Vikings in popular culture

I recently re-watched the Marvel comics film Thor and I was immediately drawn to some of the visual design aspects of the film in relation to my project.

The film is based upon the Marvel comics character Thor, created by Stan Lee.  Thor is part of a race called the Asgardians, who were worshiped by the Viking people as gods.  Thor is the god of thunder and the heir to his father Odin’s throne, as King of the Asgardian gods.

It is important to note that the film is based upon a fictional character that lives in fictional realms, based upon the mythical god of Norse legend.

As I watched the film, in the scenes that featured the realm of Asgard I noticed a lot of carvings adorning the walls, doors, floors and furniture, these were obviously heavily influenced by the same carvings that I researched and tried to incorporate within the thematic design of my application.  (To see my previous post on Viking carvings click here)

Below are some comparisons of the carvings and symbols that I looked at and the carvings featured within the film.,r:2,s:0,i:71,r:8,s:0,i:81

As you can see the set design has taken influence from traditional Viking carvings and I was pleased to see some examples of historical truth regarding the Vikings featured within the realm of popular media.  In a previous post (see here) I looked at probably the most popular misconception regarding the Vikings, their helmets.  This misconception has spread widely throughout popular culture, fed by inaccurate representations in many aspects of the media, see below:

By clicking the link below you can see a page featuring cartoons, all of which have Vikings with horned helmets

I thought it would be interesting to examine other examples of Viking heritage featured in popular culture.

The Vikings had a major effect on their own time period but in the 19th century they rose to prominence again, this is described on the BBC’s website

“it was Victorian Britain that really invented the Vikings as we now know them. The term ‘Viking’ was virtually unknown until the beginning of the nineteenth century”

In the book ‘Nordic Tourism: Issues and Cases’ the authors also draw attention to the role of Victorian Britain in establishing the modern interpretation of the Vikings, “It was Victorian Britain that really invented the Vikings as they are now often portrayed in public mind” (Hall, Müller & Saarinen 1961: p37)

The 19th century was a time when many Viking sagas where translated to English, Reverend William Strong translated Bishop Esaias Tegnér’s Frithiof’s Saga.  Hall, Müller and Saarinen indicate that this was a pivotal point in the Vikings emergence into popular culture “it was the publication in English of Bishop Esaias Tegner’s saga based on a 14th century Icelandic saga that captured the British public’s imagination” (Hall, Müller &Saarinen 1961: p37).  This may also be the one of the first instigators of the horned helmet misconception “The impact of the saga was profound as it was published in 16 English language versions during the 19th century, perhaps just as importantly many of the editions were published with accompanying pictures of Norseman in horned helmets thereby creating the image of the Viking and of the northern lands and values in the British imagination” (Hall, Müller & Saarinen 1961: p37).

This is an image of the Vikings that we now know through archaeological research to be false

Even though we now know this to be a falsehood, the image is deeply ingrained into popular culture Hall,  Müller and Saarinen (1961: p37) explain how this has happened “an image, albeit socially constructed in modern terms, that has subsequently been reproduced in film, television and all sorts of media. ”

Bishop Esaias Tegnér’s Frithiof’s Saga was not the only piece of Viking based text or media produced at the time, Sir George Webbe Dasent was a keen studier of Scandinavian literature and he translated Njal’s Saga amongst other Scandinavian works but translations of old text were not the only path for Viking mythology into popular culture.

Wilhelm Richard Wagner a German composer featured Viking mythology in some of his operas, in particular Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), within his operas these beings of myth and legend became characters, much in the same way that Marvel Comics Thor was a character based on myth but this is where things can become twisted.

Misconceptions of historical facts can be fuelled by the neglecting of due diligence by media producers or simply the embellishment of known facts for effect but this is not a new situation, as in the children’s game Chinese Whispers a message often gets distorted as it passes through a sting of communicators, Leavitt (2010: p97) explains:

“ In generation after generation, tellers of tales have largely unconsciously elaborated stories that refer obliquely to great themes that are sensitive for their own society, multiplying contrasting images and relations to which they allude without facing them directly. The recognition, even unconscious, of such implicit patterns would be the source of the intellectual and aesthetic satisfaction that myths offer to their receivers and would explain both their preservation and their transformation through time.

