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Röde Orm #1-2

The Long Ships

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The book is set in the late 10th century & follows the adventures of Orm ("serpent"), called "Red" for his hair & his temper, a native of Scania. The story portrays the political situation of Europe in the later Viking Age, Andalusia under Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir, Denmark under Harold Bluetooth, followed by the struggle between Eric the Victorious & Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark, Ireland under Brian Boru, England under Ethelred the Unready, the Battle of Maldon, all before the backdrop of the gradual Christianisation of Scandinavia, contrasting the pragmatic Norse pagan outlook with Islam & Christianity.

478 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1954

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About the author

Frans G. Bengtsson

56 books88 followers
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, The Song of Roland, and Walden), essayist (he published five collections of his writings, mostly on literary and military topics), and biographer (his two-volume biography of Charles XII (Karl XII:s levnad) won the Swedish Academy’s annual prize in 1938). In 1941 he published Röde Orm: Sjöfarare i västerled (Red Orm at Home and on the Western Way), followed, in 1945, by Röde Orm: Hemma och i österled (Red Orm at Home and on the Eastern Way). The two books were published in a single volume in the United States and England in 1954 as The Long Ships. During the Second World War, Bengtsson was outspoken in his opposition to the Nazis, refusing to allow for a Norwegian translation of The Long Ships while the country was still under German occupation.

Bengtsson married Gerda Fineman in 1939. He studied at the University of Lund from 1912, receiving his licentiate in philosophy in 1930. He died in 1954 after a long illness.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
June 27, 2020
”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 holy father shall ever persuade me that such as you can be saved. How should men of the north be allowed to enter the gates of heaven? You would scrabble at the blessed virgins with your lewd fingers, you would raise your war-whoops against the seraphim and archangels, you would bawl for ale before the throne of God Himself! No, no, I know what I speak of. Hell alone will serve for such as you, whether you be baptized or no. Praised be Almighty God, the One, the Eternal, amen!”

Okay so Brother Willibald has good reason to be suspicious as to whether Norsemen will make good Christians. They spend a good bit of their adult life scouring the world for plunder, women, treasure, and have been known to lop off a fair number of priestly heads in the process. When they are not out perpetrating murder and mayhem they are dreaming about it. They are ruled by impulses and pride. When they are not fighting others they are fighting among themselves. For churches (cash cows) to stay built and not to be continually razed to the ground a certain level of civilization has to be achieved. Conversion of the Vikings from the warrior gods Thor and Odin is in the best interest of the world.

 photo Odin_zps11d428cb.jpg

Our hero of this epic tale is Orm (serpent). He sports a mane of red hair and a fiery temper and is at times is referred to as Red Orm. He is the third son which would be a problem leaving him what seems an insurmountable distance from his father’s inheritance, but given the nature of the Viking life span he is only a descending axe blade, a wreck at sea, or a well placed sword thrust away from being the heir. His mother Asa dotes on him and practically makes him into a hypochondriac. Throughout his adventures as he is speared, stabbed, bashed, thumped, and smashed he embraces his injuries for much longer than what a manly Viking should. This creates many opportunities for humor.

I might want to confess at this time that I laughed out loud several times, more than once, while I was sandwiched on a cattle car we call planes. As I lost feeling from the knees down and the ache in my back finally shorted out all the pain sensors in my spine and my head became woozy, no not with mead or ale or wine, but with the stale air we are forced to breath, thank goodness Orm and his band of Viking brothers took me away to a ship where at least when the waves became choppy I could lean over the side and spew my breakfast without fear of sharing the fumes with all my fellow travelers.

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Viking Prow to instill fear in their enemies

Orm is taken capture right off his father’s sheep farm. Viking plunder ships are always in need of more arms and shoulders for rowing. In a battle at sea Orm and eight of his companions are taken captive again this time by the Andalusians and are forced to row for their fleet. Because of his position on the rowing bench Orm becomes left handed. He rows for two years and in that time becomes quite the manly specimen with bulging muscles and a thirst for adventure. Al-Mansur knowing what fierce fighters Norsemen are and makes them part of his body guard on one condition that they switch their religion to Islam. With a sword blade against one’s neck one tends to say...YES. Orm didn’t really mind this new religion, but he did become tired of smashing his head against the ground. As soon as they leave Al-Mansur’s service they return to their old ways. Orm and his friend Toke acquire lifetime companions while in Andalusia, swords made of the finest Spanish steel.

King Harald and Styrbjorn expressed their wish to see these swords; so Orm and Toke passed Blue-Tongue and Red-Jowl up the table. King Harald and Styrbjorn drew them from their scabbards and weighed them in their hands, studying them carefully; and both agreed that they had never in their lives seen finer swords than these. Then the swords were passed round the whole table, for many of the guests were curious to examine such fine weapons, and Orm fidgeted nervously until he had Blue-Tongue back at his waist again, for he felt half naked without her cheek against his thigh.”

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Frans G. Bengtsson

Franz G. Bengtsson is a Swedish novelist who published his “masterpiece” in two parts. The first part was published in 1941 and the second part in 1945. Others consider his biography of the Swedish king Charles XII to be his magnum opus. He wrote many well respected essays about many leading historical figures. Bengtsson once said: "Joan of Arc, Charles XII, and Garibaldi are the persons I would like to meet - for them the truth was more important than intrigues."

Poetry is considering almost as important to Norseman as a good sword arm. They love telling stories and while reading the book I really felt like I was curled up by a roaring hearth fire listening to the men tell of their exploits punctuated by ale pots crashing against the table and the squeals of women who wandered too close to curious fingers. If you had told me this was written a 1000 years ago I’d have almost believed you.

You challenged a priest,
And that was the least.
For he toppled you into
The mud, King Sven!
You were always greedy for
More, King Sven!
You thought yourself greater than
Thor, King Sven!
But the priest threw a stone
And down with a groan
You fell on your face to the
Floor, King Sven!

Ahh yes our favorite priest Father Willibald is commemorated in verse by Orm. He is making progress converting the heathens to Christianity. His ability to heal the sick, something that Orm is usually in great need of, convinces many of the Norsemen that his god is stronger than theirs.
God_zps35f6e15c photo God_zps35f6e15c.jpg
The Christian God is stronger.

As we approach 1000AD the Christians are convinced that Judgement Day is nigh and use this impending event to win converts faster. The Norsemen have a different idea about the end of times than what Willibald expected.

”From the very first day of this year every young Christian woman had sought the delights of bodily pleasure more greedily than ever before, for they were uncertain whether this pleasure would be allowed them in heaven and were therefore anxious to enjoy as much of it as they could while there was yet time, since, whatever form of love heaven might have to offer them, they doubted whether it could be as agreeable as the sort practiced on earth.”

By the time they realize they have been Cotton Mathered every woman in the village is pregnant. It is hard for the Vikings to understand how pleasure, in all its forms, can be looked on as a deficit against their ability to achieve heaven. If you are having a good time your soul is in jeopardy, but ”stories about sin are always good to hear.”

 photo Thor_by_Abrar_Ajmal_zpsd4d4a443.jpg

The names are so wonderful: Harald Blue-tooth, Sven Rat-Nose, Ivar Broad-Hug, Sone the Sharp-Sighted, Kolbjorn Burnt-in-His-House, Gudmund of Uvaberg, Widow Gudny (She was of powerful and impressive appearance, not yet old enough to frighten men.),Thorkell the High, and One-eyed Rapp just to name a few. Characters will appear and disappear only to reappear much later, but Bengtsson deftly gives us little hints to refresh our memory to the placement of these people in the plot.

