The Northman — just a bit too down home for me

I count two films by Robert Eggers as just about the best movies of the last decade — The VVitch and The Lighthouse — they’re thick with an otherworldly atmosphere and a fearfully weird kind of horror. So of course tonight I had to go see The Northman.

It was OK. Not as compelling as the other two movies, but I enjoyed it as a grim, fatalistic saga of bloody revenge. I think it was less exciting to me because the primary elements of the story — howling with the wolves, vengeance, berserker rages, betrayal, and vicious fights against the backdrop of an erupting volcano — were so familiar. That’s the mundane experience of growing up in a Scandinavian-American family, don’t you know.

Also, finally, we get some affirmation of our religious beliefs. Yes, when I die in battle, a Valkyrie will descend to carry my soul into the sky to Valhalla, where I will spend eternity feasting and fighting. I saw it in a movie now, so you know it has to be true.


  1. wzrd1 says

    The last five times that the Valkyrie came for me, I beat them back and continued to ugly my way through.
    Pretty sure that they’ve given up.
    Afterlives are for babies. ;)
    Besides, Berserkers don’t hold a candle to the Qwib-quib.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    It may be mundane from your viewpoint, but it is still better than the Abrahmic religions.

    I dug up an old episode of The Scathing Atheist, they skimmed through chapters of the koran every three episodes.
    Here we learn it is appropriate to murder a child because it was going to rebel against its parents at some point in the future. And having a daughter instead of a son is a great embarassment. It starts 34 minutes and 20 seconds in.
    The viking sagas were a better class of tales.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    @ 3
    I know western modern muslims are waay better than their prophet, just as jews are better than the homicidal OT god.
    I just had to make that clarification. (And if you disapprove I will totally call on Thor to murderize you with lightning. Because old tales are reliable.)

  4. birgerjohansson says

    As deities go, I prefer the modern ones. Like in Lucy (film, 2014). Or the one in the SF story, where the answer is ” now there is a god”.
    Imagine the cool quests modern gods might set up!

  5. microraptor says

    The big criticism I heard about The Northman was that it was allegedly supposed to be trying to reclaim Norse stuff from the white supremacists but failed to actually portray any parts of Norse society that supremacists like to ignore, like how much independence and freedom women had or that it wasn’t a monoculture of blond Aryans.

  6. says

    I think the only way it worked to wrest the Norse angle from white supremacists is that it portrayed Viking culture as pretty fucked up. Lots of blood feuds and murder and slavery, you know.

  7. Rich Woods says

    @birgerjohansson #5:

    Imagine the cool quests modern gods might set up!

    Like getting broadband working? Or cutting down on the paperwork needed for exporting lampshades?

  8. hemidactylus says

    Norse myth needs to be taken back from those bastardizing Marvel clowns too. A bucket of rotten surströmming thrown in their general direction.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    Mmm.. surströmming!
    Yes, the far right does not like uppity women. Ironically, the Icelanders who established a foothold south of Labrador on the East Coast were led by a woman.

  10. René says

    Is there a reason, PZ, that you typed The VVitch with two Vs rather than a W? (I seem to remember that it is a Turkish way of writing/typing a W, a letter not in the Turkish alphabet, and therefore not present on a Turkish keyboard.)

  11. Nemo says

    Alexander Skarsgård played a character called Eric Northman on True Blood, a vampire who was originally a Viking prince. So when the ads for this movie started airing, I wondered if it was a prequel. But I guess he’s just typecast.

  12. muttpupdad says

    But PZ aren’t those the points that the reichwing most admire about the Norse?

  13. Walter Solomon says

    What is this preoccupation with Vikings in pop culture? Were/are they that interesting?

    Is there a reason, PZ, that you typed The VVitch with two Vs rather than a W?

    Apparently it was common for two Vs to stand in for a W in the 17th Century so the filmmakers used it in the logo of the film. I assume PZ is just going along with how it appears on posters.

  14. Tethys says

    I’m not particularly interested in Vikings, but I have learned to read Old Norse because it’s the gateway language to the entire Germannic branch of languages. There are older dialects such as Gothic, but there isn’t really anything to read in Gothic except a translation of the fricking Bible. ( Justinian destroyed all their books and even had Theodoric removed from the mosaics in Ravenna). The purple bibles are beautiful works of art, but not very useful for philology.

    The letter U, V, and Double U are all the same letter in Futhark. Uraz=ox, aurochs, wisent.
    Wunderbar, jah?

  15. macallan says

    Yes, when I die in battle, a Valkyrie will descend to carry my soul into the sky to Valhalla, where I will spend eternity feasting and fighting. I saw it in a movie now, so you know it has to be true.

    Careful, if you go with the wrong valkyrie you might end up in Marvel Valhalla.

  16. René says


    the logo of the film.

    I ran across that logo also, a while later. I would have emulated it as V space V.
    (As always, fun to italicize a full stop. ;-) )

  17. Tethys says

    I will agree that the Sagas are unflinchingly bloody, but the most metal of the sagas is still Hervior saga auk Heidricks.

    Who doesn’t love a girl who hates spinning and decides that she is going to be a warrior instead? Then she gets a magical cursed sword Tyrfing out of her dead berserker Fathers gravemound, gets turned into a dude, goes viking, kills everyone who tries to kill her, and eventually marries and has some kids so that the story continues to the second Hervior and the war of the Goths and Huns. It’s pretty epic.

