Thursday, January 10, 2013

Fafnir, Orm, and "The Long Ships"

Fafnir Leaves Home (Temporarily)

It's the sad dragon who guards the gold of men, sighed Fafnir's mother.

"Well, what would you like me to do? Go about burning villages and battling noble knights?"

"Exactly. That's what your father would've done."

"Oh, and that worked out so well for him." Fafnir mimed getting stabbed in the breast with an immense sword.

"Do not talk of your father like that! He—He—" Fafnir's mother began to sob, her tears sizzling on the rocky floor.

Fafnir squirmed in discomfort.

She cried louder.

"Fine, Mother. I'll go out. I'll... I'll steal a princess or something, all right? Just stop crying."

Fafnir's mother lifted her red-scaled head. "Oh, Fafnir! Would you do that for me?"

So Fafnir slithered out of his mother's cave, with her words of encouragement at his back. How proud his father would be! How much glory to the name of dragon would he bring! And if the princess was single, how much the better!

Still, as he rose into the sky on leathern wings, the fire in his belly tumbled about with sullenness. It had been warm inside the cave, and outside it was all gray clouds and snow-capped pine trees, and soon, angry, shouting Norsemen.

One princess, he told himself. One, and he'd go back home and she'd be quiet for a year.

Just one.


Fafnir has exactly one mention, in a single sentence, in the epic "The Long Ships" by Frans G. Bengtsson. It's near the end, and I do think they should've put more dragons in, earlier. Not that I was not entirely charmed by brave Orm, but more dragons never hurt.

"The Long Ships" details Orm's journeys as he goes a-Viking throughout much of Scandinavia, brutally slaying men and making up poetry on the spot, both of which are things I am incapable of, so I found much to admire. He serves exotic lords and becomes lovesick and then, further, refuses to take the birch to his wife. He carries a little priest beneath his arm. His hounds are enormous, his luck unusually good, and the slightest cough or scratch will make him take to his bed and mourn his impending death -- multiple times.

Throw in a best friend who, frankly, can't handle his liquor, treasures and ransoms aplenty, and every page chock-full of humorous reminders that people never change, and you've got a stellar account of life a thousand years ago.

For a tale written in the 1940s about a man who lived about a thousand years ago, this book is incredibly fresh and witty. I love, love, loved it.

Thanks much to A, who sent it to me after I asked what it means to be Swedish. I want to send back a book that might say what it means to be American, but I'm not sure that can be easily pinned down. My thoughts initially ran to Flanner O'Connor or Eudora Welty, but that might be the America of a different time and place.

At any rate, if you're looking for a great book to completely envelop you in 2013, you can't do better than "The Long Ships."

1 comment:

  1. I can´t even remember Fafnir!!! I´ll have to go look for him now.

    I love, love, love that you loved it =)