Short Story Month: Vikings don’t tell

Hägar the Horrible (Short Story Month #4)

There is true irony in the con­cept of a car­toon such as Hägar the Hor­ri­ble — osten­si­bly con­cern­ing as it does the overt patri­ar­chal vio­lence that is viking cul­ture — com­ment­ing on the under-report­ed issue of male spousal abuse, but damned if the reli­ably astute Hägar doesn’t nail it and stick the land­ing.

By now, spousal abuse both phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al has become a beloved sta­ple of the comics page (see: the overt abuse doled out by Andy Capp, the sub­ver­sive “don’t ask, don’t tell” sub­text of Sal­ly Forth and Mary Worth). Clas­si­cal­ly, Hägar is no excep­tion to this rule: from the inef­fec­tu­al band of rogues he leads, to his frail and pathet­ic son Ham­let, to the mon­strous Hel­ga he finds him­self unwill­ing­ly wed to; Hägar is all seething id, the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of repressed rage seek­ing out­let. Trapped as he is in a loose inter­pre­ta­tion of medieval Scan­di­na­vian life, it is all he can do not to gut his fam­i­ly and wear their skins as armour.

Yet here we dis­cov­er Hägar doing an about-face and tak­ing on the role of thought­ful con­fi­dante, calm­ly coun­selling a new­ly-mar­ried “friend” on the wis­dom of remain­ing sto­ic and silent on the top­ic of his wife’s wrath. Being as Hägar is a stone-cold killer who night­ly sups upon the lamen­ta­tions of the women, this advice is no doubt a cun­ning ploy to remove one of the weak links from his tribe of ran­sack­ers. Soon, Hägar will call for a mer­ry grogfest in the Great Hall to cel­e­brate the strength­en­ing of the Hor­ri­ble clan through Sven’s cor­po­re­al exci­sion at the fists of his wife. No songs will be sung for Sven, no epic poems shall be penned to his hero­ism. Hence­forth the weak­ling shall be known as “Sven the Unsvat­is­fac­to­ry.”

Although in a nod to soci­etal changes, it would be nice if Hägar offers Sven’s wife and mur­der­er a posi­tion in his troop.