Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World
By Dr. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir
A podcast for The New Books Network
The World of Viking Women
Fascination with the Viking Age is at an all-time high, though it has never really gone out of fashion. There is something irresistible about the Vikings, a civilization dedicated to exploring the edges of the known world, forging an empire from North America to Kiev, which dominated the political and economic landscape from the Fall of Rome to the First Crusade. Writers, artists and musicians such as Richard Wagner and J. R. R. Tolkien have found inspiration in the stories, legends, and sagas of the Vikings, and modern culture too has successfully mined the canon for the inspiration behind blockbusters as “Vikings,” “Game of Thrones” and the Marvel films. But few scholars have delved exclusively into the world of Viking women until now.
Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir’s recent book, “Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World” (Bloomsbury, 2020) is a deeply satisfying exploration of the lives of Viking women.
The Life Cycle of Viking Women
“Valkyrie” is skillfully arranged around the skeleton of the life cycle of a woman — from birth through childhood, adolescence, marriage, and old age. But this skeleton is expertly fleshed out with cogent examples drawn from archeology, contemporary accounts, and the rich literary vein of the Old Norse sagas. The result is a gripping read, which plunges us into the world of the Viking women as they grapple with the emotional rollercoaster that is adolescence, weather transactional marriages, and navigate old age.
The Viking Age (793 – 1100 CE) was a time of exceptional opportunity for social mobility. Viking raiding and trading had the potential to create substantial wealth for those of comparatively humble origins. “Valkyrie” looks at this phenomenon, too: charting the role women played in running successful enterprises, and sometimes even ruling countries. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir also explores the emotional lives of Viking women, and their capacity for protecting their loved ones as fiercely as they exact vengeance for wrongs done to them.
1539 Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus shows the Baltic Sea Littoral
Viking Women take Center Stage
“Valkyrie” is that rare academic book that reads like an action-packed thriller and is sure to appeal to serious scholars of early Scandinavian history as much as it will to those who are eager to learn more about the women behind the great men of the Viking age. This is a book that gives the hitherto unseen Viking women a chance to take center stage and emerge as powerful agents for change in their own right.
Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir earned her PhD from the University of Oxford and has held teaching and research positions at Yale, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, and Harvard. She is currently based at the National Library of Norway in Oslo. She is the author of Women in Old Norse Literature: Bodies, Words and Power, The New Middle Ages. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Find out more about Johanna at her website, vikingwomen. org.
Enjoy my conversation with Dr. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir
Recommended Related Reading about Vikings and Viking Women
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