- Series: Horrible Histories
- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: Scholastic (February 4, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1407163868
- ISBN-13: 978-1407163864
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.4 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Vicious Vikings (Horrible Histories) Paperback – February 4, 2016
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Top customer reviews
Horrible history books are geared towards kids but are filled with tons of fun and interesting facts about the periods in question. In this case.... Vikings! From clothing to food, you learn more (than you wanted to know), about Norsemen...The illustrations by Martin Brown are great, and Terry Deary's writing is quite entertaining. 5 stars for a fun and amusing read. 5 stars all the way!
The bad thing is that he takes real incidents from the primary sources (in particular the Icelandic sagas), substantially alters them (by, for example, replacing the central character in the original version with someone else, or falsely describing the context), then reports them as "Viking stories." A few examples:
He tells the story of Egil's encounter with Erik Bloodaxe at York (from Egilsaga). Among the errors:
He describes Erik as having successfully defeated his brothers in the competition for the Kingdom. In fact, Erik was in York because his brothers had driven him out of Norway.
He describes Egil as Erik's one rival. In fact, Erik is the son of a king, and Egil is an Icelandic farmer (and poet and famous warrior). The basis of their conflict is not rivalry for the crown, which Erik doesn't have and Egil has no conceivable interest in, but a family feud between their families (Egil being the third generation of the feud on one side, Erik the second on the other). Finally, the book's account leaves out one of the central figures of the incident--Arinbjorn, who is both one of Egil's closest friends and one of Erik's chief retainers, and who plays a crucial role in the real story.
The book gives an equally butchered version of the famous execution scene from Jomviking saga. Almost every fact is wrong. It starts by describing the captives as the 70 survivors of the battle--in fact they are the crew of the one ship from the losing side that didn't turn and run. It continues by omitting two of the three central figures of the story--Buni, the commander of the ship, and the young Jarl, Hakon's son. It then gives Erik, a minor figure in the original, Buni's role from the original.
In addition, it omits the explanation of the execution involving the dropped knife, which is a fascinating example of scientific thinking in a pre-modern society--a deliberate experiment to determine whether human consciousness is located in the head or the body. It omits the whole business about who the Jomvikings are, why they are expected to be brave, etc.
In both of these cases, the author has taken a passage from one of the world's great literatures, the sagas, and mutilated it almost, although not quite, beyond recognition.
For a final example, the author asserts that a Norse woman divorced her husband for showing too much of his bare chest. In fact, the reason she wanted to divorce him had nothing to do with that--the anecdote concerns not a cause but a pretext. In order to be able to divorce her husband, she made him a shirt with a low neck, tricked him into wearing it, then divorced him on the grounds that he was wearing feminine clothing.
In this case and others, the real account is a better story, as well as a more accurate portrayal of Norse culture, than the author's revised version.
Compared to the norm of children's books, this has a good deal to recommend it, but compared to what it ought to have been--a truthful description of a fascinating society--it is a serious disappointment.