Two Historical Fiction Authors View VIKINGS, Episode II

Sandi Layne, author of Éire's Captive Moon is back with me today to discuss the second episode of VIKINGS. We're both still enthralled with this show, so two History Geek Thumbs up!

Lissa: Well! Lots and lots to talk about this episode!

Sandi: Wait. Before we do that, I HAVE to shake my head at the soles of Rollo's boots in the "Secret Voyage Meeting at Eric's House" scene. The costumers have by and large been outstanding with this show but someone in editing should have trimmed those few frames to get Rollo's modernly shod feet out of the picture. Fairly certain patterned treads (clean, no marks!) and the slightly raised dress or work heel weren't part of the 8th Century cobbler's trade. Okay, I feel better, now. Let's get to the rest of the awesome. :)

Lissa: Wow... Um... I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't notice that. Good catch!

I loved Ragnar washing clothes with Lagertha. She does seem the type to bash him with her shield if he tried to say that was "woman's work." I was disappointed he insisted she stay home, though I understood his reasoning. Leaving their farm unattended during this time would be just asking for trouble.

Their fight was interesting! Bash a man with a shield, then pause for a passionate kiss. Then bash him again, because he's apparently not getting it through his thick skull. But what I liked was the fact you could tell they were taking care not to actually hurt each other during their scuffle. Though she's angry, Lagertha loves Ragnar passionately. (Don't tell him I said so, but I think she's the tougher of the two, and I can't WAIT to see her in battle.) And then their son telling them to settle down like two squabbling kids! But, I suppose he's considered a man now that he has his band.

SandiI was entirely on Ragnar's side for this fight. He was using sense in the midst of his grand adventure. I did wonder for just a fraction of a moment if Lagertha would take him up on the "You go, I'll stay home" thing.

Lissa: Me,too! Call his bluff, Lagertha!

SandiLike you, Lissa, I thought the fight was great. She was venting her frustration and he let her because he loves her and respects her. If Bjørn hadn't broken it up, I imagine he would have continued to allow her to beat up on him without repercussions until she broke his nose or something. I saw the scene as a measure of their equality, even if he does make that final decision.

We'll get back to his decision making in a moment.

Lissa: Strange scene with the Jarl and his wife, encouraging his man to sleep with his wife & then killing him for accepting it. The Jarl is starting to seem just a wee bit unhinged.

SandiJarl (Earl? In Nordweg, they are Jarls...) Haraldson has said foolish things in this episode. He insists upon the Nothing to the West stance without leaving himself an "if/then" clause just in case to save face. And the set up with his wife...? If he has to run a "Will he sleep with my wife?" trust test with all his men...? The man is lacking basic skills.

Also note that in that scene, he didn't do the violence himself. He had his men do it for him (very messy, even if we didn't see the gore overmuch)

Lissa: There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. I got the impression when he was talking to his wife that he doesn't trust her, either. There was a long pause when he said his enemies were everywhere. There's no doubt she's entirely on "his side" but it's hard to tell what she would do if she thought the situation called for drastic measures. Does she love him, or does she love her status?

My True love commented during the ritual washing scene: "One of the grossest rituals, ever!" And I agree.... In the realm of "yuck" that one ranks up pretty high in the ratings. It was nice to see it included, though. But that brings up another point: I like the fact the producers haven't made them look filthy the way we're used to seeing the "barbaric" Vikings in movies. They eat and drink neatly, wash their clothes, and don't look like they eschew bathing.

SandiI'm not a fan of the "sharing bodily fluids" thing, so I'm with you and your True Love on that one. I didn't see any evidence for it for my Ostmen in Nordweg, so I never included that ritual. I write a good evisceration, but that...? I just couldn't.

Lissa: As I understand, the documentary evidence for it is more-or-less one report from an Islamic traveler who thought the Vikings were disgusting barbarians. It could have been there was a ritual face washing and afterwards, the man puffed water away from his lips and snuffled his nose like we do when we surface from being underwater in a pool, which he might have thought was gross if they were doing it before the bowl had been moved. Who knows? It's easy for a gesture to be misinterpreted, especially if the witness is already biased.

Sandi: Ah, Eaters of the Dead and all that, yeah? The producers are doing a great job of keeping it real, but not making it abhorrent. I saw a comment on twitter that the tweeter perceives negatively reinforced stereotypes for the vikings, but I personally don't feel that way. I think that we're getting strong family ties, intelligence, creativity, and a sense of the class divide in that society in a way that makes sense. These are people who live and have codes and manners and all those good things. I enjoy it.
Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909).
 Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas. 

Lissa: They're showing it as a real culture. I'm sure there will be errors in the interpretation, but try to imagine people playing "Americans" a thousand years from now. They'll have us eating nothing but cheeseburgers and worshiping cat pictures.

SandiOH MY. Yes.

Lissa: What do you think was the significance of the scene with the slave girl?

SandiWell, first I think it was to add to Rollo's increasingly negative characterization. We now know he wants Lagertha (who won't have him and who kind of unmanned him in her rejection) so he is feeling rejected and needing to prove his manhood. But since he apparently isn't able to woo anyone to satiate his physical needs, he takes a slave, who cannot really say no. And the fact that she is still a young girl only makes this so much more wrong.

What was sad was that she didn't protest. Like, this was something to be expected and had indeed happened before. So we also get a vivid look at the class system in this society, here. Rollo didn't feel it necessary to hide what he had done. He didn't spirit the girl away or anything. He just did what he wanted and left her.

Lissa: It was that utterly casual nature of it that made it so chilling. Modern audiences will despise him for it, but, as you said, he didn't think he'd done anything wrong, and the slave girl didn't try to scream for help from the men only a few yards away. This was tragically "normal" for her.

