Archive for the ‘Böcker’ Category

Cryogenically Frozen Fantasy Vikings

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

“‘If the King says, “Charge that army over there,” and you say, “Which one?” and he says, “The one that outnumbers us twentyfold in that superb natural defensive position just under that hill with the sheep,” then you do it. And if it works you say, “What a brilliant general the King is,” and if it doesn’t you go to Valhalla. Everyone’s a winner, really.'”

Tom Holt‘s Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? is a goofy book about Vikings, as that quote up above should make perfectly clear. The premise is pretty simple: a crew of slumbering Norsemen are awoken for the first time in a thousand years when their enchanted burial site is disturbed by present day archaeologists in the north of Scotland. What ensues is a bizarre romp through Britain as the Vikings attempt to stop their ancient arch-nemesis, the evil sorcerer-king, from doing something terribly wicked and cruel. Along the way they complain about the taste of seagull meat, threaten BBC camera crews to do battle, and visit the British Museum to view its Viking artefacts.

Leading the bewildered Norsemen in their adventure in the modern era is Hildy, the archaeologist and main protagonist. The Norsemen themselves sport names familiar from the Sagas: Arvarodd, Bothvar Bjarki, etc., which is a nice touch. And last, and certainly least, in my view anyway, are the two electrical board-game-playing spirits known as Zxerp and Prexz who also accompany the Vikings. In general the book is akin to a Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett novel, but with time-traveling Vikings as its “thing.” All in all, it’s a pretty fun time if you enjoy this sort of light-hearted nonsense.

And one final note: the book has absolutely nothing to do with Beowulf. There’s a passing reference to the old boy toward the end of the book, but all in all, it’s a title that makes very little sense. My guess is that the publisher decided that using the name Beowulf in the title would help it sell, but that’s just a guess. Maybe it was chosen for some other esoteric, artful reason to which I am completely blind. This would have all happened back in 1988 when the book was first published (I really drag my feet on these things). And in each addition released since then, it seems like the publishers have really nailed it with some bizarre cover artwork. I especially like the weird version up top with the guy dangling from the front of a long ship (something that never happens in the actual storyline).

Anyway, Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? is basically just an amusing, light read for those who enjoy the wit and humor in the passages that follow these other examples of some of the book’s wondrous covers:

“‘No, no,’ said Hildy. ‘I dig up ancient things buried in the earth. Things that belonged to people who lived hundreds of years ago.’
‘Do you really?’ asked the King. ‘We used to call that grave-robbing.'”

“‘I know a couple dealers of antiquities down in London…you remember London?’
‘Still going, is it?’ asked the King, raising an eyebrow. ‘You surprise me. I never thought it would last.'”

“When the sorcerer-king panicked, he tended to do so in Old Norse, which is a language admirably suited to the purpose, if you are not in any hurry.”

“The King overruled her; if Angantyr didn’t get something to eat other than rabbit pretty soon, he suggested, he would start to whine, and that he could do without.”

“‘The Castle of Borve,’ said the King, ‘was built for my father, Ketil Trout, by Thorkel the Builder. My father was a bit of a miser, I’m afraid, and, since he was forever going to war with all and sundry, usually very hard up. So when he commissioned the castle from Thorkel, the finest builder of his day, he stipulated that if there was anything wrong with the castle on delivery Thorkel’s life should be forfeit and all his property should pass to the King. Actually, that was standard practice in the building industry then.'”

“Arvarodd was staring. Hildy prodded him in the ribs, but he didn’t seem to notice. ‘That’s mine,’ he whispered.
‘Are you sure?’ asked Hildy.
”Course I’m sure. Given to me when I killed my first wolf. Sure, it’s only bronze, but has great sentimental value.’
‘Keep your voice down,’ Hildy hissed.
‘Bergthora said if I didn’t chuck it out and get a new one she’d give it to a museum,’ went on the hero of Permia. ‘I never thought she’d do it.'”

“‘It is time for us to go feast forever in Odin’s golden hall. Roast pork,’ he added before Angantyr could interrupt, ‘and all the mead you can drink. At the head of the table sits Odin himself; at his right hand Thor, at his left Frey. With her own hands Freyja pours the mead, and the greatest of heroes are the company. There we will meet many we have known, many of whom we have sent there, in the old wars which are now forgotten. They say that in Valhalla men go out to fight in the morning, and at night all those who have fallen rise up again to go to the feast, and fight again the next day. There is also, I am assured, a swimming pool and a sauna.'”