There is romance; in fact, Orm converts to Christianity as part of a plot to see the love of his life Ylva, the daughter of King Harald Blue-Tooth. There is adventure with many mishaps and many opportunities for Orm to show his craftiness when over-matched by sword arms. As I finish this review I feel a bit lovelorn myself with many fine memories of eagerly turning pages and experiencing right along with the characters the smashing of a blade against my shield, the salt air in my nostrils, the good cheer of a good meal of food and stories, and maybe even a willing young woman to warm my blankets. I’m going to grow my hair out and learn to snarl.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
469 reviews3,255 followers
April 11, 2020
At the end of the dark tenth century , Vikings and their ancient customs were changing rapidly, the bold men, sea pirates and land raiders didn't recognize it, that was a fatal mistake, the harsh climate of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, even distant Iceland, slowly becoming nations did not make illiterate peasants there wealthy, just the opposite, much easier to rob, than working on poor farms, scratching a living in the unpredictable cold weather, an unproductive soil. The era of stealing the neighbors goods, murdering the defenders and taking their women, would not last much longer. A more powerful force came to the ignorant Norsemen from a far away , warm, unknown, dry desert land...
Something they could not stop with a slashing sword, a thrust of the spear, an arrow hitting a target or a stab of a knife into the soft, bloody flesh. You can't kill an idea with weapons which people want and need....The Viking ships, long and narrow, sails made of cloth, oarsmen rowing tirelessly, in three feet of water, the brave crew traveling speedily up and down rivers , lakes, stormy seas when no breeze flutters the sails. The strange, fearless, shaven men continuously arrive, preaching a new religion about just one God, the Christ, no matter how many lose their heads...slowly a trickle of women, children and a few men are baptized, however it will spread , but that is in the future... At present Orm "Red " Tostesson is a young, vigorous big man, a boy really, full of exciting stories he has heard, from four older brothers. All have gone on long raids, some coming back with loot to tell the tales of foreign adventures, legends made, to be recited for many years of these exploits. Still his influential, concerned mother Asa, keeps him home in southern Sweden, called Skania, though his father Toste, is a famous warrior chieftain, ruled by the Danish king, Harald Bluetooth . Yet constant Viking raids even against their own people in this turbulent, dangerous times never stop; he is captured by enemies and fights the Moors in Spanish waters and becomes a galley slave, then a prestigious bodyguard to the great Muslim ruler there Almansur , and that is just the beginning. Wars, brutal sea battles, heads fall faster than bowling balls hitting pins, later an escape from an unfriendly situation, with a treasure, joining a Viking expedition on his own boat... The vast wealth of England, a weak English king, Ethelred the Unready, greedy men from the long ships, well it is a perfect combination for a large fleet to plunder the inhabitants of the island and the red -haired raider and his friend, Toke Grey-Gullsson , a good man when sober, but he seldom is, do. Luckily Father Willibald a better healer of wounds than a savior of souls, is back home. A third rousing quest by Red Orm, into a puzzling territory that someday will become Russia, the best Viking book ever written, (if you like thrills, spills and chills) by an author who knows his history, well some of it.
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews900 followers
July 26, 2013
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 your translator, too. It couldn’t have been easy to get the spare, vaguely archaic tone of this right.

⊕ To NYRB Classics: Had I known that your choices for reissue were this good, I’d have sampled your collection much sooner.

⊕ To my lovely, level-headed wife who may be a bit prejudiced against Norsemen (and, for that matter, frat boys): Your initial reluctance to believe that a story about Vikings in the late 10th century could be good made me realize that I’d have to work hard to make my case. And yes, Susan, women were featured, though the chivalry they were shown was not what you might call refined.

⊕ And finally, to Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, my favorite purveyors of fine reading here in Chicago: From the bottom of my ale-cup to the tip of my Andalusian steel, I say thank you for placing this book in my hands. Ellen and Ulrich, you and your well-read customer who named this the best story ever were absolutely right – I now have a new standard for rollicking good fun and ripping good yarn.

Plot and History

To me, the best historical fiction integrates real events into the narrative in such an entertaining way that you hardly notice the education. This is exactly that kind of book. I now know lots about the Viking Age, Al-Mansur in Andalusia, Brian Boru in Ireland, Ethelred the Unready, the Battle of Maldon and many of the Norse Kings and chieftains. This comes as part of the package featuring the adventures of one Red Orm (red being the color of his hair and of his face when he’s angry). We first meet Orm as a young teen left at home in Scania (now southern Sweden) with his mother as the older men were a-viking. He tried his best to defend their farm against a party of thieves, and for his efforts gained enough respect to join the raiders as an equal rather than a captive. As they sailed along the Frankish coast, they allowed an escaped prisoner named Solomon to take refuge. (Interesting side note: Bengtsson was a staunch anti-Nazi and would not allow translations that attempted to delete Solomon, an honorable Jew, from the book.) After Solomon guided them to the castle of the Castilian Margrave who had betrayed him, they sacked the place and made off with the spoils only to be captured and enslaved by an Andalusian fleet.

At this point I realize that any further attempt to summarize would be folly. For one thing, there’s simply too much. Believe me, there’s enough peril, action and intrigue to wear out three if not more musketeers. The other reason is that you will read this book and will find out what happens on your own. You’ll enjoy learning more about the actual history, the customs, and the character of the people involved with each new adventure. It’s also satisfying to track Orm’s growth as a man, a leader and what must have passed at that time for a mensch.

Cultural Tidbits

So much of what I liked about this book comes down to the thousand-year-old perspective that Bengtsson effected for viewing their lives. Imagine a spectrum with the current day at one end and a time when we weren’t much more than Jane Goodall subjects at the other. While I’m not sure exactly where this cast of North men would fit in a cultural interpolation, it’s probably a little to the earlier side of The Princess Bride. I suspect the meek, back then, inherited very little of the earth. These were men of large appetites and a single-mindedness of purpose. Nuanced they were not. At a Yule feast Orm attended, hosted by wise King Harald Bluetooth, all weapons were to be checked at the door and “no women were allowed to be present at so tremendous a drinking-bout, for it was difficult enough, King Harald thought, to keep the peace when men were by themselves, and it would be many times harder if they had women to brag to in their cups.”

Demand for good medical care seemed to outstrip the supply. When leeches were deemed ineffective, potions made from the juice of sloe, boar’s gall, saltpeter and a pinch of horseradish were the next best thing. Orm was pretty certain he would die at one point when the leeches would not suck his blood. It was a sure sign of poisoning, so he thought.

With all the pillaging, drinking, carousing and the like, it’s hard not to view these Norsemen as a very ungentlemanly lot, especially by our standards a full millennium hence. There were codes of honor at times, but they were akin to Chicago’s (you know, the one that says once you’re bought, you stay bought). Brother Willibald, when asked to introduce the Christian God to these men, probably got it about right:
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. […] How should men of the north be allowed to enter the gates of heaven? You would scrabble at the blessed virgins with your lewd fingers, you would raise your war-whoops against the seraphim and archangels, you would bawl for ale before the throne of God Himself! No, no, I know what I speak of. Hell alone will serve for such as you, whether you be baptized or no.

Christianity at a Crossroads

Scandinavia at that time was in transition. Many still preferred the pagan Gods, and in many ways this was more practical. For instance, turning the other cheek was often deadly. The most effective witnessing tended to emphasize the luck Christ could bring. Which is better, a prayer to the Christian God or the blood of a goat when launching ship? The empirical evidence was mixed. It was funny to hear a new convert talk to others trying to get them to join the fold. It reminded me of Book of Mormon where they didn’t get it quite right, but you could understand why. Religious conflict made for an interesting theme throughout the book.

