29 December 2008

Valhalla Rising X 2

One of our students has drawn attention to the fact that there is a Danish-produced film called Valhalla Rising in preparation for release in 2009, having filmed in Scotland in 2008. I wonder what that's about? The synopsis on IMDb does not suggest it has any connection with Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt techno-thriller with the same title (2001), though both do seem to involve strange voyages to North America (maybe they've just taken out the techno bits). The film will apparently be about 'One-Eye, a mute warrior of supernatural strength' who 'discovers his true self'. Sounds riveting. Actually, there's a more normal-sounding synopsis here, though it still sounds a bit overwrought for my taste... Here's some info about it from the Daily Record - for those who know about these things, it will star Mads Mikkelsen.

Northern Joanna

I have just caught the repeat of Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights on BBC2. It was really refreshing, immediately after the weather forecast moaning that the temperature was falling to -1C, to hear someone who actually finds romance in cold, snow and northern lights. The northern lights themselves were absolutely fantastic, and well worth watching the programme for on their own, but the rest of it was good fun too. 'We know that the Vikings invaded Britain with Lofoten dried fish in their knapsacks' - I'd love to know where that came from (especially the knapsacks...). It was revealing that the Sami seemed to speak better English than the Lofoteners; of course half of the latter were Poles. Thanks for a great programme, Jo, and especially for showing your passion for all things northern, as well as quite a range of fetching snow-suits.

28 December 2008

Caveat Emptor Gladii

Yesterday's Guardian reports recent research which shows that not all Viking swords were reliable. While they were sharp enough, some were prone to shattering when used, and it was apparently impossible to tell this just by looking at the sword. The research appears to relate only to the Ulfberht swords and it is not clear how many they have tested, though there is the intriguing suggestion that some of the 'fakes' (as they call them, i.e. the inferior swords) were designed for graves and possibly not for use at all. I look forward to some proper discussion of this research somewhere... Interestingly, a 'proper' Ulfberht sword was auctioned at Christie's in May for over £9,000, though another one without Ulfberht's name (but perhaps in better condition) sold for over £14,000.

20 December 2008

Crowdie Vikings

I've been reading Finlay Macdonald's Crowdie and Cream (1982) after just catching a bit of the third episode on BBC4. As well as being a good example of Celtic Fringe autobiography, it has some interesting Harris folklore, in particular a story about how Viking invaders are bamboozled by the local fairies:

...long ago, an army of warriors from a foreign land had come ashore on the beach and had set about plundering and pillaging the land as they had done up and down the whole of the rest of our coast. But here, in this very hollow, they had come face to face with a host of little people - fairies who, instead of fighting the foreigners, made them welcome and made them sit down and rest and eat and drink their fairy food. And as the fierce Norsemen nibbled the tid-bits their tiredness and their fierceness left them, and they began to hear the most beautiful music that they had ever heard in their lives and they began to dream dreams of unsurpassed beauty. One by one the warriors fell asleep and when the last of them had nodded off the fairies pulled them down into their own world on top of which we were sitting now. It was a world of music and milk and honey and the wild men had liked it so much that they never came back from it again, and never again troubled the people of Harris.

This all takes place in Scarista, a Norse name if ever there was one...

14 December 2008

Viking Romance

Not even Harlequin romances are immune from the Vikings! A recent one (published June 2008), by Michelle Styles, is entitled Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife (pretty much sums up the genre, that!). Styles writes what are known as 'Unusual Historicals' and ranges across a number of periods. The cover of this one is definitely more Harlequin than Viking, but the author has clearly done some research for the story, which is apparently a sequel to an earlier book of hers called Taken by the Viking. In this new book, the heroine Sela is reunited with her ex-husband Vikar Hrutson, who 'knows the truth about Lindisfarne.' Sounds fascinating... Read an excerpt from the book on the author's website and there is an interview with the author here.

10 December 2008

There Were Eleven Ravens...

In his Guardian Diary today, Hugh Muir records the passing of one of the ravens in the Tower. Apparently the kingdom will not fall yet, as there are still ten left, 'including Baldrick, Gwylum, Thor, Hugin and Munin.' The one that died was called Gundulf. All very pseudo-medievaly, though at least Hugin and Munin are proper raven's names. Calling one of them Thor, though, rather cuts that god down to size, placing him on the same level as his father's ravens... Does anyone know what the rest of the ravens are called and who named them?