The Norse myths by definition are not based upon any proven facts, in the same way that there is no proof of any gods in any religion but what we take as fact is the earliest recounts of these beings as stories based upon the beliefs of the cultures relevant to the time, in other words the Vikings existed and they created imagery that represents their beliefs in these beings.  In the image below you can see a carved stone from the Viking period, depicting Odin the king of the gods riding his eight-legged horse Sleipnir.

Due to the lack of physical evidence, most items of Viking history shown in the media have been subject to some form of artistic licence but we need to be careful because as time goes by more artists and storyteller may add their own embellishments, based upon other already added extras or edits and this bricolage of different influence may lead to a result that bares little relation the truth.

Since the Victorian times Vikings have been dramatised in many different ways, including books, films, comics and illustrations, below are some examples:

Many Viking films have been made over the years, here is my selection based upon the films that I have actually seen:

The Vikings

The Vikings was an action/adventure film made in 1958, it starred Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis and was directed by Richard Fleischer.  This film appears to be well researched and more accurate than some of its modern day counterparts.  In the paper ‘The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages’, Author Arne Lunde (2011) describes the film “the 1958 classic Hollywood epic The Vikings, an iconic popular work that still remains the most widely-known Viking film over a half century later.


Set in Scandinavia this film is based upon the people who went on to become the Vikings.  The film follows the exploits of Beowulf, an arrogant and cocky young warrior, as he attempts to help a Danish king who’s kingdom is being terrorised by a fearsome monster.

Beowolf the film is based upon an old English poem of the same name, it dates back to the Anglo Saxon period that coincides with the Viking raids, invasion and settlement in England and I believe that it is no coincidence that the story is set in the Viking homelands.  The British Library describes Beowolf below:

Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English, the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest. It is one of the most famous works of Anglo-Saxon poetry, and tells the breathtaking story of a struggle between the hero, Beowulf, and a bloodthirsty monster called Grendel. ”

Although the original manuscript is written in old English, the Viking influences in the poem cannot be ignored.

One of the reasons Beowolf and the Vikings make good characters within media renditions is explained by María José Gómez Calderón, she says:

“The resetting of Beowulf as object of mass consumption is framed by the popularization of the Middle Ages. Since the Romantics defined the period as the mythical time for national origins and seasoned it with the charm of primitivism, the medieval past has allured popular imagination as a time of heroes and glorious deeds, of communal projects and attachment to local roots that reverses the individualization of industrial and post industrial eras.11 Particularly, the worldwide success of the narratives of the ‘‘sword and sorcery’’ type has codified the medieval past as a site for fantasy parallel to what we may call‘‘the historical Middle Ages.’’”Gómez Calderón 2010: p992 – 993)

13th Warrior

This film follows an Arab banished from his homeland; he joins a group of Norse warriors who are summoned to fight mysterious creatures that are causing great devastation.  The film is based on Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel, Eaters of the Dead, which is influenced by the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf.  The thing I like about this film is that it draws attention to the links between Vikings and the middle east, it is a little known fact that the Vikings traded with the middle east, artefacts have been found at either end of this trading route that prove this.


This film shows how the Vikings travelled to America and in this case they happen to accidently leave a Viking boy who gets raised by a Native American tribe.

This film is a work of fiction that should not be used in any kind of historical context other than the acknowledgment that the Vikings did travel to America; there are also lot of my favourite Viking misconceptions within this film, especially those horned helmets.

Sports Teams

There are many sports teams that use the Vikings name, below are a couple that I have chosen to examine:

The Minnesota Vikings are an American Football team playing in Americas NFL, their team name and branding is supposed to be reflection of Minnesota’s Scandinavian cultural heritage, they have a massive impact on popular culture in today’s world, as you see by searching for Vikings on the internet.  Their branding is based upon the historical Scandinavian people but as you can see below those inaccurate horns are featured once again.

