Grand tales of high adventure as northmen go a-viking in pursuit of silver and gold across a tumultuous Europe of the Tenth Century A.D. are spun by Frans G. Bengtsson in “The Long Ships”. He brings alive this time when the continent trembled at the approach of the men in the dragon ships and people changed their religion at the whim of their Kings from the old pagan gods, to Christianity or to Islam. He depicts battles large and small, but also great feasts with ale and mead as well as contests where poets sling praise or insults in equal measure. These marvelous stories follow the engaging and very human hero Red Orm, he is a bit of a hypochondriac and frequently plagued by doubts as to the status of his ‘luck’. Orm’s adventures begin when he is a strapping young lad kidnapped by Krok’s raiding party in the first tale called “The Long Voyage”. Orm becomes a valued member of the crew and his facility with language puts him in a leadership position when he and his men enter the service of the Muslim Lord Almansur of the Moorish caliphate in Spain. The second story “In King Ethelred’s Kingdom” finds Red Orm at the center of an invasion of England where a propitious conversion to Christianity advances his romance of a Princess. The third story “In the Border Country”, finds Orm setting up his new home and meeting his less than welcoming neighbors. The fourth story is another voyage of adventure across the Russian steppes in search of “The Bulgar Gold”. Bengtsson was considered a major writer in advancing the art of the essay in Swedish, but he brings a warmth and humor to the telling of these tales and the reader shares his great sense of fun as each one unfolds.
Written by Frans G. Bengtsson in Swedish during World War II the stories were translated by Michael Meyer and originally published in English in 1954. This 2010 edition has been published by the New York Review of Books with an enthusiastic introduction by author Michael Chabon.The Long Ships,