatly surprised by some things if you were to read a book on them. In my opinion, literature doesn’t need to change who they really were to create some epic stories about them.

The question is, what would make the Vikings interesting and fun to write about? How would they fit in to different genres? HOW CAN THEY BE VIKINGS WITH HORN-LESS HELMETS?!

Reason One: They Had Cool Boats

I think if there’s anything you’re going to take from this, it’s got to be that the Vikings had cool boats and therefore ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES. If you’re ever struggling to spin a good yarn then throw in some epic adventure-y boats and voila, everything is fixed. In all seriousness though, the Vikings were amazing explorers.

They covered so much ground (basically, much of Europe and more) and that means that you can take this awesome fighting, butt-kicking, axe-wielding, Thor praising people and send them on as many adventures as you want, wherever you want.

And this would be fabulous because that way you could rope in as many authors as you want who all specialise or do particular things amazingly – and that way you’d have all these different stories by different people of different things. Maybe we’d even learn some new and exciting things.

Reason Two: Norse Mythology = Fun Squared

Mythology is THE coolest and most fun thing that fantasy authors like to dabble in – don’t tell me you DON’T start jumping up and down, tearing around the bookstore when you find a fantasy book that’s all ZEUS or THOR or JUPITER. I bet you even have a little light up lightning bolt that you secretly wield in your bedroom at night.

I particularly love Norse mythology because it’s really just cool. Sure, there’s Roman and Greek stuff but have you even read the creation story for the world according to Norse mythology? It is the greatest thing you’ll ever read. To be fair, some of it is quite beautiful (okay maybe not beautiful, but you’ll appreciate the imagery).

Thankfully, the world has been blessed with the likes of Rick Riordin (a surname that will forever befuddle me when it comes to pronunciation) who is doing a valiant job of filling our desperately lacking quota of mythological adventures. He wrote the Percy Jackson series, if you’re not savvy with who, exactly, this Riordin man is.

You simply cannot deny that mythological retellings are, to you, what shiny things are to magpies: irresistible.

 Reason Three: They Had a Weirdly Sophisticated Judicial System

Seriously. They held court and officially accused people of crimes. It was called the Althing. Or, I should say IS called that, because Iceland still uses it. Yup. I find it really difficult to imagine a bunch of smelly Vikings sitting in the jury nodding along to the points brought up by the accused for stealing someone’s cow.

Guilty Viking: But you see, I stole Thoren’s cow because he’s murdered 8 of my brothers over the last six years! JUSTICE MUST BE SERVED.
Jury 1: Mmm, yes he does put forward a good point. Hey, Thorod, do you think he’s left it too long to act though?
Jury 2 (Thorod): Possibly. But if he didn’t steal the cow then that would have been great shame on him. It is his duty after all. Maybe he should kill the cow too?
Jury 1: Mmm, yes, yes, good point.

It’d be like watching Shakespeare performed by an entire cast of Catherine Tates (and I’m thinking specifically of this moment). I do have a point with this though – despite it being mildly hilarious – WORLD BUILDING ANYONE? Da-naaa! Political structures all in place and the deeper elements to Viking society all at the ready for YA dystopia to tear apart with its bear teeth!

Reason Four: They Seem To Be Good and Getting Along (when they want to)

Look at you, quirking your eyebrow at me. But seriously, the Vikings weren’t all pillaging and plundering – in FACT, an interesting point is this: perhaps the Vikings weren’t as violent as we believe them to be, because most of our sources are from Christian perspectives who, because the Vikings were not Christian, favoured painting these heathens in a more negative light. Huh? Good point, innit, *nods*. Well I thought it was interesting.

But what does this offer us on the literary playing field? What benefits does this sort of wishy washy point behold for the masters of pens, the overlords of paper, and the servants  of creativity? Oh, I’m so glad you asked! It means that authors have every historical right to decide who their Vikings will get along with.

There are so many options when it comes to this – you could play with history itself! To simplify things, the Vikings met a lot of resistance in England, not as much in Ireland, hardly any in Russia (okay, they got kicked out once and then asked back), and had an interestingly non-eventful time in the Middle East (although I say non-eventful bearing in mind all the shenanigans that went down in England).

I mean, they are so many stories that could come from the different relationships between different countries and peoples – just think of the field day that YA could have! Reluctant Viking woman, dressed up as a man, travels to Ireland and goes NO I shall be a helpless maiden no more! And charges off into the sunset to eventually marry some strapping Irish bloke. Well, not that women were “helpless maidens” amongst the Vikings, not really.

But when I say the Vikings can get along with people . . . ahem . . . let’s not forget that they were very good with axes. As my tutor likes to say, they’re like lawyers with battle-axes – fair and just, but to a certain point.

Reason Five: Strong Women!

To sort of follow on there – women had a different role to play than what you’re probably thinking! This always excites me. They were treated a little bit more like humans than in most other parts in the world. Did you know, if a woman died during childbirth she was awarded the same honours as a man who died in battle? There you go, that can be your contribution to the dinner table tonight, you’re welcome.

Imagine it though, we can have a fearsome and hotheaded lasses running around centre stage doing cool stuff but in a different light. It could be written as not such of an oddity but more of a there-goes-crazy-Bathilda-again sort of way. I think women in literature about the Vikings would certainly make for an interesting topic if done correctly, that’s for sure.

Fantasy & Sci-Fi

There are some good reasons why I think these two genres need a boost of Viking-ness. Firstly, technically, Dystopia seems to often fall under the category of sci-fi. Dystopian Viking stories could be killers. Like in many other faiths, Norse mythology had its own theories on the end of the world – and what better a way to create an awesome action-packed tale than to have fun with what’s already on the table?

Both fantasy and sci-fi have so many interesting elements in them that could seriously make for some great fun in the Viking world. Firstly, things could definitely be spiced up with the addition of dragons. Secondly, wouldn’t it be great if they flew magical ships through the air instead of the sea? Yes? No? Well, I thought it was a good idea.

EITHER WAY. I would love to see more books that aren’t historical fiction (and adult fiction) tackling the interesting and deep topic of the Vikings. There is so much on offer there and so many amazing stories that could be told.

 What’s your favourite thing about the Vikings?

These are just some of my ideas on the Vikings and why I think they’d be absolutely awesome if given a little more attention in a few more areas. I highly recommend reading up on them because I can almost guarantee you that you’ll learn something new.

Share your thoughts below in the comments!

 Some Viking Books

The Last Kingdom
by Bernard Cornwell


Raven: Blood Eye
by Giles Kirstian


Viking: Odinn’s Child
by Tim Severin


The Last Light of the Sun 
by Guy Gavriel Kay


The Gospel of Loki
by Joanne M. Harris


End Note

~~ Kirstie ~~

5 thoughts on “Past to Paper: The Vikings

  1. Loved this post! I found the Viking info fascinating!

    Particularly this little gem…
    “Did you know, if a woman died during childbirth she was awarded the same honours as a man who died in battle?”

    Liked by 1 person

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