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Fact, fiction, and film
Kevin J. Harty

Today in Touro Park in Newport, RI, a curious structure stands that has long been enshrined on the city’s flag, a stone tower said by some to have been built by Vikings before Columbus landed in the New World.  How the tower – the ruins of a colonial mill built by an ancestor of the Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold – came to be associated with the Vikings is a long story that can be traced through history, literature, and film. And that association can be seen in terms of a larger political and cultural agenda which was intent on validating an alternate founding narrative for America. That narrative sought to recast the extent of the pre-Columbian Viking presence in America in terms of both race and religion, often at the expense of indigenous peoples.

in From Iceland to the Americas
Verena Höfig

‘Vinland and white nationalism’ explores the utilisation of Old Norse culture among white nationalist groups in the United States, focusing on new religious movements with radical racist agendas. To facilitate such an analysis, the article both provides a brief overview of some of the larger neo-pagan currents in North America and focuses on specific neo-völkisch hate groups such as the Virginia-based Wolves of Vinland, whose members have appeared in major alt-right publications and on white supremacist platforms. For groups like these, ‘Vinland’ serves as a stand-in for the promotion of whites-only tribes and communities in the United States, while the organisation's occupation with an imagined ‘Germanic hero aesthetic’ aligns not only with the men's rights activism of some of its members, but ultimately exposes misogyny as the unifying factor for the radical right in the United States.

in From Iceland to the Americas
Remembering the Norse
Tim William Machan

When the adventurer Richard Burton coined the phrase ‘Iceland on the Brain’, he meant the near obsession that many British travellers had with Iceland, its sagas and poems, and natural landscape. A similar brain fever has focused on the brief Viking settlements in North America. Its earliest cases can be diagnosed about two centuries ago, and its symptoms have included poems, novels, travel books, translations, inscriptions, artefacts, archaeological digs, legislation, films, comics, video games, statues, restaurants, music camps, racism, and even a theme park. Having gripped Canada, the United States, and South America, the fever now has spread across the globe. Variously attached to the whimsical, the socio-political and the downright toxic, the condition may not so much have infected individuals as been actively sought out and embraced by them. It is almost as if Vinland has become a kind of free-floating yet powerful signifier.

in From Iceland to the Americas
Norse gods and American comics during the Second World War
Jón Karl Helgason

In the period 1939–1945 several American comic magazines published graphic stories featuring pagan Nordic gods, including Odin and Thor. These range from Jack Kirby and Joe Simon's ‘The Villain from Valhalla’, appearing in Adventure Comics in 1942, to ‘The Shadow of Valhalla’, published in the magazine Boy Commandos in 1944. The most interesting of these publications, however, was the series ‘Thor, God of Thunder’, published in Weird Comics as early as 1940. The five stories in question were attributed to one Wright Lincoln (a pen name used by several writers and artists). The article traces how all of these American comic stories were inspired by the medieval Icelandic Eddas and how they contributed, with their anti-German propaganda, to the so-called ‘comic book war’.

in From Iceland to the Americas
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Megan Cavell and Jennifer Neville

The Afterword celebrates the communal practice that is riddling—whether composing, solving, interpreting, or editing. It aims to draw together the individual voices of the riddles and of the chapters of this volume into a communal unity that celebrates diverse methods and perspectives. This book’s sections—Words, Ideas, Interactions—arguably move, flow, collapse inward, and reconstitute themselves through the act of interpreting, just as the riddles themselves invite constant re-reading and re-interpretation of clues and solutions. Hence, the Afterword also maps out possible directions for future work in the field of riddle studies: more engagement with the Latin collections and comparative work on Scandinavian and Celtic riddle traditions, as well as critical engagement with identity, especially identity informed by disability, race and gender theories. Finally, it suggests that the insights into daily life offered through the riddles’ subversive concealments and manoeuvrings make them ideal texts for the study of identity in all its complexity.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
Francesca Brooks

This chapter proposes a new grouping of Exeter Book riddles which share a semantic and metaphorical interest in ‘craft’ and ‘sound’: the acoustic craft riddles. In these riddles, worked objects speak, ring, and resound, while the practices which transform raw materials into artefacts are often euphonious and resonant in their own right. The soundscape of the craftsman’s workshop – its musical and melodious contexts – and the gifting of sounding voice to worked objects opens up the riddles to a celebration of the most meaningful of all audible human gifts: language, both spoken and written. This chapter explores how the acoustic craft riddles offer us a new critical picture of riddlic textuality which puts the material into a playful and rich relationship with the aural: sound and language can be crafted, like raw materials, in the production of aural artefacts. The riddles do not only rely on the voices of their poets; their linguistic mechanisms presuppose the social and communal value of the text within the word exchange: they leave space for the reader’s own voice to resonate in response and to re-craft solutions and propositions through the shaping power of their own voices.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
The early medieval contexts of Aldhelm’s cat riddle
Megan Cavell

