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504 thoughts on “Discussions

  1. I’m continuing the discussion of the “Vikings” show here, because we were getting too many replies within replies, and the space to post was getting constricted. Anyone new to the discussion might want to check earlier posts.

    Look…there are two different ways to look at the series. One is to analyze/critique it as a story, and the the other is to analyze/critique it for historical accuracy. The two are totally separate issues. As Kate posted earlier, when she watches the show, she’s not enrolling in a class to learn about the history of the Vikings–she likes the show because she finds it to be “an exciting and absorbing show with wonderful characters – the entire production is top notch with great actors.” In other words, she enjoys the storytelling, finds it to be of high quality, and doesn’t care about the history aspect. Similarly, Nick, in his recent post, described the character of Ragnar in the show as “a deeply complex, intelligent and cunning man. He IS violent and ruthless, but also a loving father, very quick-witted and a brilliant strategist.” That’s character development by the writers and the actor, which is an important part of storytelling. It has nothing to do with history.

    I have never criticized the storytelling aspect of the “Vikings” series. The writing, the acting, the plot development–all of which are aspects of storytelling–obviously work. The show has attracted a large audience and popular following, and has been renewed for several seasons so far. It is successful storytelling.

    My negative comments have all been about the history. Admittedly, I have only watched three or four episodes of the first season, because the numerous historical inaccuracies bugged me so much I found myself unable to overlook them and enjoy the storytelling aspects of the show. That’s my personal preferences and bias kicking in. I can’t speak to episodes and seasons I haven’t watched, but I’ll be damned if I will ever agree that what I have seen is anywhere close to being historically accurate. Let me give some examples.

    A major premise of the plot in the first part of season one is that Ragnar believes there is a rich land–England–that lies somewhere to the west, although no one really is sure that it exists, or where it is. He wants to try to find it and raid there, but the jarl refuses, because he owns the ships. But Ragnar and his comrades secretly build their own ship, and sail on a long, dangerous journey across uncharted seas, until they find England.

    The real history: there was constant back and forth trade between England and Scandinavia for centuries before the Viking age began, and many of the Germanic settlers who overran much of Roman Britain after the Roman legions pulled out were Jutes, from Jutland, in Denmark. The Viking peoples knew exactly what and where England was, and to sail to England from Denmark could take less than a day with good winds.

    The premise that the jarl would own and control all of the ships is ridiculous, too. Ships were not a rare commodity in Viking era Scandinavia–they were a primary mode of transportation.

    The depiction of Viking society, at least as portrayed in the early episodes I watched, is also way off. The show depicts the jarl as an absolute, all-powerful ruler, whose word is law and must be obeyed, and who holds the power of life and death over everyone whom he rules. In fact, one of the most notable things about Viking society was that it was based on individual freedoms and rights, and the rule of law. The law was very important in Viking society–in fact, in every community there would be someone designated as the law-giver, whose responsibility was to memorize the unwritten codes of law. Everyone, even jarls and kings, were bound by the law, and everyone (in theory, at least–of course on occasion powerful men ran roughshod over the rights of others) had equal rights under the law. That is a hugely important, and often overlooked, aspect of Viking culture, and is one of the big reasons why they were so important to world history. The Vikings eventually overran and settled much of England, and spread their values there. Many centuries later, those beliefs in individual freedom and rights, and the rule of law, would be carried to the New World by English settlers. Arguably, the foundation of what the United States’ system of government stands for can be traced back to the Vikings’ culture and society.

    You would never know, from the episodes I saw, at least, that Viking era Scandinavia was a big place, with numerous kingdoms, vigorous trade with other countries, and a high enough level of social organization to be able to put together vast fleets and armies. From the show, one might instead almost think the Vikings were a very small group of persons who lived in a limited geographical area. There’s no sense of scope at all; the show operates on a tiny scale (which, no doubt, is largely a budget issue).

    Besides getting most of the big things wrong, the show (at least the episodes I’ve watched) is also riddled with numerous small inaccuracies: the costumes aren’t accurate, the hair styles aren’t accurate (Vikings didn’t have mullets!), on the ships, the steering oar is on the wrong side.

    If the show appeals to you, that’s great–enjoy it as a story. But please don’t believe that it’s historically accurate, and please don’t try to argue to me that it is, unless you have a LOT of research and examples to bring to the discussion to support what you say. Accept the show for what it is, and what it is not: powerful storytelling, with little historical accuracy.

