Jim's Reviews > The Long Ships

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson
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Jan 10, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-novels
Read from January 10 to 15, 2011

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 have received short shrift from literary critics. So much the worse for them!

The only thing I could possibly complain about The Long Ships is that it's almost too much of a good thing. If it were written today instead of during the dark days of World War II, it would have been turned into a whole series of novels and made even more money and fame for its author. But during wartime, writers and other artists had to make do with what they could. (I remember, for instance, two wonderful films produced under the Nazis during the war, both of which are now available in DVD. One was Joszef von Baky's Baron von Munchhausen, and the other was Marcel Carné's great Children of Paradise.)

The Long Ships takes place all over the known Viking world, with the exception of Iceland, Greenland, and the struggling Vinland colony. Its hero, Red Orm Tostesson, sails to France, Spain (where he serves in the guard of the Moorish leader Almansur), Ireland, England, Denmark, Sweden, and even Russia. He marries the daughter of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark, finds buried treasure in the lands of the Patzinaks (Pechenegs) in Russia, and conducts a war against brigands who raided and plundered his household while he was away.

The tale takes place in that strange period just before and after the year 1000 A.D. Christians were predicting the end of the world, which, of course, did not happen, but Red Orm himself converts to Christianity, as does most of his household, and he actively tries to convert other local Asatru-worshipers in his part of Southern Sweden. One of the best characters is Father Willibald, who builds a church on Orm's property. Historical characters who appear include, in addition to King Harald, King Sweyne Forkbeard, Erik the Victorious, Styrbjorn the Strong (the Jomsviking leader), Almansur, and King Ethelred the Unready of England.
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Reading Progress

01/10/2011 page 72
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04/01/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Geoff (new) - added it

Geoff Are you reading the NYRB re-issue of this? I've had my eye on this one for awhile. It looks really good. Can't wait to hear what you think of it.


message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim I'm reading the Kindle version, which I think comes straight from NYRB as it has the same intro by Michael Chabon. So far (30% done), it's a fun read.


message 3: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Don't you love that NYRB is highlighting these classics?


message 4: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim NYRB is currently my favorite publisher.


message 5: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Have you seen their 10th anniversary collection? It has everything they published from 1999 to 2009.


message 6: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim I think I already own a sizeable portion of it.


message 7: by Lisa (new)

Lisa And NYRB is.....The New York Book ....Review??


message 8: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia The New York Review of Books


message 9: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Doh!
I found the website. Yes, a very tempting series. Today, I can resist it. Tomorrow, maybe not LOL.


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