I received a communication regarding my novel ‘The War Wolf’ and, in particular, my use of the word Viking. It seems that there is evidence that suggests the term is actually a verb and not a collective noun. Apparently to viking was to go on an expedition.
Now ignorance of early medieval languages is pretty enormous, I sadly admit, so I don’t feel qualified in challenging this assertion that in the mists of time the word Viking once meant something different to what it does to us today. In fact I am inclined to think that it probably did, because, let’s be honest, that is the nature of most, not necessarily all, but the majority of human languages. They evolve. Those that do not evolve become staid and eventually die out.
‘The War Wolf’ is an example of historical fiction in which I have attempted to be reasonably accurate, but it is not an academic tome on the 11th century. It might have read that way before the first re-write of course, but that is never what I intended it to be. It is X% history, Y% fiction and, I hope, 100% fun.
Of course the accuracy of the historical facts has to be important when writing such a work. This in order to achieve a couple of important points; first, that the reader can trust you to know what you are writing about, and second; that it allows the writer to create a convincing historical world through which the story moves.
I have endeavoured to be true to this principle, spending a lot of time researching facts about the Anglo-Saxon world and trying to develop means of introducing those facts into the narrative in a way that the reader would not find distracting or objectionable. I think that I have been largely successful, even if I do say so myself.
Now the thing about the word Viking is that it has evolved from being a verb in old Norse to becoming a collective noun in modern English. Where once it might have meant to go exploring it now means a bunch of people who pillaged their way across the world like a medieval 18-30 holiday that’s gone seriously out of control, or something to that effect. In fact most connotations attached to the word Viking are so deeply ingrained into our culture that I think it would be very difficult to have them replaced with the notion of a group of adventurous mates going for a quick bit of exploring?
Nope. The people are warmly attached to the hair-suit, axe wielding, horns on his helmet, Eric Bloodaxe type of persona that has come down to us through the ages; warts and all (the horns on the helmet for instance). A Viking is a Viking whether he went vikinging or not. You say the word Viking and everyone knows what you are on about, no confusion there, job done. If you say to viking more than likely they are just going to think that you are talking about more than one Viking.
I must say in closing that I am actually happy to have been educated on this point, it makes the history a little more interesting, and in no way am I attempting to rubbish the idea; like I say, my ignorance on the subject does not qualify me to do that. But I do believe that the passage of time and the evolution of the word Viking entitles me to use it in the commonest sense in which it is understood today without feeling that there is a degree of historical inaccuracy creeping into my story.