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Viking Tales Review by Tammy Walker

Jennie Hall
Yesterday's Classics
(919) 357-8824
PO Box 3418
Chapel Hill, NC 27515

During the long winters in Iceland long ago, author Jennie Hall tells us, families sat around the fire sharing stories about "kings of Norway, of long voyages to strange lands, of good fights." As few people could read or write, these stories were passed down verbally or through song, eventually written down on sheepskin or vellum. Some of these pieces now reside in museums in Norway, and now we may enjoy them today. A few have been retold in this compilation, Viking Tales.

In this compilation of stories, we trace the life of Harald, from his receiving of his "thrall" (or slave) at birth to the prevailing unrest during his reign as King of Norway. We are given a taste of Viking lore through his thrall, who excites the young Harald with stories of bravery and adventure. Due to the unsettled climate in Norway during Harald's reign, many brave men seeking wealth and change venture out west across the Atlantic, discovering, settling, stealing, and fighting as they travel. Through these tales, we are introduced to many different and rough characters including Eric the Red and Leif the Lucky. We are given keen insight, not only into their manners, but into the thinking that shaped their worldviews. Particularly interesting was their belief in Odin, to whom they paid homage and sought to die bravely in order to please. They hoped to die courageously in battle in order to have "merry times" with Odin in Valhalla (a place like hell). To die any other way would have been a disgrace. Besides valuing bravery, Vikings lived for a good fight and adventure through discovering new lands. Along the way, if a landowner had anything they wanted or needed, they seemed to feel no guilt in taking it.

As I have read only a bit about Vikings, many of these stories were new to me, the mindset prevalent a bit alarming. Certainly, we all know these men to have been pirates of sorts, and this is just how they are portrayed. They fight, kill, and take whatever pleases them without much care for others. They also seemed to have an intense sense of loyalty among themselves, one of the few noteworthy traits.

I think most young boys, in particular, will find these stories of great interest, the lifestyles revealed being so different from ours today. The courage and the sheer "manliness" of these men, to some degree, is worthy of emulation. And yet the vulgarity and entitlement displayed through their plundering and murdering should make every parent cautious when reading. Certainly, the intentional parent will find many teachable moments within this text; the stories will definitely "add flesh" to this period of history through these interesting tales. Told in a straight forward manner, your child 6 and older will enjoy this as a read aloud (children 8 and older could probably read it alone).

Product Review by Tammy Walker, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April, 2009