‘The Vikings on Film,’ by Kevin J. Harty

You know this film has a reputation of being a very bloody film, lots of blood, lots of fighting, and it’s just not true; there is in fact no blood shown in this picture except in this one shot where Kirk has his hand up holding the hawk and you see a small stream of blood trickling down between his fingers … but everybody talks about how bloody it was because of the impression you get. (Director Richard Fleischer on the 1958 film, “The Vikings.”)

The world of Viking reenactment is not without its controversies. I’ve seen many a dispute over subjects like acceptable levels of authenticity, whether heathenism should be compulsory, or the authenticity of the Kensington Rune Stone.

But one subject that almost always yields agreement is Viking movies.

We hate them all.

Some of them we hate fondly, and we enjoy watching them even as we scoff at them.

Some we consider insults to our intelligence.

But we pretty generally agree that we’re still waiting to see a good one.

So I was curious to read Kevin J. Harty’s collection of critical essays, The Vikings on Film.

My verdict: Not as enlightening as I hoped, and way too much Film Studies jargon.

There was a certain degree of the sort of thing I wanted most – stories about how the various films came to be, and evaluations of how they worked – or didn’t. As I should have expected, there were numerous critical lamentations over the levels of “problematic” masculinity in the stories.

I was surprised by some of the evaluations. The reviewer who writes on “The 13th Warrior,” doesn’t think it works very well. I think it works quite well as a story – it’s the costumes and armor that appall me. Another reviewer thought “Outlander” (the Sci-Fi version of Beowulf with Jim Caviezel) was generally successful – not my impression at all.

And some movies, like “Beowulf and Grendel” (which I hated, but which had good costumes), are barely touched on.

I didn’t read all the reviews, because they concerned movies I haven’t seen, or that don’t interest me – such as the animated “Asterix and the Vikings.”

All in all, I didn’t regret reading The Vikings on Film, but I wasn’t much enlightened by it either.

2 thoughts on “‘The Vikings on Film,’ by Kevin J. Harty”

  1. I have been involved in Viking re-enactment for less than a year and through my research I have a hard time understanding how some people think that heathenism should be mandatory. The Viking Age was an age of conversion. At the beginning of the Viking Age (793), the entire Scandinavian world was heathen, and by the end (1066), the entire Scandinavian world was Christian. If anything there should be more Viking re-enactors re-enacting Christian Vikings! Some of the most famous Vikings, Leif Erikson, Erling Skjalgsson, Harald Hardrada, Harald Bluetooth, Kjartan Olafson, Njal Thorgierson, etc. were all Christian. Yes, a good Viking re-enactor should know his Norse Mythology, but I would hold that he should know his Christian theology just as well.

    1. That’s definitely my opinion, and I think it’s self-evident to anyone who studies the history. But be prepared to encounter pugnacious heathens in the camps, from time to time.

      Most reenactors are fairly easygoing, though, I should note.

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