Vikings, Monks, and a Good Old Story

Wondering Fair

The History Channel’s big hit last season was the historical drama, Vikings, based on the legendary ninth century Norwegian, Ragnar Lothbrok. The History Channel has long been struggling for stronger ratings, and Vikings’ success has encouraged them to do more historical fiction.

Historians find historical fiction rather problematic, primarily because itvikings History Channel relies on anachronism: the assumption that people in history thought just like us, even though they often didn’t. The creators want you to empathise with their characters, so you’ll keep watching the show. Historians are thus left with a quandary: we like historical fiction, because it encourages people to explore history, but it often portrays people from history inaccurately.

In Vikings, this is most clearly seen in Athelstan, a monk captured by Ragnar from the famous Lindisfarne monastery. By this time in real history, Celtic and Benedictine monks had recently converted most of Ireland, Wales and…

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