Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Uncle Lars Wants you”

Sorry to post another picture of myself.

No, I’m not. I love it.

Anyway, you may recall my small involvement with the group devoted to memorializing the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), the commando battalion recruited from Norwegian expatriates and Norwegian-Americans during World War II.

I was recently asked to be their “spokesviking,” and they asked for some pictures of me in my kit, in the James Montgomery Flagg “I WANT YOU” style. I meant to get photos taken during our reenactment group’s Viking feast last week, but the forces of nature made that impossible, as is their wont in these parts.

So I got a friend over to take some yesterday. Here’s one. I sent several off to the 99th people, and I’ve seen a preliminary mock-up of what they’re going to do with it. It’s pretty cool. I look forward to sharing the finished product.

Alert the Media: Walker could be wrong

A while back, I blogged about a recent article declaring that a Swedish Viking warrior’s grave, long assumed to be male, was probably that of a woman. I cited Judith Jesch’s critiques of the article, which she considered over the top and under-authenticated.

A recent article in in the Journal Antiquity has addressed those objections. Researchers insist that the body in the grave was indeed that of a woman.

The barrage of questions from the public and other scientists was unrelenting: Were the researchers sure they had analyzed the right bones? Was there more than one body in the burial, of which one was surely a man? And if the warrior’s sex was indeed female, is it possible they were a transgender man? [See Images of the Viking Woman Warrior’s Burial]

Now, in a new study published online yesterday (Feb. 19) in the journal Antiquity, the researchers of the original study have reaffirmed their conclusion that this mighty individual was a woman. The new study addresses all the questions people raised, and more.

Living Science reports on it here.

I have to eat a small amount of crow in this case, but all in all I’ve decided to dig my heels in. I’m suspicious of this story. It doesn’t fit the textual accounts — either the contemporary chronicles or the Icelandic sagas.

I keep coming back to my “dog in the nighttime” argument. If Viking armies were full of fighting females, why are the monastic chroniclers silent about it? How could they resist denouncing “unnatural females” and “monstrous witches” in such a situation?

So I’m waiting for more information. Ms. Jesch seems not entirely satisfied as well.

However, I’ll admit I’m prejudiced.

Series preview

Sofia Helin (Crown Princess Martha) tries to persuade Kyle MacLachlan (Pres. Franklin Roosevelt) to support the Norwegian government in exile, in a scene from Atlantic Crossing.

I happened to check the IMDb page for Atlantic Crossing, the coming miniseries I helped translate, yesterday. I found the above picture there, and thought it might interest you. I happen to know, through my high-level personal connections in the industry, that this scene was filmed in Czechoslovakia, last month. My boss, who’s one of the script writers, sent me a picture of herself sitting at that desk, in the set replica of the Oval Office.

Don’t rush to pencil in a viewing date, though. The thing apparently won’t be released until early 2021 — and that’s in Norway. Heaven knows when it’ll be available here.

Translator’s notes

Oslo, where I work. OK, remotely. But this is how it looks while I’m working. Photo credit:
Håkon von Hirsch@hakonvh

Sorry about not posting yesterday. That will happen from time to time, under the new regime. My schedule is not my own.

Last week I got zero assignments. Null, as we say in Norwegian. In the resulting vacuum, I went a little nuts. I developed a sudden mania I’d never had before – I went out to lunch every day, sometimes to restaurants I’d never visited. I felt I needed to discover my options, up my dining game a little. It passed, thank goodness. I ain’t made of money.

Yesterday a job came in – and, not surprisingly, it was a big one with a tight deadline. I always get a little nervous when I take one of those on, because I’m still uncertain of my powers. I live in terror of not meeting a deadline – causing my boss to fail to deliver on a contract, bringing the whole business down in ignominy. In fact, I’m better than I think, and I don’t generally have much trouble. I got this job done before I expected to.

And today, another job and another tight deadline. But I finished the first draft before supper, and I’ll give it a polish this evening and send it off, so they’ll have it in Oslo when business starts tomorrow. No sweat.

But I did sweat, a little. I’m a worrier.

General observations on the Norwegian film industry from my perspective: I’d say 60 to 80% of my work is on scripts concerning spunky single mothers trying to make it in a man’s world. (Even the one I can tell you about, Atlantic Crossing, is about a woman raising her children alone – though she’s a princess without many career worries.) That scenario appears to be what they think people want to watch just now. I suppose it indicates that the bulk of the audience, both for movies and TV, is women. Which is probably true. But is it cause or effect?

