chapter  15
12 Pages

Set in Stone: Runes, Nation, Childhood


It may seem anachronistic, to say the least, to consider a Swedish rune stone from ca. 800 AD as a specimen of a nation-building children’s text. Histories of children’s literature tend to begin in the eighteenth century, or at least with print culture. And the ability to imagine the nation as a community is according to Benedict Anderson (1983) and Eric Hobsbawm (1992) a consequence of paradigmatic social, political, and technical changes in the nineteenth century. Accordingly, neither children’s literature, as a print genre written to please a child audience, nor nations in the modern sense existed before this. However, older cultural manifestations can be (and often are) recuperated and fi nd a place within a more recent ideological framework (in this case nationalist and child-oriented). Rune stones served nation-building purposes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and the Viking age has continued to inspire a great deal of children’s literature. In passing I will say something about how archaic texts were used in the construction of a national literature, and as children’s literature. Yet, my main concern in this chapter is something else. I want to address the more precarious question of how one particular rune inscription, the Rök stone, can be seen as constructing a child reader and a nation already when the runes were cut into the rock 1,200 years ago. The risk of misinterpretation is certainly great-there is so much we do not know about the context, or about the cryptic inscription itself-but even so, I believe that the endeavour itself is useful and can shed light on the ways in which childhood and nation may be written.