When Uhtred of Bebbanburg goes to the blacksmith to get a new sword forged, the blacksmith asks: “Saxon or Dane?”. Uhtred promptly replies “Northumbria”.
I love this scene from The Last Kingdom. It accurately represents a frequent phenomenon in the TCK experience. We are often asked to choose a specific place, or at least state a preference, that defines where we are from.
How many of us when faced with a similar question provide an equally evasive answer?
Perhaps we don’t really have an answer. How can we choose between two (or more) countries? Maybe we feel the familiarity of a town, city or region represents us better than any nationality. Maybe we are more loyal to the people we love, to a moment we have lived, to the memories we hold, to the hopes that we build, than to any flag.
The Last Kingdom tells the story of Uhtred, the son of a Saxon nobleman who was captured as a boy and raised by Danes. Set in the year 872, what we now know as England was still a bunch of kingdoms constantly under threat from the fearsome Danes. As most fall under the invading army, the only kingdom that still stands defiant is Wessex. Forced to choose between his Saxon identity along with service to King Alfred and his Viking upbringing, Uhtred’s loyalties are constantly tested. Will there be peace and unity under Alfred? Will Uhtred ever reclaim the lands of his father? You’ll have to watch to find out.
The mixed identity, the culture clashes, the divided loyalties are all clear signs of a TCK. These themes emerge over and over in this series and are perhaps one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much.
I often get asked if I feel more Spanish or English. Neither or both is probably the best reply. When it comes to defining a place I trace my roots to, Extremadura or Andalucía; Olivenza or Sevilla, are probably closer to being home, to being a place to belong, than ‘Spain’ ever could be. We need to narrow it down.
Much as Uhtred and Northumbria, there is a need for TCKs to focus on something more specific. For the hero in this story it is his heritage, his birthright, the memory of his father, his aim to reclaim what he has lost, what was taken from him.
He may not identify with all Saxons but he still feels ties to the land where he was born. In the same way, he may fight against the Danes at times yet he still understands their intentions and respects their customs, making decisions that don’t always go down well with the court in Wessex.
TCKs can find themselves having to make similar decisions, constantly choosing one way or another, favouring the culture of their birth, the culture they are currently experiencing or any other that has been a part of their journey.
This mix of cultures is what makes life exciting. Both for Uhtred and the TCK. Sometimes we wish life was simpler and that we could just settle down somewhere but there is also something to be said for a life of change and adventure.
Wherever you choose to be, the TCK travels with you. It gives you a unique perspective on any situation and might just give you an advantage in a time of need. We can be tempted to dismiss our past when it feels inconvenient but, in the end, it is a part of who we are and it’s virtually impossible to turn our backs on.
Uhtred is his own man and uses all his knowledge to his advantage. Sometimes that means he acts more Saxon, sometimes he behaves more Viking. His skills often benefit others, but ultimately it is his life, his sword and his fight and he decides what to do with them. He doesn’t let others define him.
As a TCK you get to do the same.
Have you watched The Last Kingdom? Which moment do you think best reflects the TCK experience?