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Archive for April, 2013

From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us… VIIII

The final episode of the first season is SOP in many cases. The clothing, the belts, the buildings, all those damned candles…it has all become, in the minds of the series producers pretty standard stuff. And to Hel with any accuracy!

The sight of Aslaug carrying a fruit and tempting Ragnar was a very good confusion of the temptress Aslaug with the Biblical Eve. An obvious attempt to play upon the cultural knowledge of the viewer. However, even though it is a good piece of dramatic license, it means the gratuitous hijacking of a theme from another faith! Perhaps an expected result of the hodgepodge of chronology, culture and historical events that are paramount in this series!

Accurate

Jarl Borg asking for a hostage.

The supports for a building are a good representation for the architecture of the period.

A good representation of the process for the succession of Earls/Jarls, owing to election at a þing, even if the other elements of Norse government owe more to later feudal than to current custom!

The “three eye” joke was much in keeping with the sense of humor of the traditional Norseman!

Finally, a spear! And a doggie!

At last, the reappearance of a warped-weighted loom! A good representation even if Lagerthe’s spinning is even less real than that shown in the first episode!

The introduction Aslaug , whom the legendary Ragnar wed after divorcing Lagerthe.

Swearing not to touch Aslaug again was obviously meant sincerely. Too bad about that temptress Eve…I mean Aslaug. It is mirrored by the temptation by Borg to break the oath Ragnar swore to Horik and by the temptation to Rollo to break his allegiance to his brother.

Inaccurate

Very few new inaccuracies are introduced. The costumer and producer have done their jobs and are at least consistent with themselves!

The hood worn by Ragnar is not clearly seen but looks strange.

The Norse houses had shingled roofs. Very progressive, since wooden shakes were not introduced until the middle of the eleventh century. Thatched roofs were then the standard!

Almost anything worn by Aslaug and her ladies. Except when she was naked of course…

The lack of compromise on the matter of land, even if we accept the feudal slant of ownership, seems rather contradictory to the way that the Norse got along.

Uncertain

If all the costumes were designed to look different, why do all the interior of the houses appear the same?

The use of hanging bowls as a light source in the Norse culture is dubious in several ways. For one, it was an artifact found in pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon society and, presumably, Celtic as well. They were mostly out of date for the Viking Era n and were not known to be used by the Norse. And they probably did not have the structural integrity to be used as lamps and were almost certainly not chandeliers. But other than that, a great supposition!

The plotline seems to be contradictory about sexual morés, and the morés seem to depend on what is needed by the plot.

The whole wise man theme is getting a little annoying. Prophesy was well known in Norse society, but it was the province of the Völur, the wise women, who were also known as seiðr, for the practice. While there was a term for males—seiðrmenn—they were not often found. Seiðr in particular had connotations of ergi (unmanliness), and some writers have noted that prophesying was probably taboo for men. Men were expected to be the warriors, while women were the wise women. But since the practitioners of seiðr seem to have included sex with a lot of the prophesies—a rare male practitioner, Ragnvald Rettilbein, was known as “straight member”—I’m rather glad they did not attempt to portray their wise men as sexual athletes!

Why are they suddenly using the proper term “jarl?” Apparently “earl” is still being used in the series, and one has to wonder what difference is intended by the producers and whether this is rather like the evolution of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Sabor/Numa terminology.

Bjorn’s cloak is not designed correctly, but the material is nice.

The shawl worn by Gyda is accurate, though the design of the fabric is not especially so.

There is an ongoing overuse of horn cups with a flat end. Forget for the moment that the actual appearance of such a horn cup is controversial. Why no ceramic or wood cups?

Woman wearing a belt (apparently not common practice and one not followed by the other women).

The disposal of the dead seems to owe more to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” than to anything else. Obviously meant as a deep and dramatic incident, but I kept expecting for one of the bodies on the cart to go, “I’m getting better…”

Where are the spots of light in the house coming from? Very dramatic, true, but quite ludicrous when you start thinking about it!

Athelstan’s sleeping robe seems to be more reminiscent of a woman’s gown than what a man would wear.

The countryside looked more like what I saw in Iceland than anything I saw in Denmark!