24 November 2008

Old Norse Invades YouTube

Nowhere is safe from Old Norse, not even YouTube. Here are a couple of links, unintentionally a bit funny, but with some educational value too:
Extract from Konungs skuggsjá spoken by two oddly-dressed chaps using the modern Norwegian pronunciation of Old Norse and with subtitles in Nynorsk. I wonder what the background is?
Extract from Atlakviða with interesting sound-effects (and an oddly-dressed chap - btw what is the other chap doing in jeans?). Pronunciation as before, but subtitles in Old Norse (including hooked o!), English and Bokmål.
If you want to practise your Norwegian-Old Norse, there are exercises on this page at the University of Bergen (go to the end of the page and click on 'norrøne øvingar'). If you click on 'norrønt' a bit higher up, you will also get the second extract listed above (this is clearly its source), but without the Old Norse or English text.
And if you suffer from insomnia, I can recommend this rather soporific lecture on the Old Norse language - it will send you off pretty soon!

12 November 2008

Viking Women

According to the BBC, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland are the top four countries in the league table of nations 'closing the gender gap'. Is it any wonder we like studying the North? But where is Denmark?

30 October 2008

Viking Theatre?

It's good to see Neil Price's inaugural lecture the other day at Aberdeen get a plug in The Times. It's also been great to see the development and flourishing of Viking and Scandinavian Studies side by side at Aberdeen. But since I never trust what I read in the newspapers, I must look forward to seeing Neil's argument set out in detail in print. Let's have the inaugural lecture pamphlet soon, Neil...

28 October 2008

Coping with Odin

My other half, who has interesting tastes in music, recommends the new album from Julian Cope. JC is well-known for his interest in standing stones and suchlike (see his book The Modern Antiquarian), and gave a lecture on Odin at the British Museum back in 2001 (see the poster). His latest is entitled Black Sheep - the title track is one of the best (the motto of the album is 'To rally every black sheep is my goal'). Also interesting is 'Psychedelic Odin', drawing on Blake, Robert Graves, the Standing Stones of Stenness and, of course, old One-Eye himself:
'My mother bore me in the Northern Void,
And I am white, but O! my heart is black...'
I leave it to you, dear reader, to work out what the track is really about... In the meantime, I am sorry to have to disappoint modern antiquarians, but the 'stone of Odin' at Stenness probably has nothing to do with Odin, as demonstrated recently by Peter Foote.

23 August 2008

Big Bang vs Audhumla

A friend recently drew my attention to this cartoon on the web which contrasts the scientific view of the origin of the universe with that presented in Norse mythology. The conclusion is a bit simplistic, but it should bring out at least a weak smile in the cognoscenti... My friend suggested it could be useful in teaching!

14 August 2008

Slaves of the Raven Banner

I'm currently 'listening again' to the interval talk from last night's Proms, with the great and the good of Viking Studies (Alex Woolf, Clare Downham, also a newish voice, David Wyatt) explaining slavery in the Viking Age. It can be heard again (for only a week, I think) on the BBC's Listen Again, here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00cxlms. Lots of attention to sex and power, less to the economic aspects of the trade. Good to see the media keeping up their interest in the Vikings, even if there is nothing in this programme that would surprise anyone who did an undergraduate module on the Vikings. Not quite sure where the 'raven banners' fit in, either. But at least the point is made that the Vikings weren't unique in keeping slaves ('as common as a car is today'!).

11 June 2008

Thor and Egil - Film Stars!

According to the online version of Iceland Review, various film projects involving Norse and Viking heroes are underway. An Icelandic production company is making 'a computer animated film about Thor's adventures', while another co-production with some Hungarian (!) film producers will be about saga-hero Egill Skallagrímsson. Both are planned for release in 2010. If you can't wait that long, my advice is to read the books!

27 May 2008


The Guardian reports that the latest TV advert for the Mini features a bunch of marauding Vikings driving Minis off their boat to terrorise the innocent bikini-clad, volleyball-playing denizens of a warm beach somewhere. You can watch the ad by following this link. Naturally, the 'Vikings' have horned helmets, and rather curious ones at that, with long thin horns (a bit like this picture) and not those big fat cow horns they sometimes have. The advert ends with the slogan 'BAN BOREDOM.COM'. Well, I suppose we can agree the Vikings weren't boring!

