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Modern Fiction and Novels Relating to the Vikings

Gentle Readers:

This is a small sampling of some of the fine fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction that has been written setting their stories in the Viking Age, or drawing heavily upon the culture and mythology of the Viking Age as a source of inspiration. From time to time people ask me about these types of books, and since I confess that I do read them myself at time, I am providing the list in self-defense.

And, Gentle Readers, if you have suggestions for other books or articles which should be listed here, please contact me at gunnora@vikinganswerlady.com!

Authors: I'd be happy to review your books and post my comments here. I try to post only books that I have read myself. If you want me to review your book in the near future, you might consider sending me a copy. I can only buy fiction as my budget allows! I presently have a stack of several emails suggesting books for this list that I plan to read and review as soon as I may.




Bibliography

  • Anderson, Poul. Hrolf Kraki's Saga. New York: Ballantine Books, 1973; Reprint, New York: Del Rey Books, 1977; Reprint, Baen Books, 1988.
    [Sci-fi and fantasy writer Poul Anderson's retells the story of the Old Norse legendary king Hrólfr Kraki. This isn't quite a translation, but a novel based closely on the tales of King Hrólfr. Many people, beginning with Ballantine Fantasy Series editor Lin Carter in the book's introduction, compare the court and legends of Hrólfr Kraki to those of King Arthur Pendragon, and there is much justification for these comparisons: the Old Norse king has his roots in both distant history and in legend, and he is surrounded by story-worthy warriors such as Bôðvarr Bjarki, the consummate warrior cursed with the ability to shift into a berserk bear in battle.].
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  • Anderson, Poul. War of the Gods: The Epic Saga of Hadding, The Legendary Viking King and Warrior. Hardback, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997; Mass-market paperback, New York: Tor Books. 1997.
    [Anderson based this novel on the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus. This is the story of the legendary King Hadding, heir to the throne of Denmark, yet raised by giants. Hadding's father, King Gram Skjoldung, is slain by Svipdag, King of Geatland and Svithjod (Sweden). The young warrior Hadding, aided by the god Óðinn, must leave his foster-parents and avenge his father's death, but the struglle to regain his kingdom lingers on for decades. At the end, Hadding must sacrifice himself to the betraying god Óðinn. Overall, this is a good, dark fantasy with its roots in Old Norse myth and to a lesser degree history.]
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  • Anderson, Poul. Mother of Kings. New York: Tor Books, 2001.
    [This novel is the story of Gunnhild, Queen first of Norway, then later of Jorvík (York) in England, wife of King Eiríkr Bloðøx. As portrayed in the sagas, Anderson's Gunnhild is a practiced witch, who learned the Norse magic called seiðr in childhood. Gunnhild marries Eiríkr and gives him seven warrior sons, and a scheming daughter, Ragnhild.]
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  • Bengtsson, Frans. The Long Ships: A Saga of the Viking Age. Buccaneer Books, 1992.
    [Written by a Swedish poet laureate, this book (known as "Røde Orm" in its original Swedish) is a great romp through the viking world, written in a sometimes humorous though always engaging saga style, combining intelligent humor and bold adventure in equal measures. Set in the height of Viking Age, it tells us how Red Orm is kidnapped by a band of marauding Vikings, then serves as a slave on a Moorish ship, becomes a mercenary among the Muslims, and finally ends up as a marauder in England.]
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  • Clark, Joan. Eiriksdottir: A Tale of Dreams and Luck: A Novel. Toronto: Macmillan Canada, 1994.
    [This novel of historical fiction is based on the Vinland Sagas and looks at the lives of the family of Eiríkr the Red. The book is a chronicle of the third expedition to Vinland, which included Freydís Eiríksdóttir, bastard child of Eiríkr the Red, and half-sister to Leifr Eiríksson. Freydís was not well-liked even by her own family, and she has the distinction of being the first female axe-murderer of European descent in North America (long before Lizzie Borden), but she makes a fascinating focus for this novel.]
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  • Eddison, Eric R. Styrbiorn the Strong. London: Jonathan Cape, 1926; Reprint: Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., 1978.
    [This somewhat florid novel imitates the old Victorian saga translations. It tells the tale of Styrbjorn Olafsson The Strong, an actual person mentioned very briefly in Snorri Sturlusson's Heimskringla. The novel follows Styrbjorn as he goes a-viking to prove himself to his uncle, King Eirikr of Sweden. Styrbjorn proves to be the cariacture sword-and-sorcery barbarian - dumb, even stupid, but honorable, powerful, and a kick-ass fighter. Styrbjorn encounters other characters well-known from the Kings' Sagas, including Danish King Haraldr blátonn Gormsson and King Eirík's wife Sigríð stórráða Tóstadóttir. Styrbjorn is seduced by Sigríð, who in turn claims it was rape, bringing down the wrath of Styrbjorn's enraged royal uncle. This I find to be the least believable part of the tale, because it is so at odds with what we know historically about the actions and character of Sigríð. Eventually Styrbjorn is banished, but tries to win back his half of the kingdom by the sword, eventually dying in disgrace with his victory slipping from his bloodied fingers.]
