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Nanaimo author co-editing historical anthology connecting Vikings and Muslims

Joshua Gilligham presents ‘Althingi – The Crescent and the Northern Star’
Viking-inspired fantasy writer Joshua Gillingham of Nanaimo and Seattle-based Islamic science fiction editor Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad are co-editing ‘Althingi – The Crescent and the Northern Star.’ (Photos submitted, illustration by Lada Shustova/Figue)

The medieval worlds of Vikings and Muslims collide in a new anthology of historical fiction co-edited by a Nanaimo fantasy writer.

On May 4, Joshua Gillingham, author of the Norse mythology-inspired book The Gatewatch, is launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund his latest project, Althingi – The Crescent and the Northern Star. The book is a spinoff of his Viking-themed card game, and each story follows one of the characters from the game and touches on Viking and Muslim interactions. The collection is co-edited by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, a Seattle-based editor of Islamic science fiction.

When his publisher first pitched him the idea of a cross-cultural anthology, Gillingham thought it seemed “out of left field,” but the more he looked into it, the more it started to make sense.

“The golden age of Vikings [is] from about AD 800 to 1100 and that’s around the same time a lot of the Islamic empires, specifically around the Mediterranean, were thriving…” Gillingham said. “We did some more digging into research, [Ahmad] from the Islamic side and me from the Viking side, and we kept finding all these connections.”

Gillingham said an example he likes to cite is the journal of Islamic scholar Ahmad ibn Fadlan. He was an ambassador from Baghdad who encountered Vikings while travelling to Russia and recorded their appearance and customs, including the Viking burial at sea.

“That’s the only actually historical, first-hand, eyewitness account we have of that particular tradition,” Gillingham said. “It’s referenced in a lot of the sagas but it’s really cool that an Islamic scholar is the reason that we have historical proof that this actually happened.”

The Crescent and the Northern Star features writers and academics from North America, Australia and Europe, including Victoria-based writers Jordan Stratford and Shanon Sinn, a former Nanaimo resident. Gillingham said when he approached the authors to contribute, he expected “a few more looks of ‘Are you crazy? What are you talking about?’”

“A lot of the authors who had previously written Islamic things were really excited to learn more about Viking history,” he said. “Conversely, a lot of the authors who had previously focused on more Viking history were so excited to find all these connections.”

Gillingham said an important aspect of the project from the beginning was to recognize connections between cultures and challenge the “simple view of history” held by white supremacist and radical Islamic groups that relate to “some sort of ideal time in the past when there was this pure culture that was unhindered by other cultures and existed separate from everybody else.”

“A really important part of challenging some of these fundamentalist ideas of history, these ‘pure cultures’ that we need to return to, is that there never was a pure culture and we’ve been connecting for a long time,” Gillingham said. “We continue to be connected and our past success was founded on understanding and co-operation and our future success and our current success is going to be founded on that, too.”

To contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, click here.

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