The Vikings Are Coming!

I have an abiding interest in Vikings that actually started long ago, thanks – in a weird way – to Ray Harryhausen.

When I was young, my father took me to the cinema to see Clash Of The Titans. I was blown away. Not just by the special effects, or Harry Hamlin’s hair, but by the stories and characters that feature in this epic fantasy. This little movie birthed an interest in mythology and ancient pantheons that has stayed with me.

Back then, I managed to get my hands on a few books on Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. Their stories, and how the gods walked the earth, dealing directly with humans under their care in a favourable or unfavourable way.

saint-exminSeveral years later, I watched a movie on TV that I hadn’t seen at the cinema called Battle Beyond The Stars. There was a character in it called Saint Exmin played by Sybil Danning. The character was a Valkyrie, and she spoke of the glory of battle, and the honour of a good death. There was something about this character, and it wasn’t the porn-star outfit, that appealed to me. She was strong, feisty, and brave. She fought along side the men in the movie as an equal. I was vaguely aware of Valkyries but it wasn’t until after this movie I decided they warranted more research.

I will admit, my initial interest in Vikings was with the mythology, the stories involving their gods and goddesses. It wasn’t until much later that I started to look into their history and culture. The more I learned about them, the more I admired their ingenuity, their bravery, and their spirit.

Vikings_500 Over the years, I have watched loads of  movies (even some really terrible ones), read books, collected a fair amount of non-fiction and even got a tattoo. The latest manifestation in this obsession is I went to the Viking exhibition currently on display at The British Museum until June.

I have to say, the collection was impressive, and I actually even learned a few things I wasn’t already familiar with. The centre piece of the display was the remains of a large viking warship. There were scant pieces of the original wooden hull remaining, but the conservationists had cleverly used what was left to replicate the remainder in a very simple metal frame so that you really get an impression of the size.

I wouldn’t say the visit was entirely problem free however. The entry of visitors was meant to be staggered. I was booked on a 12:30 slot, but ahead of me they were allowing in people who had a 12:40 slot, making a mockery of the whole system. The result was large swathes of people milling about with no clear direction and an obvious inability to understand the concept of queues. It was difficult to get anywhere near any of the exhibits. The description and information regarding the contents of each case was quite low down causing many people to have to bend over, or it was frequently used as a head rest for bored children.

Don’t mind me. I am just a bit grumpy. I have been looking forward to this day for a little while, and there is part of me that feels I couldn’t get as much out of the exhibits as I would have liked. To top it off, I had ensured my camera was fully charged, the memory card empty and the instruction manual to hand (it’s still fairly new). Despite looking up on the British Museum website that they allow private photography, this particular exhibition had ‘no photography’ signs everywhere. No flash photography I could have understood, to protect the valuable relics, however most cameras these days can handle low light no flash situations quite well, particularly DSLRs, so I was annoyed at this.

The popularity of vikings is undeniable. I do think there has been some kind of resurgence of interest in them. The History Channel’s show The Vikings is a perfect example of this. The historical drama has opened up the world of vikings to people previously uninterested. The exhibition I went to today was the first in about 30 years. Going by its popularity, it has been a success.

Over a thousand years after their first raids, it seems the vikings are invading once again.


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