Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough

Norse Code

The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

By

Allen Lane 624pp £30 order from our bookshop

Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World

By

Bloomsbury Academic 252pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

It is hard to begin any study of the Viking Age without confronting the fact that, as Neil Price notes in his opening pages, the ‘actual people have almost disappeared under the cumulative freight they have been made to bear’ over the centuries. In a couple of paragraphs, he swiftly dispatches historical appropriations and clichés, whether the products of Romanticism, the Nazis or Tolkien, before getting down to the business of trying to understand the world of the Vikings from their own perspective.

No small part of this cumulative freight has been borne by the women of the Viking Age, not least through the stereotypes of Valkyries and shieldmaidens. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir opens her exploration of Viking women not with buxom Wagnerian sopranos or their modern-day Hollywood equivalents, but rather a gruesome Icelandic saga episode in which Valkyries weave bloody fabric on a loom weighted with human skulls, singing of how they will choose ‘who dies or lives’ on the battlefield.

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