The Long Ships

thelongshipsThe Long Ships
by Frans G. Berntsson
pub. Part 1 1941,  and Part 2 1945
total 503 pages
historical fiction – Viking era
Rating  9.5

Oh my what a delightful surprise!   I don’t think I’ve ever really enjoyed an adventure book but this one caught me by surprise.  It is more than an adventure tale though – the blood is there but it’s tempered by concern with love of home and family,  tradition.   And the book is laced with humor as the superstitious Vikings slowly accept Christianity – in their own way.

The Long Ships takes place between 985 and 1010 AD and ranges in area from Sweden to Ireland,  London,  Spain and the Black Sea.

Basically it’s a pretty simple story told in four parts. First part – Orm’s life up to becoming a Viking.  Part two – Viking plunders.  Part three – home again in Sweden.  Part four getting the gold and settling down.

This is a story of interconnected episodes.   First Orm is taken from his family farm in southern Sweden  to sail with a group of Danish Viking raiders.  He’s very successful and becomes a leader although with many wounds.  But the story is as much about friendship and the activities of home and heart as well as battles.  And there is much in the way of historical background including Islam (Spain) and Christianity (Ireland),  Viking battles,  etc.

The book has many,  many funny parts and a few sad ones.   I became involved in the lives of the characters to an amazing extent.  The path from the old religion to Christianity was not even or smooth.  Old habits die hard and superstition continued to govern much of  Orm’s life.   The theme of religious hypocrisy lends itself to the hilarity with the religious tolerance being a kind of result.

The translation into English has the flavor of the old style sagas and it works wonderfully well.  It was  first published in Sweden by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson in 1941,  The Long Ships is the story of one Viking man’s adventures in plundering,  wooing, converting and ???

This is a pretty simple story in five major  parts. First part – Orm’s life up to becoming a Viking.  Part two –  Viking plunders.  Part three – home again in Sweden.  Parts four and five –   we’ll see –

In Part 1  Orm is taken from his family farm in southern Sweden  to sail with a group of Danish Viking raiders.  He’s very successful and becomes a leader although with many wounds.  But the story isn’t overly  concerned with the battles,  rather there is much in the way of historical background including Islam (Spain) and Christianity (Ireland).

And then there’s the relationship between Orm and his good buddy Toke as well as his efforts to  win the hand of  Ylva,  daughter of Harold Bluetooth.   There are some parts which are hilarious, other parts which are rather sad.

The path from the old religion to Christianity was not even or smooth.  Old habits die hard and superstition continued to govern much of  Orm’s life.

The style is straightforward but the translation English used is of the old style in some respects.

Major Characters:

Orm – fierce, proud,
Toke – hard-drinking,  fierce, womanizer
Solomon – the Jewish friend who helps them in Spain
Almansur – head of Andalusia – Muslim Iberia
Rapp – outlawed in Spain so he continues with Orm
Ylva – beautiful and determined,  feisty
King Harold Bluetooth – fair-minded but in ill health
Father Willibald – an old priest consultant picked up from Bluetooth who went on to travel with Orm
Asa –  Orm’s mother – Sweden
Orm’s children:
Oddney – girl twin
Ludmilla – girl twin
Harold  – boy
King Sven – an old enemy,  son (?) of Harold
Rapp – companion and worker for Orm

***
Theme –  religious tolerance?

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