Vikings sail stealthily into unsuspecting shores, their longships cutting through the water with ease. Saga characters recite poetry one day, carry out blood vengeance the next. Kings vie for power in their kingdoms, fighting fierce battles and sending warriors to Valhalla at the end of each struggle. Ice is everywhere, and the mountains tower ever higher with piling snow. This is the North.
Everyone has their own idea of the North, a mythic place where the life of the Middle Ages seems to still breathe in the landscape. Much of what we think of when we consider the North today – from Vikings to sagas to Old Norse mythology – is what 18th- and 19th-century travellers envisioned on their journeys. To them, the formidable northern landscape, largely untouched and filled with magnificent fjords and mountains and crags, seemed to carry this timeless medieval world throughout its rugged majesty.
We can journey to the North with travellers from centuries past through reading the books that record their travels. These books are the centre of the Central Library’s latest exhibition, ‘Of Wild Grandeur and Simplicity: Journeys to the Nordic Countries in 18th- and 19th-Century Travel Books’. This exhibition was curated by one of our postgraduate interns, Hailey Brock, from the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh. In these books, the travellers venture to the Nordic Countries—namely Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroes. There, they envision the Old North, and relive it in the beautiful setting.
You too can create your own vision of the North at this exhibition, which runs until 5 April 2019 on the Mezzanine Level at Central Library.
The ‘Of wild grandeur and simplicity’ exhibition is part of the Rare Books Edinburgh programme.