He is not very handsome either. The castle is cold and damp, with a moat that is little more than a puddle of mud, which won’t drive anyone away, and the throne looks like it was made for a kindergarten child. Obviously, this is not going to work. And in Nancy Marie Brown’s “The Real Valkyrie”, the Warriors Royals aren’t what you think they are.
Author Nancy Marie Brown. Contribution / Johann Sigfussen / Profilm
One hundred and forty years ago, near the Viking town of Birka, a surprisingly large tomb was unearthed, along with a mystery. The remains were those of a much-loved Viking warrior; there were weapons around the bones, as well as bits of silver wire, a few playing pieces, and the bones of two horses. In 2017, the tomb was given the number Bj581, for identification purposes.
It was the same year DNA tests proved the grave was not of a male warrior as it was assumed, but of a woman.
While very little can be known about Bj581’s life, Brown says science hasn’t been entirely surprised by the sex of the bones. In the 10th century when Bj581 was alive, kindness was not the norm. Violence was, and “fearlessness was the highest virtue” for both men and women.
Few defined gender roles have been imposed except through wealth; indications are that Bj581 was brought up in a well-to-do household, so her options included battle, looting, and debauchery.
For the sake of the story, Brown imagines this female warrior as someone named Hervor, who, because Bj581 was not born where she died, could have been ripped off and moved by a Viking queen; children then, says Brown, were often raised by adults who were not their parents. As a teenager, Hervor might have preferred the company of “her brothers”, even taking a male name and taking up arms, which was her choice; Brown imagines that she was a servant before proving herself in combat.
Hervor was fierce. She was very smart. And she was revered as the leader of others – enough to deserve a very beautiful grave.
There appear to be two separate audiences for “The Real Valkyrie”.
The former will be captivated by the Norse mythology and legend that bridges the cracks between author Nancy Marie Brown’s base tale. Even the word of the title is explained in perspective. Scholars today dismiss the Valkyrie as little more than the Nordic version of the Easter Bunny, although Brown makes arguments to the contrary.
The second audience will be the happiest. Brown delves into Nordic history and society to show readers what the life of Bj581 was like, and how science reinforces the past. In doing so, she examines trade and commerce, gender roles and battles, and the dates and names you’d expect in a history book. There is also a touch of feminism in there.
Just a caveat: large parts of these books are fiction, which can irritate readers keen to sink their teeth into a good non-fiction book. Even so, it shifts a hard-to-tell story onto an easier path, making “The Real Valkyrie” a royal read.
“The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women” by Nancy Marie Brown is available from Barnes & Noble at Apache Mall, the Rochester Public Library, and online booksellers.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since the age of 3 and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on the Wisconsin prairie with a man, two dogs and 16,000 pounds. Look for it on bookwormsez.com or bookworms on Twitter.