SandiIt also made us pity her MORE when the scene with the blacksmith happened later. I am wondering what the consequences will be for that girl.

Lissa: I hope the Jarl kept his promise not to hurt her, but there was no indication the blacksmith had a wife, so she may be orphaned and alone. Hopefully, the blacksmith had a brother, or she has another male relative to take her into his protection.

The sea voyage was marvelous. I've always tried to picture these things, but never managed to make it come alive the way the show did. The reality of living in such close quarters, virtually unprotected from the elements, and the fear/exhilaration of rowing into a storm. It was juxtaposed to beautifully with Lagertha's tale-telling with her children, their rapt faces glowing in the fire.

SandiI confess, the whole time I was watching it, I was thinking, "Why didn't they show us how they provisioned themselves for this voyage?" All of a sudden, we went from the slave girl scene to getting on the longship.

Lissa: There was a small blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene of them provisioning the ship, loading on bundles and crates, and the cage of ravens.

Sandi: Ah, I'll blame the flu. :) 
photo by Dunc(an)

Now back to Ragnar's decision making. Rollo's made a big deal about how they're all equal on that voyage and I believe Ragnar's intent was that the equality extended to plunder and such, not decision-making. Someone has to be in charge. Especially on a ship in the middle of the ocean. The craft is Ragnar's and so should these decisions be. I think he was rather...violent...with the dissenter on the voyage, but a captain had to be unquestioned.

Lissa: If that kind of panic spread, it could have been really bad for Ragnar and for the voyage itself. The men might have insisted on returning and then Ragnar would have to face the consequences, assuming they didn't kill him & toss his carcass to the fish.

SandiHe also did the raven test. This reminded the men that there was a rational way to check for land as well as calling upon Odin's discernment and asking (quietly) for the god's blessing on this trip.

Lissa: It showed how intelligent these people really were. I contrasted this with Columbus's voyage, where the solution was to put a man high up on the mast to watch for sight of land.

Sandi: They really were amazing in how they managed to cross such large bodies of water practically blind. In an aside, did you see that Vladimir Kulich (Buliwyf from The 13th Warrior and a model in my head for Agnarr in my Éire's Viking series) is Eric in this series? I was all fangirling on twitter for a minute.

Lissa: I wondered if that would set off a nerdgasm across the country!

SandiWell, it did here! :) 

photo by chatirygirl
The raid on the monastery was wonderful. Certainly not your stereotypical "guys in horned helmets running in screaming." They approached like seasoned warriors would approach: with caution and smarts. Instead of bashing at the gates, they unhinged them quickly. I think they were disappointed the fight turned out to be such a fish-in-a-barrel moment.

SandiI got that sense, too. "Too easy" and "Where's the good stuff?" was all over their demeanor.

I was surprised, though, that Athelstan knew of the danger to come with the ship. The Lindisfarne invasion of 793 was the first known Viking attack in this area. Now, Athelstan has traveled and such, but the Northmen hadn't made much of an impact at this point, yet. The Irish poems, for example, didn't start lamenting their coming until the 9th Century. Instead of being curious or just wary (not to be wondered at with how isolated the monastery was) he immediately determined (after seeing just the one ship) that the visitors were bad guys.

photo by jillz
Lissa: I think it was their terror that the storm was a sign of the end of the world had a lot to do with it. Then, seeing the prow of that ship slide in out of the fog... it probably looked like a sea monster to him, at first, so it's no wonder they assumed the demons of hell had arrived. The no-nonsense prior illustrated that confusion perfectly. He heard a hysterical report that something was coming and he shook his head slightly, like, "Ya'all crazy," before ordering that the gates be shut, seemingly "Just in case."

SandiAnd he said he had learned their language. This is a puzzle to me. It takes time to learn these languages well enough to converse as well as he seemed to do. Had he then been taken captive before? That would explain his panic, but this was not something too likely at this stage in the Viking incursions.

Lissa: I wondered about that, too, if he was an escaped slave. Being a missionary doesn't seem like a logical explanation at this point.

I wondered a bit about the scene where Athelstan explains to Ragnar why he chose to protect the Gospel of St. John instead of the gold. There was a hint of interest in Ragnar's demeanor, maybe just curiosity, but I wonder if Athelstan's faith will influence Ragnar as the show progresses.

Sandi: Ah, yes. Good point!  I love all the different ideas we're getting so early on in this series. :) 
photo by Tony Kinghorn

Lissa: The scene when they were rowing away from the monastery reminded me so much of Éire's Captive Moon. I pictured Charis sitting on that ship as her homeland faded into the distance and felt sorry for the poor monks, captured by these horrifying, demonic creatures, taken away into the unknown. It truly must have felt like the end of the world for them.

Sandi: I felt much the same. I kind of put Cowan in Athelstan's shoes as he hunkered down and shielded his head, resigning himself to what was going to happen.

I'm very much looking forward to the next episode. I'm wondering what will happen between Athelstan and Rollo. Previews of Haraldson's declaration made me think the man is unfit to lead his people and I wonder if that will be part of the plot as the series progresses.


  1. You two! I love this commentary! Please keep it up!


  2. Watching this show is a lot more fun when I can pop in here after and see what both of you thought of it. I was rather surprised that the monks were so meek. I would have thought they would at least try to speak up for their books. What did you think about their 'surrender'?

    1. It's fitting, given the times. They believed God would protect them. They believed the stories of miracles they'd heard where God protected believers from evil, sort of like Daniel in the lion's den. They'd been taught of virgins who prayed while being stabbed and the knives wouldn't wound them. They believed they WERE defending themselves by praying.

      It's why they had that reaction of astonishment when the Northmen slew a priest and touched their sacred objects without being stricken down by God.


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