Anything for a Buck: Viking Themed Amusement Parks and Deliberate Destruction of Cultural Heritage in West Norway

Thors-Rike-Viking-Entrance.jpg

In 2013, I published a piece in Haugesunds Avis - my hometown's local newspaper, where I urged people to ask critical questions about the sincerity behind certain claims and intentions of a viking themed amusement park, which is planned to be built outside the village of Sveio in the Haugaland region, Southwest Norway. It was a futile attempt: Though I accused them of being opportunistic, and even dangerous profiteers posing as being genuinely interested in furthering local historical identity, none of the involved parties answered my calls.

Later, this park was named Thor's (sic) Rike, "Thor's Realm", which is an extremely awkward title insofar it contains no less than two typos (Tor is the name of the thundergod in Norwegian, and the apostrophe is not used like it is in English). Anyway, the debate died before it even began. Some people supported my critique, others saw no problem - though generally people seemed to think it was an ill-advised business idea overall. Seeing that West Norway hardly is a summer paradise, the stakes are pretty high.

Proponents of the theme park, which is simply referred to as "Vikingland" locally, claim that it will create much needed jobs in the region. Sure, manual labor is needed at least until it's finished. I bet guest workers will be queuing up for the opportunity to lay every single brick that comes after the mayor's customary first - as their privilege is. Besides, no carnival can do without two or three dozen teenagers to sell tickets and cotton candy for three or four months in the summer. Lastly, a handful of people who've studied something whimsical like, say, "leadership studies" are probably needed as well.

What do I worry about, people sometimes ask. Well, I do tend to worry about a whole lot of things, but I shall try to keep it snappy: Firstly, I'm not convinced that Tho'rs Rike is going to be the blessing they're promising. They'll have to live with my negativity, but after all, it's their duty to communicate with the public and explain to them, earnestly, what their intents are. Consequently I expect us - the public - to poke around ask some questions, as this is arguably of local community interest. As we should, wherever someone is hustling for coin. Especially, perhaps, when it's trying to get a piggy back ride from local history, and poses as an ally of ancient monuments.

I am worried about the long-term results, I'm gonna hide it. If this park ends up as a total fiasco, we don't go back to square one, but minus ten. As much as I love my native region, I would be lying if I didn't say that I believe it is a wretched hive of hollow materialism,  profiteering and suspicious, nepotistic in-trading. A gang of fairly well to do folks shaking each others' dicks on a leased boat, pretending to be regional saints. But it's gotten better, it's getting somewhere.

Anyway, as I was saying: If the park is a fiasco, I don't think people will have the clarity to see this as a failure of bad business decision, but a confirmation that, ahem, "cultural heritage" isn't worth spending a dime on. When I gaze into my crystal ball of pessimism, I think that patrons will say: If we can't make this Disneyland wannabe work, then we sure as hell ain't going to bother investing in any more of his viking horseshit. I think, that when the theme park goes, it's gonna suck any monetary willingness in with it, like a black hole.

Yeah, I do believe that Th'ors Rike will be a burden - not a supplement - to the rich cultural heritage of the region. A Viking Age burial mound to the people behind it, is only really worth something to these people if they can squeeze a dollar out of it. If not, there's no reason this shouldn't be a car park as far as these people are concerned.

This region served as the main seat of Harold Fairhair, the national unifier of Norway back in the 9th century. Where no less than two viking ships have been found, which contains an unprecedented continuity and number of ancient monuments from all ages of our nation's history.

So I do believe that the park will do more harm than good. I struggle to see what it has to offer the soul of locals, who should be inspired to look to their heritage with admiration and pride. All the talk about of "infotainment" is hollow and baseless, judging from what we've seen so far. A disguise used to get through the door and sell us their ice cream and rides, making a soulless mockery of our intangible and invaluable cultural history. Killed by this ridiculous commercialization.

 The rubble at Tjernagel, a mound destroyed in 1983 - a stone's throw away from the site of the park.

The rubble at Tjernagel, a mound destroyed in 1983 - a stone's throw away from the site of the park.

I'm telling you, friends, that if you wish to see a vision of the future of infotainment, then imagine a plush mascot stomping on a museum educator's face - forever. 

The worst part is the fact that the committee behind T'hors Rike pretend to be genuinely interested in celebrating and fronting our cultural history, by publishing a bizarre series of local historical articles and fact sheets about the area, probably to serve as some sort of cultural alibi, though that hardly serves to explain why a theme park is a fitting supplement to the local landscape. "Get to know ancient Sviða!", "Did you know we're building it right up the road from Norways only national monument?". And if that wasn't perverse enough, the park is due to be wedged in between several ancient monuments, around the banks of Vidgarvatnet, meaning "the hallowed lake". One of them being the mysterious "Bridal Altar" (bruraalteret) tied in with local legends about a couple who drowned during their wedding procession. The park will also be right in the sight of the Iron Age burial mounds at Apeland. 

Now, I am not saying that people shouldn't be allowed to build within proximity of ancient monuments. If so, the whole region would have been more or less uninhabitable. However, we may wonder what our ancestors would think about crumbling in their graves in the shadow of an amusement park.

Somebody's got to speak for the dead, a wise soul once said. This wouldn't be the first violation against Norwegian heritage in the region, or for that matter in the municipality of Sveio. When the 23 meters wide mound at Tjernagel was destroyed in 1983, it was already beyond 3000 years old. When it was around 2000 years old, in 1028, Þórarinn loftunga - who was one of the court poets of king Canute the Great - even described and named the mound in a skaldic poem. It is totally unique that a Viking Age source names a landmark of this kind. Nor can there be any doubt that the mound of Tjernagel served as a waypoint and beacon for seafarers over three millennia. And what a beautiful name it is: Tjernagel means "sword-nail", probably because its 400 cubic meters of rock shone brilliantly in the distances when viewed from the sea. Then, in 1983, some bureaucratic dwarves obliterated it. Why? To make room for a radio tower, a shortwave transmitter that was obsolete twenty years later. Twenty years it loomed in the crater of the 3000 year old Tjernagel mound, before they tore it down and turned it into nails. It's the sort of story that makes me wish ghosts exist, for the sole purpose of haunting the guilty parties.

Anyway. Short-sighted decisions leave permanent marks. If local moneymakers and the municipal council genuinely cares about the heritage they claim to celebrate, they can prove it by restoring the monumental burial mound at Tjernagel first, then they can go for rides.

 Tjernagel bronze age mound, a navigational beacon and landmark for 3000 years, no more.

Tjernagel bronze age mound, a navigational beacon and landmark for 3000 years, no more.

This article is an extrapolated translation of an article I submitted to the regional newspaper, Haugesunds Avis. However, it was not printed. If you like what you're reading, you can support my voice by subscribing to the Brute Norse Patreon page, or by sharing this article.