Two Historical Fiction Authors View VIKINGS

FACEBOOK vikingsI have a confession to make... I'm a history snob. My poor True Love doesn't usually like to join me in watching movies or television shows that have a historical setting, because I'm constantly growling things like, "They didn't have those back then!" and "That costume is all kinds of wrong!"

I only made it through three episodes of The Tudors before saying, "I'm done." North and South makes me ragey. So, when I saw an advertisement for The History Channel's new show, Vikings, my nerdy little heart skipped a beat, but I warned myself not to get my hopes up.

I decided to give the show a try, and who better to do a watch-along than my friend Sandi Layne, author of the excellent √Čire's Captive Moon. (Read my review of it here.) It's a well-researched, well-written historical fiction novel of the Viking era. Girl knows her stuff. Here's our conversation about the show after we watched.

But first, you need some music to set the proper mood....

Sandi Layne

Sandi: So my hopes were not too high when we began, not really. I kept expecting to wince a lot. And it never happened! I was so pleased.

Lissa:  I gotta admit, I've got some high hopes for his show, even though I'm trying to hold them back, just to protect my poor heart from being broken again. I sat there for the first fifteen minutes with a "Grumpy Cat" scowl on my face, waiting to see horned helmets and people cramming food in their mouths at the feasts, like the Geico commercial. When I learned the show was written by the same man who wrote The Tudors my expectations plummeted. I'm happy to have been wrong.

I was reading reviews of it this morning and one site mentioned the success of The Tudors and said it was an excellent show despite its "supposed inaccuracies." I wanted to weep.

It's nice to see the attention to detail in this show. Some of the props I recognized as being copies of pieces found in archaeological digs.

Sandi: The date at the beginning of the first episode is AD 793, which puts it before my time of study, and it says Scandinavia, whereas my studies have centered strictly on Norway, but I felt familiar with it, even so.

Lissa: I imagine there would be consistency within the culture, even as widespread as it was.

One thing that struck me was the Jarl's refusal to believe there were lands to the west which could be reached by ship. Surely, they had heard tales of travelers, ships blown off course, etc. by this time.

Sandi: In Norway, the legal system was not structured into the Althing until around the year 900, but I appreciated how the Thing was portrayed in VIKINGS.

That's the type of inaccuracy I'm willing to forgive, because it's still consistent to the culture.

Sandi: The public trial and need for a unanimous vote in terms of a death penalty seemed very fitting to me, even if the Jarl (wasn't Byrne fun?) was clearly acting out of personal motives.

Because, hey, it can happen.

Lissa: Did the law about reporting a killing in self-defense really exist? The part which gave exception if the killer thought close family lived in the next two houses he passed struck me as very interesting.

Sandi: Lagertha was wonderful. I really enjoy how she is portrayed and how her marriage with Ragnar is portrayed, here. They're a firm couple, well-situated in their society, with two children who have survived this far.

I loved their relationship, and brought Charis from √Čire's Captive Moon to mind when I thought of her marriage in the beginning of the book. She seemed to have that same kind of relationship of love and equal partnership with her husbands. In that respect, your Charis and Lagertha are "modern women," strong and independent, and fortunate enough to be matched with men who respect their strength and intelligence.

Sandi: Yet they both seem so young, you know? So I am thinking they must have wed early for them to have a son ready for manhood. And since many marriages weren't necessarily love matches to begin with, it was presumed (again, in what I studied) that it was pride of place involved over affection.

I really appreciate that the marriage of Ragnar and Lagertha seems to be a love match and passionately so. I wonder if they began that way?

Lissa: I wondered about that, too. They must have married young, and perhaps the origin of their match will be revealed in future episodes.

Ragnar and Lagertha, before he takes his son to the Thing
I've often wondered how many arranged marriages did turn into love matches. In the modern Western world, we have an abhorrence for arranged marriage and picture that it must be miserable. But when it's part of your culture, a couple working in sync toward common goals, raising a family together, would probably form at least some bonds of affection. And it wouldn't be difficult to fall for Ragnar. RAWR!

Lagertha reminded me of Charis in her strength and take-no-guff demeanor. I raised a brow at the scene where the ruffians come to have their way with her, knowing the men are away. Ragnar is a high-status farmer and warrior... Wouldn't they have feared to treat his wife with disrespect?