The Trials and Tribulations of Domesticating Wild Finnish Trolls

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

When I get back home with a fresh pile of books, euphoric about my coming meeting with Martes—now so soon, so soon—the first thing that happens is I step on a troll turd. Anyone who would complain about miserable homecomings—the kids have been making taffy and not cleaned up, their husband’s flat on the sofa, drunk out of his mind—well, none of them has to step on troll shit in their own hallway. Naturally, the shit’s been neatly pushed under the doormat so my weight squashes it out on to both the underside of the mat and parquet.

So, this post is not exactly about Vikings, but a novel that seriously engages the reader with the practicalities of toilet-training a wild, Finnish troll somehow still seems very relevant to the thematic nature of this sorry little website. And so here we are. The book in question is Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi (in English: alternatively Not Before Sundown, or Troll: A Love Story, depending on where you live) by Johanna Sinisalo. And damn, is it weird.

The book takes place in Tampere and the premise is basically that the main character, Angel, gets home after drinking one night only to find some teenage thugs kicking an abandoned baby troll outside his building, so he chases them off and takes the troll in and starts to raise it as though he had rescued a stray dog or cat. In fact, the book presents trolls as an endangered species related to cats: Felipithecus Trollius, within the Felipithecidae i.e. Cat-Ape family, which was a brilliant touch. The reader then follows along as Angel struggles to house-train his new troll and becomes increasingly neurotic and paranoid in his interactions with veterinarians, past boyfriends, and abused women as he slowly devolves into a less-than-highly functional member of society. It’s a totally bizarre but fun ride for anyone who is interested in something as unique as this, but it will probably never make its way on to the U.S. bestseller lists, and that fact itself can be interpreted both as a sign of its originality and its quality.

And since some really bad life decisions led you to this website in the first place, why not continue on that downward trajectory and check out some earlier posts that also deal with trolls while you’re here? Exactly. But they’re below anyway:

Gateways to Trolldom

The Great Norwegian Trolldomizer

How to Dally with Whores and Lose Kingdoms

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

“The sea was dark like iron, flecked with white horses, and with a livid band of light in the far distance. There was a biting wind blew from the north-east.

‘Wither shall we sail now?’ asked Biorn, ‘if we be not to be drowned?’

Styrbiorn answered and said, ‘We will sail North.’

Styrbiorn the Strong is a little gem of a book by E. R. Eddison that traces the epic sea-voyaging, philandering, and warmongering adventures of Styrbjörn Olofsson as he raises hell all over Sweden, Denmark, and the broader Baltic Sea region in general. An actual figure from the sagas, Styrbjörn features in the short Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa and receives passing mention as a leader of the Jomsvikings in Eyrbyggja Saga and the Heimskringla, but because a proper saga was never actually devoted to his escapades (or was lost to the mists of time), Eddison decided to rectify the situation by creating one for him. This was way back in the 1920s and that version of the book has long since gone out of print, but fortunately the hearty champions of Scandinavian literature over at the University of Minnesota Press re-released it in 2011 with a new, special afterward by Paul Edmund Thomas.

Eddison was big on the sagas and even translated Egil’s Saga himself, so he was a guy who knew his source material and used it to inform much of what he wrote, both the historic fiction of Styrbiorn the Strong and a number of early 20th century fantasy novels that he wrote. His work was highly praised by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Ursula K. Le Guin, and anyone who reads fantasy will understand that’s no small matter, so it’s a bit of a pity he that isn’t more widely known.

The novel itself is a blast to read for anyone who likes a good Viking adventure and enjoys fine, ornate word-work. But saga purists may appreciate a word of caution: this is not the taut and straight-forward, emotionally-detached story-telling of the sagas. Nor does it conform to the easy-flowing sort of narrative style typical of today’s novels. This is an old-fashioned sort of story-telling in both the styling of the language used and the way in which the content is handled, which tends towards a generally chivalric/romanticized mood more along the lines of Wagner than the harsh, medieval brutality more commonly associated with Vikings at present day. But for those who can appreciate that (or at least, don’t mind it), reading Styrbiorn the Strong is a very worthwhile venture. And anyone familiar with the Völuspá, Völsunga Saga, and The Saga of the Jómsvíkings will find even more to enjoy because those are all drawn upon in some manner as Styrbjörn journeys to and from his native Sweden.