Conclusions

When did they decide to do the conclusion with so many loose threads? With the introduction of the viper pit and Aslaug, anyone with knowledge of the legend of Ragnar will be filled with expectations. Yet, aren’t these the same persons who are more liable to be offended by the other liberties with details of the presentation? Since some stills seen before the series have not appeared in the first season, one especially wonders if this was filmed in the manner of Richard Lester’s Three/Four Musketeers. Plotlines concerning Norse excursions into England (and elsewhere, though this series seems to refuse to contemplate this much), the betrayal of Athelstan and much else has been relegated to the back and never touched upon, while other dangling plots—Rollo’s allegiance to his brother, Lagerthe’s miscarriage, the whole prophesy deux ex machina and Bjorn’s snottiness—are rotated to prominence. And new developments—the plague, the appearance of Aslaug, the confrontation between land ownership–come from nowhere and attains great prominence. Very frustrating, especially if done without knowing there would be a second season. Perhaps as judicial editing f what was already shot to take advantage of the second season coming, perhaps indicating that the second season was part of the initial deal, perhaps just incompetence at handling this form…whatever the reason, frustrating.

In a miniseries of this sort, having a single overwhelming theme and including additional elements that can be acted on later is the rule of thumb. And much more satisfying. The whole series seemed to be drawing in elements from different sides, then abandoning them and not exploiting them. It never moved forward to a satisfying conclusion and was even more a soap opera than many soap operas. If the dangling plotlines were meant to engage my curiosity and make me eager to see how they will be resolved next season, they did not work because I have no certainty that they will be resolved or even touched upon. Hirst and company have not given me that much confidence! I was not even intrigued by the characters, and I am blasé about what the next season of “Vikings” will present but will now eager await the next season of “Justified,” which expertly did what I expected and still set me off with continuing and dangling plotlines that leaves me eager to see the next season of that series.

If only they had just tossed Ragnar into the viper pit and gone on to a totally new and different storyline, like the late and very lamented Northlanders by Brian Wood. If that had been done, I would really be looking forward to the next season of “Vikings”!

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From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us… VIII

The whole episode reeked of “The Lottery” or the original “Wicker Man.” The penultimate episode of the season is much more concerned with invented religious mumbo-jumbo than with the storyline that was set up in the last few episodes. The whole episode seems unnecessary and interrupts the flow of the series. And here Hirst and apologist justify his fleeting contact with the facts because of his devotion to drama. This episode lacked drama and facts!

Accurate

Uppsala was an ancient religious center, so going on pilgrimage there actually makes a lot of sense!

Athelstan is wearing a proper penanular brooch on his cloak! No one else is, but at least he is!

At least in Icelandic mythology, waterfalls are holy places and constructed as such at places such as  Þingvellir. The waterfall in this episode seems unlike that which I have seen pictures of in the areas, but at least it was beautiful and dramatic!

Goats appear!

Athelstan wears a haversack!

Human sacrifice, though we are uncertain how the sacrifices were chosen, is a very probably event in the ancient Norse religion, at least if we believe the accounts of Christian—generally missionaries—visitors. I do doubt, however, if they were dressed in white this way. The robes were much too white merely to be undyed, so it was often another reference to purity that did arise until the nineteenth century.

Ragnar wears a period bracelet of wound metal!

Inaccurate

If anyone can make turnshoes sound like jackboots as they walk along, I want to meet them!

Where exactly does Ragnar live? There is no sense of a long time for his odyssey to Uppsala, nor how he had to have sailed. Ragnar’s party just walks to the site. It reminded me a bit of Richard Widmark swimming from North Africa to Scandinavia in “The Long Ships”!

The strangely engineered eyepatch.

There is a great use of drums. Let us disregard that the very existence of drums at this time is controversial since none have been found for the Norse at this period of time.

Did my eyes deceive me? Buttons running down the middle of a dress? If I have to explain why this is inaccurate, I wonder why you’re even reading my ravings and rants!

Does the king’s “herald” wear big round earrings or was the scene just too fleeting and dark for me to get a good look?

The king’s cloak is made of fabric that was popular later, looking to a great extent as if Hirst had some fabric left over from his Elizabeth films.

The king’s chandelier-maker was about five centuries ahead of his time! The first chandeliers we know of were seen in the fourteenth century.

