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Literature: The Rise of the Saxons
"Derfel will tell the truth of how we came to this land and butchered his vermin and held down the holy women face first in the flames. And tell of how we drowned and burned the worthless children of the Celts as we made way for our own people to settle. You are about to read the beginnings of a proud nation that I like to call England."The Rise of the Saxons and the Legend of Hengest and Horsa
is a 2008 novel by Ryan West. It is a retelling of the legend of Hengest and Horsa, supposedly the leaders of the Anglo-Saxons who invaded Britain and established England, from the point of view of Hengest himself.
Denmark, the fifth century AD. A Jutish village is destroyed by Scyldings; the only survivors of the massacre are the prince Aesc and a baby, which Aesc adopts as a brother and names Horsa. Some passing Jutes who survived another massacre take the two children to safety in the land of the Angles.
Living amongst the Angles, Aesc adopts the name Hengest, a nickname from his early childhood. When the king of the Angles is killed in battle, Hengest takes to the throne.
Eventually, King Vortigern of Britain hires the Jutes, Angles and Saxons to defend his kingdom from the Irish and Picts. While in Britain, Hengest and his men hatch a plan: to invite increasing numbers of Anglo-Saxons onto the island and eventually take it for themselves, ethnically cleansing the Celts in the process. As the land of the Angles collapses into civil war, Hengest and Horsa create a new homeland for their adopted tribe in Britain: England.
Since the publication of this novel, West has gone on to write similar books under the name of S.A. Swaffington. Oddly, his website
claims that his 2011 novel Offa: Rise of the Englisc Warrior
was his first treatment of Anglo-Saxon history. As Rise of the Saxons
was not particularly well-reviewed
on Amazon, it is possible that the author views it as an Old Shame
Certain pages from Rise of the Saxons
can be read on Google Books
This novel provides examples of:
- Author Filibuster: There are points in which the author appears to be using the tribal conflicts of the era to express his concerns about contemporary British immigration policy. Consider this: "The Roman's had tried to turn all their conquered people into equal Roman citizens and no longer referred to them with their own unique identities and they simply called everybody 'Romans', regardless of race or origins. And so the conquered people had gained power in Rome and this had frightened the true Roman people as they saw their own race quickly become a minority in their own country."
- Later on: "anyone that distrusted us and dared to speak out in defiance against our settlement were ostracised and called 'ignorant' and 'intolerant' and were accused of hatred against our race. It was like watching a nation build its own funeral-pyre." During the climactic confrontation with Vortigern, Hengest delivers a speech about it was the king's "liberal views" which brought about the destruction of the Celts by allowing the Anglo-Saxons to settle in the first place.
- The author's note at the end grumbles that modern English people are encouraged to see themselves as British rather than Anglo-Saxon, and argues that the English should honour the achievements of their ancestors as depicted in the novel - making the entire book look like more of an Author Tract.
- Battle Trophy: Aelfred keeps the skulls of his enemies as trophies. Hrothgar, meanwhile, prefers to use the blood of his foes to paint swastikas onto his horse.
- Been There, Shaped History: Hengest turns out to be responsible for giving Stonehenge its modern name. He can't pronounce the name used by the Celts, and so calls it "Stonehenge" for the simple reason that it is a henge made of stone.
- This is actually something of an anachronism: the term "henge" is a backformation dating from 1932. The name Stonehenge is indeed Old English in origin, but most likely means either "stone hinge" or "hanging stone", certainly not "henge made of stone".
- Bold Inflation: Religious concepts such as Wyrd or Valhalla are written in italics. It is the same case with the term Teutonic and, in one instance, Teutonic blood. The author apparently finds these phrases most important...
- The Chosen One: When Hengest is a child, a local priestess prophesises that he will become a great warrior.