And because Styrbjörn’s heart is always set on heading northe (as the quote up top makes clear)—back home to Sweden—and because Norse adventures, epicness, and metal go hand-in-hand, what would this post be without a lyrically appropriate video clip by the guitar-serkers of Stormwarrior?

But a few more passages exemplifying the glory of Eddison’s language are worthy of direct quotation here before condemning this post to its final resting place down at the far end of Hel-Road. For epicness’ sake.

This passage refers to a pivotal moment that occurs midway through the novel. And while the name-calling is fun, the chivalric attitude of Eddison’s writing prevails, when Styrbjörn declares (on the same page) that what he did was wholly foul and of his own doing, and really no fault of the woman whom he viciously claimed to be a whore:

“After a while Styrbiorn, still in his former posture watching the endless procession of surges, said in hard toneless accents, ‘Shall I tell thee what I did in Sweden?’

‘Am not I thy brother?’ said Biorn.

Styrbiorn said, ‘I dallied with a whore, and I lost a kingdom.'”

Eddison’s epic battle descriptions are pretty badass. This battle scene features livestock as weapons and takes place at Fyrisvellir, near Gamla Uppsala, which should ring a bell for anyone familiar with Hrólfr Kraki’s Saga:

“And now there was an evil din of cattle bellowing and horses squealing, and there was many a man slain there or trampled or maimed or limb-lopped and their array near broken, and much folk fell both of the Jomsburgers and of them that drave on the beasts.”

And this is just simply one of the most glorious descriptions of Valhalla that I have ever read:

“On a sudden our Father Odin lifted up a hand, and there was darkness in heaven all save the light of the Father’s face, and they all stood up and waited in the listening gloom. And now was a noise far off, like lashing rain among leaves in a forest, and with it a rolling as of thunders far away, and pale lightnings flickered afar and vanished and flickered again through the night. Very slowly at first, then with swift strides, it drew nearer, until the roar of the tempest was like the roar of cataracts fed to fury by a cloud-burst among mountains. The lightnings streamed in rivers of molten steel and silver from the roof-beams of that hall, which is lofty as the tent of night, and the Einheriar clashed their weapons together and shouted with a shout that was heard above the deafening thunder: ‘Hail the choosers! the storm-raisers! Hail to the shield-mays of the Lord of Spears, the Father of Ages, the Loving One! Hail to the lords of earth whom they bring to join our fellowship!'”

Gateways to Trolldom

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

For those who have ever wondered: “Why isn’t there a general interest book dedicated solely to the history of trolls, their various forms of misbehavior, and the human world’s changing perception towards them as documented through literature and art over the past 1000 years?” Well, wonder no more! Because back in 2014 John Lindow finally released a volume through Reaktion Books to end that nagging curiosity (I’m always timely in my book “reviews”). Unfortunately, Trolls: An Unnatural History just doesn’t have the mass appeal or selling potential of something like 50 Shades of Pointless and Smutty Relationship Drama, so it lurks in the periphery, outside of the normal confines of human interest where it revels in its otherness, and in that sense, exists just like a troll itself. How appropriate!

So, it’s a fun and interesting book, covering the evolution of trolls from their earliest documented instances as a source of fear and harassment and cursing among the Norse (“That Halldor guy is a piece of shit! I hope the trolls get him!”) to their more benign and fairy-tale like incarnations in more recent centuries. John Lindow makes it clear that their general otherness and tendency towards disrupting normal human conventions, whether maliciously or not, has remained constant through their evolution. And he is a professor in the Scandinavian department at UC Berkeley, so I think we can probably trust him on this (he’s got a number of other relevant Scandinavian/Norse publications to his credit, too).

I particularly enjoyed learning more about how the word “troll” is actually used among the various Scandinavian languages. I knew in Swedish that a “wizard” is a trollkarl (troll-man or magic-man), but the use of the word extends so much further beyond simply being a funny way to describe Gandalf’s profession. My favorite was that in Danish, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is translated to be Taming of the Troll. Who wouldn’t want to tame a troll? And why isn’t there a metal band called Troll-Tamer yet? Or maybe there is and I’m just ignorant.

