on 24 February 2003
This has to be one of the best historical novels on any subject ever written - a totally engaging, nay enthralling, saga of viking adventure at the turn of the previous millennium. It brings 10th century northern Europe vividly before the reader; it has a very appealing young hero, Orm Tostesson, whose story we follow eagerly and avidly from inexperienced youth to adventurous old age as he participates in viking expeditions as far apart as England, moorish Spain, and the long road to Miklagard. It's very much a smell-the-salt-sea-spray, feel the swaying deck, almost trip on the slippery blood sort of book, but it's additionally fascinating to anyone who's ever wondered how the Vikings could possibly relate to modern-day Danes and Swedes (this book will tell you). It's full of fascinating stories about such famous folk as King Harald Blue Tooth and the Jomsvikings, relating for example how a young warrior's long blond hair saved his life. And it's extremely funny, particularly on the subject of attempts to convert the less amenable Northmen to Christianity. And it's also in places moving; and in other places, an edge of the seat suspense thriller. I first found it in a 2nd hand bookstore in Stockholm in 1989; the copy I bought then has been re-read so many times that it has now fallen to pieces and I must have another, and several spares to give my friends.
on 13 October 2014
I am embarrassed. I have to admit that, until a kind friend guided me to it, I had never even heard of this novel. Now that I have read it I can't believe that I have lived for so many years without having done so before.
Many will, I suspect, be put off by the subject matter of the book. Tales of Vikings are not everyone's cup of tea. But this is not just a story of Viking adventures. It is much more than that. Yes, many a head is severed, many an innocent man's worldly goods plundered and many a young woman raped. But any story of late tenth to early 11th century Vikings can hardly ignore such activities.
This is a story of a man, Orm, going on long metaphorical and real journeys. As it begins, we see Orm as a rather molly-coddled young man with a mother determined that he should stay at home under her protection rather than go out a-Viking with his brother and father. He is something of a hypochondriac, constantly afflicted by minor ailments. In a conventional way, he worships various heathen gods. So, the only unusual thing about him is his enforced abstinence from the enjoyable pastime of going a-Viking.
But then everything changes. He is captured by men who steal some sheep belonging to his family. He is taken to their boat and so starts the longest of his journeys. In the course of it he comes across many fascinating characters. Then he is captured again and finds himself in the service of the regent of the Caliph of Mordova. Upon his master's instructions, he embraces Islam and becomes a worshipper of Allah and his Prophet. He then escapes and makes his way to the court of the great King Harald Bluetooth where he falls in love with the King's daughter. His next great adventure takes place in England where he plays a major part in the Battle of Maldon and sails to Westminster in order to be baptized a Christian. From a rather shaky start, his faith increases as the story progresses.
I should not reveal any more of the story, but what I can say with absolute confidence is that this is one of the most delightful books I have read for a very long time. There is adventure, there is love, there is a clash of religions but, above all, there is constant gentle humour. The reader, unless he is totally devoid of humour himself, will chuckle on pretty well every page.
If there is anyone else out there who has not read The Long Ships, he or she must do so immediately.
on 23 June 2004
Forget the awful cover – this book is a gem. One of Sweden's foremost historians and literary figures, Bengtsson has been compared to a latter-day Samuel Johnson. A marvellously pacy adventure story, "The Long Ships" towers above most historical fiction, especially as it contains sound background on arcane Norse traditions such as nose-tweaking, trollcraft and, of course, "The Ale Death". In fact, it's one of the funniest books you'll ever read – few books can make you laugh out loud on a crowded tube train, but this is one.
on 20 February 2001
As a Swede, if I were to recommend just one Swedish book, it would be this! It is very well written and got "instant and constant" action. The book takes place some 800 years ac. You will follow the young Viking Orm throughout many exiting adventures. At the age of 17:teen, Orm get kidnapped and commences his journeys throughout west and east Europe. He serves in a Mohammedan army, raids England and also travels to Russia, to name a few of his adventures. Not only is it a hilariously funny book, it is historically accurate and you will learn a lot.
on 4 April 2006
Ahh - Röde Ormen (The Red Worm) translated to English, with a cover that could discourage any sensible reader. I don't know how this book presents itself in english, but in the Danish translation it is one of my all-time favourites. In what seems to be a lucky punch, or a divinely inspired magnum opus, Bengtson managed to keep a perfect pitch between tongue in the cheek irony, burlesque humor, juvenile romanticism, and - hidden somewhere in between swordplay and lovemaking - acknowlegment of the grim realities of early medieval life.
It is one of those rare gems that can be read again and again, each time with more than one chuckle, feeling in just the right company with no-nonsense farm-boys who make an odyssey through 900 ac Europe, part history, part myth, and written with an astute sense of detail that makes the characters come alive. Eventually you'll know long passages by heart and be eager for your children to grow to an age where you can read it aloud to them. It may not be on the literary critics 'all-time 100', but I only know a handful of books with an impact like that.
on 30 March 2015
This is the kind of book you put off going to bed so you can keep reading, I really enjoyed it. The writing style (or maybe the translation) is very easy to read, not laboured like some translated novels are. Other reviews have covered the content of this book well, I'll just say that there's a bit of everything (adventure, suspense, humour, romance, historical accuracy) in this book for everyone. Apparently its been around for ages, but I hadn't heard of it before and am pleased I came across it. An excellent read.