The Writing: A Bit of the New With the Old

The narrator was omniscient, or at least “scient” about “omni” as it was known at the time. The story was told episodically and in aggregate made for quite a saga in the Icelandic tradition. It even contained bits of poetry, and characters who could create rhymes on the spot were greatly esteemed. As for style, it was straight-ahead story-telling at its best. I often go for more literary fare, but was happy in this case that these Vikings had no interest in navels.

The prose may have been unadorned, but that’s not to say that it was simple-minded. There was often a quick-wittedness and a sly humor that transcended the many centuries. For instance, I had to laugh when some of the graybeards were sitting around complaining about how soft this new generation of men had become compared to the men of yore. There was a certain cleverness in financial matters, too. In one tongue-in-cheek exchange, one of the men negotiating terms suggested that A should decide how much B should give him and B should decide how much A should give him. Or when one of the priests divvying up some windfall was trying to explain how difficult it was for a rich man to pass through the gates of Heaven, the men offered to help lessen the riches of others to help better those men’s chances. Some of you (are you still with me Susan?) will be happy to hear that the women, such as Orm’s wife Ylva, were among the cleverest. There were knowing little nods to sexuality, too, that a modern audience can appreciate.

Closing the Deal

Be you man or woman, weenie or brute, I implore you to embark upon this journey, unlikely as it may seem to besot you. It’s an adventure book that will not insult your intelligence. And it’s the least dry lesson in 10th century European history you could ever conceive. When you’re done, we’ll drink to our luck for having found this, and with none of that watery mead either - with a good hearty ale.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
July 31, 2014
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-first. He's immediately run through with three spears, but has time for some last words. He looks calmly around him and says:
Nu är min lycka bättre
My luck has finally improved.

I have just finished re-reading this wonderful book; I have now read it three times. There is hardly any novel I know which is so simply enjoyable.

The author said that his modest goal was "to wrote a good story, like The Odyssey or The Three Musketeers". In my estimation, and that of many others, he succeeded; he has also been fortunate in having found a good translator, and the English edition, though not quite as fine as the Swedish original, does not fall far short. If you have not already done so, I recommend that you lose no more time in acquainting yourself with Orm Tostesson, Toke Grågulleson, the lord Almansur, the Jew Salaman, King Harald Blåtand, his beautiful daughter Ylva, and their many unforgettable adventures.
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews99 followers
May 24, 2018

It's an adventure story written in the style of an Icelandic saga. I listened to an audio version read by Michael Page. I'm not thrilled with the cover art on either it or the paperback. But if like Jordi Arkö' lithographs for it.


The Long Ships
by Frans G. Bengtsson, Michael Meyer
read by Michael Page
Profile Image for Kalliope.
691 reviews22 followers
August 21, 2016

This year my reading has been, to a great extent, directed by my travels or visits. These also account for my irregular presence in GR. I have been either on the go, or involved with other projects related to the travels.

As one of my upcoming trips is to the South of Spain, to Andalusia, I have been reading about the Muslim and medieval times in Spain. Prior to this, I had also travelled to another enclave that lies deep in the Christian medieval times of Spain, to Burgos, and this had me reading on those Reconquering kings. And then, unexpectedly, I was invited to join another trip to Norway; rapidly I put aside the medieval Moors and Christians, and picked this book up.

What a surprise it was, that once I boarded on this literary long ships of Vikings, after not many pages, I found myself back in the Cordoba Caliphate, with Al-Mansur, and accompanying the captured Viking: Röde Orm, the Red Serpent. With him and Al-Manur, I travelled and stole, literarily and vicariously, the bells from the Santiago de Compostela church. Doing this from the 21st century allowed me to know that from Burgos, Ferdinand III, over two centuries later, would recover and bring back to Santiago the stolen bells.

Eventually I left Andalusia with Orm, and met Harald Bluetooth, and while I write this, I look at the Bluetooth icon on the top right of my computer, and think what would have Harald thought if he had known that this technology that sends information in a most animistic fashion--that not even Odin would have been able to dream of--, would be named after him.

Since my edition has put the two original books together, those published in 1941 and in 1945, I then follow Orm to his invasion of England, and, again, my reading so long after the fact enables me to know that about seventy years later the Norsemen would be more successful and determinant in their renewed invading efforts. And of course my visit a few years ago to Bayeux, and its tapestry, inevitably comes to mind.

And as I was still engaged in this read, walking on the beach promenade in Alicante, at the foot of the Moorish castle, built about a century before Orm’s time, I see a poster announcing an exhibition dedicated to the Vikings in the local Anthropological museum-- a museum that stands at the other side of the mountain-castle.

So, there I went the following day to admire the pieces, and the explanations, an the rune stones, and the reconstructions of those long ships, and the wonderful chart showing the Viking invasions to the Umayyad’s Andalusia.

I just hope the way my reading and my traveling weave together, just like a Viking or a Muslim cloth.

Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,530 reviews979 followers
December 25, 2015
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 must have been sheer bliss.

The hero of the story is Orm Tostesson, the third son of a minor chieftain, first met as an impetuous youth with a slight flaw in his character: he is quickwitted, skillful in the wielding of the spear and the battleaxe, talented in poetry, attractive to women; and a bit of a hypochondriac as a result of overpampering at the hands of his mother.

This long epic is the story of Red Orm and his three adventurous journeys at sea, of the friendships he made, the hardships and the killings, the wealth he won and given away, the wild parties and the dubious stories he liked to tell, the wisdom and fairness that will make him a respected chieftain in his own right.

Europe around the year 1000 was a merciless world, with hundreds of kingdoms warring ceaselessly, and the travels of Orm will take him, and us, from the shores of the Baltic Sea to the Caliphate of Cordoba under al-Mansur, to Ireland under Brian Boru, to England under Ethelbert the Unready, Denmark under Harald Bluetooth (where Orm will find a wife) and ultimately east to the Dniepr cataracts in the Kiev voyvodate.

The interludes between the sea voyages are as just as interesting, with memorable scenes at the Yule party in Jutland or at the Thing congregation in Smaland. The passion for strong drink, brawling, wenching and storytelling coupled with the earthy, dry and slightly risque humor made me think of classic literary sources like Chaucer, Boccaccio or the Arabian Nights.

here a few examples of poetry from the book:

"Mulled ale for the frozen man,
And mulled ale for the weary:
For mulled ale is the body's friend
And makes the sick heart merry."


"I heard Word
Of bellied sailcloth,
Creak of oars,
And gold in Eastland.
Then I smelled
A smell remembered:
Salt of spray
And black-pitched boat's keel."


and a word of advice from an Irish clown : "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"


The book deals also with the rise of Christianity in the Northern kingdoms, and I believe the author did a great job of balancing his atheist inclinations and a sharp wit exposing the follies of the more zealous priests with the respect shown for the good works, the honest faith and the tolerant spirit of the true christians, exemplified by father Willibald. A "live and let live" message of tolerance that I consider still relevant today.

The English translation did a very good job of maintaining the style and the rhythm of the old norse sagas, but using a language that feels modern and easy to follow. The book was a page turner for me.

According to wikipedia:

The Swedish writer Sven Stolpe reports that somebody asked author Bengtsson "what intentions he had with The Long Ships." To which Bengtsson responded that he had no particular intentions. "I just wanted to write a story that people could enjoy reading, like The Three Musketeers or the Odyssey."

As far as I am concerned Bengtsson was succesful in his endeavour and his epic deserves to be considered a literary classic. I hope it will remain long in print, so that future generations can read it and enjoy it.

(edit for spelling)
Profile Image for Martin.
327 reviews143 followers
May 15, 2020
Orm, the son of Toste, did not choose to be a viking, but Fate sent him on a path towards raiding, plunder, slavery, war and the pursuit of a princess.

