by Kim Pederson…….
Illusions sometimes die in hard, messy, neuron-warping ways. My heritage on my dad’s side is Norwegian. My grandfather was born in Kristiania (Oslo) in the late 1800s. So I have often referred, overly pretentiously always, to my Viking genes and to how the Vikings are the forbearetects of everything in the modern world. The pyramids in Egypt?, I would say, oh, the Vikings did that. As with most things, in such instances I “knew naught of what I spake.”
Various “truths” have been grinding down my Nordic grandeurlucinations little by little for some time now. Here are the big disenchantbombs:
-The Vikings did not wear horned helmets. Rather than donning the magnificent, fear-inducing headwear touted by such icons as Hagar the Horrible, they sported boring metal bowls sometimes ignominiously uglified with a nose guard.
-The marauding Vikings of song and tale were mostly Danes and Swedes. Norway was pretty much a backwater when all the action was happening (800 to 1100 AD approximately). If it weren’t for Erik the Red and Leif Erikson, we Norwegians would have practically zilch Norsetereity. (Well, as with most things here, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. We did found the city of Dublin in Ireland in the 900s, discovered Iceland, Greenland, and America, called Vinland, before anyone else, and made it first to the South Pole. Oh, and did I mention we built the pyramids?)
-Norway did not become a truly independent country until 1905 when the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway officially separated.
So what brought on all this ancestrangst? A 1944 adventure novel written by Frans Bengtsson called The Long Ships (also called Red Orm after the main character). I ran across the book’s description on one of the innumerable must-read lists out there and had to check it out. Novelist Michael Chabon, in his introduction to The Long Ships, describes it as a work that “stands ready, given the chance, to bring lasting pleasure to every single human being on the face of the earth.” He also notes, for what it’s worth, that he has only met three other people who have read the book.
Red Orm is a Swede from Scania who goes on many adventures, gathering glory and riches for himself and his family. The Norwegians pretty much get left out of it. I’m sure they would have been in the thick of everything, outshining the Swedes and Danes in all words and deeds, had they not been otherwise occupied in completing their more important and long-lasting architectural commissions for the pharaohs (see below).
* “Wikinger.” Sea-faring Danes depicted invading England. Illuminated illustration from the 12th century Miscellany on the Life of St. Edmund. Pierpont Morgan Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
** “Rudy Orm” by LoneWolf – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Commons.