Of Military Viking & Middle-Earth Illustrations

Angus McBride sadly walked down Hel-Road in 2007, but his glorious, artistic creations live on. A British artist, he spent much of his life in South Africa and made a name for himself as an illustrator for military history publications and role-playing games. In particular, he illustrated many of Osprey’s books, which describe and depict the “history of military forces, artefacts, personalities, and techniques of warfare.” McBride’s contributions to the the Osprey series range from Aztec warriors to Napoleonic soldiers. But, of course, the most relevant historical theme for the purposes of this floundering, little website is his work dedicated to the vikings.

I first became aware of McBride’s art in the early 2000s in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan when I discovered and impulse-purchased a t-shirt at Handfaste that featured the Strandhögg illustration. The back of the shirt displayed the text “Viking World Tour” in large font at top and listed below it the countries that the vikings had visited in their multi-century world tour, beginning with England and the date of 793. T-shirts with variations on this theme are still made, such as this one offered by the popular online viking-themed shop Grimfrost, but I’ve never seen the classic and presumably copy-right-infringing McBridean Strandhögg version again (ever since my tattered old one journeyed down its own Hel-Road, at least).

Anyway, the wondrous Strandhögg image appears in Osprey Publishing’s The Vikings, which I discovered subsequent to my classy tourist t-shirt acquisition. The whole book includes ten full color illustrations by McBride, as well as many black and white photos of the Oseberg and Gokstad ships, the Lewis chessmen, recovered Viking Age swords and helmets, and more. The book was released in 1985 (and does not appear to have been updated since then) and thus it does not feature the latest research, but it’s a nice little volume nonetheless, and McBride’s illustrations are worth the price of admission alone.

Not only are they inspirational, fun to look at, and just simply well done, but they also offer a good degree of historic realism, especially by 20th century standards. Consequently, McBride’s vikings don’t look like they’re about to launch themselves into the sky, propelled by the power of their own massively-winged helmets.

Thanks to his wide range of work for Osprey’s military history series, McBride also created other illustrations of interest and relevance, such as these, featuring some Anglo-Saxons being noble and proud (left) and some Goths just really tearing it up (right):

But it actually seems that most people familiar with McBride were introduced to his work via the illustrations that he created for role-playing games, namely the Tolkien-inspired Middle-Earth Role Playing. He also created illustrations for the Middle-Earth Collectible Card Game, and his Middle-Earth illustrations were eventually collected into a single book that is now out of print: Angus McBride’s Characters of Middle-Earth.

The man’s themes ranged beyond just military history and Middle-Earth, including such topics as Robin Hood and mythological monsters, and many of these images may be found on the world wound web (indeed, I culled the images posted here from the dumpster fire that is the internet). For anyone interested in learning more about McBride and his art, a few sources that I found to be better than most are listed below.

The Guardian: Obituary of Angus McBride

DMR Books: Angus McBride – Fifteen Years Gone

DMR Books: Angus McBride – Mythic Monsters

Tolkien Gateway: Images by Angus McBride

LOTR Fandom: Angus McBride