How Erling Skjalgsson helped to protect England

Viking Legacy

The publishers of Viking Legacy (which, in case I forgot to mention it, I translated), are pleased with the sales results of my article at The American Spectator Online yesterday (see below). So I thought I’d share a snippet of the book tonight. I chose this excerpt pretty much at random, except that I made a point of finding one concerning Erling Skjalgsson. This one deals with an aspect of Erling’s relationship with King Olaf Trygvesson that never occurred to me when I wrote The Year of the Warrior. It starts by discussing Olaf’s treaty with King Ethelred the Unready of England, entered into before he left for Norway. This treaty is documented (you can read it in the book), and it involves, among other things, a promise by Olaf to restrain Norwegian raiding in England.

When Olav returned to Norway in 995, he lacked the necessary authority to convince the chieftains of western Norway to abandon their traditional plundering economy, based on raids in England. Plunder was an important source of income for the communities of western Norway. Only Erling Skjalgsson, as the foremost chieftain of the Gula Thing, had the power to enforce Olav’s agreement so far as the people of western Norway were concerned. Erling was thus the key to Olav’s hopes of maintaining a positive and enduring relationship with England. But Erling in his turn would have to make sure of the other chieftains’ support. It would have been no easy task for him to keep his followers on a leash in order to guarantee Olav’s English agreement. Breaking off the raids in England would deprive the great men of part of their economic and political base.

For that reason Olav had to have some means of substantially compensating the people of western Norway if he was to persuade them to leave England in peace. He had procured the economic means to do this – among other things tons of silver, including what he had plundered himself. It is nearly impossible to estimate what Olav’s entire fortune would have been worth in today’s money, but we can assume that Olav Tryggvason in 996 was the richest man in Norway. Olav would have used these financial resources to woo the chieftains – while expounding the terms of his agreement with King Ethelred….

It was in Olav’s interest to avoid war with the inhabitants of western Norway. The terrain was difficult to control, with numberless fjords and mountains. Olav was effectively a foreigner in Norway. The people of western Norway would have been capable of setting a number of traps to defend their region, and it goes without saying that Erling’s willing cooperation was crucial to Olav. With Erling at his side as a loyal ally, the nation-building project would be much simpler than if he were a hostile or half-hearted vassal. He could hardly hope for a more influential collaborator.

Prospects for trade with England may also have played a part in the debate. Nor could Olav have been stingy when it came to the question of his sister’s [Erling’s wife’s lw] dowry. Miserliness in this matter would have weakened his reputation as a trustworthy man, and so Astrid must have brought a tidy sum of English silver into the marriage. This would have increased Erling’s fortune, as well as his influence, considerably.

For your Spectation

I have another article in The American Spectator today. I was nervous about writing about Viking Legacy, the book I translated, but editor Wlady Pleszczynski took pity and me and stretched a point.

In time I was delighted to discover a Norwegian historian whose thinking ran very much along the same lines — Professor Torgrim Titlestad, now retired, but then on the faculty of the University of Stavanger. A local historian in Stavanger put me in contact with him, which led eventually to his hiring me to translate his Norwegian book, Norge i Vikingtid (Norway in the Viking Age)…

I heard from Prof. Titlestad’s son, who liked the article, but gave me an additional piece of information I wish I’d known. Prof. Titlestad didn’t retire from the University of Stavanger. He resigned in protest against changes made in the history curriculum. He now works full time with The Saga Heritage Foundation, which he founded to combat the current rush toward historical amnesia.

In-tents living

Lars Walker's Viking tent

Yesterday was Danish Day at the Danish-American Center in Minneapolis, and the Vikings were there. It was a sort of debut for the Viking tent I recently bought (and re-painted), pictured above. It’s actually been used before, at the Festival of Nations in St. Paul, but I just lent the tent for use and didn’t participate in that myself. I hadn’t seen it assembled and in its glory till yesterday. And I’m pleased. I suppose I’ve overdone the red and gold color scheme, but it’s eye-catching and our group needs to attract some attention. Besides, I like red and gold.

It was an intense day for me. There were strangers to meet and interact with, which is always a little stressing. I got to show group members Viking Legacy, the book I translated. I think some of them may have wondered if it actually exists, after all these years I’ve told them it was coming, but yesterday I was vindicated. And I did a little sword fighting.

