The Long Ships
by Frans G. Bengtsson, introduction by Michael Chabon, translated from the Swedish by Michael Meyer
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 his place at the oars of their dragon-prowed ships. Orm is then captured by the Moors in Spain, where he is initiated into the pleasures of the senses and fights for the Caliph of Cordova. Escaping from captivity, Orm washes up in Ireland, where he marvels at those epicene creatures, the Christian monks, and from which he then moves on to play an ever more important part in the intrigues of the various Scandinavian kings and clans and dependencies. Eventually, Orm contributes to the Viking defeat of the army of the king of England and returns home an off-the-cuff Christian and a very rich man, though back on his native turf new trials and tribulations will test his cunning and determination. Packed with pitched battles and blood feuds and told throughout with wit and high spirits, Bengtsson’s book is a splendid adventure that features one of the most unexpectedly winning heroes in modern fiction.
A household name in Scandinavian literature since its publication during World War II, the title The Long Ships is recognizable to English-speakers, if at all, from a tenuously related 1964 epic with Sidney Poitier. New York Review Books reckons to remedy that with this 500-page hunk chronicling 20 years in the life of Red Orm, a son of Skania, born during the reign of Harald Bluetooth, who first goes a-viking as a teen....And if the company of so many burly, bearded heroes can weary, Bengtsson's clear-eyed witnessing of a new world dawning does not.
This extraordinary saga of epic adventure on land and sea...is a masterpiece of historical fiction...Not least of the rewards of reading Mr. Bengtsson's gorgeous romance is the sly humor that is sprinkled through it.
—Orville Prescott, The New York Times
A remarkable panorama of a vanished way of life.
—Times Literary Supplement
The Long Ships has many virtues of the true story-teller's art...Under the merriment and the fighting there is a great deal of scholarship as sound as it is imperceptible. Reading this marvelously good-humored ale-broth of a book, you say: this is how it must have been to be a Viking chief a thousand years ago. And not such a bad life at that.
—Burke Wilkinson, The New York Times
Offers lusty Vikings lusting and looting, bedding and battling across Europe from the Ebro to the Dneiper.
The author and his excellent translator bring that old, warrior world alive with such vigorous enjoyment and simplicity that the deeds of those men roving about the world in their dragon ships seem as marvelous as those of our atomic age.