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October 2011PROLOGUEHow the shaven men fared in Skania in King Harald Bluetooth s timeMany restless men rowed north from Skania with Bue and Vagn, and found ill fortune in J rundfjord others marched with Styrbj rn 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 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 kidnappedThat 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 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 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. 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 Ark lithographs for it.The Long Ships2017 HIGHBRIDGE ENGLISH UNABRIDGED 20H 14Mby Frans G Bengtsson, Michael Meyerread by Michael Page [Free Kindle] ♹ Röde Orm ⚒ The Book Is Set In The Late Th 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 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 r min lycka b ttre 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 time in acquainting yourself with Orm Tostesson, Toke Gr gulleson, the lord Almansur, the Jew Salaman, King Harald Bl tand, his beautiful daughter Ylva, and their many unforgettable adventures. 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 friendAnd makes the sick heart merry I heard WordOf bellied sailcloth,Creak of oars,And gold in Eastland.Then I smelledA smell remembered Salt of sprayAnd 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 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 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 R de 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 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. 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. A five hundred page novel about Vikings set in the year 1000 Sure, why not This book has got 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 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. 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 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 headsslowly 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. 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 HistoryTo 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 musketeers The other reason is that you will read this book and will find out what happens on your own You ll enjoy learning 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 TidbitsSo 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 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 andno 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 cupsDemand 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 CrossroadsScandinavia at that time was in transition Many still preferred the pagan Gods, and in many ways this was 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 OldThe 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 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 DealBe 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.