Orm's luck was best..
“For man can triumph over man, and weapon over weapon; against the gods we can pit sacrifice, and against witchcraft, contrary magic; but against bad luck no man has anything to oppose.”

Taken in a pirate raid Orm joins the viking crew as they seek plunder in the southern land of Spain.


The Jewish ship mate...
The Jew knew all about the stars and declared himself skillful at navigation; but in the event, he proved to be of little use to them, for his stars had different names from the ones they were used to, besides which he was seasick. Orm suffered likewise, and he and Solomon hung over the gunwale together in great misery, thinking that they would die. The Jew wailed most piteously in his own language in the intervals of his vomiting; Orm told him to shut up, but he answered that he was crying to his God, who was in the storm wind. Then Orm grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and told him that, though he himself was in poor shape, he yet had enough strength to throw him over the side if he uttered one cry more, for there was sufficient wind about already without his bringing his God any nearer to them.

This quieted Solomon; and toward morning the wind lessened and the sea grew calm, and they both began to feel better. Solomon was very green in the face, but he grinned at Orm in a friendly way and seemed not to bear him any ill will for his conduct of the night before, and pointed his finger across the sea at the sunrise. He sought among the words he knew and said that those were the red wings of the morning far out in the sea, and that his God was there. Orm replied that his God appeared to him to be the sort of divinity who was best kept at a respectable distance.


Throughout the story Orm easily mixes with people of different religions never becoming involved, until he must be a Christian.
Brother Willibald assures Orm that this could never happen...

"I do not waste my time trying to convert such men as you.”

His voice became frenzied, and he glared wrathfully from one to the other, brandishing his arms and crying: “Blood-wolves, murderers and malefactors, adulterate 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 holy father shall ever persuade me that such as you can be saved. How should men of the north be allowed to enter the gates of heaven? You would scrabble at the blessed virgins with your lewd fingers, you would raise your war-whoops against the seraphim and archangels, you would bawl for ale before the throne of God Himself! No, no, I know what I speak of. Hell alone will serve for such as you, whether you be baptized or no. Praised be Almighty God, the One, the Eternal, amen!”

But before the story ends Orm does become Christian to the best of his easy-going ability.

“It would appear, then,” said Orm, “that I have involuntarily angered this Satan by ceasing to worship Allah and His Prophet, and that all my misfortunes have resulted from this.”

“It is as I feared,” said Orm. “Few men are in such a desperate plight as I. It is too much for any man to be on evil terms with both God and Satan.”

He sat for a while buried in reflection.

At length he said: “Take me to the envoys. I wish to speak with men who have influence with God.”

A speedy marriage...
“I will not return to the crone,” said Ylva, “and I cannot stay here. I shall go with Orm in any case, and it will be better if you wed us first.”

“He is not yet baptized!” cried the Bishop in despair. “Dear child, how can I marry you to a heathen? It is a scandalous thing to see a young girl so hot with lust. Have you never been taught the meaning of modesty?”

“No,” replied Ylva without hesitation. “My father taught me many things, but modesty was something of which he knew little."

In a story of Vikings, nomad tribesman and stolen treasure it is an unexpected treat to see dancing girls, but here they are. A rare moment of beauty in a dangerous world.

“The whole tribe is proud of them,” said Felimid dolefully, “and their mothers wash them in sweet milk every morning, to make their skins clear. But they will never learn to dance properly, whatever pains I may expend upon them.”
Mats were spread out on the ground in front of the chieftains, and men brought flaming torches. Then the dancers appeared and were greeted with a great sigh of anticipation from all the tribesmen. They were well-shaped and appeared to be about thirteen or fourteen years old. They wore red hats over their dark hair, and strings of green glass beads round their breasts, and were dressed in broad breeches of yellow silk from the land of the Seres, tied at the ankles.
“It is a long time since I last saw dancing-girls,” said Orm. “Not since I served my lord Almansur. But I do not think I ever saw any of a more engaging appearance than these.”
“It is not by their appearance, but by their dancing, that they are to be judged,” said Felimid. “But I designed their costumes myself and think them not displeasing.”
The dancers had with them two boys of the same age as themselves, who squatted on their haunches and began to blow on pipes. As the music started, the girls began to hop around in the torchlight to the time of the pipes, strutting and giving sudden leaps and bouncing backwards and twirling round on one leg, so that everybody except Felimid sat entranced. When the girls stopped, great applause broke out, and they looked gratified when they observed that the strangers, too, appeared pleased with their performance. Then they glanced timidly at Felimid. He nodded toward them, as though satisfied, and turned to Orm.
“I cannot tell them what I really feel,” he explained, “for it would make them miserable, and the whole tribe with them. And they are doing their best this evening, with strangers present. But the pipers pain me more than the girls, although they are Khazar slaves who have been given much leisure for practice, and the Khazars are said to be skillful pipers. But that is evidently a false reputation.”
The girls began to dance anew, but after a while Felimid shouted angrily at them, so that they ceased.
“I am glad my brother Ferdiad was spared this,” he said to Orm. “He had a more tender ear than I.”
He said something to the pipers, and one of them came over and handed him his pipe.
As Felimid set his lips to it, it seemed as though witchcraft entered into its reeds. It was as though he piped of joy and luck, jests and laughter, the beauty of women and the gleam of swords, the shimmer of morning upon a lake, and the wind blowing over spring grasses. Blackhair and Ulf sat rocking backwards and forwards, as though they had difficulty in remaining seated; the two chieftains sitting on either side of Felimid nodded piously and fell asleep; the Patzinaks stamped their feet and clapped their hands rhythmically, some laughing, others crying; and the dancing-girls spun and hovered as though they had been translated into thistledown by the notes of Felimid’s pipe.


This is an action story with battles, great deeds and skilled sword fights, but there are also deeper aspects to this most honest and unusual viking.



P.S. There is a film of the book. Do not watch it - you will be disappointed.
Profile Image for Tara.
436 reviews19 followers
February 27, 2019
The Long Ships: An entertaining historical fiction adventure tale featuring badass Vikings doing badass Viking things. Overall, this was a fast, fun, often exciting read, filled with a surprising amount of historically accurate details and dry humor.
Profile Image for Kiekiat.
69 reviews126 followers
May 5, 2019
Another tough book to review--mainly because it has already been reviewed so well by folks like Kalliope and Manny, among others. Let me say that 'The Long Ships' was the most fun read I've had in a long time. Many books I read seem almost obligatory, and being a slow reader, I slog through even books like 'The Long Ships' that I genuinely like. It took me almost two weeks to read this book, but the average reader on here, whose brain is more functional (than mine), could probably finish this book in a couple of days. The story chronicles Viking life and, specifically, the missions of the book's main character. Many people in the book were actual historical figures and Bengtsson does an excellent job of portraying some of them, esp. King Harald.

It is, as has been noted many times, an adventure story set in the late 10th Century, featuring the protagonist Red Orm of Scania/Skania (a part of Southern Sweden). Orm is waylaid by Viking privateers in his teen years and goes "a viking" with them and has many adventures and misadventures, among them being captured by Spanish Moors and forced to toil as a galley slave until, through connections he has made in his travels, he comes to serve at the court of Almansur in Cordoba, Spain. He is forced to convert to Islam and works as one of Almansur's royal guard. Al-Manzur is quite avaricious so Orm is in many battles as the Moors go forth to seek more plunder. On one expedition to raid and pillage Christian churches, Orm and his comrade Toke escape with one of the Caliph's ships and a large bell stolen from a church in Asturia said to house the grave of the James the apostle. They deliver the bell as a gift to King Harald Bluetooth, potentate of Denmark, who has converted to Christianity. Orm and Toke experience much revelry as guests of King Harald and Orm falls in love with the King's daughter, Ylva, who nurses him to health after he is injured in a duel. The duel occurred at a Christmas feast where another Viking demanded Orm's gold chain, a stupendous necklace of incalculable value given to Orm by Al-Manzur. Orm slays the Viking but is severely wounded in the battle.

