evOke: You recently launched a kickstarter to fund Old Norse for Modern Times. First, why this project?
Ian Stuart Sharpe: For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought this book would be a good idea. Not exactly necessary, mind you — but amusing. In the author blurb attached to my novels, I always mention how I won a prize at school for Outstanding Progress and chose a dictionary as a reward, secretly wishing it had been an Old Norse phrasebook. Thirty years later, despite dropping hints every birthday, I still hadn’t gotten my wish. So, I thought I’d just do it myself.
It should be noted that I’m not doing this alone. Josh Gillingham, author of the Gatwatch is co-authoring, along with Dr. Arngrímur Vídalín, Adjunct Professor of Icelandic Literature at the Faculty of Subject Teacher Education at the University of Iceland’s School of Education. His field is Nordic medieval literature, but he also studies Icelandic literature of later ages. He has published extensively on monsters in Old Norse literature and is currently working on the translation of Alice in Wonderland into Old Norse. We literally couldn’t do it without him!
evOke: How is a medieval language from northern Europe relevant today? What can people learn (about themselves, others, the world) by learning that language?
ISS: By holding up a mirror to the world. I was partly inspired by Latin for All Occasions (Lingua Latina Occasionibus Omnibus), a 1990 book by Henry Beard, who translated expressions like “Get your ducks in a row” to Anates tuas in acie instrue. As Beard notes, the significance of having ducks lined up would be lost on an ancient Roman (or indeed to a non-American), which is what makes it even more hilarious.
Beard’s book has two limitations. Firstly, what have the Romans ever done for us? And secondly, an awful lot has changed since the 1990s. The world is unrecognizable to me in thirty short years, let alone someone from our far flung past. I think, at root, Old Norse for Modern Times is an attempt to make sense of it all, through the unique perspective of a Norseman. A group of warriors, merchants, and sailors who uncovered all manner of strange and exciting new things as they explored the world. A culture that praised poets and worshiped wordplay. A civilization that has already given us hundreds of words and place names still in common use.
evOke: What form will Old Norse for Modern Times take? Book? Digital download? Multimedia?
ISS: The book will be available as a physical and digital entity. We are also very close to a stretch goal where we record the whole thing as an audio file to help people with the subtleties of Old Norse. There is a preview of what you might expect here.
And of course if the Kickstarer campaign goes well in it’s final two weeks, we might hire a real voice actor rather than yours truly.
evOke: Which is your favorite Old Norse expression? And which contemporary expression was the most fun to translate?
ISS: There really is a phrase for all occasions. Going Kraken-fishing simply sounds better in Old Norse (“We’re going to need a bigger boat/ Þurfa munu vér skip stærra”). And of course, ordering the next beer… (“This drink, I like it! ANOTHER! Líkar mér drykkr þessi! ANNAN!”).
evOke: What other projects are you working on?
ISS: Primarily, the third novel in the Vikingverse trilogy — although the concluding chapter of the Jotunn War comics will be out first. There is also a board game prototype, pitting Seraphim against Valkyrjur — an updated version of Hnefatafl if you will, drawing on the themes of the Vikingverse.More @vikingverse on all social media as it happens!