The day before I’d commented on how well I was feeling, compared to a year ago. Which is true. I’ve gradually upped my exercise, and I’ve dropped a little weight. However, a day of playing Viking is a lot for an old man. Today I was stumbling around, bumping into things, dropping things, and knocking things over. I’d gotten plenty of sleep (in fact I overslept), but there’s only so much gas in the tank, these days.

Still. Pretty tent, isn’t it?

‘Wrongly Convicted,’ by P. F. Ford

Wrongly Accused

P. F. Ford’s Slater and Norman series has been reading candy for me for some time now. The books are not demanding, but they’re cheerful and likable. The previous book in the series showed signs of a rushed release. Wrongly Convicted was better.

Former police detective Dave Slater comes back to England from a vacation in Thailand and decides to join his friend Norman Norman in his private detective agency. Business isn’t quite booming, so they’re happy to be approached by a woman whose husband was convicted ten years before of murdering another woman. She is convinced he’s innocent, but her source of information is dead. Now she asks them to find the real murderer.

It’s a feature (or bug) of this series that secondary characters tend to change in serious ways between books. This time out, Slater’s girlfriend “Watson,” who went with him to Thailand, turns out to be something he never suspected. The police come to question him after the car he loaned her turns up demolished by a bomb.

Wrongly Convicted isn’t top-tier fiction, but I liked it and always enjoy a new release in the series. I thought the conclusion was a little artificial, but not enough to complain about in terms of the genre. Only minor cautions for adult themes.

Reading report: ‘Macbeth,’ by Jo Nesbo

Macbeth

My feelings about “Scandinavian Noir” are pretty well established. With rare exceptions, I dislike the genre. I find it nihilistic and depressing.

But I’ve read a couple of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole books all the way through. And when I saw that he’d written an updated version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, set in the police force of a fictional Scottish city, I thought it was an interesting concept, and bought the book.

Alas.

I’d only gotten a fifth of the way through when I noticed I was approaching my reading with dread. This was a journey I didn’t really want to take.

The pleasure of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play,” (as we “actors” call it), is largely in being able to hate Macbeth almost from the start. He’s pretty one-dimensional, and you look forward to seeing MacDuff lay on against him.

Macbeth here is the leader of a SWAT team when the book starts, a pretty admirable guy. He has a couple serious flaws, though, and it’s easy to see how he could be corrupted.

I felt like I knew what was going to happen, and I didn’t think there’d be much enjoyment in it. There was no pleasure here. No moments of lightness. So I put it aside.

It’s well written, and if this is your cup of tea, you’re likely to enjoy it. Cautions for adult material.

‘A Man Too Old For a Place Too Far,’ by Mark W. Sasse

A Man Too Old For a Place Too Far

“Are you real or am I hallucinating?”

She laughed hysterically at that question. “I could ask you the same question. You’ve lived your life like a fictitious person.”

A sort of a cross between A Christmas Carol and Winter’s Tale. That’s what comes to mind in trying to describe Mark W. Sasse’s A Man Too Old For a Place Too Far. The book is more complicated than Dickens’ book, and less brilliant than Helprin’s (but what isn’t?). But it’s that sort of thing. Kind of.

Francis Frick is a 72-year-old banker, and a harder man than Ebenezer Scrooge. He happily does business with arms dealers who supply some of the world’s worst despots. He has no friends, terrorizes his employees, and treats his unmarried daughter with coldness and insult.

It all begins to change one night when he discovers a small, bright, laughing creature – something like an angel or a fairy – hovering over his bed, eating a pomegranate. Her name is Bee. Francis refuses to believe in her until she transports him to a desert island. It’s beautiful there, but there’s nothing for him to eat or drink. His suffering is real enough.

This kicks off a series of transportations (some of them quite disturbing), in which he gets to see the consequences of his amoral actions in the world. A desire begins to grow in him to make up for his sins as best he can – but has no idea how. Doing good is outside his expertise. Bee, and her ominous guardian Ash, exhort him to find something “that doesn’t matter.” That’s the key. It all leads to an explosive climax.

It’s hard to evaluate an idiosyncratic book like A Man Too Old For a Place Too Far. It’s the beginning of a trilogy, so a lot of things remain unexplained. We don’t learn clearly what sort of creatures Bee and Ash are, and what their purpose is. This might even be a Christian book (Sasse is a well-known last name in American Lutheran theology), but I’m not sure.