Several more big adventures are to come. Red Orm goes to England with Thorkel the Tall to fight and win the Battle of Maldon, and afterwards extort protection money from the misnamed "Ethelred the Ready," King of England. Orm also reunited with his Ylva, who escaped to English after Harald's son, King Sven, usurped the throne. Orm marrieds Ylva and returns home and builds a house in the forest. He also has converted to Christianity and builds a church and settles down, to the extent that is possible. One more expedition is undertaken later in his life to recover some gold bequeathed to Orm by his late brother in a far distant spot in modern-day Russia. Every expedition is fraught with peril and death and these are accepted as normal occurrences. Even at Viking gatherings of various tribes, called "Things," where disputes were arbitrated and issues discussed, most attendees were disappointed if no duels took place and no one perished.

This brief account of the happenings of the novel does not do it justice. 'The Long Ships,' in the main, is a chronicle of Viking life in the late 10th Century. It is an adventure story similar to The Icelandic Sagas and the works of Alexandre Dumas, Pere, as several reviewers have noted. The book's captivating stories serve to depict Viking life and morals and customs at a changing time in the world's history, i.e., the Christianizing of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe/Russia. This was a particularly challenging area to Christianize, as the novel indicates by the frustrations of one of the key priests who is trying to convert the "heathens." Setting aside that they had their own gods and religious rituals, consider the climate of Scandinavia and then try to imagine one of them in the 10th Century, C.E., understanding the concept of hell.

The book is actually a conflation of two novels that Bengtsson wrote, both with the intention of simply telling a good story--an intention he accomplishes--and, possibly, as a dig at Nazi Germany. One of the "connections" who saves Orm from life as a galley slave is Solomon, a Jewish silversmith in Seville who had been kidnapped by Vikings and found his way aboard Orm's ship, where he led Orm and other Vikings to a rich city in Spain which they besieged and eventually plundered. Solomon, though a Jew, has much respect in Moorish Spain and is able to arrange what by comparison is a sinecure for Orm, through the intervention of one of Almansur's wives who also factors into the story. Bengtsson hated Nazi Germany and some reviewers feel he used the character of Solomon, a positive figure, as a dig at the Nazi's. He also refused during his lifetime to allow the novel translated into German.

The book is meant to be a convoluted story because it parallels actual Viking life, which was many things. Not all Vikings went plundering. Many stayed home to do chores and guard the homesteads. The Vikings were products of their time and a lot of their European looting was done not just because they were rascals by nature. Much was done to augment their incomes and provide for their families back in Scandinavia. Theirs was an honor culture, where a wrong needed to be avenged, though vengeance was not always meted out by violence. Courage was expected of a man, and cunning in business dealings was also highly regarded. There is some evidence that Viking women also served as warriors. The book is also about the civilizing of Viking culture, a culture that had honored plunder, murder, wife-stealing and other things that would not be PC today, and were not too PC in some parts of the world in the 10th Century, either.

There is much humor and irony in this book which captures the wit and irony of the Viking people, and helps to humanize them.

As Michael Chabon says in the book's introduction:

"Though at times the story, published in two parts each consisting of two parts over a span of several years, has an episodic feel, each of its individual components' narratives is well constructed of the soundest timbers of epic, folktale and ripping yarn, and as its hero grows old and sees his age passing away, that episodic quality comes to feel, in the end, not like some congeries of saga and tall tale but like the accurate representation of one long and crowded human life."

If you enjoy novels of action and tales and myths of glory, love, hardship and war, you will probably enjoy 'The Long Ships." As another reviewer noted, it paints a far more realistic picture of how the Vikings actually thought and lived as compared to the depictions shown today on television and movies.
Profile Image for David.
161 reviews1,495 followers
October 12, 2011
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 epic of seafaring, treasure hunting, and grisly spear fighting, so there's little doubt that that things end well for the protagonist—which isn't to say that he doesn't have to steer his painted dragon ship through many a shitstorm to arrive at the happy ending. Anyway, people who lived in Scandinavia one thousand years ago were some hardcore mofos. I'm not implying that non-Scandinavian people were pussies, but I haven't read any novels about them, so they're temporarily irrelevant. Life's pretty cheap to this sort. One day everything is status quo, and the next day they're at a drunken feast fighting to the death with some Swedish lug for giving them the stinkeye. And nobody bats an eyelash. This is just another day. In other words, don't make any longterm goals, because any day now someone could split your skull in half. Maybe even by accident, thinking you were Smalander when you were really from Lister. But it's just no big deal. Your family washes out your chainmail and asks what's for dinner. There is a lack of sentimentality in Y1K that makes the Seinfeld final episode look like a Douglas Sirk movie. Bengtsson, I think, realized that this could be a problem for modern audiences, so he gives us a relatively honorable and 'good' Viking to follow around. Don't get me wrong. Red Orm is all about killing for booty, but he lets the other dude attack first so he can take the moral high ground. But needless to say, when you're dealing with a five hundred page novel about Vikings set in the year 1000, you start out a little skeptical maybe. This doesn't exactly sound like something to read while you're waiting for your oil to be changed. But this novel has received some pretty rapturous acclaim from blurbsters the world over. In fact, one female reviewer made a case that even chicks would dig this book. I don't know about that. I mean, maybe a certain type of chick. I'm thinking a Renaissance Faire chick or one who enjoys role playing games. And that's still a maybe. I think the so-called universal appeal of this novel is somewhat overstated. Yes, it is a rollicking adventure, but that's all it is. If you're looking for more—like literary substance and profound meaning—go pick up a V.C. Andrews novel, for Chrissake. That's not what The Long Ships is trying to sell you. This is the tentpole movie of literary fiction. Approach it as such and enjoy.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books969 followers
August 28, 2021
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 Norwegians were allied with Nazi Germany.

But the book. It captures the spirit of a-Viking as a way of life. This, from p. 343 of the nyrb edition, shows the Vikings back on a voyage after a long spell at home. Old friends Toke and Orm are reunited, and with them is Orm's young son, Blackhair, who is getting his first taste of seasickness:

"I cannot understand why I have kept away from the sea for so long," [Toke] said, "for a well-manned ship is the best of all things. It is good to sit contented ashore, and no man need be ashamed to do so; but a voyage to a far land, with booty awaiting a man and this smell in the nostrils, is as good a lot as could be desired, and a sure cure for age and sorrow. It is strange that we Northmen, who know this and are more skillful seamen than other men, sit at home as much as we do, when we have the whole world to plunder."

"Perhaps," said Orm, "some men prefer to grow old ashore rather than to risk encountering that surest of all cures for age that seafarers sometimes meet with."

"I smell many odors," said Blackhair in a distressed voice, "but think none of them good."

"That is because you are unaccustomed to them and know no better," replied Orm. "It may be that the sea-smell here is not so rich as that in the west, for there the sea is greener with salt and so has a richer tang to it. But this smell is nothing to complain of."

Orm travels to Spain under the Moors and is captured. He and a fellow Viking become bodyguards for a Muslim prince and convert to the faith of Muhammad (to become a Muslim is a simple act, after all -- one need only recite that there is only one God and Muhammad is His prophet).

When their chance to escape comes, Orm and friend flee and wash up on an Irish island. Soon they're in a second escapade battling King Ethelred of England -- another real person (this being historical fiction). A brief idyll takes us to Denmark, where Orm marries, has children, and becomes relatively comfortable, though adventures never cease (including a battle against raging berserkers) and Orm converts to Christianity, something many Vikings still shied away from in his day.

