Archive to live: Viking tales

Giants, a one-eyed god, and a ship made out of fingernails were just some of the fantastic elements of the Sensory Opportunities storytelling sessions at St Oswald’s Primary School, York, as children delved into the weird and wonderful world of Old Norse mythology.

Studying Vikings at St Oswald's

Throughout the last term, the three classes of children in Years 3 and 4 at St Oswald’s have been learning about the origins and culture of the Vikings. Sensory Stories Training Day participant Russell Comrie, a PhD student at the University of York’s Centre for Medieval Studies, went into the school over the course of three days to introduce each class to Old Norse mythology, retelling three tales and answering the children’s questions along the way.

The stories were action-packed, often comical and in some places very grisly! The first told of how Thor was convinced by his fellow gods to disguise himself as Freya in order to rescue his hammer, Mjollnir, from the amorous giant Trym. The second described how Odin, the chief god, tricked his way into possessing the Mead of Poetry, which would allow anyone who drank it to become a ‘skald’ or poet, an important role in Viking culture. The third concerned Ragnarök, the series of events which were thought of in Old Norse mythology as yet to come, and which would culminate in the end of the world. The children particularly relished details about the Naglfar, the ship made from the nails of the dead, which would ferry fighters from the underworld to the final battle between the gods and their enemies, the giants.

Russell brings Viking tales to life for children at St Oswald's school

‘While I wanted to give the children an insight into Old Norse mythology, its attitudes and concerns, my most important goal was simply to allow them to be excited by the stories themselves, in the hope that they would want to pursue learning about this material under their own steam,’ explained Russell.

‘I chose the stories I did for three reasons: first, because they are so central in the extant Old Norse mythology; second, because they provide food for thought about the minds and attitudes of those who first told them, and third because they are vivid and entertaining, and focus on such major figures in the mythology.’

He was also impressed by the children’s questions, which took them from a discussion of how the myths were written down and by whom to a consideration of the differences between myths and religious beliefs. ‘Without a doubt, the most enjoyable aspect of the whole experience was to see how interested the children were, and to hear how naturally incisive and intelligent their questions showed them to be’.

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