The Minnesota Vikings are not the only sports team to use the Vikings as a theme, Rick Granthem believes this is due to the Vikings being associated with strength and power, he says:

In a lot of societies, Vikings have been symbols of strength, invincibility, and pure testosterone. This is the reason why a number of organizations, groups, and individuals have used Norse elements in their activities.”

In my own city up until recently we had a speedway team called the Hull Vikings, again their branding featured a large burly man with a horned helmet, see below:

Much of today’s Viking representations are still based upon the stereotypical sea faring, bloodthirsty warriors who raped and pillaged but this is very much an Anglo American point of view, in Scandinavia the view of Vikings in popular culture is very different; Hall, Müller and Saarinen (1961: p37-38) explain “in the Nordic countries the dominant image of Vikings in popular culture finds fewer refrerences to war and warriors. Instead the Viking representation is very much concerned with the people who were regarded as pirates abroad, but lived in a well-ordered society at home.”  This is a problem for the tourist industry in these countries, as tourists arrive in the Viking homelands expecting to see the stereotypical Viking representation, “it is often the more bloodthirsty image that initially inspires the Anglo American tourists to visit the Viking heritage sites or themed festivals.”  (Hall, Müller & Saarinen 1961: p37-38)  This can lead to brand confusion in the same way that I had previous concerns about my application logo (see here), when the public expects to see one thing they can struggle to identify with the accurate depiction, so causing confusion.

One who is easily influenced by popular culture, may be forgiven for thinking that the Vikings were American football playing warriors with horned helmets, who worshiped gods that came down to earth and decided to protect alongside a mysterious secret police force, a super soldier, a green raging monster and a man in a mechanical suit, but the purpose of my application is to restore the balance by providing a more accurate rendition of Viking times through my piece of Viking media. Like the storytellers of the past, I will be simply preserving the tradition of delivering the information but I hope my spin is one of accuracy made interesting through interactivity and illustration.

Hall, C. M., Müller, D. K. & Saarinen, J. (1961) Nordic Tourism: Issues and Cases, UK: Channel View Publications

Gómez Calderón, M. (2010) ‘My Name Is Beowulf’: An Anglo-Saxon Hero on the Internet’, Journal Of Popular Culture, 43, 5, pp. 988-1003, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 24 April 2012.

Leavitt, J. (2010) ‘MYTHEME AND MOTIF: LÉVI-STRAUSS AND WAGNER’, Intersections: Canadian Journal Of Music, 30, 1, pp. 95-116, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 24 April 2012.

Lunde, A. 2011, The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages, Scandinavian Studies, 83, 3, pp. 471-477, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 April 2012.

Getting my application on my iPad

I reached the point where I needed to sign up as an Apple iOS developer and get the required certification, so I could begin testing my application on my iPad.  Through my previous research I know that this is a relatively easy process if you are working on an Apple Mac computer, as the process has been designed specifically for that scenario but unfortunately the process for window’s PC users is rather more complicated.

When I began this process I hoped that it would take me an hour or so, leaving me with plenty of time to get on with the next part of my project but like all best laid plans this was not destined to be the case.  I started by following a tutorial video by Adobe’s Lee Brimlow, see link below:

The tutorial breaks down the process into easy steps and you would think that the process is relatively painless but unfortunately for me this was not the case.  Everything was fine up until I created my adobe certificates, at which point you need to convert them into a PEM file, for me I was left with a rather long error message that stunted my progression and the tutorial was not much help at this point as it just assumed that the process would work as depicted, so I went in search of answers and there was a lack of information to be found but I did come across another tutorial, see below:

For this tutorial two different users had left comments saying they had encountered the same problem as myself and in both cases they stated that they had resolved the issue when they realised they had both missed an earlier step in the process, so I re-examined my steps and could not identify a step that I may have missed, at this point I had to leave it having now been working on it for a full day.