The power of the Norse kings is greatly misattributed and misrepresented. A king of this period ruled by permission of his people; he had no divine right of kings the way that Kings in the later middle ages had.

Concepts of modern monogamy seems stressed, whereas a man of the time could have several wives and concubines, and the women all apparently got along together!

Uncertain

Things change, but Upsala has little in common with the area today. The sacred site in Uppsalla is represented by a waterfall and a stave church. We have spoken earlier of waterfalls and their religious importance. But stave churches were intimately connected to Christianity, and there is little evidence that they predated the Conversion. In fact, they were descendants of post churches, which were the first churches in Scandinavia. Though their number was between 1000 and 2000, but they became outdated by the later medieval period.

The whole priesthood, vestments, appearance and ceremonies seem to owe a lot to Asian, Christian and classical faiths. And, as in earlier appearances, to the holy men of “300.” In fact, I assume that many of the ceremonies had to be invented.

The style of the braziers seem to owe more to later developments than the styles used during this period.

The tafl game—hnefatafl—seems to be run according to chess rules, but even that cannot be determined. The taflmen were of an unfamiliar shape, and there were far too many of them for the games with which I am familiar. Perhaps it was not meant to be any tafl game with which we are familiar.

With one episode in this series left, I have no idea what is being planned; if they are taking a leisurely rate of development, I cannot see why they did it without even knowing that a second season was going to be commissioned!


From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us… VII

As we move into cheap pulp fantasy, we have an episode with a lot of action and precious little accuracy. The mighty academic, Mr. Hirst, seems unable to keep track of dates or has just decided to cater to the images that viewers have of medieval living from later periods. Earlier inaccuracies, by this time, are SOP!

One must remember that there is a difference between high and low fantasy. For the most part, “Vikings” is not high fantasy in the style of “The Hobbit” and “Game of Thrones,” but it is fantasy all the same!

Accurate

Finally, ships of the field! (In England, but still…)

Attack is on foot by the Norse!

The Saxons seem not to have surnames

Does the Viking poop in he woods?

Th Saxons wanting to deal with a Christian and wanting to baptize one of the Norse.

Heathens respecting the conventions of other faiths…perhaps an early sign of their willing to assimilate (although there is an undertone of wanting to emulate your betters). Of course there are a few heathen hold-outs, in this case the demented Floki.

Inaccurate

A woman making decisions in court (þing? Weren’t they usually out of doors?)

Leather cloaks were used in an earlier period and not at this time.

No helmets for Norse.

Capes are in a later fashion. At least Ragnar wears a more correct cloak, even if the pin is rather fantastic.

So much flesh on the women! My eyes burn!

Shapes of the plates are rather inaccurate; the Norse would certainly be familiar with ceramics as well

Mounted attack by the Saxons.

More shield maidens in this one battle than even recounted in all the fantasies of the time.

Lantern hooks? In front of every tent? Have we seen too many farby RevWar camps?

Uncertain

Most raids were smash and grabs in this early era of Viking raids. They would hardly have erected such embattlements. The tactics are questionable for this point in time!

The Saxon banners are in a questionable style, but actual banners might look to the viewer more like kites.

Royalty would probably be leading the forces or at least on the field, even if physically unable

Sleeping in armor? Okay, stretching it but plausible. With the helmet on…?

“Steel is stronger than ours!” Doubtful.

I don’t think Dane-geld was offered that early

Uncertain if fences were done in the style presented at the Saxon manor.

Buttressed fence? I thought buttressing was a late development.

They call the king’s manor a villa, possibly referring back to a Roman dwelling. Would they still have been using that term or Roman houses this late? It looks as if some the king’s manor is stone; most buildings of this time were wood.

Religious chants at the meal? Actually, the whole meal stinks of later period to me.

Emphasis on Norse bad manners at eating.

The hall is too large and uncrowded, filled as before with almost Victorian bric-a-brac.

Athelstan wearing a coat almost like an overtunic.

Handle on cups are very rare.

The gate of the Norse palisade was very unlikely. Very cinematic, to be certain, but highly unlikely.

Florentine weapons, especially without a shield, would probably never have been done.

The inaccurate metal (leather?) plate armor is rather vulnerable.

