Sunday, March 30, 2014


4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt (Heb 6:4-6).

One thing I've noticed about a lot of TV dramas over last few years is what seems to be the increasing pattern of dramas in which there's not a single admirable character. These are often well-written, well-acted shows. For instance, when Justified first came out, I watched a few episodes. Graham Yost has a good ear for catchy, memorable dialogue. That's quite unusual these days. It also had colorful characters in the Southern Gothic tradition, although I found how it stereotypes Southerns off-putting.

But the main reason I bailed on the show early on is that not a single character was admirable. I don't care about the characters. I don't care who lives or who dies. There's no one to root for. 

As the pop culture and cultural elite rebel against Christianity, this seems to be a trend. And it may not be coincidental that we have a spate of superhero movies to compensate. I think superhero movies are the current version of the classic Western genre, which was often a stark morality play. 

Which brings me to the second season of Vikings. The men are wanton killers and the women are treacherous. Just about everyone's a villain. The only honor-code is blind allegiance to your kith and kin. It has some cute kids, but you know the little boys will grow up to be wanton killers, too, so it's like reading about the Canaanites. There's that foreboding. Saplings that grow crooked. 

There are degrees of evil. Some are worse than others. Floki is like the psychopathic clown from a horror flick. 

There's also the nonsense of the shieldmaiden. We're supposed to believe Viking society was egalitarian. Women fought side-by-side men in armed combat. But in a warrior culture, where physical strength and stamina are all-important, there can be no equality of the sexes. Let's not confuse mythology with reality. 

There's only one somewhat sympathetic character, and that's Athelstan. He's the kidnapped monk. Young, weak, impressionable, and conflicted. By "weak" I don't mean physically weak, but lacking a resolute character.

In the first season he adapted to the vikings, in terms of outward conformity, yet he also resisted. When they went to the pagan shrine at Uppsala, he took a crucifix, hidden in his garments, to steel himself against the heathen surroundings. 

But by the second season he's more fully assimilated to the social mores of his captors. He murders with impunity. He's adopted their outlook Become a backslider or apostate.

Yet when he accompanies a raiding party to Wessex, his sublimated Christian conscience begins to resurface. He spares a bishop from death by torture through mercy killing. At Mass, he goes through the motions of taking communion, but he discreetly spat out the wafer. 

Presumably, he doesn't think he can, in good conscience, receive communion. In his backslidden state, the sacrament would be a malediction. 

He's tormented by visions. At one point he prays for spiritual restoration. Asks God for a sign. 

Immediately, he receives a sign, but it appears to be diabolical rather than divine. When he became acculturated to viking society, he crossed a line. At this point in the show it remains to be seen whether God will ever forgive him and restore him. 

Studied ambiguity marks the show's viewpoint regarding the supernatural. Is Athelstan just hallucinating? Does the heathen seer (seiðmann, galdrmann) truly know the future? 

At one point, Athelstan is captured by King Egbert's soldiers, and the bishop proceeds to crucify him as an apostate. According to Michael Hirst:

I was doing my reading and discovered that there were at least two monks that had been written of who had been captured by Vikings and taken back to Scandinavia. In fact one of them, later on, was captured by the Saxons raiding back in England and they crucified him as an apostate.
That tradition is presumably indebted to Heb 6:6. Since an apostate crucifies Christ a second time, an apostate is crucified to exact poetic justice. Whether that's historically accurate, I can't say, but that's the literary inspiration for the tradition in question. 

1 comment:

  1. If you want historically-accurate Vikings with admirable characters, I can't recommend Lars Walker's work highly enough. This series takes place as Christianity is introduced to the culture. One of the best reviews says:

    "The book is not for spiritual sissies . . . rowdy action and a realistic look at the human and spiritual costs of religious and cultural conversion".