Viking Sagas

I recently finished two excellent historical fiction series: Lars Walker’s Erling Skjalgsson saga (review here) and Giles Kristian’s Raven series. I read the first book of the Raven series, then the Erling Skjalgsson saga, then the last two books of the Raven series.

Both stories are about proud Viking warriors and the struggle between the old ways of Norse mythology and the “new” worship of Jesus. While Kristian’s Raven is a “none” at the beginning, he adopts the Norse pantheon as his own and remains hostile to the “White Christ” and His followers throughout the tale. Walker’s Aillill agrees to be a priest at the beginning merely to save his own hide, but grows into both the faith and his role as a priest. Each story presents its main character’s faith in as strong and honest terms as possible, and the comparison is telling.

Raven and the Wolfpack fiercely defend their beliefs and their gods against the Christian Englishmen and the African Muslims, but they consistently reveal that their devotion is rarely mutual. Men perform rituals and habits for the sake of maybe getting Odin or Thor or Loki or Tyr to notice them and help them. There is no confidence in their help, only a shot-in-the-dark wish. They even question whether their gods will notice them in faraway Constantinople.

On the contrary, Father Aillill finds Jesus consistently faithful and dependable–far more than he expects, and certainly far more than he deserves. The Wolfpack do everything they can to merit divine help; Aillill makes clear time and again that he does not merit anything good, and time and again receives it.

What you believe matters, because the one(s) you believe in matter(s). Odin and Thor are elilim–no-gods, nothings. They have, at best, limited reach and fickle wills. Yahweh, on the other hand, is God above all gods; the song of the saints is “Who among the gods is like You?” There is no limit to His reach, and His will never changes.

Kristian’s storytelling is excellent, and you genuinely care about the Wolfpack. You can’t help but admire Sigurd; you can’t help but love and laugh along with the brutes. But for me at least, I couldn’t help but noticing how helpless and hopeless they were without Jesus.

Good fiction accomplishes a lot. It reveals so much that we might otherwise ignore via direct statement. I was once as helpless and hopeless as Raven and the Wolfpack, but the true God of Aillill saved me and has been faithful to me all along. He is the only hope for those around me who are as helpless and hopeless as I was, and I may be the undeserving, unwitting, and stumbling priest who shows the way.

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