on 22 May 2000
The 13th Warrior must have been spun from this wonderful Bible of Viking life. A friend from Sweden first gave me this book in 1993. It was the best way he could explain the history of his culture, he said. Brutally funny and truly resounding of a pragmatic people frolicking through what were the dark ages for the rest of Europe, Rodorm, or The Longships in English, is a wonderful tale of an intrepid crew of voyagers gone a-viking (viking is a verb, by the way, like smoking. It means more or less Harbouring...and we all know what "Vikings" did once the entered and landed a harbour ;) John Guthrie
on 20 August 1999
Having heard so much about this saga-type novel I sought it eagerly & finally broke down & bought it via amazon uk (after a long & fruitless hunt stateside). Rather expensive for this paperback w/lots of typos & editing problems, I thought. But the book, I judge, was worth it in the end. The tale of Orm Tostesson & "friends", this book follows the adventures of this typical late tenth century viking through nearly all the high-points of vikingdom in the period. From raids & servitude on the coasts of Moorish Spain, to visits with Irish monks and dinner with the Danish King, Harald Bluetooth, and his assorted guests, including no less a worthy than Styrbiorn Olafsson, the Jomsviking and claimant to the Swedish throne about whom E. R. Eddison wrote so brilliantly in his own viking novel, STYRBIORN THE STRONG, this book takes us through all the paces. Orm eventually finds himself with a very noble wife living in a backwater part of Scandinavia (the borderlands between Sweden and medieval Denmark) but even there he gets no peace since his enemies and adventures pursue him. And in his maturity another and final adventure comes his way when he is summoned to the eastern reaches of far Gaardarike (the country that was to become Russia) to claim an "inheritance" of great value. Along the way, Orm makes some good friends, some bad enemies, participates in some (but by no means all) of the great events of viking history in that period, and finally mellows to become a better man who embraces the new way of thinking while yet feeling at home in the old. I did think the book a bit too episodic though this is no indictment of it since the sagas themselves are nearly always such and the "voice" smacks very much of the sagaman's art. However, a close reading makes this very clearly a modern novel for the humor is quite bracing and alone marks this tale as one of ours and not one from an earlier time. I especially appreciated Orm's hypochondria, despite his courage in the face of battle, a very human and humorous touch! And the fighting is all very realistic, no great superhuman feats of derring do (except occasionally as we find in the real sagas). Some of the literary technniques used, besides the marvelous sense of tongue-in-cheek humor, are also quite contemporary. The tale was a bit slow in places, especially at the beginning, and rather more predictable than not. And, more, it is not, in my opinion, the best of the viking or saga novels despite what others have said here and elsewhere. For tautness and action, none have yet done it better, in my opinion, than H. Rider Haggard with ERIC BRIGHTEYES. For the pure poetry of style and soaring prose, Eddison's STYRBIORN THE STRONG still has my vote. And for the resounding greatness of the tale and the power to move, no modern author has ever penned a better saga novel than Hope Muntz did with THE GOLDEN WARRIOR. But Bengtsson did a very nice job and deserves five "crowns" for it.
(For those with an interest in the saga as novel, a few other good ones I'd recommend include Cecelia Holland's very modern and psychological TWO RAVENS, a glimpse into the hot-house environment of an Icelandic farm in the time of King William Rufus, and Jane Smiley's THE GREENLANDERS which tells of the final days of the the Norse settlement in Greenland as the cold and the Eskimos closed in around the isolated settlers. And, if you still have any patience and want more, perhaps you'd want to try my own small effort, THE KING OF VINLAND'S SAGA, which I wrote to be the saga I'd always wished had been written and preserved about the Norse excursions to the "New World.".
on 5 November 2011
It's going to be incredibly difficult to put into words just how good this book is. Any review no matter how good, will be able to do this book full justice. The book is a perfect masterpiece and quite untouchable in many respects by modern imitators. It had in fact been sitting in my `to read' pile for many months as I was completely put off by the revolting cover. And yet a couple of weeks ago I bit the bullet, dusted the book down and began a truly remarkable adventure with Orm and his companions.
This is an epic `cradle to grave' saga describing the adventures of Orm the Viking. Orm's adventures are richly layered and meticulously researched. The level of detail included is simply astounding and you will learn so much more about the world of the Vikings. The book feels so authentic; the dialogue is slightly archaic but completely right for this book. Everything clicks into place just so, the fascinating facts and cultural practices, the dialogue and poetry, the enthralling side-stories and historical anecdotes, the battle scenes, the travel scenes, the weather, the medicinal practices and of course the merry-making - this book will come to life in your hands. It will be very difficult to put down.
The book has been translated and there are a couple of dodgy words and the occasional typing error. Yet that is a publishing problem and not one which detracts from the overarching quality of this beautifully written book. You can tell that the author is a master of his art and through the medium of his craftsmanship has the power to hold his readers captive for countless hours. The book does require a substantial time commitment as it is not a quick read. Yet the rewards and the enjoyment the reader will gain are immeasurable.
Why read `The Long Ships' when there are so many other books out there on the market?
Well, the book deserves to be read because it is unique. It is steeped in historicity and will give you countless hours of literary pleasure. It is simply brilliant. It is also a refreshing and clean counter-balance to those more modern books that tend to be more sexually explicit and far more graphic.
The book was devoured and will have to take its place amongst my favourite reads.
on 31 January 2014
This book was recommended to me by a very academic Swede!
Although it is a novel, it does, nevertheless, give a very graphic insight into the world of the Vikings and debunks many of the oft-repeated myths about their world and mores.
My only gripe is that the book is in paperback format and the type is absolutely minute to my 64-year-old eyes. Reading "The Long Ships" was an exercise in eyestrain for me!