Month: July 2017

The hammer and the cross – rethinking the Vikings

I heard an interesting interview with Robert Ferguson on the New York Times Books podcast at the weekend in which he talked about his new book on Scandinavia (“an engaging, layered look into a culture,” New York Times). It reminded me that I did an interview with Robert a few years ago when his new history of the Vikings, The Hammer and the Cross, came out. I listened again to that interview this morning on the dog walk and thought I’d repost it here.

In the interview, Robert told me:

One of the most important reasons for the outbreak of the age [of Viking raids and conquests] was acts of cultural self-defence. Almost – it is anachronistic – but almost terrorism. They couldn’t defeat the might of the [Christianizing] Frankish empire on the battlefield, so they resorted, as many a small culture will do when it’s under cultural threat, to terrorist-like activities, violent manifestations on frankly soft targets, monasteries and so on.

“And of course there was money to be had and things to be stolen as well, but there was no need to burn these places down and kill the unarmed monks, so I think that you have to look for some explanation as to why there was an almost psychopathic edge of hatred to this. It wasn’t simple robbery…”

 

Philip Hoare on Leviathan

philip hoare leviathanI see that Philip Hoare is publishing the third volume of his trilogy about the sea next week. RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR comes nine years after his award-winning book on the culture and history of whales, Leviathan, so I though I would re-present the interview I did with Philip about that book back then in a coffee shop in Bath (to listen click on the player above or download here)… As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

The story of a man’s obsession with whales, which takes him on a personal, historical and biographical journey – from his childhood to his fascination with Moby-Dick and his excursions whale-watching.

All his life, Philip Hoare has been obsessed by whales, from the gigantic skeletons in London’s Natural History Museum to adult encounters with the wild animals themselves. Whales have a mythical quality – they seem to elide with dark fantasies of sea-serpents and antediluvian monsters that swim in our collective unconscious.

In ‘Leviathan’, Philip Hoare seeks to locate and identify this obsession. What impelled Melville to write ‘Moby-Dick’? After his book in 1851, no one saw whales in quite the same way again.

This book is an investigation into what we know little about – dark, shadowy creatures who swim below the depths, only to surface in a spray of spume. More than the story of the whale, it is also the story of our own obsessions.