- Groin Attack: The heroes make a point out of attacking their foes in the testicles. "I took great pleasure in aiming at their balls, knowing that they weren't going to be making any more of their foreign, ugly babies ever again" says Hengest. He later comments on how funny it is to see someone getting choked to death by having their own severed testicles shoved down their throat.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Happens to Christians in general. Their practice of burning pagans is taken as reason enough for them to be despised, but yet the novel does not question the Anglo-Saxon heroes' habit of gleefully killing children, women and the elderly.
- Infant Immortality: Averted. After hearing that his father has been killed in Britain, the young Hengest kills a twelve-year-old Celt who had been captured as a slave. His fellow Jutes cheer him on, and he promptly kills a couple more slave children when they disobey his orders ("she was a little girl about the same age as me [...] I sliced my blade across the delicate skin that held her throat. She quickly bled to death.") Some more children are killed by the Anglo-Saxon heroes during Hengest's first voyage to Britain; he promises to come back and kill their babies as well. The Celts later kill Anglo-Saxon children during the conquest of Britain.
- After the Anglo-Saxons decide to take Britain, one character asks if the children can be spared and raised as English. Hengest insists that the children should be killed as well, because they are "vermin", "sub-human", and "not the sons and daughters of Woden and Frigg". He claims that "They will breed with us and piss into our Teutonic blood... Our children will become half human and simple minded. They'll call us 'British'... our children will be forced to become Christian slaves and forget where they came from." Sure enough, the climax depicts the heroic Hengest cornering a nine-year-old boy in his home and smashing his head in with a spiked ball; shortly afterwards he stabs a pregnant woman, remarks that this leaves "one less breeder of vermin", and spits on her corpse. Horsa competes with Hengest's son to see who can throw children the highest before catching them on spears.
- Hengest also kills a Scylding boy, and feels guilty. Being Germanic, this unfortunate lad was apparently deemed less deserving of death than the Celtic children who get mown down elsewhere in the novel.
- In the Back: At one point, Hengest impales two Celtic women from behind.
- Karmic Death: Early on, the Jutes and Angles decide to dispose of some unneeded captive Christians, having taken all of the slaves that they require. One suggests throwing them off cliffs; Hengest protests that, as the Christians burn pagans, they should be burned themselves as punishment. It is agreed that they should "burn a couple of them for fun" and nail the rest of them to trees in sacrifice to Woden.
- Lady of War: A few examples, such as Dresden (who at one point smashes two children's heads into the ground, breaking their noses) and Wynn (who prefers to gouge Celtic children's eyes out).
- Made a Slave: The English often take Celts as slaves.
- Manly Tears: Hengest isn't averse to showing his emotions now and again. "The mention of Onola made my bottom lip begin to tremble and a tear fell from my glazed over eyes as I had become humbled."
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Hengest's daughter Rowena is forced to marry the British king, Vortigern. Hengest warns her never to give birth to a half-Celtic child, otherwise he would "throw the humanoid into the nearest fire" (he adds, "I didn't want any unnatural half-human half-vermin monster-child carrying my Teutonic blood") Rowena reassures him by stating that she'd be willing to burn the baby alive herself.
- Named Weapons: Hengest's sword is named "Dances with Corpses".
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The Skull Crusher.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: The book has a strange variation on this trope, its heroes being associated with imagery which, to most readers, will suggest Nazism. The Anglo-Saxon warriors fly swastika flags, are sometimes referred to as "skinheads", sail in a ship with a double-lightning-bolt emblemnote and hold their right arms out in salute while chanting "hail England". This iconography, coupled with the protagonists' view of the Britons as "sub-humans" and "vermin" who deserve to be completely exterminated (at two points Hengest actually uses the term "holocaust" to describe his bloody conquest of Britain, in one instance saying "lets holocaust them into oblivion") invites clear comparisons with the Third Reich; a discussion about the novel's usage of Nazi-like images and references can be read here; to be fair, as two chapters are opened with quotations from Winston Churchill, the apparently pro-Nazi subtext would appear to be unintentional.
- Oh My Gods!: "Who in the name of Thor's ginger testicles are you?"
