Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Observer Discovers 'ð'


In an otherwise depressing piece, there is one sliver of good news in a report from Iceland in today's Observer: that newspaper has discovered Icelandic orthography. Accented and umlauted vowels appear in both the paper and online versions of the article and there are even two instances of 'ð'. One of the people interviewed is a Herdís Ólöf Kjartansdóttir - all her vowels are intact. Needless to say, not all of the vowels that should have been accented are, and they persist in calling an interviewed professor 'Guðmundsson' as if it were a surname. But it's not a bad effort, is it the first time? It's certainly the first time I've noticed a British newspaper using 'ð's though they have essayed the odd accented vowel before, but if anyone has noticed differently, do let me know. Once the newspapers do it properly, I'll get my students on board as well. Though I have to say that, in recent years, technology has noticeably improved the appearance, orthography-wise, of student essays on Old Norse and Icelandic topics.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Will Kirk Douglas Be Superseded?


There are many execrable films about Vikings, which are good for a laugh at most, but even specialists generally let down their guard to enjoy the wonderful 1958 Viking romp with Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Who can forget the haunting horn motif, or the husband cutting his wife's plaits off with a throwing axe? Keen-eyed runologists at least can't help noticing the Swedish rune stone in the opening scene at the Norwegian village, and those who remember Alan Binns can look out for his brief scene as the English bishop. All in all, there is much for the Viking aficionado to savour in The Vikings. Now, over half a century later, we hear that another blue-eyed superstar wants to make a film that is 'more historically accurate' than the Kirk Douglas effort. Huh! We'll see what Mel Gibson can do. He claims (in this article in the Daily Mail) that he once studied Old Norse (at the age of 16...) and that the characters in the film will be speaking in English and Old Norse (though his idea of the latter seems to be 'low guttural German'). Oh, and lots of violence and brutality are promised. No cuddly Vikings here, then.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Shakespeare Was a Lewisman

I bet you never knew that Shakespeare spent some of his youth in Stornoway... Neither did I, to tell the truth, but maybe I should take his collected works with me when I go there in May, to see if they resonate with the landscape. And I shall look out for more fragments of his juvenilia there, like his play MacLeod, recently discovered in a fish-box. The play provides a Lewis-eye view of the arrival of the Vikings, as seen by Murdo the hermit. As one would expect from juvenilia, the verse is a bit rocky, though it sometimes rattles along nicely, as in this scene in which Murdo tells Lord Stornoway and his factor what he has seen:

MURDO
My Lord I must impart to you grave tidings of lament

STORNOWAY
Don’t tell me that once again you’re behind with the rent?

MURDO
No my Lord its worse than that. I’ve seen the dragon prow!

FACTOR
You mean to say…?

STORNOWAY
In a roundabout way….

MURDO
That the Norse are coming now!

MURDO
I spotted sails last evens’ time, approaching like a sea beast, a longship with a dragons head and eighty oars at least.

FACTOR
What was their destination, could you perceive their plot?

MURDO
I didn’t feel to tarry, so fast away I got!

STORNOWAY
They could be in this bay by now in full view of this Castle

FACTOR
This pile is falling ’round our ears, they’ll capture it no hassle.