The last segment takes us past Kiev where Orm and a shipload of Vikings seek out Bulgar gold. This last part moves quickly and seems to get short shrift compared to the Moorish segment and the English one.

Overall, a wonderful plot book that gives you a real sense of how the Vikings lived, ate, killed, and thought. Of course, not all Vikings are alike, as Orm proves all too well. Written in a traditional, narrative style, the book has an old-fashioned feel to it and catches you up in the tide of its story. You grow to like Orm and his wild wife, Ylva. And, when all is said and done, you kind of miss them.

One more voyage, you wonder? But Bengtsson is long gone, having died in the 50's. A wonderful modern classic with a nice plea for all to read from Michael Chabon in the introduction. Ah, the Mysteries of Jutland....
Profile Image for Jacob.
128 reviews474 followers
July 5, 2021
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 peaceful time than before, and less parceling out of land by the ax and sword. There followed a time of plenty, with fine rye harvests and great herring catches, so that most people were well contented; but there were some who thought that the crops were tardy, and they went a-viking in Ireland and England, where fortune smiled on their wars; and many of them stayed there.
(The Long Ships, p. 3)

Europe, the Tenth Century: A time when men were men and women were often kidnapped...

That's all I got. Damn you, reviewer's block!

Imagine, if you will, that I took all the rage and frustration and snarky derision that I generally reserve for my one-star reviews, channeled that energy into something more positive, and used it to write a review of The Long Ships. Imagine that that review was powerful and clever and witty--imagine it was amazing, astounding, the best review I've ever written. Now, imagine that you read this imaginary review and were so amazed that you decided to read the book. Now imagine you went to your library or to Amazon or to your local independent bookstore, and--wait, no, don't imagine, damn it! Stop imagining how awesome this book will be and go read it! This book is so awesome my reviewing powers actually failed! How is that not convincing enough? Forget what could have been--JUST GET THIS BOOK. DO IT. DO IT NOW!

Still not convinced? Maybe Ceridwen's review will help.
Profile Image for Rod.
102 reviews58 followers
December 16, 2012
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 battles on land and at sea, accumulates wealth, finds love, and eventually makes his way back home and settles down to a quiet family life...or so he thinks, because his adventures aren't over.

Enormously popular in Sweden since its publication during the Second World War, it deserves to be more widely known in the States because so many people would love it if they read it. I only just heard of it recently, myself, and I'm sure glad I did, because since I read it I'll always fondly recall Red Orm and his friends Toke and Father Willibald. If you read it you'll feel as if they're your friends as well.

***UPDATE 6/11/2011***
Just finished reading it a second time, and I enjoyed it at least as much as the first time. I guess I have to move on to something else now. Sigh. I have no doubt I'll return to it in the future, though.

***UPDATE 12/15/2012***
Third time!
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book2,132 followers
January 30, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Ante Vojnović.
201 reviews105 followers
December 15, 2020
Odinove mu brade!

Jednostavno nema primjerenije reakcije na sva iznenađenja i oduševljenja s kojima je Crveni Orm doplovio.

Crvenog Orma počeo sam čitati nošen nekim slikama- mogao bih slobodno reći i zabludama- o vikinškom svijetu u glavi, koje su utemeljene na popularnoj kulturi i nekim mainstream pričama o Vikinzima.

U današnje vrijeme rijetko se može naići na medij u kojem Vikinzi nisu prikazani kao krvožedne beštije kojima libido odlazi u nebesa i u kojima ti isti nisu rođeni i umrli isključivo kao osvajači. Ima ih, ali su rijetki. S tom idejom u glavi i knjigom u ruci koja, blago rečeno, izgleda zlokobno- što drugo čovjek može očekivati?

I nema veze što je ovo mom oku dosad najljepša knjiga koja je izašla iz Mitopejine radionice- uz sve one mazne, drvene i one koje svijetle u mraku- zaista izgleda zlokobno. Tamnosiva koža s reljefima koji izgledaju kao valovi; kao da u vlastitim rukama držim neke mračne vode koje su potopile, Lokija pitaj, koliko vikinških brodova. S tim mračnim vodama savršeno su se sljubili detalji kao što je- gdje bi mi duša kad je ne bih spomenuo- zmajska glava i ilustracije na žarko crvenoj kutiji.

Daleko od toga da se Bengtsson u potpunosti odrekao tog dijela vikinške tradicije- ipak su Vikinzi bili osvajači. Nađe se u Crvenom Ormu i bezobraznih krađa tuđih žena, i raskalašenih gozbi, krađe stoke i zapaljenih kuća. Ali sve to nađe se među Vikinzima koji su bili pjesnici, trgovci, putnici… i to u neka jako zanimljiva i prevrtljiva vremena, na prijelazu (prvog) tisućljeća kada su jug Europe već dobrano potresla arapska osvajanja, a na sjeveru u zaborav padaju neki stari bogovi u ime jednog jedinog boga.

U tom vremenu odrastao je i stasao Orm Tostesson, zaštićen staklenim zvonom užasa svoje majke koja živi u vječitom strahu da će se nešto dogoditi njezinom vječno boležljivom sinu zbog čega, svakoj želji usprkos, Orm nikada nije jahao divljim morima s ocem i braćom. Zahvaljujući čudnom spletu okolnosti i jednom spretnom udarcu, kada je najmanje očekivao, Orm se našao na brodu i početku svoje velike životne pustolovine.

Kao što je već rečeno, nije Bengtsson bježao od onog dijela vikinške ostavštine koja je nadglasala sve ostalo u popularnoj kulturi. Ali zbog one druge strane vikinških putovanja bio je izniman užitak putovati s Ormom i njegovom osebujnom družinom.

Od Skandinavije, preko današnje Britanije i Irske, Normandije i Andaluzije, pa sve do na istoku dalekog Kijeva, Ormovo putovanje zahtijevalo je pamet, snalažljivost, a ponekad i puku sreću. Odreći se svojih bogova zbog onog boga koji zabranjuje svinjetinu i vino, jer situacija to nalaže, kako bi jedan opaki vladar malo olabavio svoj gard. Ili se možda prikloniti onom bogu čije učenje nalaže da pomiluješ čovjeka koji ti je samo trenutak prije radio o glavi. Možda besramno preveslati nekog od vladara i usput mu oteti ženu. Ili, pak, uvaliti se u dvoboj koji završava tako da protivnika lišiš svake mogućnosti stvaranja potomstva. A onda sve to nonšalantno i opjevati ali, naravno, tako da se onaj drugi pjesnik posrami, toliko da se zauvijek kane stihoklepstva.

Crveni Orm izvorno je objavljen u dva dijela, a Mitopejinoj režiji objedinjen je u ovom predivnom uvezu. A opet, naracija je takva da svako poglavlje- ili dva- mogu biti priča i epizoda za sebe. Epizodu po epizodu, nastala je ne samo jedna maestralna priča o vikinškim putovanjima, nego i zapis kroz koji, diskretno, upoznajemo tadašnju europsku političku i običajnu krvnu sliku, i poneke stvarne vladare Europe iz tog vremena.

Na samom početku čitanja Crvenog Orma dobio sam preporuku: čitaj polako. Preporuka koju ću sad proslijediti svima koji planiraju čitati ovaj roman. Jer grijeh je- dobro, možda ne grijeh onako kako ga poima pater Vilibald- stihijski proletjeti kroz njega i ne doživjeti u potpunosti svaki etapu ovog beskrajno zabavnog i poučnog epskog putovanja. Jer ovo je Odiseja na vikinški način.
Profile Image for Elizabeth K..
804 reviews40 followers
March 16, 2013
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 world has an epic novel about Red Orm, the hypochondriac viking, what more does it need?

