Wow. Posting on weekends is hard. But my yeoman work to get one final post up for the 7 for 7 challenge is well worth it, because I’m going to tell you about a book that you’re going to cherish forever.
I have not yet mentioned this book on the blog, nor in social media, because it seemed like such a high-pressure endeavor. “What if I make a passing comment about it once, and then I do a more thorough review later, but people don’t listen to the second one because I’d already mentioned it once before?!” I’d think. But then I’d start to write a post about it, and I’d realize that the English language simply does not have the words to capture how much I love this book. And so, since this daily blogging challenge is forcing me to overcome Overly Analytical Writer Syndrome and just write things that I’d normally contemplate until I had no time left to post, I’ll just say it:
Your life isn’t complete until you read The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson.
I stumbled across this gem completely by random. Actually, I think it was a gift from God. Out of the blue, I was hit with an inspiration that I should get a book about the year 1000. I didn’t care if it was fiction or nonfiction; for whatever reason, I was just dying to read something set in that period. I listlessly scrolled through some Amazon recommendations, but nothing felt right. Then I found this one. I’d never heard of it, but the reviews looked good. I bought it to read on my tablet, thinking that I’d probably give up after a few pages. Little did I know that I was in for the most delightful read ever. (Don’t you love it when that happens?)
My one complaint about The Long Ships is that it’s only 600 pages. When I reached page 280, I wanted to cry when I saw that I was almost half way through. A book like this should be no less than 2, 000 pages. And, yeah, if you’re short on reading time it’ll take you a while to get through it. But that’s fine, since you won’t ever want to read anything else anyway.
The book is an epic saga in the classic sense of the term. It covers the adventures of a Viking named Red Orm, from the time he’s a young man until he’s older. It’s a swashbuckling tale of Viking culture around the time that Christianity first made its way that far north. Reading the book is less like turning the pages of a manuscript, and more like sitting around a fire with rowdy Northmen, drinking ale and listening to them loudly chronicle their exploits.
Also, it’s hilarious. All throughout the book there is a dry, understated type of humor that often had me laughing out loud at one o’clock in the morning. Some of my favorite parts were watching well-meaning Vikings try to be good Christians. During a Christmas feast, Orm and a man named Sigtrygg have a disagreement about whether Orm stole some of his property. They couldn’t agree after hashing it out for five minutes, so, of course, the only option was to duel to the death. The other guests at the feast thought that that sounded like a lovely plan:
Everyone in the hall was happy to see that there was a good prospect of an armed combat; for a fight between two such men as Orm and Sigtrygg was sure to be worth the watching. Both King Sven and Styrbjörn expressed their opinion that this would add pleasant variety to the Yuletide drinking.
Most of them were newly Christian, and they weren’t sure whether or not swordplay at Christmas dinner was 100% in line with their new faith. They turned to the King for guidance, and after considering it carefully, he replied:
“It is lucky that the Bishop is ill in bed, for he would never permit this to take place; still, I do not see that the peace that we have come here to celebrate can be said to be broken by anything to which I give my assent; nor do I think that Christ could have any objection to a contest of skill, provided it be conducted with due propriety and the correct formalities.”
I’ve been thinking hard about whether I can honestly say that everyone will love this book. Maybe most people wouldn’t care for it at all. Maybe some people don’t like Vikings, or ale. Maybe it says something troubling about me that I’m so enchanted with a book about a culture whose solution to every problem was violence. But something tells me that everyone can appreciate a good saga, especially one that is also hilarious, and that pretty much anyone with a heartbeat will find this rollicking yarn to be an utterly delightful read.
At the beginning of the foreword, author Michael Chabon wrote:
In my career as a reader I have encountered only three people who knew The Long Ships, and all of them, like me, loved it immoderately. Four for four: from this tiny but irrefutable sample I dare to extrapolate that this novel, first published in Sweden during the Second World War, stands ready, given the chance, to bring lasting pleasure to every single human being on the face of the earth.
Make that five for five. And then, when you read it, it’ll be six for six.
(Thanks to everyone who participated in the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge! I hope you had as much fun as I did!)
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