From Byzantium to the Orkneys in the Comics

Between 2007 and 2012, Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, published a series called Northlanders by Brian Wood. It was comprised of various stories set in the Viking Age spanning the attack on Lindisfarne to the battle of Clontarf in Ireland in 1014. Some stories spanned multiple issues while others were one-offs.

The first story arc, later collected in one volume, is called “Sven the Returned.” It tells the story of the not very originally named Sven who goes from Mikligarður, or Constantinople, to claim his inheritance in the Orkneys. His father has recently died and the place has been taken over by his evil uncle.

The story is rather pedestrian, a simple tale of coming back for revenge better done in Hrafn Gunnlaugsson’s movie The Raven Flies and hopefully in the upcoming Northman by Robert Eggers. The characters are rather one dimensional and a Saxon invasion of the Orkneys at this time seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, the story does show the Viking World as a whole, reaching from Mikligarður in the east and all the way to the Faroes in the west. The fact that Sven has served in the Varangian Guard marks him out as tougher than his opponents, in much the same way that having served the Eastern Empire was seen as a mark of honour in the Icelandic Sagas.

Sven, having seen the world and met Muslims and Orthodox Christians, sees himself as culturally superior and less superstitious than his contemporaries who stayed at home, which probably would have been the case. A whole series set in Byzantium would probably have been more interesting, but at least the Orkneys finally get their due as an integral part of the Viking Age.

Northlanders was cancelled in 2012. Perhaps Wood’s previous series, DMZ set during the second American Civil War, may yet prove to be more historically accurate.

Björk’s Viking Film Cometh

So the good news is that the Norseman, Robert Eggers’ 10th Century Icelandic=set epic starring Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgård, Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke, and Björk, of course, has got a release date. The bad news is that we have to wait almost a whole other year, as it won’t be out until April 8 next year. Well, at least the cinemas should be open by then and one should no longer have to navigate the rigours of eating popcorn with a mask. And seeing Björk play a Slavic shaman will surely be worth any wait.

From Iceland — A Conversation With Björk

Björk’s Salmon Inspires Viking Film

Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgaard and Willem Dafoe are among the actors in the eagerly awaited Viking epic The Northman. The idea for the film, which is apparently about a Viking prince seeking revenge in Iceland, can be traced to a dinner party that Björk held some years ago. Director Robert Eggers and his wife were on a trip to Iceland and, like anyone would, expressed interested in meeting Björk. Unlike most people, however, they were summarily invited for salmon at the Björk residence, even if they had never met before. Björk also invited her friend and sometime collaborator Sjón to the dinner. It turned out Sjón was a big fan of Eggers debut film The Witch, and Eggers was similarly a fan of Sjón’s 2008 novel In the Mouth of the Whale. Both, as it happens, are about 17th century belief in magic, where the supernatural is ingrained in the world view of the characters. This led to the two collaborating on the screenplay for the upcoming film where, as previously mentioned, Björk will play the role of a Slavic witch. This marks the songstress’ first foray into acting since Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark from 2000, and one of few examples of Vikings interacting with Slavs on the big screen. In an interview with Icelandic National Radio, Sjón said he would rather fail to do a Viking film with Eggers than anyone else. The film will no doubt attempt to capture the Viking mindset in a manner not previously seen.

You can hear the interview here, where Sjón also talks about the movement of myths from east to west, from Asia to Europe, in the past 8000 years (Icelandic only).

Varangians Could Only Visit Constantinople in Small Groups

At the end of August, Turkish news sources announced that the remains of a Varangian settlement had been discovered outside Istanbul. This is not the first hard evidence of Northmen in what was once the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the most famous being the runes found inscribed on the walls of the Hagia Sophia itself. But it may tell us a lot more about their activities there.

The team doing the dig consisted of 75 archaeologists led by the Turkish Şengül Aydıngün and including the Polish Viking expert Blazei Stanislawski. The site is in the the ancient city of Bathonea near Lake Küçükçekmece, and findings date from the 9th to the 11th centuries. Bathonea was an international port at the time and among the objects found are a north European ambergris cross and a necklace bearing the symbol of Jörmundgandur, the Midgard Serpent.

Among the theories prompted by the discovery are that the Varangians were not allowed to live within the walls of Constantinople at the time, but could only enter in groups of 35 men at the most and had to be gone by sundown. It seems that fear of the Northmen encouraged social distancing long before our era.

For the news story in Hurriyet Daily news, see:

Björk Goes Viking in New Historical Epic

Filming of the Viking epic The Northman has finally commenced in Northern Ireland, after having been suspended due to Covid-19. The film is directed by Robert Eggers, known for his portrayal of New England historical epochs, such as The Lighthouse (late 19th Century) and The Witch (1630s), often adding supernatural elements. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård and Nicole Kidman and is written by Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón. Perhaps most interestingly, Björk will appear in the film, her role being that of a “Slavic Witch.” The film is set in Iceland in the early 10th Century and perhaps Björk’s character description indicates that connections between the western and easternmost parts of the Viking World will be utilized in the story.

Sjón and Björk have collaborated before. He has been her lyricist on various tracks, including the soundtrack to Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark for which they were nominated for an Oscar. This was where Björk debuted her famous Swan Dress, so we can only hope she will be nominated again.