05 May 2008

The Vikings Were Fishmongers!

Good to see James Barrett's research reported in a 'cod-piece' in today's Guardian. James has been a fish-bone nerd for many years, but also knows everything there is to know about Vikings in Scotland.

27 April 2008

The Battle for Asgard

Today's Observer has a review of a computer game called Viking: Battle for Asgard. The blurb for it suggests the authors have a rather superficial understanding of Norse mythology... This trailer clip suggests a rather heavy influence from the Lord of the Rings films, but it does have a brief glimpse of quite a nice Viking ship...

18 April 2008

Call Me Didda

I was once told that if I lived in Iceland, I wouldn't be called by my name, but that some nickname would be used, probably Didda. This Icelandic habit of nicknaming is explained in Iceland Review Online. It should be noted that, although bearing some vague connection with my real name, Didda can be used 'for any name', according to the article. So I remain a mystery!

10 April 2008

Viking Age Hoard Found in Sweden - No Fooling!

On the 1st of April, archaeologists working near Arlanda airport found a Viking Age silver hoard, deposited around 850 AD, containing many Arabic coins. The hoard was found during excavation of a much earlier burial site. See the report on the BBC website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7330540.stm

The Ice-Cream Ship Thor

On Tuesday, a replica Viking ship, made out of 15 million ice-cream sticks and called Thor, set sail from the Netherlands for England. There's a good video of it (and a short piece in Icelandic) here: http://www.mbl.is/mm/folk/frettir/2008/04/09/vikingaskip_ur_ispinnum/

09 April 2008


Just a little plug for the delightful fjordside community of Balestrand, in Sogn, where I spent a few days on a recent visit to Norway. The place boasts both genuine antiquities, in the form of ancient burial mounds, possibly from the Viking Age, and lots of evidence of the 19th-century fascination with the period. So a statue of the legendary King Beli, who supposedly gave his name to the place, has been placed atop one of the mounds. Even more delightful is a pastiche stave church built in 1897, belonging to the Church of England (under the aegis of the Bishop of Gibraltar), where services are held in English during the summer season. The church was commissioned by an English lady who lived there and has, as well as many stave-churchy features, some nice Victorian stained glass depicting an array of saints appropriate to the medieval and British Isles theme: SS Margaret, Columba, Sunniva, Clement, Olav, Bride, George, Swithun and Halvard.

Living History

On a recent visit to Norway I discovered a magazine called Levende Historie ('Living History'), a kind of equivalent to History Today, but with lots more Norse and Viking stuff. The current issue (pictured) has an article by Claus Krag on Haraldr harðráði, a column by Dagfinn Skre on how to do archaeology and a brief item about the recently-published genetic study of the north-west of England (though the magazine gets it wrong: the Vikings did not found Liverpool!). There is also a website (http://www.levendehistorie.no/) on which older articles can be read, for instance this one on Óláfr Haraldsson (the Stout, or the Saint, whichever you prefer!): http://www.levendehistorie.no/levende/forside/raaskinnet_olav_digre

Boats and Vikings in the North-West

I've just discovered an undated account published by the Museum of Liverpool addressing the question of whether there really is a Viking boat buried under a pub car park at Meols, on the Wirral. This supposed find was in the news a lot last autumn: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/archaeology/fieldarchaeology/meols_viking_boat.asp
The same website has an interesting page on the Huxley Viking hoard originally found in 2004 and currently on tour: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/archaeology/pas/huxleyhoard/

Back to the Seventies

My other (better?) half suggests that I use this blog to bring an old album to the attention of Norse-and-Vikingists everywhere (thereby giving away his age in the process...). It's called Lucky Leif and the Longships and was made by Robert Calvert (ex-Hawkwind, for those of you who remember those halcyon days) in 1975. The title and the cover art say it all: it is a 'concept album' based on the Viking voyages to North America. But the songs are mostly really good (the album was produced by Eno), with lots of intertextual and intermusical references. Thus, fans of both the Beach Boys and skaldic verse will appreciate 'The Lay of the Surfers', either for its parodic refrain 'Ba Ba Ba Barbarians' or for its use of kennings like 'steed of the waves'.

