In Vikings’ Wake : The Viking Motif in Children’s Literature

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In Vikings’ Wake : The Viking Motif in Children’s Literature

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Publication Conference other
Title In Vikings’ Wake : The Viking Motif in Children’s Literature
Author Sundmark, Björn
Date 2012
English abstract
A mythologized past is essential in the construction of national identity. In order for the modern state to become a national community, tradition has to be “invented” and the nation has to be “imagined.” Fuelled by Romantic and patriotic ideas of the folk, the Viking age was, for instance, reconceptualized in Sweden following the traumatic loss of Finland in 1805. Leading poets like Esaias Tegnér and Erik Gustaf Geijer founded Viking societies and wrote poems on Viking themes, which soon entered the Swedish canon, and painters fabricated the image of the marauding, mead-drinking Vikings, complete with horn-crested helmets and other historically nonsensical attributes. Children’s literature was deeply implicated in this collective imagining of the nation too, and Viking themes and topics were established in Swedish children’s literature and culture, not least in school readers. If the educational uses of the Viking period were manifold, there are actually few Viking novels to speak of in the first half of twentieth century. One can speculate as to why there was so relatively little children’s fictional writing about Vikings when they were apparently important in schools. My hypothesis is that it was precisely the association of Vikings with patriotic history teaching that made them less appealing to employ in fictional, non-didactic works. This situation prevailed until after the demise of the Viking school histories in the 1960s. The Viking age played an important in the other Scandinavian countries as well, but in this article the focus will be on the Swedish material. Instead, points of comparison will be established with how the Viking motif has been used in children’s literature in the English-speaking world: first as a foe against whom the nation must rally (Henty), later as and formidable but admirable foreigner (Ballantyne), then as a potent forefather (Linklater, Treece). In the most recent transformation, contemporary international representations of Vikings in children’s literature eventually have come to replace those that are nationally or regionally determined. I argue that the heterogeneous uses of the Viking motif, especially in the late international adaptations of Vikings in picture books, comics and film ultimately lead to a reductive stance. Thus, in a book (and film) like How to Tame a Dragon by Cressida Cowell we have come to a point where “Viking” has truly become a floating signifier: a helmet with horns – attachable to almost any tribe of muscular, bearded and bold men.
Conference
Children's Literature Association : "Slipstreams" (14-16 June, 2012 : Boston, USA)
Language eng (iso)
Subject Humanities/Social Sciences
Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION
Handle http://hdl.handle.net/2043/22021 Permalink to this page
Link http://www2.simmons.edu/library/about/displays/511... (external link to related web page)
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