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  • Elphinstone, Margaret. The Sea Road. London: Canongate, 2000.
    [Another tale about one of the women of the Vinland sagas, this time focused on Guðríðr, wife of Karlsefni. The story is narrated by Guðríðr to an Icelandic monk commissioned to write her life story by his superiors in Rome. There is not only the historical narrative of the events in the Vinland encampment, but also a tension between the old pagan religion and the new force of Christinity, and a look at a woman's view of the world at the end of the Viking Age. This novel has a quiet and comptemplative tone, rather than being an adventure-packed sword-play-filled action novel.]
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  • Haggard, H. Rider. Eric Brighteyes.
    Now available as an eBook online at Project Gutenberg.
    [This tale proceeds at breakneck pace to unfold the saga-like adventures of the stout Icelandic yeoman, Eric Thorgrimurs' son (nicknamed 'Brighteyes'), as he struggles to win the hand of his beloved, Gudruda the Fair, despite the vigorous opposition of her half-sister.]
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  • Harrison, Harry. The Hammer And The Cross. London: Legend, 1993; New York: Tor, 1994.
    [This novel is set in an alternate history, around the year 865AD. Born the bastard son of an English thane, Shef goes on to lead the Viking army originally belonging to the sons of Ragnar Loðbrokkr, rising in rank from a thrall (slave) to carl (freeman) and ultimately emerging as a jarl (nobleman). Harrison also examines the tensions between free and unfree, and looks at how early Christian institutions and social order were injurious to person dignity and freedom. There is also a decided tension in this series between the pagan religion and Christianity, and a mystery in the identity of the shadowy pagan god - perhaps Óðinn - that seems to have become Shef's patron.]
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  • Harrison, Harry. One King's Way. London: Legend, 1995; New York: Tor, 1996.
    [Shef, now ruler of England, must consolidate his rule and somehow stop the warships of coastal raiders. Shef, trained as a smith, invented catapults in the first novel in this series, next he tries to take that technology shipboard to forge an unstoppable navy. shef, however, is lost on the voyage when his new ships have problems, and he ends up travelling to the farthest northern reaches of Scandinavia, then over into Sweden, emerging from the trip as sole ruler of the Viking nations and in possession of a magical spear, the lance which slew Christ. The Holy Lance Shef gives over to the Christian Bruno, Knight of the Lance. This book also explores tensions between Christianity and the unified pagan religion, known as The Way.]
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  • Harrison, Harry. Warriors Of The Way. New York: Tor, 1995.
    [This compilation contains two of Harrison's novels, "The Hammer And The Cross", and "One King's Way". They're set in an alternate history in which the Vikings conquered England.]
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  • Harrison, Harry. King and Emperor. London: Legend, 1997; New York: Tor, 1997.
    [Shef has given over the Holy Lance to the man who will be the new Holy Roman Emperor, now Shef's northern dominions are coming into conflict with the revitalized southern European Christian Empire. The final instalment of the trilogy draws King Shef down into the Mediterranean, where he must confront and defeat the ultimate weapon of its day, the terrible and all consuming Greek Fire. Shef also must stand against the new Holy Roman Emperor, the German knight, Bruno, who now has the Holy Lance of Christ's Crucifixion. Another Christian relic makes an appearance in this story - the Holy Grail, and a race develops between Shef and the pagans of The Way and Bruno and his Holy Roman Empire to gain control of the Grail. The Norse gods are still moving in Shef's life and signs are clear that Ragnarok is impending.]
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  • Holland, Cecelia. Two Ravens. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.
    [This tale of Icelander Bjarni Hoskuldsson examines his troubled family life on the family farm in Iceland. The novel, set at the end of the Viking Age, chronicles the steadily worsening relationship between Bjarni and his abusive father, which finally forces him to leave his home and sets out on adventures with his brothers. Bjarni travels in search of adventure in the England of William II Rufus, but finally returns to Iceland.]
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  • King, Bernard. Starkadder. London: New English Library, 1985; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
    [Based on Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum, this book tells the story of the cursed hero Starkaðr. Starkadder, as he is called here, was blessed at birth by the god Óðinn, but at the same time, for each blessing he was likewise cursed by the thunder god, Þórr.]