The Jutulport in Våga, Norway

I also really liked the part about Jutulporten in Norway, because it was entertaining and I’d never known about it before. Troll and giant are conflated a bit here, but Jutulporten is basically a mountain gateway to the land of the trolls in Våga. There is a fun tale about how you can get a terrible crick in your neck if you watch a troll or giant walk through the portal against his wishes, and it is retold in English on the Nordigard Blessom site, a farm/bed and breakfast that takes shares its name with the main character from the tale. It’s a well known tale in Norsk-speaking countries, but less so in English-speaking countries, and was illustrated by the Norwegian artist Peter Nicolai Arbo:

Arbo’s work may be recognizable to those of you who are familiar with his more famous rendering of Odin’s Wild Hunt:

And last but not least, what would a post about trolldom be without a proper soundtrack to accompany it? Hail Fejd!

The Most Valiant Man Who Has Ever Lived in the Destitute Housing Projects of Northern England

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

It’s not often that I discover a book so unique, so bizarre, and so badass that I choose to publicly word-vomit about it to all of the several individuals who occasionally stumble across this site by mistake, but Nutcase by Tony Williams is one of those rare exceptions. Nutcase is basically an updated, modern-day retelling of the Icelandic Saga of Grettir the Strong set predominately in the crime-ridden, brutalist housing projects of Yorkshire and the Humber. And it’s brilliant.

Anyway, the story arc follows the Icelandic original, but with necessary and clever modifications to suit the tale to its modern context. Grettir’s role is assumed by that of Aidan Wilson who, like his forebear, does not always get along well with others and partakes in numerous instances of urban violence. A multitude of characters come and go, in proper Norse fashion, and it can be a bit tricky to keep track of who is who, but readers familiar with the original will readily recognize the key plot points as Aidan evolves from unruly lad to local hero to inebriated outcast. It’d be inappropriate to divulge any specific details, but I particularly found the encounter with Glam in this rendition to be much more unsettling than in the original. And Aidan/Grettir’s last stand was perfectly updated for our media-frenzied, digital world.

The book is written with a very heavy emphasis on informal British slang, but I condone that sort of thing. How else would you end up with a beauty of a passage like this: “It was the most vicious fight you ever saw in your life, but useless too because they were both already so badly hurt. It was a bit like watching two bull sea lions gouging lumps out of one another on the rocks off Argentina, except instead of David Attenborough watching from a safe distance there was Bartholomew slumped there losing his vital signs in a pair of bloodstained Pumas.” Even if you’re not an acquaintance of Grettir’s, how can you go wrong with writing like that?

And last, but not least, some visual aids:

Park Hill Housing Estate in Sheffield, the sort of environment where Aidan Wilson spent most of his days. Compare to the image below…

Bjarg in Iceland, the sort of environment where Grettir the Strong spent most of his days. Call me biased, but I think Grettir got the better deal.

Barbarian Lord Tells It Like It Is

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Barbarian Lord is both a hardcore boozer who possesses extremely violent behavioral patterns and a keen appreciation for poetry AND the name of the recently* released graphic novel dedicated to portraying his adventures in boozing, brawling, and poetic appreciation. As Barbarian Lord’s own personal real-life skald, Matt Smith sings Barbarian Lord’s praises and spreads his renown to those of us who are not fortunate enough to lift a sword and join in his adventures firsthand. Matt’s also an all-around good guy who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a few horns with at local venues ranging from “the highest hall” to “the lowest cave” (in his own words, and if you know the area then you can likely guess what those are).

But getting back to the book, this is the sort of work for people who like the following:

-Vikings (obviously)
-Icelandic sagas
-Heroic understatement
-Badass illustrations
-Evil trolls and other monsters
-Vicious conniving
-Sexy witches who maim innocent birds
-Demonic possession of domesticated farm animals
-And, last but definitely not least, death metal allusions

If you’re even at this weird, little website, then that should be enough to convince you to hail the hero himself at http://barbarianlord.com/ and to join his quest for justice, drinking, and killing all who stand in his way.

*I say “recently” somewhat loosely because it was actually released last summer, but being only half a year behind the times is a step in the right direction for me. The last time I blogged about a book, I was three years late. Skål for punctuality!

New England Coastal Sampo

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

“This was Estonindian black metal dub. Music for wounded bears as they shrugged off tranquilizer darts. A genre so conclusively suicide-inducing, blue-ribbon Congressional panels were afraid to listen to it. If Francis Scott Key had been a ninth-century raider whose head was still throbbing and clanging from an ax-blow to the helmet, standing with one hand braced on the dragon prow of his longship watching his enemies’ tarred warships burn in an uncanny blue bituminous haze, while unseen galley slaves chanting the stroke rumbled the ship from below, he may have closed his eyes, thought of Ragnarok, and composed an anthem like this.”

