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BRING­ING NORSE WOMEN TO THE FORE­FRONT OF THE VIK­ING WORLD

History of War - - CONTENTS | HOMEFRONT - JG

“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

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