Sandi: The strangers, I had the impression, seemed to see her as an easy mark. Like they didn't know her, personally, so even though she was high status, they thought they could have their way with her anyway. In my studies, it was wrong for a woman to have sex outside of her marriage, but it was something that could be glossed over with a fine paid to the offended male (yep), if there was already a male heir. 

Lissa: Considering the size of the village, would it be likely these men wouldn't know her? Or at least know of her? They indicated they'd been watching her home to know when the men were gone, and Lagertha was famous for her prowess as a shield maiden. (I loved that scene where Ragnar mentioned she was a famous warrior and Lagertha corrected him to use present tense!)

Loved the compass and the explanation for the way it worked, and the sun glass. I'd seen one of the latter, found in an archaeological dig, and actaully seeing them in action was neat.

Sandi: I loved the navigation information! The "sun board" and sunglass and how they were shown to work. Also, I appreciated that Ragnar paid for an anchor. Because if you're gonna sleep at sea, you really need one to keep you from going off course. I also appreciated the "new" boat design. And Floki went gaga over his success. That was great.

Lissa: That was the one thing that raised my True Love's brows. When they unfurled the red sail, he said, "They'd never be able to afford that." I replied that the red dye was pretty expensive, but he shook his head and said it was the whole ship he was referring to. The nails alone, mentioned by Floki when he was talking about the construction of it... One man chopping and planing all that wood.... They didn't say how long Floki had been working on the ship, but it seems like it would have taken a long, long time.

The only major clothing gaffe I noted was the row of cloth-covered buttons on the sleeve of the Jarl's wife during the nightmare scene. I know the Vikings may have used simple bone or wood buttons on some clothing items (though little archaeological evidence of this remains) but these were cloth-covered domed, decorative buttons  like a row of twelve of them, on her sleeve cuff. I also sort of questioned the vestments worn by the priest in the previews, but I'm not an expert on the history of liturgical wear.

Sandi: Regarding liturgical wear, I think I'll reserve judgment 'til I have a better sense of the place that Ragnar raids. In the Mediterranean, clothing was quite advanced compared to other cultures. I didn't have a sense of how far they went, in the quick preview afforded last night.

Lissa: Have you ever read the novel, Pope Joan by Diana Woolfolk Cross? It's set around this time period, and though it's fiction and about a person most historians doubt existed, it is a richly detailed look at the early Christian church. Very entertaining read.

Sandi: What kinds of interpersonal situations did you feel were best represented, here? I am interested to see how the Jarl's lady comes into play in the future (when she kissed the boys who just got their rings? That kind of creeped me out!). 

Lissa: Ragnar's meeting with the Jarl made me very nervous. Ragnar is taking a huge risk in defying him and secretly building his own boat. Of course, we know how it goes in the saga (part of me wants to see that dragon fight, in a dream sequence, perhaps) but I fear what it means for his family. I didn't see his son or daughter in the previews of upcoming episodes. (And was the Jarl's dream prophetic, perhaps a reprisal?)

The Jarl's wife had a weird sort of lady-of-the-manor demeanor. I would expect the Jarl's wife to be a fierce shield maiden herself. Nor did she express any opinions to him, but that could just be because of the Jarl himself.

Sandi: Also, Rollo...! Yikes! His words to Lagertha surprised me.

Lissa: I was a little troubled by this. I wanted to see solidarity between them, but now there appears to be a fissure caused by jealousy. I liked how strong Lagertha was in this scene, not intimidated or afraid to tell him "No." It's a refreshing change from how this sort of scene is often played in movies and television shows.

Images from Vikings from the History Channel website. used for illustrative purposes only.


  1. So...yeah, I totally stole your post. ;-) You made it look marvelous. Thank you! :)

    1. Stealing is the most sincere form of flattery. :D

  2. I love seeing you two HISTORIANS talk this out!

    1. We're going to review next week's episode, too! This was a lot of fun. :)

  3. I loved your convo - I watched VIKINGS with the same trepidation and biases: I'm an amateur historian of Anglo-Saxon and Viking early-medieval era history. I was wincing even as it began. But I was very pleasantly surprised.

    Add to that the excellent performances and production values, and I can't wait for the next episode!

    Lichen Craig

    1. Me, too. If they continue in this vein, this could be a great show.

  4. I feel like it's safe to watch this show, now. Thanks, ladies :}

    1. *nods* It has the Official Sandy & Lissa Stamp of Approval.


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