Glory Or

The raiding party hides in the woods, waiting for their signal to advance on the fortress. It boasts primitive defences by our military standards, for sure, but primitive is all you need when the attackers are similarly armed.

It’s a mixed-gender raiding party: an undetermined number of men, and one woman who is the partner-in-love-and-war of the leader, a Viking Dane of the type that rampaged up, down, and across the British Isles during the 8th and 9th centuries as one of a never-ending series of invasions. It was a “So-Called Friends, Romans, and Every-other-Country’s-men” free-for-all: Romans, of course, but also the Germanic peoples, Vikings, Normans, French and Dutch.

And the woman raider? She’s a Dane, too, of course? No, no, she’s a Saxon who was kidnapped by Danes when she was a child. She started out as a slave but now self-identifies as a Dane, as we might put it, thus settling the nature/nurture argument pretty conclusively, I think, at least with respect to group identity.

So, this is an attack by Danes on Saxons? No, no, these nice Danes are attacking some nasty Danes on behalf of Alfred (then King Alfred of Wessex and now Alfred the Great), a Saxon if ever there was one. They also have a family-feud-style bone to pick. Or head to break. It’s complicated, as power politics often is, and a blood sport, to boot.

Anyway. The raiding party waits for the signal that the other raiding party has reached its objective. For the want of a cell phone, will the shoe/rider/horse/battle/kingdom be lost? No, no, these raiders know their business. More, they approach it with a certain wotthehell attitude.

Glory or Valhalla!

Thus does the leader’s voice rise in what is clearly a familiar exhortation; thus do the raiders’ voices rise in practiced response. This shout pretty much eliminates any advantage of surprise but confers the benefit of intimidation. The phrasing itself is a battlefield-appropriate ellipsis for the whole thought, which in turn is a 9th-century version of what we might call a win-win scenario.

Today we shall prevail in battle and win glory,
or we shall die in battle and reach Valhalla.

All right then.

I know it’s TV. I don’t suppose they were as cavalier about dying as this would suggest. And yet, even allowing for George Carlin’s profane riff on our unfortunate tendency to use war as a metaphor for everything we’re trying to change in our society, it occurs to me that this alleged Viking way might be an interesting way to be in the world.

Giving it my all, in whatever activity presents. Not being overawed by established fortresses of incompetence or indifference or inhumanity. Not skulking in the woods, calculating my odds, but charging into whatever battle may be required. And never fussing about the outcome: Indeed, finding any outcome welcome.

Glory or Valhalla!

It’s got a certain ring to it, don’t you think? Or is that my (partly) Danish nature speaking?

 

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8 Responses to Glory Or

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Isabel
    Right. Glory of?
    Tom

  2. ian hepher says:

    Shades of Bernard Cornwell!

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    I’ve been reading Stephen Pinker’s Angels of Our Better Nature. Even the first chapter was enough to disabuse me of any notion that folks back in Danish/Saxon days suffered from a surplus of compassion. Up until about a century ago, it would see, humans not only got killed in constant wars, they delighted in brutality, ruthlessness, and general cruelty to each other.
    I recommend the book — not as pleasant reading, which it certainly isn’t — but to get a less-romantic view of former times.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Even in this slightly hazy Netflix view of the Danish/Saxon conflict, there’s lots of cruelty for the apparent fun of it. Or for the good of someone’s soul. A dreadful take on the Good News, in my view.

  4. I believe it is the Danish aspect of Viggo Mortenson’s heritage that gives him your impulse in acting and in life. I watched some of the video about the making of The Two Towers that showed him doing his own stunts. As he also did in Hidalgo and other films. Your description of that do-or-die approach to life has been ascribed to other Danes. Perhaps that is why Shakespeare’s pondering Prince of Denmark captured attention — as being out of character for a prince of that particular realm?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Interesting – I hadn’t thought of Danes that way before, but it could be so. As much as we are right to distrust our impulse to generalize about ethnic groups, we keep bumping up against things that look a lot like national characteristics. Not universally applicable, of course, but statistically significant at the very least.

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