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.