Good warriors, great sailors, explorers, berserker, Odin, Thor, Loki, a magic hammer, Norway, ship burial rites. This was basically the extent of my knowledge regarding Vikings, without any particular interest to find out more about them. Also, I knew the Normans were somehow connected with the Vikings but had no clear idea of why and how, that is until I binge watched the TV Show. The Paris siege and the political relations they established with the Anglo-Saxon kings sparked my curiosity and initiated a reading journey that started with Vikings and ended with the Magna Carta.
Exploring the world of the Vikings by Richard Hall (2013, Thames Hudson) is great as an introduction to the world of Vikings, handling a wide range of subjects: who they were, their way of life, how and whom they fought, territories they explored and conquered, their religious beliefs and the end of the Viking age. The book is similar to an album, with lots of great pictures to keep things interesting and draw you in, however it is not scarce with the information provided. Although there is not an exhaustive coverage of all of them, each topic is discussed in enough detail to give you an overall idea of all aspects of Viking life and history. There are several timeline graphs and clear maps as visual aids, which give you a straightforward picture of the scale of the territorial discoveries, political relations and historical impact the Vikings have had. In addition to this, there is a large number of images of their jewellery, ships, house objects, clothing style, runes, weapons and warfare gear and archaeological sites to better immerse you in the world of this fascinating people.
Going further, a more in depth analysis of the Viking and Anglo-Saxon relations, can be found in The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris (2013, Windmill Books). As the title says, this is more about how William the Conqueror invaded and instituted a new dynasty in England. However, the book has an extensive background context analysis and over the first forty-two pages it covers the Viking occupations of England territories, with more of a focus on the Cnut regime in York and how this impacted internal politics in England then and for decades afterwards. Although this is a historical non-fiction book, the writing style makes it feel less as a dry facts enumeration and more as an engaging read, combining historical information and references with anecdotes and interesting depictions of micro day-to-day life as well as macro social aspects, linking everything together with though-provoking analysis of cause and effect. This was also the perfect transition book (if you don’t limit yourself to the Viking chapters) to the Norman and Angevin period of England’s history, but more on this later on.
Leaving the historical aspect aside for a bit and diving into the realm of Gods and fiction, there is one edition of the Scandinavian myth cycle retelling that I absolutely adore: Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland with illustrations by Jeffrey Alan Love (2017, Candlewick Studio). And the illustrations are the main reason I highly recommend this book. They have a very specific dark style, with a nightmarish vibe, not particularly fit for children. The colour palette is fairly simple but of great impact: dominant black backgrounds with red accents and splashes of yellow, green and blue. You can find snippets here, but definitely try and grab this edition to fully enjoy the artwork along with the funny and more often than not weird stories of Odin, Thor and the trickster Loki. You’ll find that Thor is not necessarily the lovable and just god Marvel portrayed, Heimdall is much more than just a gatekeeper, Loki is a mix of good and childish “evil deeds”, the Giants are not essentially 100% evil and the Gods overall reflect humanity more than we’d think.