Not to say that these scripts are heavy with radical feminism or man-hatred. They’re generally pretty good in that regard. It just seems that the production companies want to see stories through women’s eyes.

Scott Sterling, Comic gold

Witness comic genius in these two skits about the epic Yale athlete Scott Sterling and his ability to block the ball. The first video featuring soccer penalty kicks came out in 2014 (though before this weekend I thought it was much older than that). It’s one of the funniest videos of the decades, only made better by the follow-up volleyball video released in 2016. The execution and pacing of these videos sells the comedy marvelously.

The unstoppable Scott Sterling, soccer goalie
The unstoppable Scott Sterling, volleyball team captain

Like the man said, when Armageddon comes I want to be in a bunker made of that man’s face.

A little tour of Avaldsnes

From time to time I talk to you about the parish of Avaldsnes in Norway, where my great-grandfather was born, and where one of the most dramatic events in Erling Skjalgsson’s career occurred.

They’re very aware of their Viking heritage at Avaldsnes, as you can see by viewing the short video below. This is the Viking farm they’ve built on the nearby island of Bukkoy. I’m not sure why they identify the naust (boathouse) as a great hall — except that that’s how it’s used in the TV series Northmen, which is filmed there. But still, this video will give you some idea of the place.

Lewis: Not Jack, but chessmen

I’m continuing to read (and enjoy) Nancy Marie Brown’s Ivory Vikings, about the Lewis chessmen. In spite of my enjoyment, I’m making slow progress in reading. So I have embedded the short video above to give you some background, if you’re interested.

Fun fact from Brown’s book: The Lewis chessmen are the oldest we have with “bishops.” Earlier sets used other figures in that position. So they may mark a point of departure in chess history.

The sufferings of ‘S’

In this strange life I’ve stumbled into, I spend a lot of time living inside a foreign language. I think I’m beginning to develop a slight empathy for what foreigners encounter when they try to learn our very bizarre English tongue.

What struck me the other day was the way we use (or torture) the letter S.

At the end of a word, “s” can mean one of three different things in English:

  • It can mean a simple plural: “dog” becomes “dogs.”
  • If we precede it with an apostrophe, it means a possessive: “Edward’s” (except in the case of “its,” an unfortunate and confusing side effect of the very problem I’m complaining about).
  • Finally, when used with a verb, it means present tense: “This is the product Acme makes.”

This is all the result of bad table manners on the part of the English people – bolting down a Germanic language and Old French without chewing them properly (Old Norse for dessert).

Norwegian is much more rational (a final “s” means possessive. That’s all). I’ll bet Chinese is too.

And pretty much any other language you could name.

But I love English. It’s kind of like one of those exclusive neighborhoods with the winding, poorly marked streets: “Welcome to Pretentious Heights, Minnesota. If you can’t find your way around, it’s probably because you don’t belong here in the first place.”

‘If looks could kill’

Happy Friday. I’ll kick off the weekend with another Erik Werenskjold illustration of a moment in the life  of Erling Skjalgsson, hero of my Viking novels. This is an event I plan to describe, not in my next book (which is being prepared for publication), but in the one after that. It must have been the most satisfying event in Erling’s life, though its ultimate consequences were bloody and tragic.

I won’t tell you the whole story. If you’re familiar with Heimskringla, you know it already. If you’re waiting for my book, I won’t spoil it for you.

What you see above is a gathering at the royal farm at Avaldsnes (which was the scene of the snippets I posted recently). The short man you see through a gap in the ranks on the left is (Saint) Olaf Haraldsson. The tall man near the door of the hall on the right is Erling, elevated by the height of his schadenfreude. He has just outmaneuvered Olaf, who wanted to hang the young man in the hat on the right, and is about to humiliate him.

You can’t see much scenery in this picture, but Werenskjold has taken a chance in including a tree in the background. There’s some dispute among historians as to whether Karmøy island (where Avaldsnes is) had any trees at all in the Viking age. The place was denuded by sheep grazing for a very long time. But I think a few trees, especially around the royal farm, is a reasonable assumption.

‘The Good Farmer’

I’m going to be a while reading Jane Austen’s Emma. So in the meantime, I must think of things to write about that are consistent with the purposes of this blog – whatever those are.