Norse Forms of Government

The series shows þings but notes that the “Earl” makes all the decisions and rules in the manner of the later feudalistic heads of state. Actually, despite their—deserved but hardly unique—reputation for being vicious thugs by Christian writer, the Norse were actually a fairly peaceful people amongst each other. They tried to settle disputes personally but were willing to take disputes to a courts called þings or, sometimes, al-þings. The þing was a council of judges that listened to cases, and their decision was final. Much importance was given to juries, which were not the determining body it is today but was composed of witnesses for either side.

Most disputes were in the territorial or monetary form—the so-called were-gild—but more radical punishments dealt with more aggressive crimes such as assault , rape or murder. A death penalty was infrequently levied in such cases. Most of the times, violated was exiled from the hearth fires of civilized men; if the person found exiled was found in the land after a reasonable time to leave, he could be killed with no penalties. The short exile was three years; the longer exile was twenty years which, because of average lifespans, was known as a life-time exile.
Although most Norse lands also had both kings, jarls or chiefs, these authority figures seem to have operated parallel to the Thing system, not above it. Mostly kings were leaders of the armies that would protect Norse lands in times of war, but the Thing was the highest authority in times of peace.

Interestingly, if not for þings and exile, America might have not been encountered by the Norse. Eirik the Red was exiled and, during the time of his discovery, discovered Greenland and returned there with settlers after his exile was over (“Greenland” was chosen as a name because people would be more likely to want to settle a land with that name). His son, Leifr, voyaged to the mainland from Greenland.


From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us… VI

A lot more of the same, but the storyline has achieved a certain kinetic motion, and things are happening. Now, as it is closing, the storyline seems to have a momentum that should have been achieved in the second or third episode. The series speed, however, seems a lot more indebted to soap opera than to saga. And in this episode, there is a lot more actual research!

And when Haraldsson’s henchman was axed while encouraging a revolt against Ragnar…well, it may have cut off some fascinating subplots for the future, but I was smiling! Of course, I saw him as needing a little death not merely because of his questionable actions but because of his fashion sense…

Correct

Good use of holmgang–challenge-wise. The reaction is, of course, just Sheriff of Nottingham Hollywood. The abrupt reversal of Haraldsson’s actions, reactions and thoughts are rather unconvincing though.

Obviously Ragnar got a counterfeit sword 🙂

Tostig’s boasts rang very well!

The boat burial for Haraldsson owes much to ibn Fadlan‘s description of such a ceremony among the Rus

The ambátt’s costuming—showing flesh—was far more correct than similar ones of the royal women

Bjorn is showing signs of growing up to be Bjorn Ironsides!

“My brother doesn’t hold grudges. He’s strange that way.” At least they give lip service to Norse feuding while still making the protagonist seem modern, progressi8ve and wise!.

Animals are kept in the house! However, it would have been so much better if we had seen horses, cattle or even sheep and goats. Keeping pigs in the house is not so well documented! They certainly were not just fattened over the winter!

The versatility of drakkars that are able to sail across oceans and up rivers. They probably had a meter draught.

Ælla’s pit of vipers was a great forewarning. Will it be used as it was in legend?

Incorrect

The great hall looks more and more like a barn.

It was the woman who often endorsed and provoked the holmgang or aggression, certainly did not tell the guy to run away from it!

Lagertha, call Xena. She wants her nightie back!

Bed does not match any found

Bedroom of Haraldsson looks more like some cluttered Victorian concept of a Viking Hall

What is that blue fur Ziggy—I’m sorry, Siggy—is wearing. In fact, that entire cloak.

The ambátt’s hair should probably have been shorter.

The maroon fur on Siggy’s later cloak. How many cloaks did she have? Did the local Hancock’s have a sale on multi-colored fake fur? And then her earrings. What haux fashion shoot did she wander off of?

The rope on Floki’s cloak, instead of a brooch, being used as a frog

Uncertain

Locks of hair are unmentioned for the time, though they were used in earlier times, generally for religious purposes, and later (16–17C) as love tokens. Their use as sentimental reminders of te dead—children or otherwise—seems to have developed only in the Victorian era. The “lock” that Siggy gives Haraldsson seems more like a scalp in its fleeting appearance! :\

Ragnar’s armor owes more to Kirk Douglas’s Ragnar than to accuracy

Not certain the holmgang would be done without helmets, but apparently the heroes are real men who don’t need them at any time!