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  • King, Bernard. Vargr-Moon. London: New English Library, 1986; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.
    [This is the sequel to King's "Starkadder". Famed as the slayer of the legendary, immortal Starkadder, Hather Lambisson undertakes a quest of vengeance as he tracks down a monster - the werewolf-like vargr - to save the life of his only son.]
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  • King, Bernard. Death-Blinder. London: New English Library, 1988.
    [Volume 3 in the "Starkadder" trilogy.]
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  • Mirsky, Stuart W. The King of Vinland's Saga. Princeton: Xlibris Corp, 1998.
    [Another historical fiction novel based on the Vinland Sagas. This book turns around Sigtrygg Thorgilsson, orphaned grandson of Leif Eiriksson. Sigtrygg is denied his inheritance at home, and so seeks out Leif's half-forgotten land claim of nearly 50 years before on the shores of the New World, fighting the opposition of his greedy relatives.]
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  • Paxson, Diana. Brisingamen. New York: Berkley, 1984.
    [Paxson began to seriously study Norse mythology in 1983 when she wrote the novel Brisingamen, a contemporary fantasy about a young woman who comes into possession of Freyja's necklace, and today the author is a full-fleged member of Ásatrú, the revival of the Viking Age religion. This novel was one of the earlier "urban fantasy" novels, telling its tale in a world essentially our own, into which mythological and magical elements have intruded, often to the discomforture of the more prosaic of the people involved. Karen, a shy and abused grad student, is given an ancient necklace which turns out to be the actual Brisingamen, the fabled necklace of the goddess Freyja. With it, Karen begins improving her own life and outlook, but using the power of the necklace has consequences, drawing together avatars of the rest of the Norse gods, including Loki. And this juxtaposition may spark Ragnarok in America.]
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  • Undset, Sigrid. Gunnar's Daughter. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.
    [Written by the Nobel Prize winning Norwegian author, Sigrid Undset, this novel's central character is Vigdis Gunnarsdatter, who is raped and delivers an illegitimate child. Vigdis schemes and broods and plots for her revenge on Viga-Ljot, and, as in many Old Norse sagas, her desire for vengeance damages both Vigdis and those around her.]
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  • Tolkein, J.R.R. The Hobbit: or There and Back Again. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1937. Second edition 1951; Third Edition 1966; Many, many reprints.
    [J.R.R. Tolkien's own description for the original edition: "If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world, over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a humble hero (blessed with a little wisdom and a little courage and considerable good luck), here is a record of such a journey and such a traveler. The period is the ancient time between the age of Faerie and the dominion of men, when the famous forest of Mirkwood was still standing, and the mountains were full of danger. In following the path of this humble adventurer, you will learn by the way (as he did) -- if you do not already know all about these things -- much about trolls, goblins, dwarves, and elves, and get some glimpses into the history and politics of a neglected but important period." Tolkein drew the lanscapes, stories, beliefs, religions, and peoples of Middle Earth from the rich tapestry of Northern European folklore and mythology. While Tolkein's works aren't directly representing Viking culture, they give a glimpse into the worldview none the less.]
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  • Tolkein, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1954. Second ed. 1966; many, many reprints.
    [In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in THE HOBBIT. In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.]
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  • Tolkein, J.R.R. The Two Towers. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1954. Second ed. 1966; many, many reprints.
    [The Fellowship was scattered. Some were bracing hopelessly for war against the ancient evil of Sauron. Some were contending with the treachery of the wizard Saruman. Only Frodo and Sam were left to take the accursed Ring of Power to be destroyed in Mordor -- the dark Kingdom where Sauron was supreme. Their guide was Gollum, deceitful and lust-filled, slave to the corruption of the Ring.]
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  • Tolkein, J.R.R. The Return of the King. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1955. Second ed. 1966; many, many reprints.
    [While the evil might of the Dark Lord Sauron swarmed out to conquer all Middle-earth, Frodo and Sam struggled deep into Mordor, seat of Sauronís power. To defeat the Dark Lord, the accursed Ring of Power had to be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. But the way was impossibly hard, and Frodo was weakening. Weighed down by the compulsion of the Ring he began finally to despair.]
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