- Politically Correct History: Averted big time. The heroes own slaves, whom they treat with utter contempt (in the prologue Hengest gloats that his slave Derfel, crippled after trying to escape, would rather be dead); dismiss Christians as a bunch of closet homosexuals who worship a "faggot" god and tell stories about "strange elf-like people with big noses from the desert"; see fifteen year old girls as being ripe for marriage (Hrothgar, generally portrayed as an admirable character, makes a pass at a 13-year-old: "Nearly a woman then, that's old enough for me... What's the matter love? I'll be gentle") and, finally, attempt a total extermination of the Celtic population of Britain.
- This may at first seem like an honest attempt at a warts-and-all portrayal of the period - but the author's notes at the end of the book make it clear that English readers are expected to feel proud of the behaviour depicted, plunging the whole thing into a serious case of Values Dissonance. Considering that the basic national philosophy espoused by the novel is that anyone in England who isn't a Teuton should be killed, presenting it as a touchstone of English identity has... Unfortunate Implications, to say the least.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Pretty much everybody. Except for the Christians, those pansies.
- Rated M for Manly: In spades. Your mileage may vary as to whether or not it ever descends into Testosterone Poisoning.
- Religion of Evil: Christianity gets this treatment, with the Christian Celts identified as having burned "infidels" alive, thereby justifying their slaughter throughout most of the book. In an unusual twist on this trope, Christianity is portrayed as being both evil and wimpish: "Their cult is an effeminate way of life. They follow the god of slaves, the god of women and the god of wimps", says Hengest's father.
- The religion of the Woden-worshipping Anglo-Saxons comes across as being pretty bloodthirsty as well, even partaking in human sacrifice; some readers may interpret the story as a conflict between two Religions of Evil.
- Rousing Speech: Hengest delivers one at the climax. Highlights include "Do you want your beautiful daughters giving birth to the dark haired races?" and "Do you wish to witness your Teutonic blood wiped out by inferior dwarves and hairy women?"
- Strawman Political: Vortigern gives a speech calling for "a Britain which refuses to see race and differences". Hengest dismisses Vortigern's "liberal views" before beating him up and murdering his ambassadors.
- Take That: After massacring a British village, the heroes find two boys (apparently brothers) hiding in a closet. Hengest decapitates the youngest, hands the severed head to the oldest and sends him on his way. The oldest boy's name is... Artorius.note
- Their First Time: Invoked rather abruptly when 14-year-old Hengest ends up on board a ship with 13-year-old Dresden. "Dresden and I were under our blanket with our heads poking out... whilst under those covers with Dresden, I seemed to forget my love for Hild and we committed what the Christians would call a 'sin'. Twice!"
- The passage is not entirely clear, but it appears that the two youngsters did this in full view of drunken adult revellers. If so, this is yet another uncomfortable case of Values Dissonance.
- Tongue Trauma: One of the heroic Saxons cuts out his slave's tongue as punishment for speaking with a foreign accent.
- Too Dumb to Live: The Britons are portrayed as being too stupid to realise that their Anglo-Saxon mercenaries are plotting to exterminate them.
- Translation Convention: The novel is not entirely consistent in translating the Old English, which the characters would have spoken, into modern English. It makes a point out of using antiquated spellings ("Englisc", "Cent", "Waelisc") and terms ("viking" is used in its original sense as a verb, rather than an ethnic group; slaves are referred to as "thralls"). However, the dialogue often slips into inappropriately modern English, with characters using slang terms such as "weirdo", "bloody Nora", "gay" (as in homosexual) or saying things like "the oxygen rushed from my lungs".
- Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Let's just say that the book could've done with a proof-reader. Commas are frequently missing in action, and there's a number of greengrocer's apostrophe's to boot.
- Typical sentence: "He was a fat king, his arms, his legs; his guts and his arse were fat"
- Worthy Opponent: How Hengest comes to see the Scyldings. At the very end of the novel, the surviving Celts also get this treatment.
- Would Hurt a Child: The Saxons.