The past few years have seen a resurgence of Vikings into popular culture, marked by shows such as Vikings and Vikings: Valhalla

Additionally, the representation of Thor, Loki, and Odin as Marvel movie stars has contributed to this trend. 

As a result, the rich tapestry of Norse sagas and myths has been reintroduced to a worldwide audience hungry for these early medieval creations. 

However, this fascination with Norse culture seems to have occurred in every previous generation, if not century. 

Despite the recent shows and movies, such as the hit release The Northman two years ago, Vikings are hardly a new flavor. 

Hollywood has been making Viking-themed blockbusters since at least the 1950s, with Kirk Douglas starring as the son of Ragnar Lothbrok

Rewind a century before this, and it was Richard Wagner's operas that were heavily influenced by Norse sagas and mythological characters. 

At the turn of the 19th century, in the era of European nationalism, Vikings were all the rage as the kingdoms of Sweden and Denmark-Norway looked back to their long and storied histories. 

Go back even further, and the Brothers Grimm helped compile some of the Scandinavian folktales and stories influenced by Norse mythology, whilst in the immediate centuries after the end of the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100), Snorri Sturluson helped write, compile, and collect most of the Norse myths, sagas, and stories. 

The Vikings, their culture, stories, battles, and way of life, have fascinated people from diverse cultures, civilizations, and countries throughout the centuries. 

Culturally, we are all still very much living in the Viking Age. 

Emerging from a 1990s anime, Pokémania took the world by storm, as millennials eagerly embraced the challenge of catching and training Pokémon, propelling the franchise to global fame. Photo: Yoshikazu TAKADA (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Pokémania 

When the latest edition of the popular Pokémon franchise - Scarlet and Violet - was released late last year, it brought the number of Pokémon created to almost 1,000. 

The franchise, based on a Japanese 1990s cartoon in which a young kid catches and trains mythical animals, has generated billions of dollars through cartoons, comic books, video games, clothing, and, yes, its famous trading cards. 

Those of a certain vintage (millennials and older) can remember how Pokémania swept the world. 

For kids growing up in the late 1990s/early 2000s (and their patient parents), suddenly, the entire world seemed to revolve around Ash, Pikachu, and Pokémon's cast of cuddly and cool characters. 

Now, before we delve further into the Pokémon rabbit hole, I can hear you screaming at your screen that this is, you know, The Viking Herald and not some Pokémon fan club. 

However, in what is undoubtedly a highly unique "crossover" in cultural history, the Pokémon franchise includes a character named Runerigus, who is a nod to the Viking-era runestones

This anthropomorphic brown rune stone has a serpent motif - a nod to the great serpent Jörmungandr found in numerous sagas and stories throughout the rich tapestry of Norse mythology. 

Harald Bluetooth's Jelling runestone, erected in the 10th century, commemorates his rule and Christianization of the Danes, a historical artifact that has indirectly inspired elements in modern pop culture like Pokémon. Photo: The National Museum of Denmark (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ok, but what is a runestone? 

Runestones are synonymous with the Viking Age. A runestone is a carved stone, sometimes even just a small slab, with runes carved on it. 

People in Viking societies had developed the runic alphabet over the course of centuries, from the early medieval period until the high Middle Ages. 

These stones were historically used for various purposes, including communication, propaganda, and as memorials. One of the most famous examples raised for all these purposes are the Jelling runestones

These two runestones date back to the 10th century and are found in Jelling, Denmark. 

The older of the two runestones was raised by King Gorm the Old in memory of his wife, Thyra. 

Whilst the larger of the two was raised by King Gorm's son, Harald Bluetooth, celebrating his conquest of both Denmark and Norway and his conversion of his subjects to Christianity. 

They have been recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage List and have often been dubbed as an unofficial "birth certificate" for Denmark as a nation. 

The Pokémon Runerigus combines elements of Norse runestones and mythology, showcasing a serpent-like design that represents its connection to ancient Scandinavian culture. Source: chachaXevaXjeffrey (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Two ubiquitous parts of modern culture combine 

According to the Pokémon official website, Runerigus was formed from a painting imbued with an ancient curse, and anyone touching its body will have this ancient curse thrust upon them. 

Whilst runestones were not raised to cast ancient curses, we know that people from Viking societies deeply believed in magic, including deadly spells and curses. 

This would seem to suggest that the creators of this Pokémon must have done some research into Viking history and the Norse societies of early medieval Europe. 

In many ways, this – more than Hollywood movies or streaming series – shows how ubiquitous the Vikings have become in our modern popular culture, in the sense that a Japanese cartoon franchise has created a fictional character based upon the runic alphabet and a form of early medieval Norse broadcast and memorialization. 

It shows how popular Vikings are centuries after the last Viking ship ever sailed. 

In fact, it could be argued that for vast swathes of what we think of as "Viking culture," - the myths, the sagas, and the horned helmets (historically inaccurate but nevertheless fun to wear) are the product of later generations and societies trying to capture some of that Viking spirit.

Whilst the Vikings bequeathed us stories, a writing system, and many other wonderful inventions, they were too busy conquering and subjugating vast swathes of Europe and its surroundings to be bothered about how they would be perceived in history. 

Not your average crossover 

One might wonder what historical figures like Harald Bluetooth or Ragnar Lothbrok (assuming he existed) or even an average Viking-era farmer would make of their culture's symbols being transformed into a mythical creature by a country and culture entirely unknown to them – a classic case of historical appropriation! 

The combination of Pokémon and Viking themes is not an obvious cultural crossover. Yet, we at The Viking Herald appreciate anything – including the Pokémon franchise – that ignites interest in Viking history and culture. 

For a lighthearted look at what the Vikings have “done for us”, visit BBC Scotland here

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