Last Summer, The University of Chicago Press published Thomas Shippey’s Laughing Shall I Die, a look at the “Jomsvikings,” a group better known in this country by their un-prefixed appellation. Basing his research on contemporary literature by Scandanavians as well well as the European peoples who encountered them he tries to demythify them a bit – not rehabilitate them as merely industrious traders who sometimes got carried away, but to paint an accurate portrait. Central to the work are the author’s recognition that “Viking” was not an ethnicity per se but a job description. Also, that those who put in their resume had, or soon cultivated, a fatalistic attitude and were not moved by facing their own death or dispatching others when it was expedient.
The publisher’s site says:
“Laughing Shall I Die explores the Viking fascination with scenes of heroic death. The literature of the Vikings is dominated by famous last stands, famous last words, death songs, and defiant gestures, all presented with grim humor. Much of this mindset is markedly alien to modern sentiment, and academics have accordingly shunned it. And yet, it is this same worldview that has always powered the popular public image of the Vikings—with their berserkers, valkyries, and cults of Valhalla and Ragnarok—and has also been surprisingly corroborated by archaeological discoveries such as the Ridgeway massacre site in Dorset.
“Was it this mindset that powered the sudden eruption of the Vikings onto the European scene? Was it a belief in heroic death that made them so lastingly successful against so many bellicose opponents? Weighing the evidence of sagas and poems against the accounts of the Vikings’ victims, Tom Shippey considers these questions as he plumbs the complexities of Viking psychology. Along the way, he recounts many of the great bravura scenes of Old Norse literature, including the Fall of the House of the Skjoldungs, the clash between the two great longships Ironbeard and Long Serpent, and the death of Thormod the skald. One of the most exciting books on Vikings for a generation, Laughing Shall I Die presents Vikings for what they were: not peaceful explorers and traders, but warriors, marauders, and storytellers.”
This followed by a buncha review excerpts.