The next day with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm I continued to search for other possible solutions and kept returning to the missed step scenario, so I tried repeating the process several times unsuccessfully, I then tried to break down the code snippets provided in the tutorials and I realised that the Apple certificate filename in both tutorials is different to the certificate filename that was produced when I followed the process.  I then tried to produce another certificate to see if I had somehow unknowingly done something that created this differing filename but my new certificate still had the same filename as the previous one, this left me with the conclusion that Apple have started producing development certificates under a different name since the creation of the tutorial, so I amended the code to fit my certificate and thankfully, eventually I had no errors and was able to move on to the next step.

At this point you are required to type a password, so I began typing and nothing happened, the letters were not appearing on the screen and I restarted the process several times all with the same result; a frozen keyboard, so I searched for an answer to this problem and luckily I found one answer in a forum; the keyboard was not frozen, the problem was that whoever had programmed this process had not indexed forward, so the letters of your password were being entered just without a form of visual feedback, in other word they were there but just not visible, so this finished the process and I was now an official iOS developer with the required certification to get my app onto my device for testing.

So finally after two full days I have my app on my iPad, it works great and it looks pretty good, even if I do say so myself, so I am happy about that but the process involved was an absolute nightmare.

Interactive Timeline

I have just finished the interactive timeline part of my application.

Timelines are a very important way of depicting the chronological order of events relating to a particular subject, they can help the viewer to understand the order of a set of events, in order to see a progression, recession or relationship between time and events.

I started by looking at other Viking timelines, some of which you can see below:

I then incorporated events from theses timelines along with previously researched events together to form my own timeline.  I did find it interesting though that some events where listed with differing dates in different timelines, in particular the dates of monarchs, so I looked at the British monarchy site (which you can find below) to make sure my information was accurate.

I then started to draw maps and to research and illustrate some of the individuals mentioned in my time line, to see these see below:

My timeline shows 21 different events in Viking history, it is my intention for my timeline to depict a number of things about the Vikings and the time period that they occupied in history.  I hope to show the large period of time that the Viking age encompasses and the escalation in events within that time.  I also would like it to show some of the key people and places involved in Viking history and the large area of the world that the Vikings affected.  I have attempted to accomplish my aims by picking particular events that I believe will show the user the relevant information and I have tried to enhance and reinforce the textual information with illustrations and basic animations.

I also intend to add extra information at a later date, in the form of Easter eggs and I don’t mean the chocolate kind, Easter eggs in this case relate the games design principle of adding intentional hidden content that can be found by exploration rather than indication.

I am reasonably happy with my timeline but I did encounter some difficulty when copying my illustrations from Adobe Illustrator to Adobe Flash, for two programmes that are suppose to work well together they struggled and threw up some interesting issues, particularly with stroke widths changing sizes on their own.

I may revisit my timeline before the end of the project with fresh eyes to assess its strengths and weaknesses but for time being it will stay as it is so that I can move forwards.

Below is a video of the current timeline:

Thank you Microsoft

Last week my computer decided to update itself, resulting in it being unable to boot or to reach a point at which I could access any of my files.  This was extremely annoying and as a result I have lost some of my most recent work and a great deal of valuable time, which I could not afford to lose at this important stage of my project.

I finally have a working computer again and I estimate that I am now about two weeks behind, I am hoping that this will not have a significant impact upon my marks and at least I am now able to get back on with it.

Where Did They Come From? (Interactive Map)

For the ‘Where Did They Come From?’ section of my app, I have been researching information relevant to the section and I am hoping to show the users not only an overview of the area the Vikings were from, but also by adding an interactive map, I hope to provide information that shows the differing fractions that existed within the Viking people.

The Vikings came from an area that today is three different countries, so I have created an interactive map in which the user can press the individual countries to find out more information about the Vikings from that particular country.  I have also focussed upon a main Viking settlement from each country, I intend to draw recreations of these settlements but this will require further research, so I will post an update when I have completed that task.  To see the current state of the “Where Did They Come From?” section, see the video below:

First Viking Character

I have been reworking the face for my main Viking character and you can see the old and new versions below:

I have also been working on the body for my characters, I have been watching video tutorials from to try and help me, I made a body to mould my Vikings clothing around, see below:


I have been researching Viking clothing in order to give my characters an accurate appearance, according to the BBC History Vikings website:

“Vikings wore clothes similar to those of people in England, Scotland and Wales at this time. Men wore tunics and trousers. Women wore long dresses, with a kind of long apron. Clothes were made from wool, linen and animal skins. Mostly people dressed to keep warm!”

