Connections to the Past

It is easy to view the past as something that belongs to yesterday. It is an age that has gone by and is no longer relevant to the modern world. Such a view could not be further from the truth. The past laid down the foundation, and modern society has built upon it. Societies can take many different forms, owing much to their unique history and traditions. Think of it this way, how different would America look today if it were founded (primarily) by the Germans, or the Chinese instead of the English? What if we had fought our war for independence against the Chinese?

In that sense, our history is still very much alive today, albeit changed into modern forms. Our Constitution itself was based on earlier forms reinterpreted by our founders. Threads of that past still enter into modern times. Look at many state capitol buildings, or the money in your pocket. These are threads from the past. Our history defines our society as much as our choices today.

In addition to these threads, the past is still widely presented today in a wide range of media. How many times has the story of Robin Hood been told? Stories of Greek Gods? Stories from medieval times? Stories from our past are told over and over again with a varying amount of embellishment, even in modern times.

Take for example, the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. The original was composed sometime between the 7th and the 10th century. However, even in modern times I have seen two movies that draw upon this original source material, Beowulf (2007) and Beowulf and Grendel (2005). Both of these movies took liberties with the original poem, but both represent modern retellings of Beowulf. Now, when I look at these movies I see a blend of c0nservatism and some new material. When I watch a movie, I look for two things. First, I want to see an attempt to stay true to the original source. At the same time, I want to see something new. Movies would get really boring if they just kept doing the same thing over and over again. They have to be relevant to a modern audience, but they should teach to a degree as well. If someone views a Beowulf movie and then turns to the original poem, that can be measured as a success, in my opinion.

As another example, let’s look atHow to Train your Dragon (2010). This is the movie based upon the book by Cressida Cowell (2003). It is the story of how a young viking named Hiccup comes to make friends with a dragon named Toothless. The Vikings have been at war with the dragons for a long time, but it takes the efforts of Hiccup to make his people realize that the dragons are not their enemies. This movie is one part old Viking myth, and one part family friendly entertainment. While this movie is based upon a recent book, it can be said that both draw from a pool of inspiration over a thousand years old.

As a final example, take the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. One of the races in the game are called Nords. It is my opinion that the name is no coincidence. The game says the Nords are a hardy, tall and fair haired people. They think highly of prowess in battle.

Here is quote from a source I found online, dated 1870. ” What history tells us, so far as it goes, is quite in accordance with the suggestions of biology. It is certain that, from the fifth century to the tenth a vast number of people from North Germany and Scandinavia poured into the British Islands on all sides, but, as might be expected, most persistently and numerously into the eastern moiety of Britain. They brought with them languages which may properly and conveniently be termed dialects of Teutonic, in contradistinction to the indigenous dialects of Celtic. Out of the North German dialects the language usually known as Anglo-Saxon was developed, and from it, by subsequent modification and absorption of, for the most part, Scandinavian, Celtic, and French elements, has grown English. The invasion which thus changed the language of Britain introduced no new element into the physical conformation of the people, so far as stature and complexion are concerned, though it may have done so in the matter of cranial conformation. It is unquestioned that Saxons, Danes, and Norsemen were alike a tall, fair-haired people…”(Forefathers of the English People)

The similarities do not stop there. During the course of the game, the main character is allowed into Sovngarde, the Nordic underworld. In this place is Shor’s Hall, the immortal dwelling place of those who died gloriously in battle. It is a hall of heroes, and some of Skyrim’s most honored heroes are found in this hall. Now, in old Norse myth (in real life) those who fell honorably in battle were welcomed into Valhalla, Odin’s Hall of warriors, to await the final battle. To continue the comparison, Shor and Odin are both chief gods and gods of the dead, though it should be said that Odin had many other functions.

Many other examples could be provided. However, I feel I have given enough to show that the past is still very much alive today. While it will continue to be reinterpreted and retold, there will always exist the connections to the past. Whether they show up in media, in cultural and social institutions or in our own lives, the specters of the past still walk among us.


Forefathers of the English People


About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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