Tom Shippey

Tom Shippey is the author of Beowulf and the North before the Vikings and Laughing Shall I Die, among other books.

Who’d want to be English?

Tom Shippey, 4 January 2024

Therecan be no doubt about the scale of Jonathan Sumption’s achievement in his history of the Hundred Years War. Five massive volumes, published between 1990 and this year, each more than six hundred pages of narrative and notes. Together, they total nearly four thousand pages, not counting the bibliographies, with their ever expanding lists of secondary contributions as well as...

Identity Crisis: Norman Adventurers

Tom Shippey, 16 March 2023

The Viking Age​ is generally agreed to have ended, as far as England was concerned, on 25 September 1066, when Harald Harðráði, or ‘Hardline Harald’, was killed and his army all but annihilated at Stamford Bridge. This put an end to the steady progress of the Vikings from raiders to settlers to would-be conquerors: an attempted invasion by King Sweyn of Denmark...

Lady with the Iron Nose: Pagan Survival

Tom Shippey, 3 November 2022

With​ his books on (to give only a selection) druids, witches and the ritual year, Ronald Hutton has established himself as a leading authority on paganism. A feature of all his work in this area is the consideration not only of ancient paganism – about which, in the British Isles, we know remarkably little, mostly from archaeology rather than written sources – but also of the...

In​ 1360, Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch to us) wrote a letter expressing his puzzlement at a great change that had taken place during his lifetime. In his boyhood, he said, the English ‘were taken to be the meekest of the barbarians … inferior [even] to the wretched Scots’. Now, in his late middle age, ‘they are a fiercely bellicose nation [who] have overturned the...

Don’t lie on your gold: Dragons!

Tom Shippey, 9 June 2022

What do​ dragons look like? ‘Broadly serpentine’, Daniel Ogden writes in The Dragon in the West, but with ‘animalian heads, thick central bodies, wings and clawed legs’. They are armoured with scales, live in caves, love to hoard treasure and, of course, breathe fire. George R.R. Martin found a neat solution to an old problem with dragons. The now standard layout is...

Tolkien’s Spell

Peter Godman, 21 July 1983

Among the terms of abuse which J.R.R. Tolkien was accustomed to apply to an Oxford college of which he was (and I am) a member, there is one that makes an odd impression. It is the adjective...

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