Skyrim Series Part One: Introduction

AKA The Beginning of my Obsession

Alllrighty folks. Here it is. Part one of many. I will be systematically posting the majority of my “award-winning” Skyrim paper! Basically I love to write about history in modern media, and I need a history post on this blog, so this is me being lazy and blogging something I’ve already written. I will probably use Skyrim posts as filler when I don’t have a lot of time to post something in my awesome History, Shmistory  category in the future.

If you don’t know what Skyrim is, I propose you either stop being my friend (kidding*!) or check out the website. In one phrase, Skyrim is an incredible video game moderately based in Norse culture and mythology. I fell in love with its predecessor, Oblivion, and made my mom (ok, I asked politely for her to) get it for me when I didn’t even own a console on which I could play it. That is how ridiculously obsessed I was with the game from the beginning.

Anyway, I got the game in December 2011. I took a history class on Medieval Europe spring semester of 2012. During that time, magic happened:

This project began out of my love for my newest video game obsession and my passion for a Medieval History course I was taking. I had pulled myself away from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim just hours before my classes began, right after I had achieved the title of Thane in a Skyrim city. My professor that day discussed Thanes in Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and my interest was piqued. After doing some preliminary research, I found that Skyrim held many parallels to Norse culture and mythology. To my surprise, I found a lengthy list of sagas discussing elves, dragons, and even magic. It seemed that my surface comparison had much more to it than “these things are in Skyrim and they are also in Norse Mythology.” So began my simple method of research: I would play Skyrim or read the Prima Official Game Guide and take different concepts from them and then reference John Lindow’s Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. After finding a surface parallel, I would take the references Lindow made and look in different Eddas and sagas for detailed equivalents between Skyrim and Norse Literature. Some of my comparisons got so deep that I had to stop researching so I could look at other parallels.

For this comparative analysis, I examined numerous primary sources. The first group of sources I used were the two Eddas: The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. The Poetic Edda is a series of poems by unknown authors, first compiled in the 12th century. Scholars estimate that the original poems were written between 850 and 1000.[1] The document is fragmented and disjointed at best, but it provides one of the earliest looks into pre-Christian Scandinavian mythology and that is why it was relied on heavily for this project.

Snorri Sturluson wrote The Prose Edda in the 13th century and intended it as a textbook of poetics as well as a reinterpretation of all the writings on the Old Norse gods and heroes. Sturluson, an Icelandic poet, politician, and historian, examined different longstanding poems and oral traditions from Norse and Icelandic culture and compiled them to re-write the stories of the old. His bias throughout the Edda is clear: Sturluson was a Christian writing about his ancestors’ pagan beliefs; however, he tells the stories without an overshadowing air of judgment or pedantry.

The Eddas were my go-to manuals on the mythology and lore of the Norse, but the Sagas written in Iceland in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were where I completed a more detailed analysis on many of the creatures and concepts presented in Lindow’s book and Skyrim. The sagas I used were (in order of reliance):

  • The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. The saga tells the story of  a king in sixth century Denmark. It discusses his ancestors and his rule with many references to the lore of the time. Odin, the all-father of the Norse pantheon, is mentioned many times in his interactions with Hrolf and his family. Magic and elves are also prevalent in this saga; the final battle is of Hrolf against his half-elf sister and her magical bestial army.
  • Heimskringla: A History of the Norse Kings. Penned by Sturluson, this saga’s stories span from the ninth to the twelfth century. It begins with the mythical prehistory of the kings of Norway.
  • Eyrbyggja Saga. Written in the thirteenth century, this saga focuses on the people and culture of the (then newly) invaded Iceland.[3]
  • The Laxdœla Saga tells the story of a love triangle between three residents of the Breiðafjörður area of Iceland after its invasion by the Norse.[4] The saga’s contents date back to the late ninth through the early eleventh centuries.
  • The Saga of the Volsungs is an extremely well known saga from Iceland in the late thirteenth century. The section I used the most was the tale of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer, which can be traced back to oral traditions in the ninth and tenth centuries.
  • Grettis Saga. Tells the story of Grettir, a hero/outlaw in Iceland, after his expulsion from Norway.[5]
  • Egil’s Saga. Dating back to the ninth century, this family saga describes Norse Berserk warriors in great detail.[6]
  • Haraldskvaedi. An epic poem from the ninth century [7] Its remaining manuscripts are fragmented, but the poem is the conversation between a Valkyrie and a raven and it discusses many concepts and people from Norse lore.

To be fair, that bulleted list was 3 pages in my paper.

I had to be much more creative in finding sources for Skyrim and its internal lore. Actual interviews with game designers and programmers (on the historical subject) were scant and therefore I relied mostly on the game itself or the Prima Official Game Guide. The creators of Skyrim wrote over 800 (amazing!) books for the player to discover and read.[8]

The amalgam of primary sources from Iceland and Norway and Skyrim’s inherent lore created what I consider the biggest homework assignment I have ever attempted. I am still not satisfied with the depth of my comparisons, though I have described some of them in detail for this project. If I were able to read Old Norse or Icelandic, my research would not have been as difficult, as finding free and accessible translations of the sagas led me to a number of not-quite reliable websites, and as such I needed to triple-check many of the translations.  As it stands, I only hope that the depth of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s relationship to Norse mythology can be inferred from the information I present.

Additionally, I hope my readers don’t get bored with me but my Skyrim research has now become a hobby and I love to share my Skyrim love with the world.

*not really

[1] Olive Bray, trans., The Elder or Poetic Edda, Commonly Known as Sæmund’s Edda: Part I: The Mythological Poems, (London: Viking Club, 1908), 129. Found at http://vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/The%20Elder%20or%20Poetic%20Edda.pdf (accessed on 18 November 2013).

[2] Jesse Byock, trans., The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki (London, England: Penguin, 1998), vii.

[3] Paul Schach, trans., Eyrbyggja Saga, (Lincoln, Nebraska: The University of Nebraska Press, 1977), xviii.

[4] Margaret Arent, trans., The Laxdœla Saga, (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1964), xix.

[5] Erikr Magnusson and William Morris, trans., Grettis Saga: the Story of Grettir the Strong, (London, England: Covent Garden Books, 1869) found at http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/gre/gre01.htm, uploaded 2003.

[6] W. C. Green, trans., Egil’s Saga, The Icelandic Saga Database (1893), found at http://sagadb.org/egils_saga.en (Accessed 27 November 2013).

[7] N. Kershaw, trans., Anglo-Saxon and Norse Poems, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922), 90.

[8] “Books (Skyrim), Official Elder Scrolls Wiki, http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Books_(Skyrim) (Accessed 5 December 2013).

Advertisements

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s