The winner becomes Earl—or King, as Ragnar was in legend—and oaths of fealty were a lot more SCA than accurate, though it was seemingly legitimized the accession of Ragnar. The oaths were apparently sworn in Germanic convention on swords and were quite important between the lord—the king and his men—taking precedence over other oaths.

Drinking horns were used in ceremonial context; their use during this funeral can be reconciled. But I have great questions about whether drinking horns—which were probably very personal if we look at the carved ones that still exist—were just horns placed in a big barrel!

The funky hat worn by the seidkona  is probably a joke allusion to the old concept of Vikings wearing horn helmets as opposed to the possibility of metal horns on priests’ helms in elder times…but it still looks kind of silly! 🙂

The slaying of the family of a slain headman seems in my reading more a later thing or from other cultures.

******

There is no doubt that I will get the inevitable DVD set of the series, and I hope that I do not wear out the pause function of my player as I search for those details that appeared fleetingly ore in darkness and were not emphasized!

The very fascinating story of Viking duels, or holmgang, is well worth additional reading to help understand it!


From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us… V

With the fifth episode, it feels almost as if the prologue that took up half the series so far has ended, and the actual story has started! Maybe Ragnar will even start to wear the pants the historical character was famed for! The episode, however, is more of the same in many instances. Those who have come to love the series will see nothing to surprise or irritate them, because they have already accepted the new stereotypes! A the same time, those who are upset by the lack of accuracy in the series will not encounter anything to change their opinions.

However, the opening battle scene reminded me of a scene from “Last of the Mohicans” (or more appropriately, “The Patriot.” Eighteenth-century reenactors will understand immediately!).

And I am still waiting for close-ups on the bows and arrows!

Correct

View on manumitted slaves. They were freedmen, between þralls and freemen!

Use of nets in fishing

Fish traps

Use of cauterizing with wounds.

Athelstane’s belt is the proper width! (However, it was probably meant to infer his inferior status as opposed to the wide wide belts of the macho overlords)

Proper use of marriage arranged for family gain; the mother’s attitude is all modern of course.

Good storytelling of the Norse myths, though it seems a little more casual than it should have been and lacked the poetry. See my later comment on what they contained.

Tattoos. We know, if ibn Fadlan is correct, that the Norsemen had them, but we don’t know what they were. These suppositions are as good as any!

Incorrect

Deck on pier

Cavalry charge. Standard battle tactics, until the Normans, was like dismounted cavalry. Horses were used for getting to battles, but not for fighting on. The cavalry scenes reminded me most of B-movie westerns!

Shields. Most shields would have been covered with linen or leather to disguise the grain, since if they saw the grain, foes could aim for and split the wood of the shield.

The vest thing that the henchman wears is even worse than the tabard that Bjorn is wearing!

What kind of armor is the Earl wearing?

Shoulderless dresses. Shoulderless!?

Floki shows his breast with the cut of his clothing. Well, Lagertha’s pants were cause for divorce too, so what do producers care for the actual laws where they can make things up…

Tortoise brooches are not cloak frogs!

Use of white as bridal colors dated from the Victorian age.

Windows in the houses. And they’re not even to help illuminate the shooting since they also have candles burning out of their wazoos!

Uncertain

Why does everyone have swords? Even persons who are too poor to wear mail and just wear scraps of leather have swords!

Chains are too modern and regular unless the smith is very sophisticated and good.

Were there boats with only one pair of oars? I’m more familiar with færings.

Floki coming out bare-chested but wearing pants might seem appropriate for having been interrupted in mid-debauch, but wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to come out in a tunic with no pants?

Bjorn’s axe/hatchet looked a little too modern, but the axe born by the guy searching for Ragnar is a little too ancient, so I guess that it all works out!

Back quiver has no provenance. I’ll forgo comment on recurved bows because there is a controversy about their presence.

Dances and music—the existence of which are documented but specifics were unknown so they had to be created—owes just a wee too much—at least to me—to later dance styles. And not the simple ones!

Sources of Norse legend have been disputed, since a lot of the mythology seems to have first appeared only when told about by Christian authors. For a discussion, see the various blog entries on the subjected by Nancy Marie Brown or see her excellent book, Song of the Vikings.