When Was the Last Time You Were Called Ignorant?

Mark Liberman tells us, “When you read or hear in the mass media that ‘Only X% of Americans know Y’, don’t believe it without checking the references — it’s probably false even as a report of the survey statistics.” He cites a few sources and gives an incredible example of the answers marked wrong for an open-ended question about former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. (via Alan Jacobs)

On this point, here’s a survey that appears to be done the right way, asking clear questions about religious practice and affiliation. It concludes that though many say they pray every day and have other spiritual or religious habits or experiences, “One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation.” I wonder how much of this is a popular resistance to labeling one’s beliefs either out of a selfish desire to appear smart (like the voter who says he is undecided because he wants to appear to give both sides a fair hearing) or a belief that one cannot claim a label while not accepting absolutely everything ever claimed by someone of that label.

Laxdaela Saga

One of the pleasures of owning a Kindle, for the Viking enthusiast, is the ability it gives you to own a whole saga library and carry it around with you in a small package. One of the sagas I keep snug in my device is the marvelous Laxdæla Saga. In preparation for my trip to Høstfest in Minot, I thought I’d re-read it, because it’s a remarkable work, full of points of interest.

I should have remembered this, but Laxdæla Saga includes a proverb we still use today: “…Trefill saw that better was one crow in the hand than two in the wood.” I don’t know if this is the source of the English saying, but it wouldn’t surprise me. There’s another proverb I like too, less well known: “The counsel of fools is the more dangerous, the more of them there are.”

Laxdæla is often called a woman’s saga, because the central character is a woman, and a lot of business centers on women’s clothing and ornaments. I guess many scholars think it was written by a woman, and I’ll admit that’s not out of the question.

That central female character is Gudrun Osvifsdatter, a woman of remarkable beauty and force of personality, who gets married several times—to almost every eligible man around except for the one she loves. Although, as you’d expect in a saga, the story starts a couple generations before her birth, and continues through her old age, it’s her tragic love for a man named Kjartan Olafsson that forms the center of the story (you may remember them and their family from a brief appearance in my novel West Oversea).

It might be called a love story, but it’s a love story in the old style, born in a world where romantic love was not considered the jewel of life and a justification for most any kind of behavior, but was instead seen as a sort of madness which interferes with the normal business (and peace) of the family and community. Continue reading Laxdaela Saga

University Teaching Can Be Torture

Language Professor Andrew Piper writes about university teaching: “I have seen some pretty shocking stuff. The record so far was one instructor who would rewrite his lecture notes on the board in illegible handwriting and read them aloud as he wrote while facing the board. Not only was he talking…really…slowly, he was facing the wrong way! The idea of knowledge ‘transfer’ in this case seems distorted beyond all recognition.”

BTW, Alan Jacobs has praised this writer, saying “*Book Was There* may be the single smartest thing I’ve read about how book history connects to book future. Seriously.” Read more praise about the book to which this blog is tied here.

In which I crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentations of their women

Kelsey Patton, who has some slight interest in the matter, has posted this YouTube video of my epic battle with her new husband in Minot:

In other ego-building news, this link will take you to the Amazon page for Troll Valley, where the latest reader review goes like this:

Most Expensive Book I Ever Bought

Lars, I bought a Kindle so I could read your books. I have loved all of them since finding Warrior in (of all places) a grocery store. Please write more.

Thank you, Joseph J. McConnell. I’ll try to make it a worthwhile investment for you.

Viking funerals–not what you think



This is the statue of Leif Eriksson outside the Minnesota state capitol. It is a very bad statue. That thing in his right hand? It’s supposed to be a ship’s tiller. It looks nothing like a ship’s tiller.

In the complete absence of clever ideas for blog posts tonight, I think I’ll break with my personal tradition and actually announce something I’ll be doing ahead of time. Next weekend (Oct. 12-14), I and my Viking henchmen plan to be in Norway, Michigan for the Leif Erikson Festival. The opening ceremonies Friday evening, we are reliably informed, will include a Viking funeral, complete with the launch of a burning “ship” onto a lake. (Apparently they’ve gotten permission from the natural resources people to do this.) So far they have not asked for volunteers to ride the ship, and I’m definitely keeping my hands in my pockets.

The image of a Viking funeral ship sailing out to sea in flames is super-glued to the public imagination, thanks to movies like “The Vikings” and “S.O.B.” (“Beau Geste,” I should note, got it right, keeping the pyre on land.) In fact, the only scenes of such funerals we find in Norse sources come (as far as I’m aware) from the Eddas, where it happens among the gods in Asgard, and in a legendary story from the early chapters of the Ynglingasaga in Heimskringla—purely folklore, days-long-gone stuff. Never in the historical sagas is anyone sent off that way, nor do we have a description of such a thing from eyewitnesses. Ibn Fadlan (on whose writings Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, the source of the movie “The Thirteenth Warrior,” is based), describes the Russ in Russia burning a chieftain in his ship on land, something which comports with archaeological evidence. At other times and in other places, people were simply inhumed in ships or boats, providing wonderful opportunities for later archaeologists, the most spectacular being the Oseberg and Gokstad ship graves in Norway.

