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Recap / A Thing of Vikings Chapter 8 "A Challenge"

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Book I, Chapter 8

Despite popular tales to the contrary, Vikings did not constantly duel to the death over every little issue. Indeed, they took considerable efforts to prevent unnecessary bloodshed among their communities and to ensure fairness between their members.

Political meetings, known as Things, had elaborate rules of conduct, designed to limit the potential for violence and the sparking of feuds. This was one of the functions of the ritual trial-by-combat, the holmgang; to settle and close disputes and feuds in a hopefully nonlethal manner, yet in a way that was acceptable to the martial Norse. This was done by means of creating the dueling area as a sacred space before the gods, defining the conflict, and rendering it such that what was 'slain' within the bounds of the demarcation was the opposing dispute. Rather than start a brawl over a dispute at a Thing—an act that was in violation of the rules of conduct—one disputant could challenge another to a trial by combat, after which the matter was settled. And to keep those with significant prowess from perverting the mechanics of the trial by combat against their intent, substitutions in the cases of gross mismatches were not only allowed, but encouraged.

Origins Of The Grand Thing, Edinburgh Press, 1631
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Tropes That Appear In This Chapter:

  • Accidental Innuendo: In-Universe.
    Astrid turned around and gave them a tired look before doing a deadpan imitation of her cousin's acerbic tones. "'You're lucky that you didn't break the collarbone, or your shoulder-blade. Thanks to that thick leather epaulet you wore, it's pretty likely that the muscle isn't torn irreparably. But if you don't stop squirming and let me sew up this muscle before you tear it worse—'" She sighed. "It was messy, and he's a terrible patient."
    Ruffnut snorted.
    "I threatened to sit on him," Astrid said... and then blushed slightly when she realized what she'd just said. "Um—you know what I mean. If he didn't stop bouncing—uh..." Turning bright red, she shut her mouth with a click.
    Ruffnut giggled evilly. "Oh?"
  • Best Out of Infinity: Snotlout's insistence on going through the third round of the challenges, despite having lost the first two, is precisely what leads him to lose the third, a test of wisdom. A wise man will recognise a lost battle instead of foolishly continuing to fight. That Snotlout couldn't concede then and there resulted in him being judged unwise and the loser of the final round.
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  • Call-Back: After Snotlout loses all three challenges, he could hear Ruffnut quote the "The Hero Sucks" Song she made-up for him in Chapter 2.
  • Dirty Coward: Everyone points out how lopsided Snotlout's challenge to Hiccup is, considering Hiccup is still healing from the loss of his leg.
  • Loophole Abuse: Spitelout defends Snotlout's actions by arguing that Snotlout raided a Saxon fort when Stoick told him not to raid any Norse villages. Stoick is far from amused, citing the intent of his words.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Downplayed in the case that "hero" is a bit of a strong word for Snotlout, but Stoick goes in great detail about how Snotlout's raid was a bad idea.
    Stoick: And now, thanks to the glory-hungry deeds of a youth, we may face a new war, one not against dragons just interested in stealing food for the one holding their eggs hostage, but against a Christian kingdom, one that has already torn down sacred groves and temples to the All-Father, one that threatens to do to us what we planned to do to the Dragon's Nest. [Beat] WHY ARE WE GIVING THEM A REASON TO COME HERE?
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  • "Take That!" Kiss: Astrid does this with Hiccup the moment Snotlout implies that she would want him after he "proves himself" in beating Hiccup.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: After Astrid defeats Snotlout in combat and Hiccup defeats him in the race, Snotlout demands that they go through with the third challenge - the test of wisdom. He is then immediately declared the loser of the third challenge because he just proved he is not wise enough to see that he had been beaten 2 out of 3 and that it would have been better if he had admitted defeat.
    Chestnut: Only a fool continues to fight after he's beaten. Only a colossal jotunn of a fool would continue to fight after he's beaten and in his area of weakness. You failed, boy. The wise thing to do would not have been to try. ...it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool... than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. Mind you, Hiccup here didn't manage much better in wisdom by giving in to an opponent's demands when he already had won, but he at least admitted that he didn't see the point. If you were wise, you would have recognized that literally nothing you could have said would have changed the final results to being more to your liking… and all you've done is make yourself the stubborn fool in front of everyone.

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