Parry Morton is not sure he believes in reincarnation, but he does know that he feels real comfortable when he slips into the character of Sven, the Viking King.
"When I put the costume on, it just feels natural like I've done it before," Morton, a local photographer and artist, said. His pursuit of Viking history is both a hobby and a passion.
Each year for the past 12 years, Morton has appeared at the Arizona Renaissance Festival in the Valley, wearing a costume of his own creation. In between, he's available to perform and lecture to students, church groups, at libraries just about anywhere he's invited.
"I have three different levels of performances I do, depending on the age level of the audience," he said. This Friday, Sept. 7, he will do a presentation at Frontier Elementary School for fourth- and fifth-graders.
"I love kids," Morton said. "I've had 17 foster children over the years."
Despite the Vikings' reputation as vicious marauders, which Morton said is pretty much accurate, and despite the fact that he is an imposing figure in his Sven outfit, kids aren't afraid of him.
"There's an aura of some kind about Sven," he said. "Kids come right up to him. They follow him around."
Morton's presentations and lectures come complete with 8-by-10-foot canvas backdrops that show the routes the Vikings followed in their explorations, tables filled with the furs they wore and the foods they ate at different periods in their history, and even a 12-by-20-foot replica of a castle.
"The Payson High School drama students helped me build the castle," he said.
Children enter through the castle drawbridge, and once inside can experience such additional props as an 8-by-8-foot dragon that becomes a bean bag toss.
"The whole idea is to show kids that learning can be fun," he said.
Morton, who moved to Payson 20 years ago from the Valley, has been interested in model building from the time he was a young boy.
"I was also interested in my Norwegian, Scottish and Welsh heritage," he said.
Originally from California, he worked for Disney Studios, sculpting trains and submarines. As a hobby, he handcrafted wooden rocking horses and created toys for his own son and the foster children who lived in his home.
The hand-tooled leather Viking costume that Morton wears took over 3,000 hours to make. The elaborate detail in that costume and several others he has made for the characters who appear with him at the Renaissance festival has earned the "most photographed characters award" at that event for several consecutive years.
"Historically, I'm the earliest person at the festival," he said. "Some people say I'm too early, but I tell them the Vikings used to raid those places back then. They ruthlessly raided England and all the way up and down the coasts of Europe. There is some indication they used hallucinogenic drugs to make them so bold."
But Morton said the Vikings also deserve credit for the many contributions they made to the advancement of civilization.
"They were far ahead of any culture in their arts, the way they lived, their ability to survive in a cold climate" he said. "The ships they built and their great journeys were all about trying to find a warmer climate."
Historians now believe the Vikings predated Columbus in discovering America by some 500 years.
"The Indians wanted their weapons, and when the Vikings wouldn't trade them, they basically kicked them out of America," Morton said.
There are even indications that the Vikings served as bodyguards for the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, Morton said.
As more archaeological sites are uncovered, knowledge of the Vikings accomplishments is increasing.
"Tobacco was used in the mummification process, and it is now believed the Vikings established the trade routes that brought it to the Egyptians," he said.
While Morton doesn't usually charge for his presentations, he hopes to change that.
"I'm trying to get on the roster of the Arizona Commission on the Arts as a resident artist," he said. "Then I can do this at schools all over the state and get paid to do it as a traveling artist."
Morton's ultimate goal is to make an interactive CD-ROM that will allow students to interact with the various Viking kings and be part of history.
Another dream of his is to build a home on a hilltop in Payson that is actually a scale model replica of a European castle. If that ever happens, Rim country residents will be able to see history on a daily basis.
Until then, Morton highly recommends "The Vikings," a 1954 movie starring Kirk Douglas. "It's just an excellent movie about how they lived," he said.
For more information or to schedule a presentation, Morton can be reached at 474-6113.