-Semitic material on social media, along with the rallying cry: ‘Hail Vinland! Hail Victory’. 1
Using ‘Vinland’ to signify a whites-only United States is not a new idea. Celebrating Leif Eiriksson’s discovery of the New World and the short-lived Norse colony in Arctic Canada as major historical achievements is not a domain reserved for Scandinavian-Americans celebrating Leif Erikson Day, either – Vinland has become a term frequently evoked by white nationalists in the United States. There is even a ‘Vinland Flag’, designed by Peter Steele, frontman of the gothic metal band Type
about a related strain of brain fever, one whose earliest cases can be diagnosed about two centuries ago. Its symptoms have included poems, novels, travel books, translations, inscriptions, artefacts, archaeological digs, legislation, films, comic books, 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. To paraphrase Burton, it might be called Vinland on the brain.
Vinland, of course, is the area that Norse sagas and other medieval
Anne Stine Ingstad have shown, Scandinavians journeyed to and temporarily settled the area near L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. While their discovery hardly proves every detail in the Old Norse Vinland sagas, The Saga of the Greenlanders and Eirik the Red’s Saga , it does affirm that medieval Scandinavians did indeed voyage to North America. If any European deserves the title of ‘Discoverer of the Americas’, it would be Leif Eiriksson, not Columbus. But then, that is the point. No European deserves that title. For, if the Vinland sagas challenge the aura of
From Iceland to the Americas, an anthology of thirteen original critical essays, is an exercise in the reception of a small historical fact with wide-ranging social, cultural, and imaginative consequences. Medieval records claim that around the year 1000 Leif Eiriksson and other Nordic explorers sailed westwards from Iceland and Greenland to a place they called Vinland. Archaeological evidence has in fact verified this claim, though primarily by way of one small, short-lived Norse settlement in Newfoundland, which may not even have been Leif’s. Whether or not this settlement was his, however, the contact associated with him has had an outsized impact on cultural imagination in and of the Americas. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, indeed, novels, poetry, history, politics, arts and crafts, comics, films and video games have all reflected a rising interest in the medieval Norse and their North American presence. Uniquely in reception studies, From Iceland to the Americas approaches this dynamic between Nordic history and its reception by bringing together international authorities on mythology, language, film, and cultural studies, as well as on the literature that has dominated critical reception. Collectively, the essays not only explore the connections among medieval Iceland and the modern Americas, but also probe why medieval contact has become a modern cultural touchstone.
resonates – in a sarcastic manner – with the way Leif Eiriksson’s discovery and subsequent loss of the new continent is experienced by Icelanders today.
An interesting point of departure is the fact that the Norse settlement of Vinland was, in fact, a failure . In the words of the Icelandic historian Gunnar Karlsson: ‘Most of us would be rather surprised that the aggressive and land-hungry Viking Age Norsemen gave up their attempts to utilise the endless source of wealth which they had discovered in America.’ 2 But that is exactly what happened; the Norsemen
Leif Eiriksson, the 1893 World’s Fair, and the Great Lakes landnám
Amy C. Mulligan
surrounding it, changed the ways Americans conceived of their past – North America could now also be spoken of as Norse America. And accounts of medieval Norse exploration of Vinland by Leif Eiriksson were a persuasive and strategically retold narrative – scholarly and popular – that helped Scandinavian immigrants assimilate as American. Additionally, performances like that of the ship Viking worked to migrate the North Atlantic voyage and the Vinland landscape to the Great Lakes and onto the urban ‘frontier’ landscape of Chicago. A group of savvy ‘place-makers’ and the
which were the Norwegian-American celebrations of 1925.Animated by the work of the Norwegian-American historian Rasmus B. Anderson,these celebrations prominently framed ethnicity with gripping and persistent questions about Vinland. In what follows, then, I will show how the idea of Vinland and these 1925 celebrations contributed to what it meant to be an American of Norwegian descent. To do so, I want to read the Vinland materials in terms of their textual transcendence or transtextuality , to use the terms of Gérard Genette. 1 By these terms Genette intends a
wants the American poet to transcribe his tale because ‘no skald’ has ever sung about it. The Viking’s ensuing story is transatlantic, starting in Norway and ending in Massachusetts. He comes of age ‘by the wild Baltic’s strand’, turns marauder, then falls for a ‘blue-eyed maid’ whose father, King Hildebrand, will not let them marry:
She was a Prince’s child,
I but a Viking wild,
And though she blushed and smiled,
I was discarded. 26
Thus wronged by Old World hierarchies, the Viking kidnaps his beloved, kills her father, and sets sail for Vinland
names from the silent era, notably Crisp and Pauline Starke, in the role of a shield-maiden named Helga. 3 The film’s scenario and its fictional source reflect now verified details about Viking landings in North America recorded in the two so-called Vinland sagas – The Saga of the Greenlanders ( Grænlendinga saga ) and Eirik the Red’s Saga ( Eiríks saga rauða ). These two sagas, written down in the thirteenth century, offer at times over-lapping, at times conflicting accounts of Viking explorers who set out from Greenland and sailed west, landing at various spots
descriptions of Iceland, certain distinctive perspectives also arise from their authors’ New World background, as will be seen. During the century when the Vinland saga narratives had become accessible to the English reading public thanks to summaries, translations, and discussion published in works by Carl Christian Rafn ( Antiqvitates Americanæ , 1837), North Ludlow Beamish ( The Discovery of North America by the Northmen , 1841), and Rasmus B. Anderson ( America Not Discovered by Columbus , 1874), predictably, American visitors came ashore in Iceland with the voyages of