Historian E. R. Truitt has written an accessible, wide-raging piece on enduring fantasies of the white North, from Hyperborea and Thule to Westeros and Ragnar Loðbrók, and the intimacy of such fantasy to contemporary white supremacy. I am going to quote the closing three paragraphs, but please read the whole essay at Aeon. The piece is perfect for sharing in the classroom as well.
But ever since the 19th and early 20th centuries, the idea of ‘northernness’ that is so central to white supremacy has become an inextricable element of our Fantasy North. Many white supremacists view ‘the Nordic race’ as exemplary of white racial purity, and defend a fantasy of authentic whiteness in the guise of protecting cultural heritage. Nativist groups have grown more prominent on the far right throughout Europe and the US. Emblazoned in runes, organising under names such as the Aryan Brotherhood or the White Order of Thule, their members recite the slogans ‘Mass Immigration – Genocide of White Nations’ and ‘Diversity Is A Code Word for White Genocide’.
Perhaps this helps to explain why the Fantasy North has been enjoying its own cultural springtime. The iconography might be less visible, but white supremacist views are certainly making their way into the political mainstream. News outlets, politicians and pundits alike reference the ‘rising tide’ of people from outside the borders of European countries or the US. The story told by the Kensington Runestone – of a group of northern Europeans under attack – has found traction among many in North America and northern Europe who feel threatened by massive economic and demographic change. Xenophobia, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment have increased dramatically throughout Europe and North America since 2001. More recently, the frequency of violent crimes against people of colour, Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs has spiked in response to the Syrian refugee crisis and recent terrorist incidents. Meanwhile, in the Fantasy North white hegemony remains uncontested.
Our current arctic reveries reflect the challenges of the moment. As the globe gets hotter and drier, the cold and flourishing northern landscape becomes even more appealing. Those troubled by increasing state authority, political graft and industrial ruin can find inspiration in the stories of the proud, uncorrupted rebels who inhabit the North. And for some, fantasies of strength and conquest become attractive in hostile political and economic conditions. Whatever expression these desires and fantasies take, they all draw on a set of ideas about the North that reaches back through the 19th century into the depths of recorded history. But we might well shiver at the thought of what lies hidden beneath the ice.