It is a novel where 99% of it is plot, Orm and company go gallivanting around the map of Europe c. 1000 AD, and periodically return home to participate in the ever-changing alliances and animosities of viking life in Scandinavia. The other 1% is really sly humor, and it's entertaining without undermining the core of sincerity of the story.

I suppose one would have to be at least moderately interested in historical fiction, but that aspect isn't dry at all and although it references lots of actual battles and monarchs and events, it doesn't dwell on any of them in a tiresome way.

I am giving everyone due notice that I am going to start using "viking" as a verb. I also might run away from home and join a viking crew, I haven't decided yet.
Profile Image for nastya .
449 reviews289 followers
July 14, 2021
The Swedish writer Sven Stolpe reports that somebody asked author Frans G. Bengtsson "what intentions he had with The Long Ships", to which Bengtsson responded that he had no particular intentions. "I just wanted to write a story that people could enjoy reading, like The Three Musketeers or the Odyssey."

And he did it! I would also add The Decameron and The Arabian nights to the mix. This is an adventure story with bloody battles and humor. One of my favorite scenes was when Irish jesters came to the town where Orm is a chieftain and wants to convert and baptise his neighbours who are wary of this new religion. It happens to be a big feast in honor of baptising Orm’s son and all villagers are there. So jesters lie and say they can only show their tricks to christians. And all of them decide that they want to see this performance so much, why not be baptised?

“Cease gabbing, priest, and baptize us!” roared the more impatient members of the gathering.
“Quiet!” thundered Father Willibald. “These are the ancient and cunning devils of your false beliefs that tempt you to bawl thus and interrupt my speech, hoping thereby to obstruct the will of God and so keep you for their own. But this is no superfluous information that I give you, when I speak to you of Christ and of the decrees of God, but important instruction, to which you must listen attentively and in silence. I shall now pray that all such devilry may instantly depart from you, so that you may be worthy to receive baptism.”
He then began again to read in Latin, slowly and in a stern voice, so that before long several of the older women began to wail and weep. None of the men dared utter a word; they all sat staring anxiously at him with large eyes and open mouths. Two of them, however, were seen to nod; their heads dropped nearer and nearer to their ale-cups, and after a short while they slid slowly beneath the table, whence lengthy snores soon began to emerge.
Father Willibald now commanded them all to come forward to the baptism-tub, in which Harald Ormsson had been baptized; and there twenty-three men and nineteen women, young and old, were duly sprinkled. Orm and Rapp pulled the two sleepers out from under the table and tried to shake some life into them; but, finding that all their efforts failed, they carried them up to the tub and held them in position until they, too, had been sprinkled like the rest, after which they were thrown into a quiet corner to continue with their sleeping. The whole company was now in excellent spirits. They wrung the water out of their hair, went joyfully back to their places at the tables, and, when Father Willibald attempted to conclude the ceremony by pronouncing a general blessing, the noise was so great that little of what he said could be heard.
“Nobody here is afraid of a little water,” they roared proudly, grinning at one another across the tables.
“Everything is ready now.”
“Up, now, jesters, and show us your skill!”

If it sounds like fun, there’s more.
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,034 reviews1,187 followers
September 14, 2018
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 - WOW....you'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 I adore knitting, really, this is so much better than that amazing pattern book I was admiring the other day. Truly. It's even better than that text book on computer humour you got me last year. What? Yes, good point, I can't really say that until I've read the book on computer humour, but you read it and so I heard a lot about it. In fact, I must remember to put that on my 'books I've lived through' shelf.

Rest is here:

Profile Image for Jason.
372 reviews48 followers
February 5, 2018
Orm - a Viking that goes a-viking, has many adventures, learns much, has great luck (overall), and tries out a few different religions along the way.

Orm Tostesson (aka Red Orm) is a wonderfully developed character that we follow throughout his life: from the licking of a blade as a baby, to the coddling of his mother, to abduction, enslavement, many battles, and eventually having his own children and the subsequent adventures that a true Viking chieftain would expect to have when they have acquired much, including a growing beautiful family. This is a fast paced adventure that seems to provide a true feel for the Viking era. I particularly enjoyed the Viking perspective on religion, as well as, the general principles/cultures of the time. There is also a colorful cast of side-characters that you have the pleasure of knowing along the way, each with their own virtues and failings. It has the feel of a first-rate escapist novel, being humorous and a real adventure saga, while still inspiring thought and imparting knowledge. It also might inspire one to imbibe in much ale and plunder thy neighbors in an honorable fashion - as one does.
Profile Image for Tanja Berg.
1,909 reviews438 followers
December 9, 2014
I loved this book! It's about the fate of the Viking Röde Orm and his adventures in far away lands and at home. I've rarely read anything so entertaining, the narrative exudes of energy and storytelling joy ("fortellerglede" in Norwegian). It took a little while before I got used to the language, but after the first couple of hours (out of 17) I ceased to notice. The book was first published in the 1940's and the Swedish used had not been modernized for the edition I listened to. With time I found that the archaic language fit a story set around the year 1000 perfectly. I will definitely miss Röde Orm and his merry men and am sorry to be finishing this book, I would gladly have had more. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
557 reviews141 followers
November 6, 2019
Wow that took me forever. It has its moments! Read it if you're into (sometimes hilarious, sometimes serious) Viking drama.
Profile Image for Jim.
2,098 reviews700 followers
January 16, 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.
Profile Image for Theo Logos.
705 reviews113 followers
December 21, 2022
The Long Ships ranks as the single greatest saga of the Northmen told since the ancient skalds sang stories to feasting warriors in their chieftain’s halls. It contains great battles, both at sea and on land, raids, plundering, feats of strength, fierce, single combat, feasting, wenching, storytelling, dueling poets, and song. The story ranges from the coasts of Scania (Sweden) to Francia, and on into Moorish Andalusia. It takes us from the Ireland of Brian Boru to the halls of King Harald Bluetooth, and back to the England of Ethelred the Unready, and eventually down the rivers of the East past Kiev into wild lands. It is a tale told with great skill and not a little humor, and thrills from beginning to end. It is a tale to read and read again throughout your life.
Profile Image for Adam  McPhee.
1,273 reviews208 followers
May 21, 2020
Fantastic historical fiction. Bengtsson's dry wit is impeccable and perfectly in keeping with the sagas.

Three viking journeys, one to Muslim Spain, one to Æthelred the Unready's England and one to the viking Rus. The middle section in England is a bit of a slog, though the characters get to take part in the Battle of Maldon. They also serve as slaves and then bodyguards for Almansur. But it's the final section that rules the most: travelling the Dnieper searching for treasure and taking part in two amazing skirmishes.

The part that everyone talks about, the comparison between the four religions (Norse paganism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) is there but it's only a small part of the book and it only gets talked about because it's the sort of thing book reviewers are trained to look for. What makes this so great isn't any didactic point the book makes, but the catharsis that comes from blending the storytelling style of the Icelandic sagas with the priorities of the 20th century novel. I think it also has a lot to do with what Tolkien called 'recovery,' but I'm not really equipped to talk about that just yet.
Profile Image for Daniel Chaikin.
594 reviews54 followers
December 9, 2017
51. The Long Ships by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson
translation: from Swedish Michael Leverson Meyer
introduction: Michael Chabon
— 1941 - Röde Orm 1: Sjöfarare i västerled
— 1945 - Röde Orm: Hemma och i österled
— 1955 - translated and combined.
— 2010 - (crappy) introduction
format: 509 page paperback
acquired: October
read: Nov 23 - Dec 3
rating: 4½

This is fun. A viking adventure story that explores the remarkable world of 1000 AD. It's never too serious, and yet always interesting in a kind of serious way. And it's told in a restrained and straight-faced humor, a type that is tamped down underneath the adventure, and mainly adds some charm to all this international violence and missionary games.

