Friday, 26 March 2010

Harald Hardrada, Vikings vs Indians,Viking Crusaders, Vikings vs Dragons and Vikings alive today???

Today I'm going to review a fair few viking orientated things - that of 2 books and 3 films (1 released ages ago and the two others soon be released). Showing how various ways Vikings have been portrayed to the masses with history as a background. And my thoughts on how successful or badly they did the Viking culture, history and heritage justice.

First up is a book titled 'Crusader Gold' by David Gibbins.

This was leant to be a colleague at work as she knows I love anything to do with Vikings. Now to be honest, when I read the blurb at the back it didn't really attract much interest from me. And in the end I only read it because I had nothing else left to read.
But boy was that a mistake!
Because at first the involvement of anything Vikingy isn't apparent in the blurb and isn't really apparent either at the start until characters go over in a fairly easy and natural way, the history behind the Varangian Guards at Constantinople. That is where we are introduced to Harald Hardrada, the man before he became King of Norway.
It emerges Harald Hardrada was a renowned Varangian Guard who served the Holy Emporer of Constantinople and during such times when the Emporer died also parttaked in the ritualistic looting of the palace as part of their payment for serving him in life.
That is where somehow the Holy Jewish Menorah gets mixed in, not to mention a longship frozen since the early 10th century in the Greenland icecap, L'anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, another ancient civilisation and of course the one ingredient every thriller must have a - an ancient cult gone bad.
And that's all I'm going to say on this book as you really must read it for yourself to discover how good it is.

Next up in my Viking rant is to do with a film what was released a fair while ago now, at least a year at any rate and it's name is Pathfinder.
Now the title doesn't really say a lot for the whole plot behind the story but the oh so misused image of a horned helmet should indicate the subject. Although the setting is now what you expect and niether is the over all character arc and finale.
Basically, for those of you who know little Viking historic facts it was the Vikings who FIRST DISCOVERED NORTH AMERICA! Yep! I don't lie! They came across it after hopping on boats from Iceland to Greenland and then further West past Canada into what they called 'Vinland' due to the fruit laden vines they found. However they did not come across a barren land where they could settle like Iceland. Oh no.
Native American Indians were there and they put up a hell of a fight.
Imagine you're a Viking Warrior, kitted out in fine chain mail and plate armour with a thick shield and a sharp sword yet your constantly being ambushed and overwhelmed by natives wearing a lot less and only using spears and arrows?
I have to say I fear the Vikings that met the natives felt a lot more embarassed then their fellows at the defeat of Stamford Bridge in 1066.
But that's what happened, despite all the fertile lands for the taking the Vikings couldn't be tolerated or tolerate the locals and eventually left never to return.
Yet 'Pathfinder's story begins when the Viking explorers first came across this land and it runs along the lines of if one poor your norse lad got stuck after his father and group were killed by indians. What would happen to him and his identity if he got raised by one? And more critically, what would he do if the Vikings ever returned to pillage, burn and plunder the society he grew up in? The image above does kind of give a hint. There is lots of action, blood and gore and although the Vikings come across as rather fearal and cruel beasts the nature of the character of Pathfinder and his performance in battle kind of shows their better side.

Third up in my ramble is a book I discovered in the latter half of last year.
'The Last Vikings' written by a guy called Simon Grey who actually does historic walks through the great city of York. And apparently it is the old names of the streets and their history which inspired him to write this book, one of a current collection of two. I've read the second but I'm still unsure if there will be a third.
It is essentially a young childs book as I did only find it in the 11-13 age section of Waterstones and that was after asking a member of staff. But I was encouraged by the lady herself as she had read them and enjoyed them equally with her young son who is in fact 15.
The over all story is set in York (where else!) and is to do with the mythical goings on and possibilities occuring if ancestors of the Viking inhabitants of Jorvik did actually survive. How did they live? Where did they live? How do they avoid the masses? How come they haven't been discovered for 1000 years??? And what happens when one human boy gets muddled up in this deception?
Of course a big dollop of magic, a touch of norse mythology and a strange scattering of Trolls somehow pull the plot together to help young minds believe and understand. I personally found the characters a bit too predictible, maybe even sterotypical and certainly flat in places but I am reading with an adult mind having read far more detailed and deep stories where magic isn't the answer to everything. Yet I enjoyed the charm of the way it was told and I loved the small hand sketches showing the scenes and the map that comes in each group showing the 'secret snickleways' that are ACTUAL streets fascinating and a treat. But a great way to recapture young minds on the subject of Vikings and how they weren't all big meanies with axes and horned helmets.

Now my second two topics will be rather brief discussions as they are 2 unique and very different films which aren't released yet. They are:

(How to Train Your Dragon 26.03.10)     and
               (Valhalla Rising 30.04.10)

<----And YES that is me in my entire Viking gear cloak an all with the author of the book behind the film - Cressida Cowell. I even politely mentioned that I write about vikings but on the mythology side of things. I did get her to sign a copy of the book but I have yet to read it and once I have I will give it a review.

Now as you can tell these two films are extremely different. One is very clearly a child friendly family even 3D movie with fantasy, dragons and magic involved. The other is very grown up, brutal, harsh, even cruel to witness as it deals with the harsh reality although some say the setting itself has no clear marker so it could just be a nasty fantasy thing going on.

'How to Train Your Dragon' centres around the character aptly titled Hiccup who is the son of a Viking chieftan whose people are at war with dragons. Hiccup, in order to join the ranks of men has to slay one. Of course, the opposite happens and a great adventure about finding ones true identity etc evolves out of it. The book the film is based on is actually the first of an entire series around Hiccup and his many various viking oriented adventures. So if this movie proves to be a success we may see more of Hiccup.

'Valhalla Rising' centres on a very mysterious figure known as One Eye and know he is nothing like Odin apart from in his battle crazy state because he is a brilliant warrior and fights his way out of slavery and stumbles into this group of Norse Christian warriors trying to set sail for the Holy Land on pilgrimage to save Jerusalem. YES, that's correct and actually historically so for in the time of Harald Hardrada, when he was a Varangian Guard, Christianity was starting to spread. And even Harald himself went and freed Jerusalem, even placed a special gift given by the emporer at one of the holy site when it was taken. So even in those early days Crusades of a kind were well underway. However One Eye does not turn out to be the best peice of luck they stumble across for as they journey onwards with him One Eye experiences even bloodier visions and they end up arriving somewhere after a mist filled night and more blood spilt soon follows. But I shall leave you all to find out whose for even I don't know, as it doesn't release at UK cinemas until the end of April.

So there you have it - rant complete.
Shows how in many mediums Viking influences the imagination still for everything I reviewed is in the end fiction but with history throne in to make it more interesting. For they all take their own stance, all a unique and different view of vikings emerges and maybe a tiny bit more understanding to break the 'heathen' image branded on them by monks 1000 years ago.

And in a way it kind of sums up the reasons behind why I write what I write. After all, a brilliant way to understand a culture and its people is to get to know and explore their beliefs. Which is why I focus on norse mythology to use in my stories.

Hope you've enjoyed my rather lengthly rant and feel free to share your feelings with me about the Viking culture, people and history. But note that all malicious, nasty and unconstructive comments will be immediatly removed.

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