The website also explains how the Vikings coloured their clothing:

“Vikings made vegetable dyes from plants to colour their clothes: blue (from the woad plant), red (from madder) and yellow (from weld).”

When I recently visited the Jorvic Viking Centre, I saw a real Viking shoe.,r:8,s:0

I used this when drawing my own Viking shoes and I also remember seeing examples of Viking dress, so I thought I would look at the descriptions of Viking clothing on their website, they say:

“The ordinary folk of the time wore clothes not dissimilar to the basic garments of the warrior. Men would wear a pair of trousers, most likely be made from wool. The tunic they wore would be long sleeved and quite long, perhaps down to the knees. This would be fastened at the neck by a brooch, and tied at the waist with a leather belt. In colder weather a wool or oiled leather cloak might be added to this ensemble.”

They also say: “Clothing was cared for and patched when necessary. The colours of the clothing ranged from muted beiges and browns for poorer folk, to the vibrant reds, yellows and blues of the wealthy. Shoes would be made from leather.”

Using the information I have researched, I created two versions of my first character; one wearing traditional a Viking tunic and another wearing Viking armour, the Jorvik Viking centre describes Viking armour:

“The most common image of a Viking is one in full battle dress with armour and weaponry. A Viking warrior was a well-armed and formidable opponent, but although there was a basic uniformity to their weaponry, Vikings did not wear any particular uniform. Protective gear might have included a leather body-protector, for those who could afford it, and additional protection from the knees to the neck was available in the form of a shirt of mail, sometimes called a brynie.”

I intend to use this to show that there were two sides to Vikings and that they were not just raiders, as Jorvik describes this is the most common image associated with the Vikings but it is important to me that my application shows a broader perspective of the Viking people.

I have added my two Viking variations to my application, see below:

I will add more detail about Viking clothing later in my application as I intend to have a page devoted to this topic.

Viking Carvings, Symbols & Thematic Design

The Vikings were skilled craftsman and the carving of symbolic images and patterns was a large part of Viking culture, Carrie Love & Lorrie Mack make this point in their book Viking, “The Vikings didn’t paint or draw, but they were great carvers and modellers”( Love & Mack, 2007: p4)

Viking carvings have been found on stones, bone work and wood work, an example of Viking carvings on wood can be seen on the Osberg Ship, see video below:

Vikings decorated gravestones and other stones, see below:

Vikings also carved figureheads for their boats, this is described by Love & Mack (2007: p7) “The Vikings often carved figureheads of beasts and dragons on their ship prows to scare off their enemies”.

You can see this in a piece from the Bayeux Tapestry, see below:

These carvings and the symbols they depict are something that I wanted to incorporate within the thematic design of my application, so I created a mood board of Viking carvings and symbols, see below:

I then created my own versions, see below:

It was my intention to base my thematic design on a Viking wooden carving but I soon realised this was not really going to be appropriate, mainly because it was too dark and not aesthetically friendly enough for a children’s application, see below:

I then remembered the tapestry, so I tried to recreate a similar feel to that of the tapestry and I am very pleased with the result, see below:

I then created an alternate version for the other orientation and a border for the content, see below:

The tapestry theme also fits with Viking culture, as wealthy Viking households had tapestries adorning their walls, according to Fiona Macdonald “Viking women and girls all knew how to spin thread, weave and sew.”Macdonald (2010: p28), she also says “Viking women were skilled at embroidery and at weaving patterned braid – made by passing coloured thread through holes in bone tablets” Macdonald (2010: p29)

I have added my tapestry based designs to my application, to see the result see below:

I am extremely happy with the feel of the application, so now I can move forward and start adding content.

Love, C. & Mack, L. (2007) Viking, United Kingdom: DK Publishing

Macdonald, F. (2010) Viking Town, United Kingdom: The Salariya Book Company Ltd