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Runes: The God of War vs. The Viking Reality – A Saga Written in Blood and Ink

FEBRUARY 10, 2024

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Hark! Ye enthusiasts of lore and legend, gather 'round as we embark on a raucous voyage through time, from the mystic shores of Midgard to the hallowed halls of Valhalla, with nothing but our wits and the runes to guide us. Yes, I'm talking about those enigmatic symbols that Kratos, the Spartan warrior turned Norse mythic figure, and his sapient son Atreus find scattered across realms in "God of War." But how do these digital runes stack up against the historical etchings our Viking ancestors left behind? Grab your mead, and let's find out!

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God of War's Runes: A Spellbinding Enigma

In the realm of "God of War," runes are akin to the WiFi password to Asgard – absolutely crucial and somewhat mystical. They unlock doors, reveal secrets, and are pretty much the Norse equivalent of a Swiss Army knife for the supernatural. The game developers, bless their hearts, dove deep into the Elder Futhark for inspiration but weren't afraid to toss in a few artistic liberties along the way.

Kratos reads runes - God of War

Ah, but here’s where our saga takes a twist: the runes in the game are a jumble of the Elder and Younger Futhark, the latter being the more historically accurate script for our Viking forebears. It's as if they couldn’t decide on their favorite era of runes, so they thought, “Why not both?” A for effort, but it’s a bit like using Shakespearean English to text – valiant, yet vexing.

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The True Rune Lore of the Vikings

Runestone from Hagby, Sweden

Now, let's sail back to reality, where the runes are not just magical symbols but a full-blown alphabet with a side of mysticism. The Vikings, those tall, mead-swilling, saga-spinning folks, actually used the Younger Futhark. That's right, not the Elder, but the Younger – a sleeker, more streamlined version better suited to their carving needs.
Imagine a Viking, let's call him Erik, scratching his head with a quill in hand (or, more accurately, a knife on wood), trying to compose a runestone text with a limited character set. "To Hel with it," he'd mutter, "Why do we have fewer runes now?" Ah, the things we do for efficiency.

A Tale of Two Futharks: The Runestones Speak

In the midst of our spirited discussion, let's not forget the silent witnesses to history – the runestones. These ancient slabs of stone are not just markers of the past; they're the very parchment on which the Vikings wrote their stories, using runes as their ink.

Elder Futhark Chronicles 
The Elder Futhark, elder by name and by nature, was the script of choice during the early days of runic writing, predating the Viking Age by centuries. Its 24 characters were etched into the memories and stones of Germanic peoples long before the Vikings raised their sails.

Consider the Kylver Stone found in Gotland, Sweden. This stone slab, dating back to the 5th century, is a veritable Rosetta Stone of the Elder Futhark. It bears an inscription that serves as a full futhark, a sort of runic alphabet soup, if you will. It's a testament to the enduring power of these symbols, a guide for those who would come after.
Kylver Stone photo

The Younger Futhark Saga Continues 
As our tale unfolds into the Viking Age, the Elder Futhark gave way to its more streamlined descendant – the Younger Futhark. With only 16 characters, it was the Twitter of its time, forcing Vikings to be both concise and creative.

Take, for example, the Jelling Stones of Denmark. Erected by King Harald Bluetooth in the 10th century, these stones are a monument not just to his rule, but to the transition of the Danes to Christianity. The inscription, carved in the Younger Futhark, proclaims Harald as the king who united Denmark and Norway and converted the Danes to Christianity. It's a runic tweet that changed the course of Scandinavian history.
Jelling stones photo

Weaving the Runes into Our Saga
As we journey through the realms of "God of War" and tread the soil of history, these runestones serve as our guideposts. The Elder Futhark speaks of a time when runes were a nascent script, full of magic and mystery. The Younger Futhark tells of a people in flux, at the cusp of history, their runes a testament to their achievements, their beliefs, and their legacy.

In our quest to unravel the mysteries of the runes, we find that whether etched in stone by the hand of a Viking or conjured in code by a game developer, these ancient symbols continue to captivate and inspire. They remind us that history is not just a series of events, but a tapestry of stories, waiting to be told.

When God of War Gets It... Sort of Right

God of war rune puzzle

Now, don't get us wrong. "God of War" does a magnificent job of weaving the runes into its narrative tapestry. They capture the essence, the sheer magical vibe that we history nerds like to think runes had. Seeing Kratos use them to solve puzzles and unlock the path forward is like watching someone use Google Translate on a thousand-year-old manuscript – it’s not perfect, but by Odin, it’s exhilarating.

But here’s a nugget of truth: runes were more than just tools for the Vikings. They were signatures on artifacts, gravestones, and even declarations of love (or insults, Vikings were cheeky like that). They believed in the power of the runes, sure, but they also used them for the mundane. It’s this blend of the everyday with the enchanted that "God of War" captures so beautifully, albeit with a dash of creative license.

The Saga Concludes... For Now

God of War - deer head puzzle

So, what have we learned on this wild raid through history and mythology? That the runes of "God of War" are a tapestry woven from threads of history and strands of creative genius. They may not be 100% accurate, but they convey the spirit of the Viking age – a time when the world was a magical place, filled with gods, monsters, and men who weren’t afraid to write their names in stone.

May the runes continue to be a bridge between worlds, both digital and historical, for many sagas to come. And may your path be ever guided by the wisdom of the ancients and the joy of discovery. 

Skål!

Credits:
Runestone from Hagby, Sweden - Original image by Berig. Uploaded to Wikipedia by Emma Groeneveld, published on 17 June 2018, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:U_152,_Hagby.JPG

Kylver Stone photo taken by Gunnar Creutz - CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21186550

Jelling stones photo taken by Casiopeia, CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=197294

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