Notes on the Text

The Slayer Rune - linguistic style
(These notes were first published in The Slayer Rune.)
This saga is, as they say, a work of fiction. On the whole, the names, characters, and incidents portrayed are the product of the author's imagination. However, to state that: "any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or localities is coincidental," would not be entirely correct. The Vik locality, for instance, still lies at the end of Vikkilen, a narrow inlet near the present-day town of Grimstad in the southernmost part of Norway. Bringsverd, the neighbouring farm, was a well-known centre of power in the Early Middle Ages. Both places lie in an area packed with stone-settings, bautas, and burial mounds from different Iron Age periods, including the Viking Age of Sigve the Awful. So, in this saga, resemblance to actual localities is in fact intentional.

Likewise, some of the characters in the story, such as the kings and queens, are authentic persons, many of them portrayed in Icelandic sagas. Yet, even if renditions of their movements, kingdoms, and reigns are based on historical records, the tale uses facts relatively freely. There is no proof of King Godred ever being at Vik, as described in the story. However, if he were at Vik – his son in his youth, the summer exceptionally cold, and King Harald Greyfell still alive – it must have been in the second part of the 960s, probably in 967 AD.

When writing historical fiction, many linguistic issues will have to be decided upon, not least questions regarding names and diction. Since the story is set in Norway, the proper names used are simply modern Norwegian equivalents of Old Norse names, such as Harald for Haralðr and Sigurd for Sigurðr. However, pragmatic considerations govern the spelling of names. Most modern Norwegian first names have been kept as they are, such as Sigve and Sigrunn, whereas in some cases – mostly for reasons of pronunciation or to avoid the Norwegian characters æ, ø and å – spellings have been slightly changed, such as in Gisli for Gisle and Hakon for Håkon. Old Norse epithets are usually translated or adjusted, such as in Big Bork and Thorstein Baldhead, and sometimes reshaped, as in Skarphedin the Second-Sighted. In rare cases epithets are kept unaltered, as in the name of the historical person Harald Grenske.

A few non-English words, such as gard, horg, and hov, are used in the story, mostly words denoting objects or practices specific to the Viking era. The Old Norse word gard (garðr), for instance, is very often synonymous with the English word farm, and in such cases, the word farm is used. The word gard, however, had a wide range of meanings, such as fence, enclosure, yard (an English word of the same origin), town, city, or house in a city. Miklagard, meaning the great city, was the Norsemen's name for Constantinople. Generally speaking, the word gard was used to denote enclosed spaces where humans lived, as opposed to the perilous wilderness: the woods, the moors, the mountains, and the sea. Interestingly, the concept of gard is central to the Old Norse world-view: At the centre of the world, in Asgard, the aesir (the gods) had their halls. In between Asgard and Utgard, in the middle, in Midgard, humans lived. In Utgard, outside the gard, the wilderness was inhabited with dangerous giants, gygres, and all kinds of unruly creatures and forces. By using the word gard, different parts of these wider meanings are sometimes alluded to in The Slayer Rune.

The Leathal Oath - linguistic style
In the Viking Age of Sigve, most farms, or gards, had a holy shrine, a place where the dwellers kept (representations of) their favourite gods, such as Odin and Thor. At some gards the gods lived in a separate, small house, a horg (horgr) made of stone or wood. The hov (hof) was a place or an area used for worship and sacrifices, and since archaeological excavation has provided little evidence of separate buildings made for such activities, it is believed that sacrifices and rituals were performed inside the main hall, or, which is even more likely, outside, on an elevation in the landscape. The word hov also signified a hillock, and the word was often used to name gards with sacrificial grounds. Such gards or hovs were often situated on sloping hills, just as Vik in The Slayer Rune.

The place-name Vik is made from the old word vik, meaning a bay or small inlet. It is believed that the word viking has the same root. The word Viking (with a capital first letter) is a rather modern coinage, used to denote a member of an ethnic group living in Scandinavia in the eighth to the eleventh centuries. For people living in that age, it had a much narrower meaning: a viking was a seafaring pirate who went raiding and robbing, as opposed to traders and farmers, settled craftsmen, and housewives. In their longboats, bands of vikings travelled far away to England, France, and Spain, but they could also go ravaging and plundering neighbouring lands, and even places within their own realm. It was common for a farmer to occasionally turn into a viking: to go aviking gave both wealth and prestige.

The Red Gold - linguistic style
The use of carefully modernized Old Norse names, such as Bork and Gisli, and non-English words, such as horg, hov, and viking (with a small first letter), is meant to add to the reader's feeling of being somewhere else, in a northern culture long gone. This doesn't mean that words of Latin or Greek origins are avoided. On the contrary, imported words are an indispensable part of modern English. Many imported and newly coined words, however, are associated with social systems, technologies, religious beliefs, or psychological ideas unknown to people in the Viking Age. Such words are mostly avoided, but for reasons of connotation rather than origin.

As for linguistic style, the Old Norse poems were complicated and difficult to understand (at least for modern readers), with extensive use of alliteration and elaborate figurative expressions, the so-called kennings. By contrast, in literary prose – the sagas – the writers used a simple and more colloquial language, often characterized as being clear-cut and to-the-point. Persons and events were always seen from without and pictured through dialog and accurate descriptions, giving the tales an objective and surprisingly modern feel. Without trying to emulate the language of the sagas, in The Slayer Rune the author has nevertheless tried to create a realistic style, also in the sense that long-forgotten creatures, powers, and gods are treated as if they were real, an integral part of the world in which Sigve and his family lived. For stories placed in historical settings, it is this author's belief that trustworthy realism is the best basis for true fiction.
John Snow, 1. April 2013

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