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The Long Ships (Röde Orm)

4.29  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,655 Ratings  ·  468 Reviews
Frans Gunnar Bengtsson’s The Long Ships resurrects the fantastic world of the tenth century AD when the Vikings roamed and rampaged from the northern fastnesses of Scandinavia down to the Mediterranean. Bengtsson’s hero, Red Orm—canny, courageous, and above all lucky—is only a boy when he is abducted from his Danish home by the Vikings and made to take this place at the oa ...more
ebook, 528 pages
Published December 15th 2010 by NYRB Classics (first published 1941)
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Jeffrey Keeten
May 04, 2016 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vikings
”His voice became frenzied, and he glared wrathfully from one to the other, brandishing his arms and crying: Blood-wolves, murderers and malefactors, adulterated vermin, Gadarene swine, weeds of Satan and minions of Beelzebub, generation of vipers and basilisks, shall you be cleansed by holy baptism and stand as white as snow in the regiments of the blessed angels? Nay, I tell you, it shall not be so. I have lived long in this house and have witnessed too much; I know your ways. No bishop or hol ...more
Jul 26, 2013 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In just a minute I’ll be trying my hardest to sell you Goodreading friends on this sensational Viking experience. Before that, though, seeing as how I’m foaming over with excitement and appreciation, I have multiple people to thank.

First, to the author: I know that you’re dead, but believe you must be sitting at the right hand of Odin, smiling that another reader has recognized your magnificent talent for stories, your impressive capacity for research and your sure way with words. Plaudits to y
Brilliant comic novel about life in Viking Sweden. Those Vikings were real tough dudes.

My favorite bit is the sequence with Orm's first captain, who has a run of bad luck and ends up being captured and sold into slavery. The overseer knows he used to be a big guy and takes special delight in tormenting him, but the former captain waits for his chance. One day, while they're working in a shipyard, they're close to a barrel of boiling pitch; he picks up the hated overseer and dumps him in, head-f
Dec 25, 2015 Algernon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, favorites
This is the most laughs I've got out of a book dealing with pillaging, raping, burning, slaving at a galley's oar, duels to the death, wars at sea or on land. The fun starts from the very first chapter where it is dryly suggested that the reason the Northmen were so fond of going a-viking to the ends of the known world every spring was to escape the sharp tongues and the fiery tempers of their beloved consorts. After being cooped in with them for six long and cold winter months, going out at sea ...more
Oct 11, 2011 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb
A five hundred page novel about Vikings set in the year 1000? Sure, why not? This book has got more booty than a Sir Mix-a-Lot video. [rimshot!] Of course, I mean old school booty, as in creaky wooden chests filled with gold coins and jewel-encrusted amulets. Red Orm is our hero, a strangely lovable barbarian who begins the novel as a pubescent naif and ends it as a wealthy chieftain. Oops, spoiler alert (retroactive). I'm not really giving anything away there. This is very much an old fashioned ...more
There is plenty of adventure when the Vikings go a-Viking. They are a pragmatic bunch, and when it serves their purpose to convert to the teachings of Islam, they do so; when it is practical to become Christians, they convert again. They do however find some of the beliefs quite strange: "But his fear of Allah they could not understand, for it was unknown among the Northmen for anyone to be afraid of the gods." Later on there are hilarious scenes when they become Christians and are waiting for t ...more
Jun 27, 2016 Cody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-fiction, nyrb
Sparse, oratory tone to this novel. “The Long Ships” feels as though it was intended to be read aloud around a campfire, which allows the reader to dive right in and enjoy straight up good storytelling. Bengtsson doesn’t waste much time with a great amount of detail, so readers are given the liberty to use their imagination on a lot of scenes. I’ve read several books lately that feel the need to describe everything imaginable, so this was a nice change for me. This story will be easily accessibl ...more
Apr 12, 2012 Jacob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-2011
October 2011

How the shaven men fared in Skania in King Harald Bluetooth's time

Many restless men rowed north from Skania with Bue and Vagn, and found ill fortune in Jörundfjord; others marched with Styrbjörn to Uppsala and died there with him. When the news reached their homeland that few of them could be expected to return, elegies were declaimed and memorial stones set up; whereupon all sensible men agreed that what had happened was for the best, for they could now hope to have a more
Swiftly moving, endlessly entertaining, and brimming with historically accurate 10th-century flavor, this recounts in Norse saga fashion the adventures of Orm Tostesson (aka "Red Orm"), beginning with his capture as a young lad by Vikings, where, initially taken as a slave, he quickly proves his mettle and is initiated into the group as one of their own, and is eventually elected chieftain. The book follows Orm as he travels far and wide, makes lifelong friendships (and a few enemies), fights ba ...more
Elijah Kinch Spector
Nov 19, 2015 Elijah Kinch Spector rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Elijah by: Jen
Read a prettier version of this exact review over here!

