• Donovan Cook

Why Vikings?

Like many people, I grew up with a fascination of Vikings. Everything about them excites and terrifies the mind. Images of their fearsome dragon ships and evil-looking warriors with their horned helmets have been used to scare people for centuries. We were told that they raided and pillaged with impunity, often appearing out of the mist as if by some dark magic. They slaughtered entire villages and carried off the women and children, never to be seen again. Not even churches were spared their hatred. It’s no wonder that those attacked by them thought they had been sent as a punishment from God for not being true to their faith.

But everything we first knew about Vikings came from those terrorized by them, so obviously we had a lob-sided view of who the Vikings were. Early chroniclers couldn’t even agree on which country they came from and so labelled them all Danes, even though there were Norwegians and Swedish Vikings who took part in raids in Britain. Now, before I continue, I just want to make something clear. I am no historian or Viking expert. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Norway many times while working on cruise ships when I was younger and I’ve spent many years reading ‘The Last Kingdom’ series by Bernard Cornwell and the ‘Raven Saga’ and ‘The Rise of Sigurd Saga’ by Giles Kristian. If by some unexplainable reason, you have read none of these, then I highly recommend them. These books encouraged me to learn more about these savages from the north, and I discovered a highly sophisticated people with unique laws and customs. A people made hard by hard conditions, but a highly resourceful people who had learnt to use their difficult environments to their advantage.

Because of the hard work by historians and archaeologists around the world, we have learnt many interesting facts about the Vikings. For a start, they didn’t call themselves Vikings, I believe the origin of the word comes from a verb ‘viking’ which means to raid. Other sources suggest it refers to men from the ‘vik’ which was a word for small bay or inlet. There are countless articles out there which debate the true origins of Viking, so I won’t go too much into it. The horned helmet, we all now know, was nothing more than a stage prop used to scare an audience. We know they established trade routes still in use today. But despite all the ground made by historians and archaeologists, there is still much we do not know about these people and that, I feel, is one reason we are so fascinated by them. They are still a mystery.

Unlike the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans, the Scandinavian people did not record their history and much of what we know has been put together with the use of the few things they have left behind. Stone statues with runes carved on them, sagas written centuries afterwards, and archaeological finds across Europe. Even our knowledge about their religion comes mainly from sagas written by Snorri Sturluson, more than two hundred years after they converted to Christianity (Again, if you have not read the ‘Prose Edda’ and the ‘Heimskringla’, then I highly recommend you do. There is also the ‘Völsunga Saga’, a collection of poems dated to the time of the Vikings).

This was why I decided to write a novel about the Vikings. It gave me a chance to lose myself in their world and to get a better idea of what life was like for them. I would love to hear any comments or feedback, so please share your thoughts on what is a very interesting period in the history of Europe.

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