08 March 2008

Lewis Chess Pieces

I am just catching up with the controversy about the Lewis chess pieces, which Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, is demanding are returned to Scotland. I do think it would be nice for the Isle of Lewis to have some, since they were originally found there (there are of course some in Edinburgh, in the National Museum). But these nationalistic arguments do tend to gloss over the fact that the chess pieces were almost certainly made in Norway, and were probably on their way to somewhere completely different, such as Dublin. There is a fairly balanced article in The Scotsman for 7 January 2008, citing very reasonable comments from Alex Woolf and James Fraser, and less reasonable ones by Ted Cowan, who argues that they should all be in Lewis.

20 February 2008

More Genetic Studies

In an item on East Midlands Today, geneticist Turi King of the University of Leicester is appealing for volunteers from Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire whose genetic profile might help unravel the influence of the Vikings in this area. Clicking on this link should bring you the news clip.

11 February 2008

Rams' Testicles and the Like

Iceland Review Online from the 4th of February provides an 'audio slideshow' of the Þorrablót, the traditional Icelandic mid-winter feast when people 'ate dried fish, smoked lamb, putrefied shark and soured blood and liver pudding along with other soured meat products – ram testicles included' in the absence of any fresh food. This feast is particularly popular among Icelanders abroad who like to celebrate their Icelandic origins. The article admits that 'not everyone is capable of downing the ... food'!

02 February 2008

More Burials at Adwick

Some years ago the grave of a 'Viking' woman was found at Adwick-le-Street near Doncaster. Now, archaeologists have discovered a whole cemetery (35 bodies) there, according to reports in several newspapers (e.g. The Sheffield Telegraph). Although the headlines trumpet a 'Viking burial site', the detail in the articles make it clear that archaeologists have dated the site to between the 5th and the 9th centuries, making it equally possible that they are Anglo-Saxons. Still, we await further information with interest!

15 January 2008

Old Norse on The Archers

Thanks to a friend's Facebook page, I now know that today's Archers programme on Radio 4 included the following dialogue about a holiday in New Zealand:
Daniel: "They did film Lord of the Rings there."
Jim: "So, it's a pretty film-set. But if you really want to understand Tolkien's imaginative world, you'd be much better off visiting Oxford."
Phil: "Or, better still, learning Old Norse."

I do like that 'Or, better still...' :-)

The 'Ainsbrook' Site

I try to keep up with Vikings in the media, but managed to miss last night's Time Team programme on the controversial 'Ainsbrook' site where metal detectorists have been finding things for quite a few years. However, the Channel 4 website has quite a lot of information (if you're interested, have a look at http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/T/timeteam/2008/ainsbrook/index.html) and it sounds like maybe I didn't miss so much after all. At least not much that's Viking. And what's the fun in watching people scrabbling around in the dirt?

06 January 2008

Viking Voyage

I watched with interest BBC2's Timewatch programme on the Sea Stallion last night. The close-up view of a longship and how it sails was absolutely fascinating, and there was some nice scenery too, particularly in the Hebrides. There wasn't even that much to quibble about, though it was distressing to hear Maeshowe referred to as 'Stone Age' by the narrator. The 'Viking historian' Louise (the BBC website reveals her surname to be Henriksen) stretched things a bit by saying the graffiti were 'stories' and particularly by claiming they were carved by people who wanted to take over Orkney, implying they were newly-arrived raiders in the Viking Age. I also thought some of the emphasis on the frustrations and the discontent of the crew was forced (especially Dylan's boredom with the test sailings) and I would have liked to hear more about 'Vibeke on the helm'. Near the beginning of the programme we were told that the 'lyfting' was where the skipper, the first and second mate, and the 'helmsman' were. So was Vibeke (a woman!) steering the ship the whole way, or did people take their turns? Did she find steering physically hard (other than when the leather strap broke...) and how independent was she in relation to the skipper? We should have been told. But no doubt there will be a book about it one day.


Welcome to my blog. During the day (and sometimes the night) I teach and do research into Old Norse language and literature and the Viking Age. The purpose of this blog is to record those experiences and observations that do not reach the usual academic stomping grounds of journals, scholarly monographs and excavation reports - i.e. my encounters with Vikings in the media, in popular culture, and on my travels in the Viking world. The aim is to record these for myself, but it might be that you, too, dear reader, are interested. If so, please feel free to comment.