Vinland Saga: hate and forgiveness

Is it really possible to change as a person? Can a human being animated by pure hatred and revenge become a pacifist? Vinland Saga was a pleasant surprise. After watching The Northman for the fifth time, I was obsessed by revenge stories. One of the first results on Google was Vinland Saga, a manga set in the Viking era. The plot was as simple as the one depicted in The Northman. A kills B and C seeks revenge for B with the clear intent of killing A. It is no coincidence that most of the stories featuring Vikings are about revenge. One of the most important deities of the Norse mythology is represented by Víðarr who embodies the very concept of revenge.

The god Víðarr will fight in the Ragnarǫk, the end of the world, and his task will be to avenge his father Odin. Revenge is the best tool to preserve honour and ego: it is not just something entirely negative. Hurting those who committed a crime is nothing but justice. Fearing retaliation for committing an injustice also has the function of stopping a crime before it happens.

“Brushwood grows and high grass

widely in Vidar’s land

and there the son proclaims on horseback

his eagerness to avenge his father”

If we did not pay for the crimes committed, how many of us would be guilty of the most serious offenses? A lot of us. And if we talk about justice, wouldn’t the concept of “forgiveness” perhaps be an affront to the victims? How could it be possible to forgive someone who has done a serious crime to you or to someone you care about? A theft, a violence, a humiliation, a murder? It could be argued that the old and dear concept of “an eye for an eye” can only lead to more despair and hatred, which would lead to a new act of retaliation, in an endless cycle of revenge. You really have to be an incredibly strong (or incredibly weak) person to let go of your revenge fantasies and focus on the future.

Vinland Saga: justice, revenge and honour

This is the riddle of Thorfinn, who saw his father die at the hands of a mercenary for no apparent reason. Thorfinn lets anger and hatred take over and he meditates revenge towards his father’s killer. He is only  six year old but he begins his training. Askeladd, his father’s killer, seeing potential in him, makes him a proposal: join his army, prove his worth in battle, and earn the right to face him in a duel to avenge his father. Thorfinn doesn’t intend to cut Askeladd’s throat in his sleep. That would not be honourable: he must avenge his father by honestly winning in a duel. And this is how young Thorfinn begins his apprenticeship under the command of his father’s killer.

“The strongest lives and the weakest die” become his new mantra and he acts accordingly, joining the Danes and raiding the cities of Great Britain. Until, by a fortuitous circumstance, his desire for revenge is stolen from him. This causes it to become an empty shell. Without revenge, Thorfinn is nothing. From there, he begins his journey towards healing, but it is never entirely possible to escape from the past (a very dear theme even to the latest God of War which, not surprisingly, deals with Norse mythology). Perhaps it is impossible to be non-violent in such a world.

Vinland Saga is a highly recommended manga that comes close to the moral ambiguity of Berserk and Vagabond.

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