Infamous for an ambivalence that riles some and charms others, the domestic cat’s relationship with humans is now the subject of extensive zooarchaeological study. The point at which domestication took place is the subject of a debate that is complicated by the interbreeding of domestic and wild cats. The complexity of the cat’s domestication goes some way toward explaining the sparse literary and linguistic evidence for this animal in early medieval England, where they seem to have existed largely without human interference. Despite this lack, Aldhelm’s fascinating Anglo-Latin riddle, Enigma 65, Muriceps, explores the role of the mouser in vivid detail. This chapter provides a close reading of Aldhelm’s riddle, after discussing the cat’s pathway to domestication and surveying comparative evidence from early medieval sources. It argues that the semi-domesticated nature of early medieval cats shines through in Aldhelm’s poem, which employs both positive imagery of the mouser’s domestic role (faithfulness, vigilance and guardianship), and negative imagery drawn from the biblical tradition (secretiveness, snare-laying and tribal enmity). Aldhelm’s cat is both a welcome cohabiter and diabolical presence in the human household, an ambiguity that is juxtaposed with the more thoroughly domesticated dog with whom the riddle-cat refuses to cooperate.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
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New translations of Exeter riddle fragments Modor Monigra (R.84), Se Wiht Wombe Hæfde (R.89), and Brunra Beot (R.92), accompanied by notes on process
Miller Wolf Oberman

This chapter offers new translations of some of the most fire-damaged riddles of the Exeter Book, accompanied by a translator’s note discussing the process of translating Old English fragments. While many translators attempt to smooth over missing language, the author is fascinated by the ways in which Old English poetry allows him to walk through its bones, and part of his translation instinct is about paying respect to gaps in these poetic remains, rather than attempting to force a seeming wholeness onto them. Old English poems already exist as sites of multiple kinds of loss. Given that these few remaining poems are in a language no longer spoken, are often damaged, and that many of them are considered without literary merit, it seems crucial to engage them in a way that honours their losses, instead of attempting to offer them ‘accessibility’. This place of loss and temporal and textual scarring is where these translations intervene and build. The translations presented in this chapter do not attempt to find answers to fragmented riddles. Instead, they communicate their words and their syntax, while preserving, rather than hiding, their damage.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
Britt Mize

Several textual moments in the Vercelli Book have some similarity to the rhetoric of riddles. This chapter illustrates their conformity to a larger pattern in that manuscript’s texts, a pervasive engagement with conditional revelation that promotes what the author calls ‘enigmatic knowing’: a form of access to discourses of authority that stands in radical contrast to those that characterise modern academic structures of thought about similar problem-solving tasks. Many Vercelli Book poems and homilies show a preoccupation with revelation of truth only through the effort or virtue required to obtain privileged understanding; they posit a structuring of information or knowledge whereby signs inscrutable to many nevertheless contain what is needed to interpret them correctly, provided that their interpreters bring the proper ethical orientations and address themselves to the challenge with a spirit of responsibility. Such narratives of revelation often play out through rhetorical engagements with wisdom, celebrations of paradox, and scenes of intellectual confrontation that intersect the discursive mode of riddles in numerous ways.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
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An ecofeminist reading of Modor Monigra (R.84)
Corinne Dale

Recent studies of Exeter Book riddles and Old English literature have begun to reveal their ecological underpinnings, drawing on ecocriticism to explore the relationship between human beings and the rest of the created world. There is still much to explore in this growing field, including the relationship between the oppression of the natural world and the oppression of women. This chapter discusses Old English texts from an ecofeminist perspective, exploring the representation of, and forging links between, these two oppressed groups. It suggests that, where texts like The Wife’s Lament and The Order of the World depict both nature and women as dominated by an androcentric and anthropocentric worldview, a number of Exeter Book riddles challenge such depictions, offering us, for example, the depiction of water as both a feminine natural force and a celebrated monstrous female that is sellic (‘wonderful’) and freolic (‘free’). Drawing on recent ecofeminist scholarship in the field of eco-theology, this chapter suggests that certain riddles, including Modor Monigra (R.84), interrogate the human- and male-centred nature of wisdom and free early medieval women and the natural world from patriarchal oppression.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition