Vikings and The Last Kingdom: how TV drama fell in love with bloodthirsty paganism

At the Catholic Herald:

The Vikings are violent and uncouth, but for all that they are portrayed as being honest and earthy, authentic and fun-loving; the Christians in contrast are peaceful but also cowardly and hypocritical. The Church is accused of acquiring gold for monasteries out of sheer greed; their attitude to sex and celibacy is nonsensical; the Christian armies are weak and worthy of contempt, led by cowardly kings (in real life the Vikings disappeared for a while after the 790s because they were heavily defeated in battle by the Northumbrians).

Athelstan, a monk kidnapped by Ragnar and taken back to Denmark, eventually comes to abandon God and worhip the pagan deities – basically because Christianity is no fun while Odin and Thor allow him to live life as one long stag party. And when the Danes and English have a truce it is the Christians who break it, having sworn to their God, despite historically it being the pagans who always went back on oaths (well, according to Christian chroniclers).

On top of this the English are portrayed not as an early medieval society built on the warrior code of Beowulf and loyalty to one’s loafward, or lord, but as a somewhat effete group of class-bound idiots led by incompetent toffs; their military apparel is far more like a Roman legion than the early medieval style it would have been in reality, allowing the Vikings to look plucky when in reality Saxon armies were very small and made up of farmers (which is why the Vikings tended to win). In season one the Northumbrian King Ælla (who is historical, although he lived much later in the 860s) has one of his cronies thrown into a pit of snakes, like a cartoon English baddie from a Hollywood film (this is partly borrowed from Norse myth, although in The Tales of the Sons of Ragnar it is Lothbrok who is thrown into the pit – Lothbrok died on countless different occasions in various horrible ways, if the legends are to be believed).

This contrast of pagan manliness and Christian hypocrisy is also found in Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom, which was adapted into a TV series last year.

read it all there

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