Well-versed about Vikings
We’re tearing up this place tonight ... We’re gonna set this sleepy town alight ... We’ll kill and steal and burn and drink ‘Cause us Vikings don’t care what you think Woah oh oh!
– Horrible Histories, “Literally: The Viking Song”
While surfing the Internet recently, I stumbled upon a parody song about Vikings, produced by the team at Horrible Histories. If you don’t know Horrible Histories, picture Monty Python, but aimed at a high school audience.
The YouTube video for “Literally: The Viking Song” features actors dressed as Norse berserkers — and singing like they were members of a hair metal band from the 1980s. Over a sappy, power-ballad melody, the Viking virtuosos wax poetic about raiding Britain for the first time:
We arrived upon your English shore And you offered friendship But we wanted more Yeah, so much more!
The song is good for a chuckle, but the real Vikings were no laughing matter to the people who suffered their wrath during the height of their raiding activity.
From about 700 to 1100 these fearsome fighters from Scandinavia terrorized northern Europe and lands beyond. Records kept by monks attest to the ferocity and cruelty of their attacks.
The Vikings were also skilled seafarers, whose voyages took them increasingly farther west. In the eleventh century, the Norse arrived in North America. Two sagas, the saga of Erik the Red, and the saga of the Greenlanders, describe their attempt to settle in Atlantic Canada.
One of the areas they visited, Vinland, was described as warm and bountiful, with plenty of timber, ample grasses that “barely withered,” and grapes that grew wild along the shoreline.
Historians have long sought to identify the location of Vinland, with possible sites suggested all along the eastern seaboard. In this issue, historian Birgitta Wallace, in her article, “Finding Vinland,” weighs the evidence, and offers her verdict on its location.
Elsewhere, we recall a tragic polio outbreak in the Far North that occurred in the 1940s; we remember the women broadcasters from the early days of radio; and we explore the Second World War through the war letters of a pair of brothers who served in the Canadian army.