I thought I’d share a few noted illustrations featuring Erling Skjalgsson, hero of my Viking novels. These pictures come from the classic edition of Heimskringla, the Sagas of the Norwegian Kings, by Snorri Sturlusson.

In 1900, the Norwegian Parliament authorized a new translation of Heimskringla. This was not a politically neutral act, as the stories in Heimskringla were the basis for many arguments used by activists agitating for independence from Sweden. The book came to be about as common as the Bible and Luther’s Small Catechism in Norwegian homes, the three of them often constituting the whole family library. (I have a copy.)

Especially for this edition, the government authorized a series of woodcut illustrations to be done by prominent Norwegian artists. Among them was Erik Werenskjold (1855-1938), who is perhaps most famous for a series of remarkable illustrations he did, along with Theodor Kittelsen, for collections of Norwegian fairy tales by Asbjørnsen and Moe.

Werenskjold did many of the illustrations for the section of Heimskringla containing the story of Erling Skjalgsson.

The picture above is perhaps the most famous picture of Erling ever done. It pictures him as Snorri describes him, as a “good farmer,” directing his thralls in the fields. We know from the saga that these men are working for their freedom, and will all be free in three years at most. Werenskjold did some research to make this picture authentic. The landscape is what Jaeder looks like – I expect the location could be identified, with some work. I’m guessing that’s Hafrsfjord in the background. The spades the thralls are holding would be made of wood. Up until recent times, farmers in Jaeder routinely used such spades to turn the earth before planting – they didn’t use plows, because the extremely rocky ground would break them. Erling looks as tall and handsome as, by all accounts, he was.

I know you’re dying to have an old man tell you about his health…

What does one do on a book blog when one hasn’t finished a book to review?

Oh yes. One talks about one’s day. That’s why they call it a web log.

It was a mixed weekend for me. I got one piece of good news and one piece of bad news. The bad news I’ll probably never tell you about (though I can be bribed, if it’s that important to you), but the good I’ll trumpet to the skies – if it works out. Watch this space.

Today was a big one, because I had a doctor’s appointment, which meant actually leaving the house and interacting with other sentient organisms. I once knew a man who refused to ever see a doctor. He was retired, living in Florida, and he spent his days by his pool, drinking beer and netting away any stray leaf or insect that happened to land on the water surface. He had skin the color and texture of fine Corinthian leather. I seem to recall he died suddenly one day, but I don’t know whether he passed the actuarial average or not. With that skin it was hard to guess his age.

Today’s was one of those appointments where you have to fast before you go in, so they can judge your blood impartially. Not that big a sacrifice, really. The doctor and I had the usual conversation, in which he reaffirmed the miraculous current state of prostate testing – you can either take a flawed test which is likely to give you a false positive and result in them carving out your bagel for no good reason, or you can wait and see. I chose to wait and see, rather than buying a chance in the prostatectomy lottery.

I told him what I do for a living now, and he thought it was pretty cool. I love talking about that.

The nurse stuck me twice, trying to draw blood, and failed to extract any. Which is slightly unnerving, though I knew my heart was beating, so I was pretty sure there was blood in there somewhere. She referred me to a technician who got it done in a minute. I acquired a flu shot and the second pneumonia shot, too.

I also got two things accomplished today that I’d been putting off – one of them being taking the Christmas tree down. And in the afternoon my forebodings of job disaster, roused by several idle days, were eased by a new translation assignment.

Which I’ve got to post this and get to now.

‘The Elder King,’ Snippet 3

Reconstructed longhouse at Lofotr Viking Museum. Photo 2008 by
Jörg Hempel

I raised my face to look at him. “Why have I never heard of this?” I asked. “I’d think Augvaldsness would be a place of pilgrimage for the whole north – for the English and the Franks as well.”

            “We’ve been chary of the great Roman church here in Rogaland,” said Baard. “They keep throwing that Arian thing you touched on in our faces, when they notice us at all. We’d as soon not have them looking too closely at our ways. We’ve learned that when the Romans look for error, they generally find it, whether it’s there or not.”

            “As an Irishman, I know what you mean,” I said.

            Baard slipped the cover back on the reliquary, and we went back out into the dark. You’d think that that revelation would be my chief memory of that night, but it pales in recollection, because of what followed.

            As we stepped back through the entry and into the hall, a figure filled my view, dark against the light, haloed like a saint in some eastern icon. She sidestepped right to let me pass, and I stepped left to let her pass, and so we did that foolish dance you do in narrow places, each trying to make way for the other. At last we both stopped and laughed, and by now I could see her face.