I don't think I want to say much more about it. If you think you might like it, then I recommend it highly, and if you think you couldn't care less about Vikings and wanton pillaging, I think you still might like the tough little hero at the center this world, and the way he experiences it.

Negative side note: I was really annoyed by the introduction by Michael Chabon. He had nothing intelligent to say, so he just spat out that kind of empty praise that can have the backhanded affect of making a book seem worse because it's inconsistent with what he implies it is.

Positive side note: I had my librarything.com group in mind when I chose this (Club Read), and particularly libarything user rebeccanyc, who recently passed away in RL. Thanks to all who encouraged me (some a few times) to read it. I'm grateful.
Profile Image for Jane.
1,565 reviews178 followers
September 13, 2014
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...
Profile Image for Leo.
4,385 reviews409 followers
December 18, 2020
I really enjoyed this book about Vikings, it's one of the better ones I've read even tough it's written 1945 which is some time ago. It was full of adventure and exactly what I needed right now.
Profile Image for Bjorn.
826 reviews152 followers
April 25, 2013
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, singer Karl Gerhard was blacklisted for likening Nazi sympathisers to the invaders of Troy, and Eyvind Johnson's 1946 novel Return To Ithaca lets Homer's characters live through the aftermath of a war that's ruined everything they've ever known.

The Long Ships, on the surface, doesn't have any such pretenses. It's the story of Orm Tostesson, born in what is today southern Sweden in the mid-10th century, and his life and travels as a viking. Kidnapped by vikings at a young age, he travels all over Europe - sold as a slave to the Moors, rises to chiefdom among his men, helps plunder England, goes treasure-hunting in the Ukraine, and eventually settles on a farm in Scania where he becomes old and rich. Along the way, he meets many of the great men of his time (far too conveniently at times, but hey), converts to Islam, converts back to paganism, converts to Christianity, consumes a lot of beer and pork, and makes good use of his sword.

It strikes me about halfway in that this really is a Western novel set in the Viking age. A very ambitious, fun and well-written Western novel, but still; substitute long ships for cattle trails, Englishmen, Swedes and Khazars for Indians, kings for cavalry colonels, long swords for Colt revolvers, and posses for... well, posses, and Orm could easily have been played by Clint Eastwood or James Garner. (Not Gary Cooper, though.) It's a frontier novel, a novel set at a time when new land was being claimed both geographically and philosophically. And it's tremendously entertaining but at the same time occasionally disturbing in its frankness. As anachronistic as it is on some points (more on that below), Bengtsson doesn't try to turn his hero into an enlightened 20th century man, and robbery, violence, rape and slavery are all seen as perfectly normal - though obviously something to be avoided where you yourself is concerned. The protagonists are, at first, more concerned with what's possible than what's right; if you have more gold than us, and we have sharper swords than you, isn't it fair that we should, ahem, trade?

And yet, underneath all the bawdy tales of kidnappings, beheadings, and bearded men dying with a macho one-liner (in runic verse, obviously), there's more to it.

For starters, there's Bengtsson's language, which (at least in the original, I can't speak for the translation) is a marvel to read. Terse, dryly humorous and almost completely devoid of unnecessary adjectives, both his narration and his dialogue somehow manages to carry a feeling of the old sagas despite being written in 19th century Swedish (which has about as much in common with Old Norse as Jane Austen does with Beowulf). It's a wilful anachronism, both for his own time and for Orm's, that's so obvious it seems to mean something; as if Bengtsson is deliberately setting them loose from the time they live in.

Then there's the time he sets it in, a time when everything was changing. Because the years around 1000 AD is when Scandinavia was christianised, and religion is the basis of many conflicts in the book; not only between pagans, Christians and Muslims, but also between hardliners (the missionaries sent to convert the Norse by whatever means necessary, the pagans determined to stick to their old gods) and the secularists (most of the actual vikings). Orm himself and many with him take a very pragmatic view of religion; they just want to live as well as possible (for themselves), and whichever god makes the best offer at the moment gets the nod.

"I've never been so lucky in everything before as I have been since I stuck with Christ" [said Orm]. "All you need to do is to deny the old gods and instead say this: There is no god but God, and Christ is his prophet."
"Not his prophet, his son," said Father Willibald.
"His son," Orm quickly added. "That's it. I knew that."

It's no coincidence that one of Orm's first defining acts is to rescue a Jew who's been enslaved on another ship; he does it for his own winning's sake, sure, but as the novel progresses, the unspoken question of what's fair (to other men, to women, to other peoples) becomes more and more central. Orm starts to compromise, starts to form alliances based on more than mutual greed or lust for revenge, starts to rule by law rather than force. It's not a direct result of becoming a Christian - all sides are portrayed as being equally prone to both kindness and atrocities - but simply of growing up, of seeing more of the world, not buying into extremism but starting to develop something that 1000 years and many ethical discussions later might be called humanism. And somewhere underneath it I bet you can find Bengtsson in 1945, wishing Europe itself would do the same; that there can be another new time, a time when everything can change.

Mind you, that's all very sneakily done. For the most part, it's rustic anecdotes about life on the high seas or in the big halls, big action scenes, strong men, strong-minded women, well-written character drama and just a heck of a good yarn.

Sex and beer and runic verse are very good indeed.
Profile Image for Bbrown.
705 reviews82 followers
July 9, 2018
Great prose, complex characters, a poignant message; all of these are good qualities for a piece of literature to have, but they’re ultimately of secondary importance. The Long Ships is a rousing success because it accomplishes the primary purpose of a work of literature: it tells an enjoyable story. The book lets you join Red Orm and his many compatriots as they go a-viking from Sweden to Spain, having adventures and winning both riches and fame in the bargain, and it’s just a fun time all around.

The key to why this book is enjoyable, I think, is its variety. Despite The Long Ships being over 500 pages long, there is no repetition here, as Bengtsson keeps Orm’s adventures varied. There are the Viking raids and combat you would expect, but also treasure hunting, poetry contests, judgment of legal cases, and comparing the luck garnered by different religions. It’s all good fun, with characters that are likeable despite not being multidimensional. The reveal early on that Orm survives his adventures and lives to old age is a structural feature I would normally criticize as robbing the book of some of its tension, but here it does no harm, since Orm dying never seemed like a realistic possibility. Narrative complexity isn’t needed here, which is good, because The Long Ships doesn’t have a narratively complex bone in its body.

In fact, with how straightforwardly Bengtsson presents it, The Long Ships might make a good children’s story (depending on how child-appropriate you think stories are that involve a generous dose of killing and the occasional reference to rape). Not that the book is graphic or dwells on these topics, instead the entire tale is semi-sanitized, with more-or-less honorable combat and women who fall for their Viking captors being the default. As such, and given the almost episodic nature of Orm’s adventures, this seems like a book that could almost work as a bedtime story. If you feel the subject matter precludes that, it’s certainly fine for young adults, and I’d give this book as a gift to someone in that age-range before any modern YA fiction.

This book doesn’t try to do a lot of things—it doesn’t try to really grapple with morality or religion, it doesn’t try to portray a cast of multifaceted characters, it doesn’t even take many pains for historical accuracy despite being a work of historical fiction. But The Long Ships isn’t trying to accomplish these goals. Rather, Bengtsson set out to write an enjoyable adventure story about Vikings. In that he succeeded. I’m always happy when I read a book that tells an interesting story, and thereby reminds me that doing so is the main point of literature. The Long Ships is one such book.
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