  18. KG says

    Once upon a time, the Valhalla washrooms were being renovated – new plumbing, hot and cold running water, all mod cons. Suddenly a new arrival appeared, an old, blind Viking, who had insisted on taking part in battle and had – as he no doubt intended – been killed. Having come straight from battle, he was naturally covered in mud and gore, and wanted a wash (people don’t always realise that the Vikings were quite keen on personal cleanliness). “Where’s the sink?”, he kept saying, “Where’s the sink?”. The renovation workers were in a bit of a quandry, as the old sinks had been taken out, and the new ones had not yet been put in. But one of them had a brainwave, propped a hod up against the wall, filled it with water, and led the old man to it. He washed off the stains of battle, and never noticed the difference.

    Which just goes to prove that a hod’s as good as a sink to a blind Norse. Ba-dum-tish!

  19. Deep Myth says

    I went looking for a PZ’s review of “The VVitch” during Jan/Feb 2015 (when it was in theaters), but didn’t find it. I’m fascinated hearing about horror movies, even thought I don’t see them. So I wonder about people’s reaction to such movies. The VVitch sounded particularly freaky, so did Midsommar. But I’m not going to indulge my bile fascination by seeing those movie. (I usually regret it)

  20. whheydt says

    Re: macallan @ #17…
    My daughter is rather miffed at the casting for Sif in one of the Marvel movies. The actress is a brunette. The producers apparently never ran across the line…”Golden-haired Sif.”

  21. Tethys says

    I haven’t seen the movie, but it is very well researched, they hired Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir as the Norse expert. Her latest book is ‘Valkyrie:The Women of the Viking Age’
    which has a runic subtitle on the cover. It reads ‘Smash the Patriarchy’.

    Apparently this film is partly based off the original tale of Hamlet (Amleth) as mentioned in various sources besides Saxo Gramaticus.

    KG @20

    Which just goes to prove that a hod’s as good as a sink to a blind Norse. Ba-dum-tish!

    Lol, that’s a terrible pun. I shall assume you know exactly who Hod is, since he is indeed the blind god who accidentally kills Balder with mistletoe. Then the Aesir gods try to get Balder brought back by having every living thing weep for him, similarly to how in Peter Pan, everyone needs to believe in fairies if you want Tinkerbell to live.

    Þökk (Loki in disguise) has the best line. “ I never much liked that son of a b****, let Hel keep what she holds. “

    So just like Jesus, Odin’s son is dead, but will return to fight at Ragnarok, and then the world restarts.

  22. whheydt says

    Re: Tethys @ #24…
    To the future-predicting Vikings posit that, at the end of Ragnarok, there is a cosmic Ctrl-Alt-Del?

  23. Tethys says


    Völuspa is the name of the poem that contains the story of both the Creation and the destruction and rebirth of the world afterwards.

    It’s references several aspects of prechristian beliefs, and the beginning and end are quite lovely. Never mind that the Völva is dead, apparently speaking to the dead is one of the magical abilities of Odin.

    She is somehow polite, and quite mocking/cranky in her replies to his questions. She keeps repeating, “Have you learned enough yet, or what?”

  24. robro says

    About the VV, I believe it goes like this: The character we call “Vee” was the symbol for “U” in the long ago past. When it was doubled (“VV”) it became “double-U” which is the name for “W”.

  25. KG says

    Thanks – I knew the story of Baldur, but had forgotten the name of his unintentional killer!

  26. says

    Haven’t set foot in a movie theatre since the start of the pandemic. But I have been enjoying the videos from old norse specialist Jackson Crawford.

  27. Tethys says

    I too enjoy Dr Jackson Crawford and his videos on the subject. He has a very dry and subtle sense of humor, and no patience for the born again pagans and latter day Nazis who think they are experts on the subject.
    It’s amusing to see a cowboy who blushes at some of the very frank sexual language found in those old manuscripts, and will not say the words testicles, or penis. He translates those into French.

  28. Rob Grigjanis says

    Tethys 31: My impression is that there aren’t really any experts on the subject. The sources we have for Norse mythology seem to be very few, and mostly written down long after the Christianization of Scandinavian societies.

  29. birgerjohansson says

    While at least one woman – found buried in Birka- seems to have had a high military status, the vikings were pirates who massacred civilians to cause panic and make resistance break down, after which they raped and looted their way through the communities and dragged able-bodied people away as slaves.
    None of the actual ‘vikings’ -as distinct from their artisans, bards and other non-viking community members – can be used as an ideal to strive for, just like the ancient Spartans were absolute assholes.

  30. Tethys says

    @Rob Grigjanis


    My impression is that there aren’t really any experts on the subject.



    Dr Crawford has a Masters Degree in Norse Language Studies, and has taught the subject at multiple universities before quitting to focus on his YouTube channel. Apparently it’s far more profitable, sadly. There are many experts in the fields of philology. I also enjoy Anatoly Lieberman’s blog on OUP. (Oxford) He writes about etymology and I would consider him another ‘Expert’.

    The sources we have for Norse mythology seem to be very few, and mostly written down long after the Christianization of Scandinavian societies.

    There is a very small body of literature that has survived, but we have Runic inscriptions that date back to Roman times for studying how the various languages evolved. Snorri compiled his Edda from several written and oral sources, but he does not always cite them. He goes on at length in his notes about the vast amount of manuscripts held in English monasteries in his era. We have Beowulf, and the Exeter Book, a few herbals, etc remaining as primary sources.
    Vellum is expensive, it was shaved and reused.

    Germannic languages are every bit as ancient as Latin and Greek, but Christian Popes established a monopoly on both language and literacy after Charlemagne. Latin was the only permitted written language. So sadly, there is little in local vernacular, but there is enough to fuel scholarly debate. Muspilli is written in the margins of a manuscript.