What Do Vikings Awake in Us?

Viking shipThe 4th season of The History Channel’s Vikings started a few days ago. The TV series grew so popular that this year it will have twice as many episodes as in the previous seasons, with additional ten in fall, after a summer break. Many things in the Viking Age epic by Michael Hirst stir up controversy, like Ragnar’s fancy hairstyle or the runic inscription on the so called sword of kings that the mighty konung came to own. But there is no doubt that the creators of the series found themes that deeply resonate with the modern Westerner’s soul.
To be sure, one of these themes is spectacular violence. Culture gave the West its amazing progress in all things humane. However, culture did suppress the physical urge to throw oneself upon one’s enemy and enjoy the vengeance. Battle scenes in the Vikings awake something medieval in me, and it has nothing to do with scriptoria and cathedrals.
Not only men but also women partake in this mesmerizing bloodshed. Female Vikings characters do not do what typical representatives of the chivalric romance are entitled to do: that is, to merely embody the ideal of courtly love. Here women do things that often far surpass what men do as for physical courage, bloodthirstiness and treachery. This is that stage of European history that precedes times when feudal values were imposed on all as the ideal ones. This is the age when all people are more or less equal, but not in the modern line of understanding equality. It is based on the sword, not on the rights.
Also men in the Vikings are far from being chivalrous. A meme that I see time and again on the internet, in connection with photos of Travis Fimmel as Ragnar, actually says: Why have a knight in shining armor if you can have a Viking in bloody chainmail? Male Vikings characters go straight to what they want and they take it by force or by craftiness. This is the survival of the fittest. This is the world where individualism is not a conception, is not a choice. It is a sheer necessity to live on and to leave posterity.
All this is a play on the image of a ‘noble barbarian’ known since the time of the ancient Greek tragedies, which is predictably attractive for a ‘cultured’ spectator, who wants to be as wild but is restricted by thousands of interdictions of the ‘civilized world’. Even though I feel it is all devised to seduce me, I am happy to be seduced, waiting for the next episode. Are you?

Photo: Viking ship model. © The Viking Rune, all rights reserved.

4 comments… add one
  • Drake

    Part of me that finds Norse culture fascinating also finds various works of post apocalyptic fiction similarly intriguing. The popular idea of the vikings and what they were like (while historically inaccurate) resonates with the more romanticized aspects of living in a state of nature, or in a ruined society. Sure there’s danger at every corner, you could be attacked by rival tribes, wild animals, random dudes who want your stuff, or just someone who knows someone you attacked once. But you also have a type of freedom that you just cant have in a civilized place. Want something? hop on the next longship out of town and you can take it (provided you kill the poor sod who happens to own it) Want to have power? Get someone with power to duel you and win said duel. The image of a land where everyone can carve out their own destiny, and where the limits of what you can be are only set by your skill and ambition, is certainly a tempting one.

    • Viking Rune

      Good point, Drake. Yes, I think Vikings are so attractive to modern people living in the West because Vikings had the type of freedom, which is impossible in a society based on human rights.

  • Jon

    The misportrayal of Vikings is a classic form of anti-white racism so common in the neo-Marxist media.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Jon. I do not think this particular case has anything to do with racism.

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