Of course, if anybody ever did send a ship out to sea in flames, it would be unlikely to be found by archaeologists. So we can’t prove it didn’t happen. All I can say is that most scholars consider it fairly improbable.

Let’s face it—a burning sail isn’t likely to take a ship very far. And a ship without a living man at the helm will probably go somewhere you don’t want it to go.

If you’d like any further cherished illusions shattered, I’m your go-to guy.

Link sausage, 10-3-12

Oh bother. That network that shows re-runs of Burn Notice has moved NUMB3RS into that Wednesday night slot. So I’m supposed to watch Judd Hirsch instead of Gabrielle Anwar? I don’t think so. Sure, I’ve seen every episode three or four times, but frankly I prefer that NUMB3R.

From Fox News, we get word that an English dialect has died.

In a remote fishing town on the tip of Scotland’s Black Isle, the last native speaker of the Cromarty dialect has died, taking with him another little piece of the English linguistic mosaic.

Scottish academics said Wednesday that Bobby Hogg, who passed away last week at age 92, was the last person fluent in the dialect once common in the seaside town of Cromarty, about 175 miles (280 kilometers) north of Scottish capital Edinburgh.

And finally, Andrew Klavan posts a clever trailer for a book for women, on how to understand men.

Come to think of it, why is this a problem? Isn’t the complex supposed to comprehend the simple?

In a Dry Season, by Peter Robinson

I’ve always been a sucker—I’m not entirely sure why—for the “cold case” story, the mystery that goes back a generation or two, where old letters and the dim memories of the elderly are the chief sources of information. English writer Peter Robinson’s In a Dry Season is an excellent example of this type.

The hero is Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, a Yorkshire policeman currently in “career Siberia” due to conflicts with his superior. When that superior sends Banks to investigate the discovery of a skeleton found in a shallow grave in the ruins of a small town, drowned by a reservoir for decades but now uncovered in a severe drought, it’s because he considers it a nothing case.

But forensics reveal that the skeleton belonged to a young woman, and she died from strangulation and stabbing. Clearly murder. With the help of an attractive female detective (with whom he predictably strikes sparks), Banks sets about learning what life was like in the town of Hobbs End during World War II, and about a beautiful young woman who came to town as a “land girl” (a substitute agricultural worker) and married the handsomest boy in town. Who had a motive to kill her, and why is everyone who remembers her certain she left town alive?

As a parallel to the investigation narrative, the author switches periodically to an old manuscript, an account of the whole business written by someone who was very close to it all.

Author Robinson does some serious literary work here. The investigation, and its setting, take on metaphorical significance as he examines the nature of memory, and of love and guilt. Alan Banks is a very good protagonist, seriously flawed, especially in his relationships, but generally decent—motivated, we are told, by a hatred of bullies. Although the few political comments tend to the liberal side, there’s a refreshing contempt for draconian smoking laws, and even a suggestion that not having a gun in the house can be a dangerous thing. Also, Robinson seems less certain than the average Englishman that the death penalty is a bad thing.

I liked In a Dry Season very much, taken all in all. Cautions for language and adult themes.

Hostfest 2012, Report 5 (Photo edition)

OK, as promised (I think) here are some photos from our Viking encampment at the Norsk Høstfest in Minot, ND, this past Wednesday through Saturday. You’ll note that they closely resemble my pictures from previous years, except for the addition of some younger, better looking people.

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This is the fight staging and picture-taking area. It’s next to the “sandbox” where we fight, and it’s also where we keep costumes for people who want their pictures taken as Vikings. Such people, we find, are not necessarily Scandinavian, or even Caucasian.

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Here’s the newlywed couple I mentioned before, Phil and Kelsey. Kelsey is a bona fide expert on Viking costume, and if you want one you can order it from her online business, Spindle, Shuttle, & Needle. Continue reading Hostfest 2012, Report 5 (Photo edition)

Hostfest 2012, Report 4

Saturday, the final round. There will be no further on-site reports from me, as my ride leaves at oh-dark-bloody-early tomorrow morning.

Another good day for the Vikings yesterday, especially in terms of fighting. I found, to my amazement, that I won most of my fights against much younger, faster opponents. I can only conclude (and Ragnar concurs) that all these years of slogging it out, one on one, with a very good sword fighter have borne fruit in a little actual skill.

I don’t expect it to last. The young fighters will learn quickly, and they’ll learn my weaknesses faster than anything else. I think I can see it happening even now.

