What You Need to Know

Vinland Saga: What You Need to Know

SPOILER WARNING: Mainly, just some of the quasi-spoiler intricacies of the story that may be confusing to some readers, up to chapter 47.

Vinland Saga, like any historically-based piece of fiction, has its share of odd jargon, customs and events that need to be taken into account. While Yukimura Makoto gets the story correct enough to make it believable, we still need to take into consideration the fact that he is human and also has made some mistakes. While not everything is historically accurate, there is still quite a bit that needs some proper explaining.

Where and When?

Vinland Saga takes place mainly in England during the Danish Invasion of the early Eleventh Century. The invaders, Sweyn Forkbeard and his Danish army, planned on overthrowing the Anglo-Saxons and their King Ethelred the Unready. It was the Middle Ages, a time when feudal lords fought endlessly over their kingdoms at the high price of military and civilian lives. The entire first chapter is a stand-alone story, told in Frankish territory on mainland Europe—modern-day France specifically. There is even a short section of the story that occurs in what we now call Wales.

Flashbacks occur during the story that date back further in time, mainly into the tenth century. Thorfinn’s flashback to his childhood takes place in Iceland, which is an island to the northwest of the British Isles. The most current flashback, belonging to Askeladd, takes place in his sire’s estate somewhere in the Viking homelands.

Multiple characters even bring up the idea of Vinland being a rich and vast land once explored by Leif Eriksson and his band of warrior-adventurers. This is indeed what we now know today as the area around L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador in Eastern Canada. There is mention of Skraelings (Native American Indians) and the immeasurable fields. The climate was also much less harsh than what the rest of the characters experienced in places such as Iceland and Greenland and was seen as a great place to extend the Viking reach. The exact reason why Vikings never began to fully colonize Canada as they did Greenland is not known, though it can be inferred that skirmishes with the native peoples hampered efforts considerably.

Also, there has been talk of a place called “Avalon”. Avalon is the name of where King Arthur is supposed to rest, sort of like an alternate version of heaven. It is an important place in the Arthurian Legend as not only King Arthur’s resting place, but as the place his sword Excalibur was forged.

What’s in a Name?

The manga’s title of Vinland Saga is a direct reference to the Icelandic tales about the Viking explorers and heroes, particularly the family of Erik the Red. Although they are folktales, their credibility has been solidified with the Viking excavations in Canada.

The names of many of the main characters are also important. The name “Thor” has come up in at least three character names so far (Thorfinn, Thors and Thorkell). Thor is the name of one of the most important Viking gods, the god of thunder. He was a highly popular Germanic and Norse god and has inspired many names, legends and even a Marvel Avenger. The unusually high concentration of people with “Thor” in their names is rather ridiculous, particularly with their relationships, but forgivable.

Quite a few historical people and groups are referenced in Vinland Saga. The adventurer Leif Eriksson is a prominent character in Thorfinn’s life, as well as the man in charge of the Vinland expeditions. The Danish royal family of Sweyn Forkbeard and his sons Harold and Canute are based off the real historical family during the Danish invasion of England. The mythical Jomsvikings, with their headquarters in Jomsborg (modern day Germany and Poland), were a real band of Viking mercenaries in the tenth and eleventh centuries and in Vinland Saga play a central role in the development of Thorfinn, amongst other characters. The people most closely used to historical reality would most likely be the Jomsvikings, being as any time you mix the concepts of Vikings and mercenaries one always comes out with “Awesome” as a result. The relationship between Canute and his father Sweyn is historically true to those held by many feudal lords of the time, although the personalities are debatable and mostly for dramatic purposes.

Philosophical Nonsense… or Sheer Brilliance?

Yukimura Makoto often tends to get philosophical on the reader, contemplating on what it means to be a “true warrior” and what true “love” really is. The warrior’s true meaning is often reiterated as a concept amongst the main characters. The concept of love shows during the musings of the drunken monk Willibard and tend to make little sense to even the other characters.

These moments are slightly troublesome for a few readers who are more used to seeing crazy-faced fighting instead of people trying to be profound. Luckily for the action-oriented amongst us, these moments are few in comparison to the gory moments of glory.

Fight the Power!

One of the likable traits of Vinland Saga is the tendency of the characters to stay within human limits when fighting. Unlike many other shounen or seinen manga with prominent fighting scenes, the battles seem within reach of the reader. There are no named attacks or special fighting techniques… just two or more men hacking away at one another.

Some lenience has to be used though when referring to some of the stronger characters. Thorkell the Tall is a physically dominant man who seems super-human strong due to his vast height and accompanied strength. Askeladd’s right-hand-man Bjorn will sometimes eat berserker mushrooms (stereotypical red mushrooms with white speckles) in order to gain the hallucinogenic effects from the toxins, giving him severe mood swings, loss of mental awareness, high levels of agitation and an almost super-powered zombie effect. Otherwise, the swordplay is realistic enough to believe and warfare seems genuine. Swords in close combat, archery in long-range and epic battle scenes full of real wounds are more than plenty within the series.

Anything Else?

For the most part, the points listed above should be sufficient for any new reader of Vinland Saga to stay in the clear. There are other things of course, but they for the most part explain themselves. The majority of the series moves along in this fashion, explaining to the reader what is going on.

Vinland Saga is currently being serialized in Afternoon, with no official English translation as of late. Fan translations are available online, but be sure to support the series as much as you can! Only through support of the author and his work can we get official English copies and the continuation of this great series.