Meanwhile the fire had caught the straw on the floor, and eleven drunken or wounded men lying in it had been burned to death, so that this wedding was generally agreed to have been one of the best they had had for years in Finnveden, and one that would be long remembered.
Sometime last week it occurred to me that, although I’ve been praising the book to people most of my life, it’s actually been decades since I read Frans Gunnar Bengtsson’s The Long Ships. My old copy, printed in the 1960s, with a cover that doesn’t even appear on Amazon, is pretty much going to pieces, but it’s not terribly expensive to get a Kindle copy.
I’m happy to report that the book is as good as I remembered. Better. I still nominate it for the best Viking novel ever written – though a lot of Viking novels have been written in the last few years, and I haven’t read most of them. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine how anybody could do it better than this. (Pay no attention to the 1964 movie starring Richard Widmark. It’s a travesty.)
The Long Ships (Swedish title, Röde Orm), is the story of Red Orm Tostesson, younger son of a chieftain in Scania, which is part of Sweden today but was Danish back in the Viking Age. Early in the story he’s kidnapped by a Viking crew, who take him away into the Baltic and then south to Spain. There they, more or less by happenstance, “rescue” a Jewish slave from another Viking crew. He directs them to a rich city they can plunder, which eventually leads to their enslavement by the Moors, slavery in a galley, and then military service under the caliph of Cordoba. Further adventures bring them back to Denmark, into the favor of King Harald Bluetooth (the guy your wireless device was named after), and then home again. Followed by participation in Thorkel the Tall’s invasion of England, and an epic voyage into Russia in search of a hoard of gold. Continue reading ‘The Long Ships,’ by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson