Every Thursday, Nathan over at Fantasy Review Barn hosts a weekly party where blogs get to follow along with Diana Wynne Jones’ hilarious book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel listing their favorite books with a particular fantasy trope. So sit back and enjoy the fun.
10th July, 2014 – Northern Barbarians
For those unfamiliar with the fantasy trope “Northern Barbarians”, these characters dwell in the snowy art behind the northern MOUNTAIN range. They are very barbarous and tend to kill strangers on sight… It is not certain what their females do. So without any further explanations, here is my favorite Northern Barbarians in fantasy!
I mean, when anyone says northern barbarian in a fantasy story can they be talking about anyone except THE northern barbarian? Not in my world, anyway. Conan is the ultimate northern barbarian. The Cimmerians live across the mountains from the civilized world, raid and pillage their neighbors, are ferocious warriors, and have no problem killing strangers on sight. Plus, Conan is the most ferocious of the bunch, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. All others barbarians are merely a pale reflection of the original Northern Barbarian!
2. Bragi Ragnarson of Glen Cook’s Dread Empire series
As a mere youth, Bragi and his brother crossed the southern, snow covered mountains of his homeland to reach the civilized lands of the south. There their fearsome battle skills led them to become mercenaries. Through countless battles and numerous years, Bragi cut a swarth through the civilized kingdoms in war after war until finally he was able to become a king in his own right. He is tall, blonde, muscular, virile, and loud and boastful, but he is also loyal to his friends, surprisingly clever, and attempts to be a decent ruler. Without a doubt, Bragi is a northern barbarian, and his presence helps to bring the Dread Empire series to life.
3. Wulfgar of R.A. Salvatore’s Legends of Drizzt Do’Urden series
Wulfgar, son of Beornegar, is Mr. Salvatore’s northern barbarian. He is a hero of Icewind Dale and one of the Companions of the Hall along with Drizzt Do’Urden, Catti-brie, Regis the halfling, and Bruenor Battlehammer. Wulfgar is tall, muscular, blonde, and wields a battle hammer into combat along with wearing his horn helmed. I mean, sure, he was raised later in life by a dwarf and somewhat civilized by the experience, but the guy never outgrew his barbarian heritage and later goes back to become chief of his people. I’m not sure his tribe lived over the northern mountains from Icewind Dale, but they did from all the more civilized kingdoms of the Forgotten Realms. Close enough for me to list him here.
1. Kull: Exile of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard
Another barbarian from Robert E. Howard. In many ways, Kull was a mirror of Conan, but they were also different, especially in Kull’s tendency to be more introspective about life. Also, where Conan was from the frozen north, Kull was from the barbarian isle of Atlantis and crossed the ocean to the civilized kingdoms of his time. Since that did not fit the “Northern Barbarian” trope, I did not include him in the list, though I can’t think of many characters who fit the “noble savage” better than Kull.
2. Barak of David Eddings’ The Belgariad
Barak is a huge bear of a man (Those who have read the story will get the joke. Ha ha) and a berserker. He is chief of his clan and captain of his own “viking” long ship. The land he hails from is the Kingdom of Cherek, which is in the north and is both mountainous and snowy, and in many ways, Cherek is a barbarous place. The simple fact of the matter is that Barak is a thinly disguised Viking, and since I wasn’t sure if that was “Northern Barbarian” enough, I decided to include him here on the honorable mentions list.
3. Viridovix the Celt by Harry Turtledove
The Videssos Cycle is where Mr. Turtledove portrays the fun loving and hard fighting Celt named Viridovix. He is originally from pre-Caesar Gaul, and in many ways he is a classic barbarian. But Gaul (modern France) is not in the snowy north, and Viridovix did not seem barbarian enough – though, like I mentioned, he behaves very much like a semi-civilized Conan or Kull or Wulfgar. So he lands at number 3 on the honorables list.
When I first read this week’s trope, I got excited. There had to be dozens of northern barbarians in my favorite books, but as I started trying to find them all, I discovered that there wasn’t as many of them as I initially thought, and not all of the “noble savages” I did find really fit the description of northern barbarians. So here I am with just 3 Northern Barbarians and 3 Almost Northern Barbarians. So please, please give me the names of some others, so I can read about them.
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