            It was the loveliest face I’d ever seen on human head. She was woman in her full bloom, but slender. A few strands of hair that peeked from under her headcloth were light brown, and her eyes – those eyes! I see them even now – large and blue under dark brows slightly curved. Her face was longer than an oval, rather triangular in shape to make room for those great eyes,   and her lips were full, but not to excess.

            At that very moment I felt my stomach lurch, as if I’d stepped down a well in the dark.

            I closed my eyes and shook my head, fearing I’d eaten something bad and was about to shame myself before this woman, through being sick. The feeling passed.

            Then I looked back in her eyes, and my stomach went whump again.

            I looked away. All was steady.

            I looked back at her.

            Whump.

            I was lost for words to say, but Baard moved up from behind me and broke the moment.

Continue reading ‘The Elder King,’ Snippet 3

‘The Elder King,’ Snippet 1

Avaldsnes (Augvaldsness) today. This church did not exist in Erling Skjalgsson’s time.

Thought I’d do a snippet of the new novel tonight. Not sure how long it will take to publish it, but it’s essentially written. Probably going to my Publishing Gremlin tomorrow. lw

Part One: The Crying Stave

Chapter I

            I recall it as the night of two visions. One vision was for the land, the other for me. Together they marked a turning place.

            And neither was for the better.

           We were feasting at Augvaldsness. If God blessed our efforts, matters would now be less tangled in the land. Jarl Erik Haakonsson, with whom Erling Skjalgsson could never be at peace, had returned again to England to serve his lord, Prince Knut the Dane. This freed Erling to renew his friendship with Erik’s brother Jarl Svein, whom he rather liked. Svein sat now as lord of the north of the land, under Denmark. We were crowning their friendship by handfasting Erling’s son Aslak to Svein’s daughter Sigrid. The two were young, but such betrothals were common, and the young people liked each other well enough.

Baard Ossursson, steward of Augvaldsness, was a man who liked his boiled pork. It was his habit to take a chunk from the platter in his big hand, squeeze it so the fat ran out between his fingers, and slurp the greasy runnels off as they oozed out. He was playing at that as we sat side by side, just to Erling’s right at the high table in the hall.

            “This is an important place, Augvaldsness,” Baard said to me between slurps. “The man who controls the strait here at Kormt Island can stop traffic up and down the North Way like a plug in a jar. The kings of Augvaldsness in olden times were the mightiest along the North Way. You can run outside the island, take the sea way to the west, but the weather out there’s chancy.”

            “I’ve heard of King Augvald,” I said. “The one who worshipped his cow.”

Continue reading ‘The Elder King,’ Snippet 1

The red borders of time

Photo credit: Jeremy Thomas, @jeremythomasphoto

Strangest new year of my life, I think. This one’s “driving me alee” (as I have a character say in my Work in Progress. I’m not even sure it’s a real nautical term).

It’s not a bad new year. Quite the opposite, so far as I can tell. I’m having a good time. But it’s going too fast.

A new year is a tug on the sleeve from Mortality, telling you, “You’re running out of time.” If my life were one of those rolls of receipt tape in a cash register, I’d be seeing the red borders they put on those things, down near the core, to warn you the roll is running out. It doesn’t mean the end is imminent. It would be wasteful to change the roll now. But it means you should check your supplies, to make sure you’ve got another roll ready, because The End Is Coming.

The other day it occurred to me – I’m living the dream. All my life I’ve wanted to write from home for a living. And that’s what I’m doing now (translating is a form of writing, and one I enjoy). I don’t dread Mondays anymore – in fact, I prefer weekdays to weekends in this new dispensation.

Which means the weeks whiz by.

Back when I was toiling my way toward an ultimately useless master’s degree, I had one consolation – the slowdown of time. Einstein is famously supposed to have explained General Relativity by saying that a minute goes a lot faster when you’ve got a blonde in your lap than when you’re sitting on a hot stove. (Nonsense, I think. It’s true, but that’s a psychological and perceptional phenomenon. It has nothing to do – so far as I understand it – with Einsteinian relativity. Much evil has sprung from this error.) Those two-and-a-half years in the salt mines of academe felt like five to me. There was some satisfaction in that, at my time of life. Now, every week feels like a day. And I haven’t got that many weeks left.

The solution, of course, is obvious. I need to suffer more.

What could go wrong?