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BRINGING NORSE WOMEN TO THE FOREFRONT OF THE VIKING WORLD
“JÓHANNA KATRÍN FRIÐRIKSDÓTTIR’S INVESTIGATION MERGES THESE TWO WORLDS BRILLIANTLY, HELPING TO ELEVATE THE EVERYDAY WHILE ALSO GROUNDING THE FANTASTIC”
This deep dive into the lives of the women of the Viking era is a fascinating one, combining as it does both the realities and mythology of the time to reveal the complexity and sophistication of the culture. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir’s investigation merges these two worlds brilliantly, helping to elevate the everyday while also grounding the fantastic to give each the meaning they deserve.
Friðriksdóttir starts with the myths of the Valkyrie and the interesting way in which they were used and depicted depending on the author of the tale. The role of female figures as arbiters of life and death, standing both alongside and yet separate from the gods is intriguing. As we learn through the book, it speaks to the important role women played as the backbone of Norse culture, keeping the villages and farms running while men (for the most part, but not exclusively) travelled abroad. And yet the Valkyrie are the very definition of liberty and freedom away from male control and the curtailing of that freedom is a recurring theme in the mythology, again speaking to the societal norms that the authors desired to be enforced.
The book goes on to investigate the lives of women through each stage of their lives from childhood and adolescence through to motherhood, widowhood and old age. The standing of these women evolves in fascinating ways, going from virtually no self-determination as a child and young woman (often being forced into arranged marriages by their parents) into gradually increasing degrees of control as they established their own households.
Friðriksdóttir often refers back to the core texts, the sagas that inform so much of our understanding of the Viking world. From these she finds fascinating and sometimes even quite shocking examples of women, from powerless maidens to all powerful matriarchs, and contrasts them brilliantly with modern sentiments, helping to contextualise the thoroughly un-romantic world of the Vikings.
Ultimately what we get from Friðriksdóttir’s exploration of the sagas for examples of the roles and bearing of women of the age is a deeper and more nuanced understanding of what remains a deeply patriarchal culture. The Vikings as we know them don’t necessarily change much in the reading, but they become deeper and more complex. For every steadfast rule there is an exception that disproves it or at the very least bends it significantly.
As we began by saying in this review, Valkyrie is a book that manages to blend the grounded realities and the fantastic stories. By being about Viking women it is necessarily a book that concentrates on domestic life over adventures on the high seas, but the way the two feed into one another is also shown and dissected brilliantly. If you’re looking for a deeper understanding of the Viking world that breaks out from the usual tales of conquest, but still enjoy a generous sprinkling of the fantastic, then this is a book that is well worth checking out.
Author: Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir Publisher: Bloomsbury Price: £20 Released: Out now