Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Long Ships

Who knew? Long before the Swedes wrote mysteries about gloomy detectives and women victimized in horrific ways they sometimes wrote amazingly vigorous adventure stories. Go figure. 

Have you ever read The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson? This transporting tale was originally published in Sweden during World War II as two separate novels. Then it was published here as one book in 1955. It has been in and out of print here ever since. It is currently it is available in a New York Review Books edition.

The Long Ships takes place in the tenth century AD. It has a lot of Vikings, some Spanish Moors, Irish Monks, Scandinavian royalty, intrigue and a wealth of Grade A storytelling. You know that bad guys don’t  get any more epic that the Vikings of old. The Vikings were a fearsome, fearless, take what they wanted  marauders that communities from Scandinavian to the Mediterranean dreaded.  Our young hero, Red Orm is kidnapped when the Vikings attack his village in Denmark.  He is forced to take an oar on one of their long ships and it looks as though his fate is sealed. He will from now on be doomed to live the short hard life of an oarsman/slave. Could this be the end of our hero? Of course not there are 400 more marvelous pages to go.

What a treat this novel was!!! Everything about the scope of The Long Ships is far-reaching: the events, the characters, the settings, the history and the ideas. Then when you add in the excellent writing and enthusiastic scholarship…Voila! Reading magic!

Are there other things out there by Bengtsson that have been translated (I would hope that if there were the translations were done by Michael Meyer.)into English? I hope so!

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