Erik the Red

The following story told to me by my informant is a legend involving Erik the Red. She first heard this story around the age of 8-9.

“One of my favorite stories when I was a kid—I believe it was about Erik The Red—a Viking warlord… chief… I don’t know what you call it. A Viking leader. And one of these… he was leading this war party and one of his soldiers decided he didn’t like Erik being the leader anymore. He said Erik was weak and stupid and was not fit to lead the party. So they decided to have a contest between the two of them. And Erik said, I can fire my arrow through an oak tree and so the challenger walked up and buried his arrow deep deep into this giant oak tree. Erik fired his arrow and it went straight through an acorn and he said, he got it straight through the tree! The next challenge was to see who had the most courage. Because they just tried strength and now they tested courage. Eric thrust his arm into a fire until his arm hair started to curl and then he pulled it out. The challenger went in, stuck his arm into the fire until his arm hair started to curl and then he left it in longer and longer until his entire arm was burned and then he finally pulled it out. Erik turned to his men and said “who would you rather have, the man who is smart enough to shoot through a tree, or the man whose “courage” has left him crippled?” Erik the red continued being the leader and continued being a fantastic leader.”

This is a tale of brawns vs brains, and as my informant explained to me, she loves it specifically for this reason. It teaches that you don’t necessarily have to be the strongest or even the bravest to be a great leader, what is important is your intelligence and wit because these are things that can beat strength and bravery. Though Erik wasn’t the classic under-dog, this is still an encouraging story for “the little guy” who may feel inferior because they do not match up to the physical strength and size of their peers. Not only did Erik’s challenger get bested by Erik’s wit and intelligence, but his refusal to appear weak crippled him in the end.