From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us…
I saw the first episode of “Vikings” on The “History” Channel last night. I was honor bound to watch it; after all, if it’s a success, we’re going to have MoPs showing up at events thinking they know everything accurate about the time because they’ve seen this and “Game of Thrones.”
What was my reaction?
Two fold. It dealt—almost randomly it seems—with actual things. Briefly and in no particular order…
• Showing affectionate family relationships in Norse families
• The use of wooden swords to teach kids how to fight
• Wooden bands on tubs and buckets
• Believable portrayal of market (probably thanks to other, later portrayals)
• Portrayal of a þing (though it was portrayed as more autocratic than it probably was)
• A warp-weighted loom in action (more later)
• Portrayal of Norse female defending the home (not being a Viking though)
• Good—if controversial—explanation of bearing dial (though too large) and sun stone (I was so relieved it was not a magnet in the style of the Kirk Douglas “The Vikings” film)
• Hearth fire in the middle of the hall
• Use of both cups and horns for drinking
• Treating headbands almost like modern ties (but set a trifle too high IMO)
One of the phrases used by the program’s publicity was that the series was going to demolish old stereotypes. Perhaps so. But it certainly initiated new ones. Now we will examine the other side of the penny, examining both large and small inaccuracies. Disregarding most of the numerous inaccuracies with costuming and furniture, let’s look at a few.
• The exposed hair on women and a cap from a later period on one guy
• Fur worn with hair to outside (and even fur on bedclothes was arranged this way…probably to emphasize that it was fur!)
• Too much leather (leather was used in earlier eras for clothing, not so much the Viking Age)
• The use of the title earl (a term of the Englisc; why didn’t they use “jarl”?)
• Use of patronymic as a surname (Earl Haraldson?)
• Cannot comment on the shoes because they weren’t shown well enough, but didn’t some of them used in the film have heels?
• Swords were used for slashing not thrusting (Imperial Roman use; the Norse used spears!)
• The banners were more like later period gonfannons
• Shield maidens were probably a literary device
• There is no provenance for Domed Chests (a hobby horse of mine)
• Was the jarl wearing an earring? (Even few women wore earrings)
• Emphasis of farmer as a separate job from viking (a farmer often planted and then went i-viking)
• Women speaking in þing
• Exiling, not death penalty, was more common (and running the gauntlet being pelted with veggies…wtf?)
• Too much use of candles (Miss Julie noted the lighting was weird)
• The rudder is on the left (why do they call the right of a ship the starboard?)
• Bjorn’s seax is shaped wrong (but understandable; I’ve priced cheap blade blanks, and many are shaped like this)
• There is an indentation at the bottom of some cups (yeah, anal… :\)
• Confused description of how a Viking ship works (it reminded me of a character explaining skiffy science)
Next week, I’ll go a little deeper on a few points…and deal with a few BIG ones…
For folk who don’t have access to the mini-series, there are quite a few stills at this site along with some breathless text.
Go on, give us the low-down on the costumes, and furniture. Let the cold light of reasoned research shine upon the unbelievers of Costuming, and Directors everywhere!
March 4, 2013 at 11:36
A lot of the most egregious faults that I saw in publicity still are yet to come, so expect more commentary. For right now, as an appetizer, lots of black, plunging necklines on the men, short tunics, broad belts, short sleeves, high boots and studded black leather.
March 4, 2013 at 12:58