A-viking we will go, a-viking we will go...

by Scribble Monboddo

Studying the etymology of a language which was written, when it was written at all, in runes, well that's always going to be a challenge. So we don't know for certain what 'viking' actually means, but there's a persuasive theory that it was originally a verb. Elide voyaging with hiking and you get the general idea. Those original Norse traders and explorers viked off in search of both new markets, and new foraging opportunities, in a curious mix of proto-capitalism and advanced hunter-gatherer tactics which saw no great tension between establishing a trading post in one bay and lifting the poorly-guarded gold from a monastery just around the headland. It might not have been the most glorious start, but on such tactics empires are sometimes built.

The Vikings, with a capital V, who emerged from the early middle ages had an enormous reach, colonising Iceland, Greenland and for a brief period even a continent to the west of Greenland which, err, proved not to be quite so interesting. There were Swedish, Norwegian and Danish Vikings, and the latter occupied and administered much of northern England, including under the leadership of the famed king Cnut, re-titled Canute by a pope who didn't entirely trust his scribes to avoid Anglo-Saxon anatomical terminology. This blog comes to you from the edge of the Danelaw (we still have a church parish with a Danish name); it was an administration which left its mark, even if it is often forgotten thanks to the events of 1066, when Harold Godwinson (son of a Danish mother) fought off an invasion by a Norwegian Viking, Harold Hardrada, only to be defeated by some more Norsemen rebranded as Normans. Say what you like about your average Viking, but they're going to provide plenty to write about.

All of which brings us, inexorably, to the Viking pencil. Viking is a Danish company, not to be confused with the American discount stationer Viking Direct (although that was founded by a chap called Rolf, which is admittedly a very Viking name indeed). The Danes evidently have a taste for writing kit made properly, and their classic pencils are reassuringly solid, pleasing to the eye and not stupidly expensive.

Looking at the pencils side-by-side it's hard to escape thoughts about a rather different chapter of history, in Denmark's oft choppy relationship with neighbouring Germany, from the Schleswig-Holstein question to that unfortunate business in the 1940s. Nevertheless here we have a classic pencil in red, a school pencil in yellow and a grown-up pencil in black - I mean, seriously, how Staedtler is that? Let's chalk it up to the sincerest form of flattery.

The Skoleblyanten is, literally, the 'school pencil', a trusty HB that's certainly a worthy challenger to the ubiquitous Noris. The traditional red Skjoldungen takes its name from the old title for the designated next ruler in the ancient Norse Skjoldung dynasty, transliterated to scylding in old English - and yes, if that sounds familiar, you met them in Beowulf. The royal pencil seemed to have somewhat smoother graphite in my hands, although I'm not sure if there is a particularly different production technique.

The black-clad Element pencils look a bit more sophisticated and write very nicely too. There's even a simple but seriously effective wooden sharpener to go with them, and this does a really good job for such a modest price. Go and pillage some for yourself!