    • From the title in the link, I was expecting-and hoping–this to be a somewhat more broad-based discussion of the issue, rather than a critique of part of the “Vikings” television series. There’s actually a fair amount of historical information to support the theory that the Vikings were little, if any, more brutal and violent than other peoples of their time.

      I find it ironic that the producer of the “Vikings” show is now claiming he’s striving to be historically accurate. In an early interview when the show first came out, one of the producers very candidly said they were not striving to be accurate, because they thought that might be less interesting than the effect they were going for. In my opinion, the show (or at least the episodes I’ve seen of it) is horribly historically inaccurate.

      • The Vikings is not a documentary – and I couldn’t care less if it is “horribly historically inaccurate”, I’m not enrolled in a workshop or class to learn about the history of Vikings. What I do know is that Vikings is an exciting and absorbing show with wonderful characters – the entire production is top notch with great actors.

        • And I totally understand and appreciate that you feel that way–if you’ve read any of my previous remarks about the show on this site, I’ve acknowledged that it is a very popular show, which many viewers find very engrossing and entertaining. I personally enjoy watching Game of Thrones–I think it’s entertaining and the production values are very high. It’s not history, but so what–it doesn’t claim to be.

          What I do have a problem with is the “Vikings” show’s producers making claims about how historically accurate it is, because it’s not–but most people who read such claims will believe them, and will think the show really represents what the Vikings were like. Forgive me my own bias, but it has been a goal, in writing the Strongbow Saga, to not only tell a (hopefully) vivid and engrossing story, but also to portray the Vikings as they really were: a highly developed, complex society–not crude, violent barbarians–who had an enormous impact on European history and culture.

          • I kind of feel like you’re exaggerating here. Being up to the third season myself (which is currently airing), I’ve seen all it has to offer as yet, and I feel I can say that the general depiction isn’t too bad. Of course there are lots of inaccuracies like mispronouncing “Jarl” and such, but they are in no way depicted as “crude, violent barbarians”. Ragnar himself is a deeply complex, intelligent and cunning man. He IS violent and ruthless, but also a loving father, very quick-witted and a brilliant strategist. The guy went from a simple farmer to a king, after all, and even seduced a princess through wit and charm alone. He’s also negotiated for farming land in England with the king of Wessex.

  2. I have really enjoyed your series. I only discovered your work about a month ago and have already finished book 4. When looking for the next book I was disappointed to see that you have not yet written it! Such is life. I am now looking forward to reading your Beast of Dublin book and will wait patently for book 5. I do have a question though. If I am reading the post correctly I see that you are planning to end the series at book 5, but why? I could see where you could write 10 books in this series. After all, Halfdan is still a young man with lots of adventures yet to come!

    • Hello Mike,

      Thanks for writing. I plan to end the Strongbow Saga with book 5 because it is a single story, with a definite beginning and ending, driven by Halfdan’s quest to avenge Harald’s death–I just had, for practical purposes, to stretch the telling of it across five books (in structure, it’s not unlike The Lord of the Rings, which was told across three separately published books). But the ending of that story does not necessarily mean I’ll never write any more books about Halfdan–I do have some ideas in mind. But any future books would be separate stories from The Strongbow Saga.


  3. Hi Mr Roberts,
    I love your books and after you hadn’t published any books for a while I thought you had stopped writing. Then, a couple months ago I logged onto Amazon and saw in may recommended section, The Long Hunt By Judson Roberts I almost didn’t believe my eyes :) since then i have read the Long Hunt at least 5 times.

    Anyhow, I got bored the other day and decided to look up some Norse stuff and I ran across Ragnar Longbrok and then, in turn, Halfdan Whiteshirt. I was wondering if Halfdan Whiteshirt and Halfdan are the same person, or was Halfdan’s name influenced by the Whiteshirt’s or was it just a coincidence.

    Thanks for the awesome books, you are by far my favourite author,


    • Dear Malcolm,

      Thanks so much for writing and for your kind words. As far as Halfdan’s name, Halfdan was not a rare name during the Viking period, and I didn’t base him on any historical person. I actually chose the name because, since his mother was Irish, he is only “half Dane.”