Old Sagas, New Audiences
Historical linguist Dr. Jackson Crawford has studied dozens of languages, but what captured his imagination early on was Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. His popular YouTube channel features videos about Norse gods and heroes. He also was a consultant on Old Norse for movie and television projects, including Disney’s “Frozen.” Check out Viking’s November issue and see more from the interview below.
Interview by Bradley Anderson
Your channel is one of the most popular educational channels on YouTube. How did that happen?
I read somewhere that people trust what they hear in a video more than what they read, which I thought was interesting. And a lot of the misinformation about Norse language and myth that I was trying to combat came from YouTube channels. So I thought, why don’t I try this for myself? The basic idea that I started with has continued: a mix of videos, with some that teach the Old Norse language and others that discuss Norse myth. There’s a lot about runes because people are interested in that. And I’ve talked about related subjects like how mutually intelligible Old English and Old Norse were during the Viking era.
When talking about the similarities between the Old Norse world and the Old West, you mention the similar humor.
I think that frontier cultures tend to have a lot of similarities. The frontier situation creates certain cultural imperatives. Clearly, self-reliance is an obvious one, and you also see an emphasis on individual combat. You know, in the sagas and in westerns, you rarely see wars between armies. In fact, people tend to regard westerns with armies as being boring movies. You want one individual guy matched against one other guy – or even better, one guy making a last stand against a bunch of guys. And the sagas are definitely like that.
Where are your favorite places in Norway?
I love Setesdal and Hallingdal. I really like those interior valleys. I find them to be inspiring places. Oslo is also a special place to me because of the summers I spent studying there at the university and because of the museums with their Viking ships and runes. One place I hope to visit someday is Ulvik. I run one of Norway’s largest Facebook pages on the poet Olav Hauge, and that’s his home.