“Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”

May 6, 2009 at 5:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I had planned to introduce this post by jokingly referring to the Viking Anti-Defamation League.  Imagine my surprise when I found there actually is such a thing!  Perhaps they may find this post and send me a membership form.

Anyway, I’m here to write about the title story of Wells Tower’s collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.  We start with the title itself, an indication of the belief that Viking culture revolved around pure destruction.  While this is an exciting myth, the Norse also invaded other lands as settlers, building farmsteads.

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One of the reasons this worked so well was that the Norsemen, who bathed, laundered their clothes, changed their underthings, bleached and styled their hair, and trimmed their beards, were quite enticing to the local ladies.  Tower has a Norseman wearing a “wool coat stiff with filth” and hair that is “heavy and unclean.”  This could perhaps identify the odd greasy character, but “Gnut” is the only Viking in the story whose cleanliness is specified.

Names are another area where the Viking-age historian must take issue.  Early Scandinavians revered the written word and carefully preserved their histories, including lengthy catalogues of settlers and their names.  So when we see names like “Pila” and “Djarf” we can look them up to see if any other living Norse people had names like that.  Nope.  They are fantasy-style barbarian names.  Why not a nice Sigurd or Brynhild?  The two English characters also have post-period names.  The name Bruce is not documented before about the 14th century, and Mary was not commonly used in England until the 12th century.  Why not Alfred and Wulfrun?  Or need I ask.

There are some basic historical gaffes that I must, in all good conscience, pick out.  These Vikings drink “potato wine” – I think we normally call it vodka – yet the potato was not introduced to Europe until 1536 – looong after the end of the Viking era (8th through 11th centuries).  They also row from Hedeby to Lindisfarne, which is sad because the longships were made effective by their… sails.  I don’t know how to calculate nautical miles, but I’d hope anyone who planned to row from Denmark to Britain remembered to wear gloves.

It’s fun to pick on Vikings.  I mean, really.  “Pillage first, then burn!”  There are few groups that a Caucasian person can mock while retaining political correctness, and I believe they are limited to: Vikings, pirates, Scotsmen, New Yorkers, and Midwesterners.  Australians and Canadians are game, too, but they’re not quite as funny.  I like doing accents as much as the next person.  In spite of that, I still feel it’s my duty as a crank to try to inject a bit of seriousity into the record.  Savage Norsemen need love, too.

Being an amateur historian is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

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6 Comments »

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  1. Your review reminded me of a funny story from when I did a semester abroad in Denmark. One of my flatmates was of Scandinavian (mostly Swedish) descent and he would often get riled up when people bad-mouthed Vikings. One of his pet peeves was the stereotypical image of the Viking helmet with the horns which is really just a myth. So for Christmas, I bought him one (a plastic kids version)! He thought it was hysterical and wore it to our Christmas party.

  2. L.O.V.E. this post! One of my biggest gripes with historical fiction is when the historical part is inaccurate or places modern sensibilities on the characters. I try not to read it anymore. Oh, and I’m a Midwesterner (again) and of Swedish descent, LOL!

  3. Hooray! Another group to safely and political-correctly mock! I just wanted to stop by and announce that though I rarely comment, I think your blog is great. There. I said it.

  4. And here I thought it was just me! Don’t get me started on the metal Valkyrie bra…

  5. Ha! Great post! I agree with Lori (above) completely. I mean, if you’re going to write a HISTORICAL novel, doesn’t it behoove you to do a little RESEARCH first? I’m glad there’s a Viking Anti-Defamation League. I wonder if there’s also one for Midwesterners like me.

  6. […] thoughts on this book were influenced not only by my love of Patrick O’Brian, but also by this terrific post from Jessica of Both Eyes Book Blog, where she rips apart some historical fiction about Vikings […]


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