But the book was fascinating, easy to read, and enjoyable. I look forward to reading more. Recommended.

‘Married Lies,’ by Chris Collett

Married Lies

Number five in the Detective Tom Mariner series of police procedurals by Chris Collett, set in Birmingham, England. In Married Lies, a wealthy and well-liked woman is found dead in her house, poisoned in a particularly cruel way. And another woman contacts the police about a stalker. There have been strange phone calls and unrequested packages in the mail, and she’s sure someone has been following her home at night.

Tom Mariner works the murder case, though he’s still reeling emotionally from the break-up of his relationship with a very good woman who finally ran out of patience. He assigns his subordinate Millie Khatoon to the stalking case. Both cases gradually converge, and the end of the book is a real shocker.

I enjoy the Tom Mariner books, and this may have been the best so far (though the ending was disturbing). But I’m stymied in reading the series, since books #6 and #7 are only available in dead tree form, while #8, the most recent, is available for Kindle. I don’t want to jump ahead, so I guess I’ll wait for the intervening books in ebook form, before going on to #8.

Cautions for intense situations and language.

Publishing news

The Year of the Warrior
The beloved old cover.

Had a very nice moment on Facebook today. One of my readers posted a list of novels that affected his life, and The Year of the Warrior was at the top of the list. He said, “Each of these moved me spiritually and intellectually. I connected with the characters and the story surrounding them, and finished the book feeling emotionally deeper in my understanding of the world and others.”

Mark Twain said something along the lines of “I can live a whole month off a good compliment.” I think my food budget should be covered for most of June.

In a related matter, I guess I’ll mention that I’ve decided to bring out paperback versions of some of my novels through Create Space. (Actually Ori Pomerantz is doing the real work.) I’m starting with The Year of the Warrior, because then I’ll be able to sell it along with West Oversea at Viking events and have them in sequence. Hailstone Mountain should come later.

The e-book of TYOTW is published by Baen, but it turns out I have full rights to publish a palpable version. Can’t use Baen’s cover though, so our friend Jeremiah Humphries is working on a new one.

Oh yes, don’t forget that Viking Legacy, the book I translated, is now available!

A Few Words on the End of Time, Inc.

Meredith, the publisher behind Southern Living, Better Homes & Gardens, People, SI, Real Simple, and a host of other lifestyle magazines, has purchased Time, Inc. for a few Manhattan dinners shy of $3 billion. The NY Times has an oral history, and I think we might have had an awful time working there, not that I would have ever been hired to begin with. (via Prufrock News)

Albert Kim: “It was very clear that the internet was going to be a huge part of the future of media. But for most of the time I was there, people treated it as a nuisance. It was a problem to be solved, not an opportunity.”

Bethany McLean: “I remember sitting next to Jeff Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner, at an internal Time Inc. event that was celebrating journalists. And he asked what I had done before Fortune, and I said, ‘Oh, I worked at Goldman.’ And he looked at me like, why would I leave that to do this? And I thought, Uh-oh, it’s over.”

Are There No Real Quests Anymore?

In those days, I was restless without a book in my hands, without the hope of some new story around every turn to enliven my deadening senses. Unlike most of my friends, I didn’t want a truck or a job or a scholarship; I wanted a horse and a quest and a buried treasure. But there were no real quests anymore. Not in my town.

Andrew Peterson describes his love of fantasy and science fiction as a kid, how that called him out of himself, and what the Lord did with it in his life.

I looked out her window and saw crabgrass, old trucks, clouds of mosquitoes, and gravel roads, a rural slowth that drawled, “Here’s your life, son. Make do.” But my books said, “Here’s a sword, lad. Get busy.” A persistent fear sizzled in my heart, a fear that there existed no real adventure other than the one on the page, and that I was doomed never to know it.

Peterson’s website, The Rabbit Room, is a wealth of imaginative writing, talking, and singing.

‘Baby Lies,’ by Chris Collett

Baby Lies

Another novel in the Inspector Tom Mariner series, by Chris Collett.

Baby Lies begins with the heartbreaking abduction of a baby from a “creche” (that’s what the English call a day care center for very young children, as I understand it). This was the first time the mother in question had ever left her baby in anyone else’s care, and she’s understandably distraught.

