Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas

Oxford University Press, 2016

In the dying days of the eighth century, the Vikings erupted onto the international stage with brutal raids and slaughter. But this is far from the whole story of medieval Norse activities abroad. The Norse travelled to all corners of the medieval world and beyond; north to the wastelands of Arctic Scandinavia, south to the politically turbulent heartlands of medieval Christendom, west across the wild seas to Greenland and the fringes of the North American continent, and east down the Russian waterways, trading silver, skins, and slaves. Beyond the Northlands explores this world through the stories that the Norse told about themselves in their own words, through the Old Norse-Icelandic sagas. But this is a history that goes far beyond historical facts. What emerges from these tales is a mixture of realism and fantasy, quasi-historical adventures and exotic wonder-tales that rocket far beyond the horizon of reality. On the crackling brown pages of saga manuscripts, trolls, dragons, and outlandish tribes jostle for position with explorers, traders, and kings. To explore the sagas and the world that produced them, I took my own trips through the dramatic landscapes that they describe, including Greenland, Arctic Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Orkney, Rome and Istanbul. Along the way, I illuminated the saga accounts with other sources including archaeological finds, runestones, medieval world maps, encyclopaedic manuscripts, and texts from as far away as Byzantium and Baghdad. I wanted this to be a book not just about history, but about the stories people tell about themselves, their past, and their place in the world. I wanted to show how the world was experienced, remembered, and imagined by this unique culture from the outermost edge of Europe so many centuries ago.

Reviews [Click to reveal reviews for this book]

Literary Review
‘a delight’, ‘a highly entertaining and informative sense of the real Norse world view’.

Times Higher Education
‘that delightful trick of weaving lightly worn serious scholarship into a publisher- and educated general reader-pleasing “journey” narrative’, ‘her voice is charming, wise’.

Times Literary Supplement
‘a book that is entertaining as well as erudite […] there is no doubting Barraclough’s meticulous and insightful scholarship’.

Wall Street Journal
‘Beyond the Northlands admirably breaks free of both sets [of old viking stereotypes] and bursts into the wide field of Old Norse life and literature beyond the classics’, ‘blessedly, for all the rigor of the endnotes, there is not a trace of academic obfuscation’.

BBC World Histories Magazine
‘What makes Beyond the Northlands so effective is Barraclough’s clear relish for the retelling of the sagas and her lightness of touch in producing a real sense of the vastness and diversity of the world that the Vikings inhabited. The resulting book is a vibrant account that evokes the spirit of the Viking age in a thoroughly entertaining, yet historically sound, fashion’.

Northern Echo
‘arguably, what may distinguish her from other Viking scholars is her lively style’.

Library Journal (USA)
‘clever and engaging style’, ‘clarity, humor and a sense of relevance’, ‘thoroughly researched and well rooted in historical context, yet written with wry charm and a thorough command of language’.

Shelf Awareness (USA)
‘Bridging many gaps, Beyond the Northlands is a magnificent contribution to the understanding of a fierce and poetic people’.

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and The Gospel of Loki  
‘an excellent, erudite, yet light-hearted glimpse into Norse culture, exploration, and the melding of story and history. […] this is an immensely appealing, accessible resource, whatever your level of knowledge’.

Chosen as a ‘2017 Book of the Year’ for the Times Literary Supplement
Beyond the Northlands splendidly reminds us what a lot else there is to know about [the Vikings], and also how strange they were. […] Adventurous scholarship indeed.

Moira Briggs, Vulpes Libris
Moira reviews one of the funniest, and most fascinating books on the Norse Sagas that she’s ever read …
Lively … entertaining … I mean, you don’t expect to find yourself honking inelegantly over the Vinland Sagas.