Rune Riddle - Runes & Vikings
The full history of runes, runestones, and the Vikings is vast and varied. Different cultures had variations of runes, and uses of runestones, and the Viking culture spread across much of the then-known world, and morphed over time. So what appears here is a very brief overview. If you'd like to learn more, ask your parents if you may search the web for these terms.
As stated at the end of the book, readers should keep in mind that while our story is based in these facts, our use of, examples of, and references to runes, riddles, and Viking history are largely fiction.
A "rune" is simply a letter in one of many "runic" alphabets. These alphabets, and the runic style of writing, were used by many countries from about 150 to 1100 AD. They went out of use primarily due to Christian missionaries bringing the message of the new testament, as well as the Latin language, to the Vikings. Runes were one branch of the "Germanic" languages, of which English is today the most widely spoken.
Each rune in the alphabet represents a sound, just as the English letter "s" makes that sound. But in runes, each letter also represented one or more ideas, such as peace, mountains, or long life.
Runestones -- as well as carvings in wood and most anything else -- were messages left for many reasons. Sometimes it was to mark one's territory: "This is Joe's property." Sometimes as an historical marker, much like we use roadside points of interest: "Here was fought the battle of Little Big Horn." Sometimes the messages were very personal: "Joe and Fred have built this building and carved this stone in memory of their father, Wilburn, who was a good and decent man."
But sometimes runestones were carved with poems, or directions, or even riddles, just as in the book Rune Riddle! For example, one stone is carved with, “Who was it, nine generations ago now, who died in the east, but is now active?” (the sun).
Or this one from the Nervarar Saga, in which the Norse god Odin asks King Heidrek:
“What is that wonder
I saw outside
before the Doors of Day?
Eight feet it has
and four eyes
and bears knees above its belly.
guess my riddle.”
(Answer: a spider! But probably not the kind that Mike built.)
Vikings is the name we give to a group of people, predominantly from what we today call Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, who traveled far and wide raiding, conquering, exploring, and leaving their mark on everything they left behind. As part of their religion -- the religion of the Norse gods -- they thought the way to get to "heaven" was to be brave in battle. If you have to be brave in battle to get to heaven, then you have to find some battles in which to be brave. If there are no battles around at the moment, you have to go make some so you can show how brave you are.
That's a simple and simplistic way to explain the life and motivation of the Vikings, but in a nutshell, that's what they were all about. After conquering a people group, they would sometimes stay and live out there lives there, building a long-lasting Viking community, and sometimes would return home with some of the people, goods, and ideas of those conquered.
As in the story of this book, around 1000 AD, the story of Christ was brought to the Vikings, and it quickly (in an historical sense) changed them and their ways. The display of the old Norse gods was outlawed (which is why we have very few statues and monuments to them remaining), and gradually the Vikings became a much more mellow people.
During their travels, it has been well documented that they sailed as far as North America. You can visit a museum built around an old Viking settlement from around 1000AD in Canada (L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, Newfoundland/Labrador Canada). Some people believe there is also evidence of the Vikings making it as far west as Minnesota. A runestone discovered in a field there "proves" a Viking visit in 1362. While most scientists say the Kensington Runestone is a hoax, it's an interesting story, and it might be true.
A recreation of a Viking long ship.
By William Murphy - originally posted to Flickr as VIKING LONGSHIP "SEA STALLION" ARRIVES IN DUBLIN, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6373790
A depiction of everyday Viking life