The Birmingham police pull out all the stops in investigating, and everyone is thankful when the baby gets returned unharmed a few days later. But there’s more going on than that, as Inspector Mariner begins to realize when elements of a previous unidentified body case start intersecting with the baby snatching. What they begin to uncover is bigger and darker than they could imagine.

Meanwhile Mariner and his girlfriend Anna are planning to move to a smaller, quieter town. It’s what Anna wants, and Mariner is willing to go along to please her. But can it work for them?

I found Baby Lies suspenseful and compelling. The ending was a little disappointing, but only from an emotional perspective, not a storytelling or plot perspective.

Cautions for mild adult stuff.

Secularists Stuffing Their Ears in Fear

David French says he has never seen unhinged reactions like the kind Jordan Peterson is getting these days. His detractors would rather stuff their ears to keep out his voice than make a case for his errors. French says, “He’s disrupting an emerging secular cultural monopoly with arguments about history, tradition, and the deep truths about human nature that the cultural radicals had long thought they’d banished to the fringe. . . . Some things (in some places) are just not said.

It’s not that he’s a prophet or that everything he says is right. It’s more that the Left in our country can’t hear any voice but their own. Their ears are so tickled they reverberate with a single, soothing tone that drowns all other sound. Even the most basic truth creates intolerable dissonance.

‘The Fixer,’ by Joseph Finder

The Fixer

Holly’s tiny apartment was lovely, elegant, and jewel-like, like the woman herself; though also a bit cramped and impractical, like the woman herself.

I praised Joseph Finder’s Suspicion a few reviews back, but said I wouldn’t read more from the author. That was just because I identified strongly with the hero, and the high-tension story kind of raised my blood pressure. But our commenter Paul persuaded me to try Finder’s The Fixer, and I succumbed. This one wasn’t as nerve-wracking for me, mainly because I didn’t quite believe in the protagonist. The hero of The Fixer, Rick Hoffman, was – in my opinion – kind of a moron. I mean, if I discovered a couple million in cash hidden in my father’s house, I’m pretty sure I would not try to keep it secret and hope nobody would notice. I’d go straight to the police and hope to collect some kind of finder’s fee. Because if there’s one thing I know from novels and movies, it’s that money like that has to be dirty, and dirty people will be looking for it.

Rick is a former investigative journalist who traded in his principles for a high-paying job writing puff pieces for a Boston magazine. Now the magazine is going all-online, and he’s been reduced to “contributor” status. This loses him his apartment and his fiancée. Now he’s living in his father’s unheated house, left derelict since the old man had a stroke about 20 years ago. That’s how he discovers a hidden room with a big pile of money in it. Rick has suspicions about its source, as his father used to be a “fixer,” a bag man for corrupt city politicians.

And sure enough, men start following Rick around, and he gets abducted and threatened with maiming. But that only makes him more determined to learn his father’s secrets and hold on to the money (I thought the plot lost some plausibility at that point).

The Fixer was an exciting book, but I had trouble believing it. Rick is portrayed as a very bright guy, but it seemed to me he made a lot of really stupid decisions. He also got beat up and injured a lot, without being deterred in the least.

But it was gripping, and the prose was superior. The politics leaned left, but weren’t preachy. So, recommended, with the usual grownup cautions.

Trevin Wax Salutes Andrew Peterson

Trevin Wax offers this album-by-album guide to the work of Andrew Peterson.

Andrew’s work resonates with me for several reasons.

  • First, Andrew expresses a childlike wonder toward this world and our place in it, waking us up and seizing our imaginations until we see—truly see—the wonders of existence. I gravitate toward music and books that lead me in the way of wonder.

  • Second, Andrew’s albums are steeped in biblical allusions and Scriptural imagery—all of which grow more powerful the more you study Scripture and the more you put his songs on “repeat.” There’s a richness to his lyrics that rewards the contemplative listener.

  • Third, Andrew’s songs bear the mark of authenticity, giving voice to a faith that is firm in its grasp of the truth and yet honest in its experience of doubt or suffering. The result is a compelling portrait of Christianity in all of its messy glory.

I enjoy this music too and have long wished Peterson great success. His music is marvelous. I’ve tried to burrow this song in my head since buying the album a couple years ago.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture