Dragon Lords, by Eleanor Parker

51cfbybnhcl-_sx307_bo1204203200_If you were to choose a book to be reading in public with the deliberate strategic purpose of getting the number of the guy who works in your local Indian takeaway, it is unlikely that you would choose this one, but truth is stranger than fiction and I must therefore tell you that that is exactly what happened when I wandered into the curry house on Crouch Hill holding a copy of Dragon Lords. “The history and legends of Viking England” is quite an enticing subtitle, so perhaps that had something to do with it; it was certainly a major factor in my requesting a reading copy of this from the publisher’s rep. It’s also a slightly misleading subtitle, since Dragon Lords is both more focused and less conclusive than an overview of late antique/early medieval British history might be. I think it might be a book version of Parker’s doctorate (she’s now a tutor at Brasenose College, Oxford), which is no bad thing, though it meant re-accustoming myself to writing that isn’t necessarily for a general audience.

Dragon Lords is primarily interested in early medieval narratives about Anglo-Danish interaction. (Sexy!) Since there were multiple waves of Danish/Viking conquests, the history is not nearly as straightforward as the phrase “Anglo-Danish” makes it sound; the conquerors of one generation became the naturalised inhabitants of England, and the people conquered, in the next round of organised invasion. Intermarriage and cultural diffusion happened, as they always do, and the resulting culture was a whole lot of things rolled into one: pagan-Christian, Anglo-Saxon-Danish-with-a-splash-of-Norman. Naturally, the stories that this motley culture told itself over several hundred years—about where it came from, and why—also changed: sometimes a Dane is a good Christian king, sometimes he is the leader of a band of ravening, monk-murdering sea-wolves.

Because Parker’s emphasis is on the continuity (or not) of narrative elements, the sheer accumulation of detail can sometimes be difficult to follow. In the second chapter, for instance, she follows the trail of a mysterious figure called Ragnar Lothbrok, who appears in Anglo-Danish narratives in all manner of guises. Sometimes he’s a thug with many sons, murdered at the hands of the King of Mercia and avenged by his children; sometimes he’s a more innocent figure, a stranger in a strange land betrayed by a jealous courtier. It’s impossible to make any concrete assertions about the historical figure (or figures) that might have been behind the Lothbrok stories—he’s like Robin Hood or King Arthur—but Parker’s greatest asset as a writer is her curiosity, and that carries the reader a long way, too. (My particular interest in Viking Britain is literary, and I especially enjoyed her long section on the early verse romance Havelok the Dane. There are also some interesting sections on stories, or story elements, that Shakespeare clearly drew upon when he was writing Macbeth and Hamlet.) Dragon Lords is unashamedly niche, but if you want to know more about pre-Conquest Britain—and trust me, there are hundreds and hundreds of years’ worth of eventful, exciting, violent history there—this is for you.

In response to a reader request, I’m trialing breaking up these reading diary entries into individual ones on each book. It goes against my tendencies to publish posts that are so brief, but I’m sure someone will tell me if you feel you’re being shortchanged.

9 thoughts on “Dragon Lords, by Eleanor Parker

  1. Books as a dating tool? Good plan! As for reviews, can I be controversial and say that I quite enjoyed your reading diary round ups…. But I don’t feel shortchanged and you should do what is best for you!

    1. I like ’em too! It’s actually often easier to do them over the course of a week, rather than sit down every noon or evening, but I’m experimenting…

  2. (He didn’t just think you were reading some Game of Thrones tie-in, did he?)

    Do whatever’s easier for you: post on each book as you finish, or wait and do a weekly round-up. I think I’m more likely to comment when there’s a range of books on the table, but that doesn’t mean I won’t still read the single entries. Just be sure you don’t let it drift from weekly diary…to biweekly diary…to monthly diary…to nothing at all. Alas, that’s what happened with dear Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses.

    1. (I don’t think so – we had a good chat about history and poetry. He just finished Sapiens. I was impressed.)

      Yeah, I do miss Carolyn’s posts. The blog is too important to me for that to be a danger, I think; I want to read purposefully, and for me that means having deliberately articulated thoughts about everything that I read. (And then, because I am fond of my own opinions, sharing them with the Internet at large!)

  3. Since I teach at a college, I tend to talk a lot to recent PhD grads who have recently been hired on our faculty and what happens next with their dissertation. Many are happy to just publish the work and let it sit on college library shelves collecting dust, but others will completely overhaul the whole thing and make it more public friendly so people actually, you know, read it! One colleague looked at theology through the lens of Bob Dylan. I can see how that would have public appeal. Was this book too dry, or just a bit more challenging?

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