Happy New Year, constant readers! Eleventh Stack kicks off 2011 with a guest post from first-time contributor Sky. Stay tuned for more guest writing and creative twists and turns from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as the year unfolds.
Chill winter winds always stir something in me. I feel my hair flowing in the icy breeze and the frost gathering in my beard, all under a leaden sky heavy with the promise of snow. My Scandanavian blood runs hot against the frigid air as the Jungian memories lurk in the unconscious. Through the fog of centuries I imagine I can recall days spent at the oar, bathed in the cold spray of the North Sea, and the nights illuminated by towering pagan bonfires.
And then, after a few minutes, I start to feel really cold, curse my unwillingness to shell out for a proper winter jacket, and pray that the bus comes soon. But in those short moments of wintery bliss, before my craven modernity asserts itself, I am driven to later browse the shelves of CLP Main, a reaver in search of Viking vibes I can enjoy from the safety and warmth of my couch.
For rollicking escapism, you can’t beat Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series, beginning with The Last Kingdom. Cornwell is an old hand at historical fiction, having penned the lengthy Sharpe series of novels set in Napoleonic times. The Saxon Tales take place in 9th-century England during King Alfred’s wars with the invading Danes, a group of Vikings long on hair and short on patience. These pagan raiders are actually looking to take up residence rather than the smash-and-grab type operation usually associated with the Vikings.
Scandanavia of the period was facing growing population pressure and the impetus to immigrate must’ve been strong. The north could be a dismal and joyless place, and it would be another 1200 years until ABBA formed. Amidst all the hacking and slashing a complicated political landscape unfolds in an England unfamiliar to us modern readers, one with weak central authority and an undeveloped sense of nationhood. Uthred, the hero of The Last Kingdom, is violently transported into new environments where he must learn to both survive and thrive, only to have all his hard work wrecked after a cataclysmic plot twist. The novels in the Saxon Tales series are page turners, no doubt about it. And Cornwell is up to a fifth book by now, so many hours of dire combat, bending oars, and pagan oaths await the reader.
Pour yourself a horn of mead and dive in.