Throughout this course, I have been drawn to questions about the role of women in Viking society. There seem to be few exact answers: in both fiction and the archeological record, women are depicted by turns as homemakers, sorceresses, prophets, craftspeople, sources of wisdom, angels of death, and perhaps even warriors (Gardela, 143; Moen and Walsh, 1; Ibn Fadlan, 249). But it was Lotte Hedeager’s article, “Split Bodies in the Late Iron Age/Viking Age of Scandinavia,” that completely shifted my perspective on Viking women. Using iconographic examples, Hedeager proposes that the Viking conception of the body and self were nebulous, rarely conforming to any one shape, with human and animal bleeding together until it became impossible to separate one from the other (Hedeager, 116). Her argument prompted me to consider—what if I extended that logic to the female body? What if women did not have to be confined to any one role, but could have multiple selves that existed within the same physical frame? Would that actually bring me closer to the Viking conception of womanhood?

The character of Kráka from The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok seemed the perfect host for testing these questions. Her name and appearance link her to the animal, and in the saga itself, she functions as an almost otherworldly presence, constantly slipping out of Ragnar’s grasp with her cleverness and indifference (Crawford, 92-98). But in building my own version of Kráka, I also wanted to draw from the prophetic female speaker in the “Völuspá”: the crow girl of my story is similarly able to envision events before they happen, a skill which earns her both fear and respect from male characters (Terry, 1). Additionally, I was inspired by Brynhild in The Saga of the Volsungs, the ever-wise shield maiden whose awareness of oaths and their ramifications eventually destroys her, just as my crow girl is destroyed by the oaths she and Ragnar make (Crawford, 35). So the Kráka I invented is prophetess and shapeshifter, warrior and queen all at once, unconstricted by the boundaries of gender. I purposefully chose a raven to be the animal that accompanies her as a reference to Odin figurine found at Lejre, whose gender identity remains disputed (Graham-Campbell, 163).

However, I also wanted to probe at the level of agency women actually had in Viking sagas and poetry, so I designed the character of Ragnar to be a foil to Kráka’s otherworldliness. He wants to reign his wife in “like an errant sail”; he wants to possess her courage and wisdom for himself. While he is not a morally evil character, he cannot seem to allow Kráka to exist independently of him, and is constantly struggling to contain her. Thus the narrator concludes that Ragnar “loved her well, if not fully.

But as nebulous as my characters might be, I endeavored to ground the story in a tangible world. Ragnar’s hall is described as being decorated with gripping beasts, which places the story in the period of the Borre or Jelling style, between c. 850 and c. 975 (Graham-Campbell, 14). Most metaphors used are directly borrowed from Viking Age imagery (Kráka’s words drive through Ragnar like “rivets,” for example, and time slips by “like wool through a loom”). Pulling from the workshops we undertook in class and the readings cited below, I also tried to thread as many Viking customs and objects as possible throughout the piece: Ragnar’s previous wife is buried in a boat with glass beads and a slain horse, various weapons such as axes and shields are used, slavery is mentioned several times, and blacksmiths and ritual sacrifices are both present in preparation for battle.

Stylistically, I attempted to borrow the plainspoken, direct prose of the saga translations and chronicle excerpts that we read during the semester. Thus descriptions are spare and to the point, and my characters’ reasoning is often explicitly explained. I also wove dialogue from The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok into the story—my Kráka’s explanation of how she has met Ragnar’s demands by wearing a fish net or eating an onion, for instance, is a paraphrase of the description she gives to the farmer Aki in the original saga (Crawford, 94). Even further, I did not put quotation marks around any of the dialogue. Since so much of the story is invested in fate, free will, and our ability to defy destiny, I felt that it would be fitting to have all spoken words hang in limbo, implying that nothing is set in stone or strictly “true.”

“The Crow Girl” is therefore a story which pushes against objectivity and definitive judgements. It is neither purely historical nor entirely mythical; its characters are neither good nor bad; and the only things which are certain are fear and death. It is my attempt at exploring the lingering questions I still have about the Viking Age and the role women played in it, imagining a world where nothing is quite what it seems, and all expectations can be upended.

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