Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Vikings and Ghosts

In an attempt to relax after finishing The Romancer I watched a fascinating Time Team special on television, (typical pedant relaxation…) on the fact and the myth of Vikings in Britain and the world.
It seemed these Vikings were everywhere, as Tony Robinson eventually said, a bit like the Americans - over armed, over-sexed and over here. And here. And here.
I learned that part of their great success both in invading and carving out trading and farming space for themselves is that they had metal technology that was centuries ahead of their time, Their swords were very superior slicers, and secured their dominance, just as the repeating rifle secured the dominance of settlers over indigenous Native Americans in America. And the Atom Bomb ended the Second World War.
One way we know of this proliferation of the Vikings is the ubiquitous presence of their words in the language called English and of place names which reach deep into the British countryside.
Viking settlements are marked for example with place names ending in –by which means homestead, or farm. Think of Whitby, Derby, Rugby, Whitby, Selby, Grimsby. They are also marked by place names ending in –thorpe (or -thorp, -throp or –trop) which also means farm. And toft which means the site site of a house or a plot of land. And then there is holm which means a dry place in an area of marsh.
Names like this proliferate even deep inland in my part of the country. Only a mile or so away, for instance, is a village called Toft Hill.
Then, sitting back with my cup of tea, I had this thought that the genetic Viking heritage of many modern people could show itself now in the revels of the hard men (and women) round here on a Saturday night; in their desire not just to drink but get plastered (arguably a sign of manhood in the old Viking culture); also in their historic bravery in twentieth century wars and their stoicism in enduring hard conditions at work.
Then I had this idea that I could write a novel that illuminated these parallels between a bunch of Vikings then and a bunch if these guys now. Maybe a kind of ghost story.
Or not.
Maybe I should sleep on it.


  1. I watched it too Wendy. Fascinating! Here in Cumbria the BBC did a genetic survey a couple of years ago and discovered that 30% of Cumbrians still have almost pure Viking genes. My father was Irish, but even he had part Viking genes (and the hair!). So much of Cumbrian dialect is old norse apparently you're more likely to beunderstood in Oslo than London.
    I definitely thinkyou should write about it. There's a really chilling account of what it was like to be confronted by a band of well-armed Vikings in an Anglo SAxon poem called 'The Battle of Maldon' - there's a couple of lines where the Norsemen are calling 'in cold voices' across the water, taunting them. Great stuff.

  2. Sounds fascinating.
    I love Time Team.
    Ah well I guess the special will get down here some time.

    Sounds like an interesting theme for a book. But then I guess you probably come up with more ideas than you can possibly ever complete.



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