I was expecting to completely and utterly love this. I ended up just mostly loving it. Disappointment can be so, so hard.

This book works as so many different things all at once that it only just barely edges out being a masterpiece. I'd been meaning to read it for awhile, without actually knowing anything about it, when it stared up at me from the NYRB table at the Brooklyn Book Festival for cheap. Later, I took a look at the introduction, o
Jan 15, 2011 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When asked what he had in mind writing his adventure novel The Long Ships, author Frans Gunnar Bengtsson answered, "I just wanted to write a story that people could enjoy reading, like The Three Musketeers or The Odyssey." In this, he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. His work has been translated into 23 languages at last count.

I have always loved literature by and about the Vikings -- from the great Icelandic Sagas to the Saxon Tales of Bernard Cornwell -- and I have always felt that they ha
Elizabeth K.
Mar 15, 2013 Elizabeth K. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-new-reads
Here there be vikings!

This is (relatively) recently back in print in English, and the new edition has a forward by Michael Chabon, in which he goes on about it like a maniac. One of the things I like about Michael Chabon is that you can always count on him for some solid hyperbole, so I wasn't taking it that seriously.

By about the third page, I was convinced it was the best book I'd ever read, and by the tenth page, was wondering why anyone ever bothered writing a book after 1945. After the worl
There is no interior monologue in this novel. It's all on the outside. And even so when I think how to describe my feeling about this book, the words that come to mind are "what a lark! what a plunge!" The prose is one fresh breeze of a story after another. I loved it the way I loved Star Wars circa 1977: it allowed me to enter a world completely unlike the one I'm living in, and to know with confidence that there was going to be a happy ending.
A rollicking Viking novel. The story follows the intrepid Red Orm from his youth through to maturity as a husband, father and warrior of renown.

This lengthy novel is action packed with wonderful descriptions of Viking culture and customs. A surprisingly humorous novel in parts, great fun to read. Loved the female characters here, especially Asa the mother of Red Orm.
Written in 3rd-person Viking, THE LONG SHIPS gives a more favorable view of the Norsemen, especially Orm Tostesson, who travels widely and sees the World, such as it was in the 10th century A.D. Author Frans G. Bengtsson, a Swede, knows his history, as well he should -- himself a translator of many olden works such as PARADISE LOST and THE SONG OF ROLAND. Bengtsson showed some mettle himself (Red Orm would be proud), refusing to consent to a Norwegian translation of his book as long as the Norwe ...more
Hey thanks, Manny. I hate violence, historical fiction makes me throw up, I stopped reading adventure books when I was twelve and Viking gods bored me to tears when I was going through my pagan gods stage in primary school and -'ve given me The Long Ships for my Birthday. That's so - well, I'm just lost for words - of you. What? Yes, I can see it was a big concession, really you wanted to get it in Swedish and I could put it on my list of languages I have to learn. And no, even though ...more
Jun 28, 2010 Hazel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Keely, Paul
Recommended to Hazel by: Jan Steckel
Thanks to Jan for recommending this. It's taken me many months to find a copy at the library. This is a yellowing, somewhat tattered 1954 edition, which has been filed away somewhere and last borrowed almost 30 years ago! What a waste! I'm only a few chapters in and already it's terrific. :-) I need maps though. But that's what Google is for. :-)

Manny, you've probably read this, haven't you? In Swedish!


I'm about halfway through The Long Ships which is a romance (not in the sense of
S.J. Arnott
Dec 25, 2015 S.J. Arnott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A long, but enjoyable look at the career of Orm Tostesson (aka Röde Orm, 'Red Serpent') a young man from Scania (the land on the southern-most tip of Sweden) who becomes a Viking after being kidnapped, more or less by accident, by a raiding party that was stealing his sheep.

The spines of this fictional biography are the three major voyages taken by Orm during his life. The first to Spain, where Orm serves time as a galley slave; the next to England, where he meets Ethelred the Unready; the last
Susan Johnson
Jun 10, 2016 Susan Johnson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After watching the excellent TV show, The Vikings, I have become fascinated with their culture. When my friend, Cphe, recommended this, I jumped on it. I am so glad I did.

This was a fun read about Red Orm who lived about 1000 A.D. Orm has more adventures than any man should. Kidnapped as a boy to be an oarsman on a Dragon ship he travels the world from Ireland to Kiev. He is kidnapped by the Moors and becomes a Muslim. Later he meets a priest and becomes a Christian, his third religion.

