Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages


Kevin J. Harty, ed., The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 2011.

Harty is a very well-known film scholar (and remarkably, also a head of department in a big US university), but his speciality has long been medieval films. Amply learned, he is also witty: hence his title The Reel Middle Ages for an early but still invaluable book. In the past his emphasis is has often been on the riches of Robin Hood movies --- he made the count over seventy, in a range of languages (Spanish did well) Рand the fewer and rather more recherché films about King Arthur. But he is an indefatigable traveller to conferences and film libraries around the world and here, like a Viking himself, he sails off on a new journey, co-ordinating a set of essays that make clear the substantial contribution made to film by stories about the Vikings, not only in the USA by any means. It is the first essay-collection on the Vikings in film and there are some major figures writing here, many of them well-known for their work on the Arthur myth РJoan Grimbert, Alan Lupack, Elizabeth Sklar, Daniel Hoffman and the excellent radically-oriented writing team of Laurie Finke and Marty Shichtman.

Most of the essays deal with important single films -- The Vikings of course, The Long Ships, and less well-known ones like the Scandinavian Shadow of the Raven and the sf-oriented Outlander. But some essays take a different approach as in Asterix and the Vikings and the Terry Jones vehicle Erik the Viking and there are also wider-ranging treatments, on women in these films, on the American receptions of the sub-genres (by Harty), and a typically thoughtful survey by Lupack.

As Harty notes in his introduction, the Vikings were a big nineteenth-century theme – Andrew Wawn in his major book argued the Victorians invented the Vikings -- and there are quite a few very early films as  result. But the theme has continued, and clearly touches a nerve in the USA with its capacity to be a transatlantic frontier myth. This essay-collection  is an important and laudable voyage into the turbulent, and in several ways quite complex, waters of the Viking movies. 

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