We had also been researching the Vikings beliefs in deaths and the sensual relationship to goddesses in transitioning to an afterlife when we stumbled across some stories in the Sagas about the Nine Sisters of the Sea, the daughters of Ran.”
“It just all clicked.
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Despite the common perception, Viking society was not entirely composed of marauders and pirates. There existed varying degrees of morality, order, and law depending on exactly where an individual lived and to what distinct social class he or she belonged. There tended to be a diametric opposition between those who lived in the inner rural areas and those on the edge of their controlled territories. The common perception of a violent culture was dictated not by the writings of the Vikings, which were scarce, but rather by those from the cultures that came into contact with them, contact usually being a direct result of Viking exploration and raiding. However it should be noted that those who did the exploring were not indicative of the typical Norseman, in fact they were the exact opposite. The average Viking was more likely to have been a rural farmer who lived with an extended family. Each farmstead was headed by a patriarch who obtained his power and wealth through a complex system of inheritance.
Norwegian and Danish Vikings were moving mostly to the west and were known by the Latin name Normanni. The Scandinavian sagas can give an inner look at the Vikings existence, but this source cannot be considered reliable due to its often later date of compilation and writing.
Out of the fifteen essays in Kevin J. Harty's Vikings on Film, only one is by an historian, Christopher Snyder, who reviews Clive Donner's Alfred the Great (1969). Even though Vikings figure large as the bad guys of the film, Snyder's review focuses mainly on the film's portrayal of Alfred's reluctance to be king of Wessex, one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England at the time of the Viking invasions in the ninth century. Other essay topic choices in a collection that is supposed to be focused on the Vikings are also questionable and frankly puzzling, since Vikings seem to be peripheral to other themes or interests of the authors. Thus, there are two essays on the Prince Valiant films (1954 and 1997), based on Hal Foster's comic strip, which seem to belong more in the Arthurian genre; one essay on Hrafn Gunnlaugsson's The Shadow of the Raven (1988), a re-telling of the Tristan and Isolde story, which again belongs more in the Arthurian tradition; one essay on the Pathfinder films (1987 and 2007), which owe their inspiration to a legend of the Sami people, an indigenous tribe in the far north of Norway and Sweden; and two essays respectively on The...
To this day, Viking films are overshadowed by a 1958 production, called simply The Vikings (based on the Edison Marshall novel), directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis as the Viking half-brothers, Einar and Eric; it also featured a Mario Nascimbene score that is still used in Ricola cough-drop ads. Inevitably, this perpetuated a "Hagar the Horrible" stereotype of the Vikings that persists in the popular mindset, but which is now badly outdated according to most recent scholarship about the Vikings, [End Page 61] which has drawn attention to their other, more peaceful and positive contributions, such as trading and exploration. Two former members of the Monty Python troupe (Terry Jones and John Cleese) attempted a send-up of The Vikings and all it represents in the 1989 film, Erik the Viking, which actually provides the most thoughtful commentary to date on Viking culture by smashing clichés about Viking mythology (the gods are here portrayed as children), berserk warrior culture, and even rower seating arrangements (!). Yet it failed to achieve the cult, iconic status that Monty Python and the Holy Grail did within the Arthurian genre. Most recently, films have appeared based loosely on the poem, Beowulf, and on imagined encounters between the Vikings and Native Americans in North America (for example, Pathfinder and Valhalla Rising from 2007 and 2009), but these are only peripherally concerned with Viking culture and do not get at the heart of how medieval Vikings should be remembered. Rumors are that Mel Gibson is planning a new Viking film (using Old Norse language and a script co-written with Randall Wallace, his collaborator from Braveheart) that attempts a sympathetic portrayal going beyond rape and pillage, since according to him "there's never been a good Viking film," but the genre still awaits its champion.
The Viking Age, when the denizens of Scandinavia raided throughout Europe and beyond from roughly 800 to 1100, has not been well served by the movies. It has yet to receive the definitive or canonical treatment, for example, that has been accorded to other popular medieval film subjects such as King Arthur, the Crusades, Robin Hood, the Black Death, or Joan of Arc. Therefore, an essay collection devoted exclusively to cinematic portrayals of the Vikings is perhaps a welcome addition to the scholarly canon on medieval film, since it re-focuses attention on what can be considered a neglected child or orphan of the film industry, even though it can be questioned whether the current representatives of this genre really justify all this attention being paid to them.
The Viking religion, like other polytheistic religions before it, did not adhere to one particular doctrine or order of gods. Many of the gods that the Vikings worshiped were subject to public opinion, and over time one god might fall out of favor, only to come back again in another form with a different name. The fluidity of their religion has been described as being the byproduct of having an oral tradition, rather than being written down like the major world religions that have survived to this day (the Islamic Koran, the Christian Bible, the Jewish Torah, and others).What is known of Vikings and their religion is mostly derived from foreign observers and the sagas, which were made some centuries after their fall from prominence in the 12th century.