He is
Jul 07, 2014 Nate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
It's probably a good thing this edition doesn't have an image of the cover yet, as it was released in conjunction with the film adaptation and thusly has a hideous cover with dated illustrations of clean-shaven dudes in tunics waving around swords while garish 60s text screams an advertisement--not for the book of course, but for the movie. As a moderately anal and neurotic book collector I fuckin' hate owning copies of books that date themselves to the release of a film/tv version that in all l ...more
Apr 25, 2013 Bjorn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sweden
Historical allegories are always useful when you live in troubled times but don't necessarily want to talk directly about them because you never know who might be listening, and obviously for painting a bigger picture with older roots than newspapers can do. Sweden was neutral in WWII and eager not to openly piss off our big neighbour in the South, and consequently historical literature got a boost; Vilhelm Moberg's Ride This Night is a thinly veiled anti-fascist tract set in 17th century Sweden ...more
Apr 22, 2016 Jeanette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finally finished this epic, epic read! In every sense of the word epic, this is one.

The story of Orm's life is also the telling of culture clash. Culture clash in nearly every aspect of human existence you could name. Economy, religion, class system, food stuffs, lodging, language, music, art, tribal identity, transition to government at distant- you name it.

This farmer to slave to adventurer to warrior to farmer again- just beyond my ability to describe. The 9th and 10th centuries come alive.
Feb 18, 2009 Johan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this one as a teenager in Swedish so this "review" is slightly frayed by years of pillaging on my own brain and memory. Most significantly I remember it as one of those book you never want to end. It was so much fun to hang out with Orm and his friends and enemies that you wished you could just keep reading it forever.

Frans G. Bengtsson said he wanted to create something between the Odyssey and the Three Musketeers and it's a pretty good description.

I'm witholding one star because it's a
Sep 13, 2014 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, vikings
This must be the "granddaddy" of Viking novels by Low or Cornwell. Written in the style of the old sagas, this is the story of 'Red Orm' and his voyages -- to Spain, England, and to the land of the Patzinaks to retrieve a treasure of gold. This book had everything: adventure, humor, romance...
Erik Graff
Apr 28, 2014 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Scandinavians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: literature
This novel is a finely fleshed-out representation of the Norse world, including their commercial relations, from 982 to about 1007. If not familiar with the history, this may make you interested in becoming so.
Ó Ruairc
An absorbing and remarkable book. "The Long Ships" is an unforgettable story written in a style reminiscent of Tolkien. A sensational gem of a read.
Mary Ronan Drew
Apr 24, 2012 Mary Ronan Drew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In his introduction to Frans G Bengtsson's The Long ShipsMichael Chabon has this to say about the novel:

In my career as a reader I have encountered only three people who knew The Long Ships, and all three of them, like me, loved it immoderately. Four for four: from this tiny but irrefutable sample I dare to extrapolate that this novel, first published in Sweden during the Second World War, stands ready, given the chance, to bring lasting pleasure to every single human being on the face of the ea
Kate Sherrod
Jun 23, 2013 Kate Sherrod rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As anyone who follows me on GoodReads already knows, I spent the first few chapters of The Long Ships pretty much just giggling at the character names. I kept imagining Danish King Harald Bluetooth* wandering around the tenth century equivalent of a supermarket looking like he was talking about himself, for instance. Toke, well, that's pretty self-explanatory. And then there's Brother Willibald, the Christian monk who comes home with Orm from his adventures in Ethelred the Undready's England. He ...more
Dec 27, 2010 Justus rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great adventure book (really, a sequence of several unrelated adventures all featuring Orm) whose dry, sly humor sets it above the usual run of the mill. My edition comes with a ridiculously over the top introduction from Michael Chabon that doesn't do it any favors. When Chabon calls the book "a novel with the potential to please every literate human being in the entire world" I almost think he's mocking it. But when he describes it as having "irony as harsh as...Dickens, a wit and sk ...more
Oct 19, 2011 Felice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Goodreads Feedback: This topic has been closed to new comments. Translator used as the author 5 43 Sep 02, 2015 06:28AM  
NYRB Classics: The Long Ships, by Frans G. Bengtsson 1 7 Oct 28, 2013 11:44AM  
fiction files redux: The Long Ships 92 97 Jan 01, 2013 12:51AM  
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Frans G. Bengtsson (1894–1954) was born and raised in the southern Swedish province of Skåne, the son of an estate manager. His early writings, including a doctoral thesis on Geoffrey Chaucer and two volumes of poetry written in what were considered antiquated verse forms, revealed a career-long interest in historical literary modes and themes. Bengtsson was a prolific translator (of Paradise Lost ...more
More about Frans G. Bengtsson...

Other Books in the Series

Röde Orm (3 books)
  • Röde Orm 1: Sjöfarare i västerled
  • Røde Orm: Hjemme og i Østerled

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“...Orm always afterwards used to say that, after good luck, strength, and skill at arms, nothing was so useful to a man who found himself among foreigners as the ability to learn a language.” 10 likes
“A wise man, once he is past fifty, does not befuddle his senses with strong drink, nor make violent love in the cool spring night, nor dance on his hands.” 4 likes
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