Voices from the past

This week is National Storytelling Week – an initiative launched by the Society for Storytelling 16 years ago.

How appropriate, then, that last night I caught up on Dr Janina Ramirez’s latest documentary on BBC iPlayer, which was about the Viking Sagas.

When the Vikings settled in Iceland, they began to write down dozens of stories, full of intrigue, deception, magic, death and love – all based on real people, the realities of life and the geography of the country in which they now lived, rather than romanticised notions or Christian morality as was often the case elsewhere in Europe.

Women play a key role in many of the stories. In the Laxdaela Saga, for example, we meet a character called Unnur the Deep Minded, who, having been widowed, journeys to Iceland, claims land, builds and runs a farm, and upon her death is laid to rest in a ship within a burial mound – a custom usually reserved for men.

As Dr Ramirez explains, it seems that the recording of these tales, most of which had existed long before in oral tradition, was an achievement made possible by the period of change the people were experiencing – cultural, religious and political.

These stories, now collectively known as the Viking Sagas, are not only works of art and important historical documents, they are also enduringly popular. The imaginations of the young people interviewed by Dr Ramirez are clearly still captured by these dramatic tales.

Utterly fascinating viewing.