I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

From the Viking Word Hoard: A Book Review

Old pal, Chuck Huber, was kind enough to send me a copy of a book not needed by his library and asked me to make a review when I asked him whether I could do anything to thank him for it. So here it is!

From the Viking Word Hoard: A Dictionary of Scandinavian Words in the Languages of Britain and Ireland, Diarmaid Ó Muirith. Four Courts Press; Dublin. ISBN 978-1-84682-173-8

It is always difficult to review dictionaries. Except for some early dictionaries, such as Johnson’s, you can only comment on the accuracy of entries, and perhaps descend into snarkiness and nitpicking. Some entries are spot on; some might be a little off, and it is often difficult for the layman to determine which is which, and the learned academician might have doubts of his own. Reading the entries in a haphazard way has been an enjoyable and illuminating experience, and I hope to continue to dip into the soup from time to time and go away satisfied!

So I guess that the review needs to center on the introduction, in which the author presents a background for the dictionary. While the introduction is, in many senses, quite fascinating, at least for someone interested in seeing how the Norse influence on western and English (and American) culture can be seen ever today. At shows, MoPs are often greatly interested in this and are genuinely appreciative when a person talks to them about it. And the sections on the Norse language’s influence on Irish, on Scottish, on Welsh and of course on English are interesting. The sections on the Norse invasions of the various lands are illuminating, though superficial to what is available elsewhere. If you are sincerely interested in a more detailed investigation of Norse invasions, see Katherine Holman’s The Northern Conquest  for a more general but provenanced view or any of the academic books that are available (for example, F. M. Stenton’s Documents Illustrative of the Social and Economic History of the Danelaw, from Various Collections.

The book does not deal with physical culture, artefacts or much else that reenactors are generally concentrating on, though it is relevant in many was to making a reenactor’s impression richer. It might be more than what a person needs; they might be content with sites such as Wikipedia’s “List of English Words of Old Norse Origin”  or “Viking Words in English”  However, having a copy of this book available is more than a little bit useful!

The reservation I have about the tone of the introduction is the same one that I have with Schama and many other modern historians, where they do an abrupt about face on the matter of modern interpretations of the Norse as a cultured people, a deviation from the propaganda set forth by the literate people—the clerics who were subjected to violence by the Vikings—and adopted as the truth for so many years. The author calls this trend to depict a civilized culture as “pc,” though my interpretation is somewhat different. No doubt, the Vikings were violent. They did invade. They were malicious. They were thugs. But so were the Christians. The author paints the Norse in the old way and do not mention that the Christians were much the same. The difference, to my mind, is that the Christians tended not to do violence to the Church (though this was not a universal); that simple fact, again to my mind, does not necessarily demonize the Norse the way that modern but not contemporary culture has done!

Persons interested in the book for their unit or for personal ownership, should of course consult local bookstores (we have seen with Borders and other local bookstores what not doing this might tend to do). However, for additional information and if it is otherwise unavailable, see http://www.amazon.com/Viking-Word-Hoard-Dictionary-Scandinavian-Languages/dp/1846821738/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1313851171&sr=8-1

The book that I was reading when this arrived, and that I put aside to give this a good look was something entirely different. It was the Jack Kirby Omnibus Volume One, and much more in line with what brought Chuck and me—both comic fans—together in the first place. Of relevance to readers of this blog was a story from the 1950s called “The Hammer,” which was about Mjollnir, which was a fun story and which featured a version of Thor totally different in many ways—but was curiously similar—to Kirby’s later version of the Norse deity as a Marvel superhero. Fun stuff, and if you are a comic fan and think of Kirby as essential to modern comics as many fans—myself included—do, you might want to pick up a copy of the book!

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