My most interesting fight was against a young fellow (coincidentally the Bridegroom I mentioned yesterday) who prefers to fight with a short axe. In that fight I actually succeeded–though not on purpose–in performing a move I’ve often aspired to. That is, catching my opponent’s blade in my shield, and then pulling it out of his hand. In this case he got his axe stuck so firmly in my shield that we had a tug of war over who would get both axe and shield, as they were clearly going to stay together. I got it away, and then he grappled me, so I had a little trouble to finally dispatch him with my short saex.

As for the festival as a whole, today will probably determine how successful it is. Traditionally, Høstfest has had two major sources of visitors–the thousands of RVers who drive in and camp for the week, and package tours that bring people in in buses and put them up at local motels. As I told you before, most of the motels are now booked full with oil drillers, and those that aren’t full have hiked their prices drastically. So, according to the scuttlebutt among the entertainers, about 30 tour companies canceled their visits. Crowds have been less than I had expected.

However, today is the day the air base people and the oil workers will be free to visit, so we’re likely to see a surge.

I’ll tell how that works out Monday.

Hostfest 2012, Report 3

This is shaping up to be the most fun Hostfest I (at least) have ever experienced. We have two young couples in our group this year, one of them newlyweds, and a family with teenage boys. This livens up everything. The combats have been a hoot. Instead of just two old geezers slogging around in the sand, gutting it out for three or four fights, the kids can’t get enough, and like to extend the shows. My own success against them, remarkably, has been pretty good.

The high point of yesterday’s fights was when I “killed” the new bridegroom, raised my sword, and shouted, “SHE’S MINE!”

Also when our biggest fighter and one of our smallest fighters were rolling around trying to kill each other with their backup weapons. It looked like a bear trying to shake off a terrier.

Oh, the delights you’re missing, not being here with us.

Had a conversation in Norwegian yesterday with a gentleman from Bergen, who couldn’t get over how wonderful America was. He went to a bank to change money, he said, and the teller told him he’d have to go to Wells Fargo Bank. Then she accompanied him down the street, to make sure he found the right place.

Hostfest 2012, Report 2

And it’s the second day of Norsk Høstfest in Minot. Gradually our members are straggling into town. The great delight this year is that we have a number of young members who’ve never been here before. No longer is the Viking camp a geriatric retreat. We have youth! Pretty girls! People to fight and carry stuff from here to there, so us oldsters can take a nap!

Heard the New Christy Minstrels yesterday. Of the 1960s group, only founder Randy Sparks is there. Otherwise it’s a group of professional entertainers, most of them pretty old (he says one of them auditioned for him in 1960, and finally got the gig a couple years ago). Nice to hear “Green, Green” again, anyway.

Won a few fights, lost a few fights. I got a sword swipe in the face yesterday, but took no serious damage.

Luther, Martin Luther. I’m an Art Critic

The IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art)Daniel Siedell, a Christian art critic and curator, writes, “While finishing my doctoral dissertation and teaching modern art at a state university in the mid-1990s, I read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and H.R. Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, and I was shocked. Their conclusions about modern art bore no resemblance to the work I had devoted years of my life to understanding from within the history and development of modern art.”

He finds a path toward a theology of art with from Martin Luther and writes about it in his book God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art (Cultural Exegesis). This reminds me a Mars Hill Audio interview this year, which I’m too lazy at the moment to look up and link for you. Do I have to do all the work around here? (via Cranach)

Hostfest 2012, Report 1

Here I am, back at the old stand at Norsk Høstfest in Minot, ND. I got here on Monday, having ridden with another Viking rather than driving myself, this time. So far it’s been pretty low pressure. We’ve given ourselves lots of time for things. That will doubtless change in a few minutes, when the crowds start showing up for the first day.

Oh, by the way, I had a hot beef sandwich at Kroll’s Diner in Minot which far surpassed any I’ve ever before tasted, or dreamed of. This has been an unsolicited testimonial.

It will be interesting to see how how changes in the town make changes in the festival. Minot as we know it has always been a nice, small midwestern city with an air base, remote from the rest of the world. Then last year, after the flooding, it was a recovering disaster area, stubbornly refusing to lose heart.

This year it’s a boom town. The actual boom is centered around 120 miles west, around Williston. But the economic waves have spread to Minot now. At least a half a dozen (that’s what we’ve counted; doubtless there are more) motels are going up around town, and even before they’re opened they’re being leased by the drilling companies for their employees, who will live in the rooms and commute all the way to Williston to work. They’re making so much money, that’s actually economical to do.

Tough on some of the locals, though. Not only because the street traffic’s gone insane, but because prices have skyrocketed, and that puts economic pressure on anyone who’s not in the oil business.

On the plus side, the weather’s beautiful. And aside from the Oak Ridge Boys (as usual), we’ll have the New Christy Minstrels (who are pretty old now) singing at the stage around the corner this year. As someone who actually enjoyed the music in “A Mighty Wind,” that’s good news for me.

More as the situation develops.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture