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The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

The Icelandic Roots Book Club for Thursday, Nov 2, 2023, will feature The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women with author Nancy Marie Brown.

By Heather Goodman Lytwyn

Nancy Marie Brown has published nine books since 2001. Her first one was about buying horses in Iceland, and after that, she turned to writing books full-time. I don’t know what is more impressive – the volume of her work or the incredible amount of research she does. Her diversity is evident in her experience as a writer and editor from 1981 to 2002 for an award-winning magazine published by Pennsylvania State University. The wide range of topics she explored during that time is outstanding; writing about such things as chaos theory, glass preservation, the creation of agates, comets, volcanoes, Renaissance poetry, digital photography, gambling, sustainability, wild horses, and genetic engineering.

The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women is like a tapestry that weaves together science, archaeology, history, the sagas, and fiction to bring to life a Viking warrior from the 10th century. The inspiration for this research began in 2017. That was the year DNA tests revealed, to the collective shock of many scholars, that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden, was actually a woman. In the Acknowledgements, Brown wrote: “The Real Valkyrie is my attempt to lay a powerful myth to rest: The myth that Viking women stayed at home, keys on their belts, while Viking men, carrying swords, raided and traded from North America to Byzantium, Baghdad, and beyond.” (p 281) She accomplishes this with a unique format: retelling us what she has learned through research and then using her imagination to create a three-dimensional person.

Brown uses science to link the Birka warrior, whom she names Hervor, to Viking trading towns and their voyages in the East. She imagines Hervor coming in contact with women whose lives have been recorded in the Sagas, including the Viking leader known as The Red Girl and the vengeful Queen Olga of Kyiv. Hervor’s short, dramatic life shows that much of what we have taken for granted about women in the Viking Age is not based on data but on nineteenth-century Victorian biases. Viking women were not only seen fighting beside their male counterparts, but some, like the woman discovered in the grave in Birka, were commanders of the Viking's ships. They set sail to face the dangers of the sea and defeated those who wished to have them turn back empty-handed with a combination of strategy, wit, and strength.

And what do other writers say about The Real Valkyrie?

  • “Magnificent. It captured me from the very first page!” Pat Shipman, author of The Invaders

  • “Once again, Brown brings Viking history to vivid, unexpected life – and in the process, turns what we thought we knew about Norse culture on its head. Superb.” Scott Weidensaul, author of A World on the Wing

  • “This amazing book offers nothing less than a paradigm shift….Carefully researched and beautifully written, this journey into the distant past has much to offer for current discussions of gender-bending, the instability of scholarly ‘facts,’ the dynamics of misogyny, and the legacy of slavery.” Gísli Pálsson, author of The Man Who Stole Himself.

Nancy Marie Brown in Iceland. Photo credits:  Bjarney Luðvíksdóttir/Eyjafilm
Nancy Marie Brown in Iceland. Photo credits: Bjarney Luðvíksdóttir/Eyjafilm

I look forward to hearing your comments on Thursday, Nov. 2, when we will have an opportunity to have a conversation with Nancy Marie Brown at our Icelandic Roots Book Club.


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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