- Pick up the book nearest to you (no fishing).
- Instead of all that "one page, some sentences" stuff, find a small clutch of sentences that, taken as a quote, are exemplary of why this book is cool to you.
- Explain why you're reading this book.
And my answers:
- The book: The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in 19th-Century Britain, by Andrew Wawn.
- A fat excerpt:
What's in a Title?
In many ways, the Victorians invented the Vikings. The word itself, in its modern incarnation, is not recorded in the OED until just thirty years before the young Princess Victoria's coronation1; and by 1837 only a handful of her most scholarly subjects had begun to acquaint themselves with those Anglo-Saxon texts in which the term had previously been recorded. Yet, within fifty years, the word "Viking" was to be found on dozens of title-pages...written for all conditions of men, some conditions of women, and quite a few conditions of children.
The ubiquity of the term "Viking" masks a wide variety of constructions of Vikingism: the old northern are variously buccaneering, triumphalist, defiant, confused, disillusioned, unbiddable, disciplined, elaborately pagan, austerely pious, relentlessly jolly, or self-destructivtly sybaritic. They are merchant adventurers, mercenary soldiers, pioneering colonists, pitiless raiders, self-sufficient farmers, cutting-edge naval technologists, primitive democrats, psychopathic berserks, ardent lovers and complicated poets.... In wrestling with this problem, and more generally in their reconstructions of the Viking-age world, Victorian enthusiasts gave birth to some strange old northern progeny. There was rarely a dull moment in this nineteenth-century marriage of Mercury and Philology.
- I'm reading this because:
On a little-known (we like it that way) Ásatrú mailing list, one of the more vocal (if occasionally caustic) members thinks this book should be on every heathen's shelf--and after a scant few dozen pages, I'm already inclined to agree. Expect a full review in an upcoming Idunna, complete with some of the usual comments that "Wawn's style is engaging enough to make this a pleasantly accessible read".