Literature: The Long Ships
The Long Ships
(original title Röde Orm
) is the most famous work of Swedish
author, poet and translator Frans Gunnar Bengtsson. The book is an adventure novel written in somewhat of the same style as The Icelandic Sagas
, and chronicles the life and voyages of Orm, son of Toste, known as Red Orm. The novel was published in two parts. The first appeared in 1941, the second in 1945. The action takes place in the years 982 to 1007.
Orm is the youngest son of the Scanian chieftain Toste, and is kidnapped as a young man by raiders, and goes a-viking to Spain, where he is captured, and later becomes a member of the lord Almansur's bodyguard. After an incident where he kills the slavemaster from the galley, who killed his chieftain, he is forced to flee.
This book contains examples of:
- Armor Is Useless: Lampshaded and subverted. During the duel with Sigtrygg, Orm is injured and credits his Spanish mail shirt with his survival. Chapter two also gives us this:
Krok: No man charges into battle without helm and shield for the sake of a few sheep, no, not even if it is his wife that has been stolen.
- Bad Ass: Everyone. No exception. Special mention to Olof Summerbird who caught a javelin in flight and killed its owner with it.
- The Berserker:
- Berserkers are talked about but we never actually see one in action.
He cleared the ship, helmless and shieldless and hewing about him with both hands, and all who heard this agreed that berserking was not seen often nowadays.
- On one occasion seven men clear an entire boat (maybe fifty men), with enemies panicking and jumping ship in droves because they think the seven look like they might be berserkers. Then again, if seven unarmoured men attack fifty heavily armoured, the assumption isn't unreasonable...
- At one occasion two men who are given to Orm as servants by a jealous neighbor. He is told that they are berserkers, but will not berserk if they are kept fed, and are the hardest workers in Skania. Orm thinks he may have been bluffing for some time, as they eat so much that he thinks the neighbor wanted to bankrupt him. Only then he sees them work, and work they do. As much as several men. However, when his daughter Ludmilla says she will sit by the river with the stronger, in the ensuing battle they both prove that they truly were berserkers. Then Orm kills them both with a broom handle.
- Bipolar Disorder: The word is never used, but "the curse of the Uppsala kings", which Styrbjörn is struck with is clearly this.
- Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards:
- After being captured and enslaved in Spain, Orm and his companions serve for several years in the guard of Al-Mansur, de facto ruler of the Almohad Caliphate in Iberia.
- Olof Summerbird and Orm's brother Are served in the Varangian Guard for the emperor in Constantinople.
- The Casanova: Subverted by Rainald. He tries to live in celibacy, but he can't keep hands hands off women, and vice versa...
- Catch and Return: One of the more plausible examples. Olof Summerbird manages to catch a thrown spear and throw it back. This freaks out both his friends and enemies. When queried, he claims it's just something he learned and can't unlearn. He also says he doesn't tell people about it after one of his cousins was severely wounded trying to repeat the trick. This is another Shout-Out to the Norse sagas, where really Badass characters sometimes do this.
- Chekhov's Gun: The third sin of Rainald.
- Converting for Love: Orm has to convert to Christianity to marry Ylva. He takes it in his stride, having already converted to Islam when living with the Saracens.
- Cool Ship: Averted. The ships are barely mentioned, in spite of the title (which is the English translation only; the original Swedish is simply Röde Orm)
- Decapitated Army: Styrbjörn's death at Uppsala. Justified since the whole point of the campaign was to make Styrbjörn king, and with him dead there wasn't much point in continuing.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Since the book is set the late 10th- early 11th century, and is written in the styles of the Icelandic sagas of the period, there is casual slavery, casual warfare, casual robbery, and casual religion switching for pragmatic purposes.
- Die Laughing: Styrbjörn is killed at Uppsala by a spear through the neck just when he is laughing at the approaching Swedish army.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Åsa, somewhat unreliably.
- Duel to the Death: Orm and Sigtrygg.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Rainald
- Galley Slave: A couple of years of this is the reason why Orm is left-handed.
- Happily Adopted: Ulf Glade.
- Historical-Domain Character: Harald Bluetooth and Al-Mansur. Several other historical figures, such as Brian Boru, are mentioned, and many characters from Icelandic sagas (who may or may not have been real) are spoken of.
- Long-Lost Relative: Are to Orm, and Orm to Åsa.
- Named Weapons: Orm's sword Bluetongue, Toke's sword Redbeak, Styrbjörn's sword Lullaby and Jostein's axe Widowgrief. Mythical weapons including Gram also get mentioned.
- Ode to Intoxication: Khalid writes one, including a criticism of Islam for forbidding wine, which gets him convicted of blasphemy and sent to the galleys. He spends part of his captivity attempting to compose an Ode To Sobriety, but is noted to have trouble finding good things to say about water and lemon juice.
- Pirate Booty: The main plot of the last book is about retrieving a treasure.
- Proud Merchant Race: The Gotlanders are (or at least present themselves as) honest merchants who won their fortune without resorting to the piracy and grand scale blackmail of their fellow Norsemen.
- Prophetic Names: Inverted, characters are given names due to events or characteristics. Examples are Red Orm (Red hair and fiery temper) Olof Summerbird (colourful clothing), Kolbjörn Burnt-in-his-house (should be self-explanatory), Grinulf (Glasgow Grin), Harald Bluetooth (oversized blue eyeteeth) ...
- Red-Headed Hero: Orm.
- Revenge Before Reason: The killing of the overseer. While numerous other revenges seem only slightly reasonable under the circumstances, tradition dictates that Orm &:co must take revenge for their chief the moment they spot his killers, and damn any other oaths and obligations.
- Seer: Åsa and Sone the Sharp-sighted, neither of whom conform to any of the usual Seer-tropes.
- The Three Faces of Adam: The kings Styrbjörn, Erik and Harald fills this role with Styrbjörn as the Hunter, Erik as the Lord and Harald as the Prophet. Orm laments their deaths as the strongest, the mightiest and the wisest of kings, respectively.
- The Southpaw: Orm. It is remarked that this makes fighting more difficult both for him and whoever he's facing, since neither man can position his shield quite properly.
- Take That: Bengtsson detested the Nazis, which is probably the reason he included the sympatetic Jewish silversmith Salaman in the story.
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Or rather Swedish. Averted, since while Bengtsson wrote in the style of the sagas, he consciously used the formal academic grammar and spelling of the early 20th century that he had assimilated and become a master of. Ironically, the impact of the book was so big that most Swedish authors that set out to write historical fiction emulates him. Even if they know that it's anachronistic, and especially if they try to avoid it.