The above passage is taken from page 229 of Corwin Ericson’s Swell, and it epitomizes everything that I like about the novel, which is easily the best that I’ve read in the past few years. The book is set on a fictitious island off the coast of Maine and follows the misadventures of slacker/protagonist Orange Whippey as he gets sucked into a bizarre series of events involving cranky old fishermen, highly literate Korean smugglers, a North Atlantic whale-herding skald, and an intimidating Thor-cult priestess. This is a book for anyone who enjoys the following:

-Quirks of coastal New England culture
-Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
-Metal (the music)
-Penis humor
-Norse mythology
-Experimentation on whales
-The Kalevala
-Alternate Abenaki/Sami history

The book was actually published in 2011, but I sadly didn’t discover it until a few weeks ago, since I have a great talent at being behind the times. I can at least claim to be the person who ordered amazon.com’s last in-house copy (but you can still get it through one of their affiliate vendors, which you should do). If further convincing is needed, check out these links, provided by Corwin himself, since we’re facebook friends (which makes it official):

http://mymemoriesofafuturelife.com/2011/12/13/the-undercover-soundtrack-corwin-ericson/

http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2012/06/book_notes_corw.html

Bengtsson’s Long Ships Finally Reaches Vinlandic Shores

Monday, July 12th, 2010

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson is amazing and I get all excited each and every time I pick it up. In fact, it’s the only novel I specifically included on the Viking Self Help Guide’s list of Reading Material. It’s a solid adventure story worthy of being read even by people who don’t get all knocked off kilter when it comes to Vikings. Michael Chabon thinks so, too, and he’s a lot better than me—not just in general, but also/especially when it comes to being taken seriously. He even wrote the introduction for the new version that was just released here in North America by New York Review Books.

Yes, that’s right! After many years of neglect, this book can finally be found in Vinlandic bookstores! It used to be that you could pretty much only get an English language version in Britain or in places that carried British imports (and it was a version that suffered tragically from some very unflattering cover artwork). This new version rectifies what was once a dire situation indeed.

Lo There Do I See Historical Viking Fiction

Monday, February 8th, 2010

This is a pretty impressive directory of Viking-related historical fiction novels:

http://www.historicalnovels.info/Medieval-Scandinavia.html

And to make matters even more stimulating, that list doesn’t even include tangentially-Viking historical fiction, such as Bernard Cornwell’s highly arousing Saxon Tales. There’s a whole ‘nother directory specifically devoted to medieval Anglo-Saxon historical fiction on the site, as well as directories for many other time periods/geographic locations. Hail Margaret Donsbach!

The Voyage of the Short Serpent

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Rather than epic and badass, I would describe The Voyage of the Short Serpent by twisted Frenchman, Bernard du Boucheron, as short and quirky. It’s a funky little story about an Icelandic mission sent to Greenland during its final days of Norse inhabitation. Lots of gruesome ongoings take place in the decaying Greenlandic colony which makes for an interesting read. Not the greatest fiction novel about Norsemen and women, but a unique one.

Click here to go to its official page at The Overlook Press’ website. (Note: the publisher’s description is wrong; the novel is set in Greenland, not Iceland.)

Orkanpartyt

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Orkanpartyt (The Hurricane Party) is the title of Klas Östergren’s contribution to the Myth Series of novels, and it’s awesome. It’s a retelling of Loki’s final act of betrayal, but set in a hellish, future Stockholm (or at least what I presume to be Stockholm, based on the descriptions in the book, especially that of the archipelago). And it features insightful commentary on the cult of reality tv. So far it’s only available in Swedish. 

But here’s a link to some info about the upcoming English-language release from the official Myth Series’ site. 

And here’s a link to Orkanpartyt’s page at the Salomonsson Agency which includes some Swedish reviews (in English).

Men Who Hate Women

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I was out prowling the streets of Boston and noticed advertisements for Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo plastered all over the MBTA’s busses because it has just been released in paperback.

I always thought it was somewhat pathetic that the English language publishers refused to release this book under its original title, which translates from the Swedish as Men Who Hate Women and is actually way more more apt than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Besides, the blinding yellow/green book cover is what will catch peoples’ attention first anyway. I guess Americans and Brits and all the other English …Hail onwards »