Friday, November 04, 2016

FFB: The Long Ships -- Frans G. Bengtsson (Michael Meyer, tr.)

I read The Long Ships right after the movie came out, sometime in 1965.  I loved it and have remembered especially the last paragraph for all that time.  So I decided to read it again.  I couldn't locate my original copy, but there were plenty of others for sale on the 'net, and I ordered one.  

The book was as good as I remembered it, if not better.  It's set in the late 10th and early 11th centuries, and it's the story of Red Orm and his adventures in that world, from youth to age.  He has a great many adventures, so there's plenty of action, but there's also a lot of humor and good old-fashioned storytelling.  The writing style might be a problem for some people, as there are paragraphs that are longer than entire chapters in a James Patterson book.  Also, the paperback edition pictured on the left if 475 pages of minute print, and that could be a problem for readers who need bigger print.  It's worth the trouble, though.

Red Orm and his friend Toke's adventures take them all over the world of that time, from England to Spain to Russia,  sometimes in search of booty or treasure, sometimes as slaves in the bodyguard of lord Almansur.  Even when they settle down, Orm and Toke are often called to take near-heroic action when circumstances demand it.

The Long Ships is truly the Good Old Stuff, and I give it my highest recommendation.  Don't read that last paragraph first.  It's effective only after you read the other 475 pages.

The movie, by the way, while wonderful in its own way, is nothing at all like the novel, aside from the title and the character names.  Here's a link to my review.

13 comments:

George said...

I couldn't find my copy of THE LONG SHIPS, either. But, as you point out there are plenty of copies online at inexpensive prices. Retirement is one a couple months away so I need to stock up on reading material!

Bill Crider said...

You can't go wrong with this one.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I liked the movie too, but I don't see me reading a 475 page book at this time.

Chris said...

I've seen The Vikings dozens of times over the years--The Long Ships just twice, and it's a fun film, but c'mon--not even Richard Widmark winking at the camera like he's trying to take it off for a dirty weekend can match Kirk Douglas running the oars on a long ship--for real! They were going to use a stuntman, and he told Fleischer he could do it--just make sure the camera was close enough so everybody would know it was really him. He did it better than the stuntmen did. And the Viking Funeral. And the fight on the tower. And Janet Leigh's breasts (real and sensational). And the best attack on a castle in movie history. And Jack Cardiff's cinematography. And Ernest Borgnine jumping into a pit of wolves, laughing like a maniac. And Frank Thring doing his thing as King Aella--a medieval Caligula. But we can agree to disagree.

I just wanted to say that I never read The Long Ships novel, but you've piqued my curiosity, and I'm going to look for it. I happen to have a paperback copy of the Edison Marshall novel that The Vikings was based on. It's typical of his stuff--he basically just told the same thrilling bittersweet romantic story over and over in different eras and settings, and the girls didn't always have the same color hair, but they were always worthy of the hero's devotion. In some ways, I prefer it to the film. It has more depth, more context, and the guy did his research (then ignored it when it got in the way of the story).

It's quite different from the movie, but probably closer to it than is the case with The Long Ships. The main difference was caused by the fact that Kirk Douglas was producing The Vikings himself, and to get the funding, he needed another big star, hence Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh came with the package. And Curtis said "Sure, but I play the hero." And in fact, his character is directly based on the first-person narrator of Marshall's book, and Douglas's character is based on his (spoiler alert)perfidious half-brother, who isn't even in large portions of the novel.

And guess who the main character in the movie turns out to be? You're damn right it's the perfidious half-brother, and he gets his hands all over Janet three times in the movie (her one love scene with her husband is tame by comparison). Not even Tony Curtis could steal a movie from Kirk Freakin' Douglas, particularly when he's the one making the damn movie. That's probably one reason he wanted to run across those oars. Top THAT, kid! ODINNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!

Bill Crider said...

I wouldn't disagree with you about THE VIKINGS. Great movie, great stars. I've never read Marshall's novel, but I suspect that THE LONG SHIPS is better.

Chris said...

The Long Ships definitely sounds more ambitious, though Marshall's book is a lot grander in scope than the movie made of it. It's a love story, and a good one. Marshall's formula was "Boy has ambitions, boy meets girl, boy has amazing sex with girl, boy achieves ambitions, boy realizes success ain't all it's cracked up to be, boy gives up power he's spent the whole book acquiring and walks/rides/sails off into sunset with girl." You know, the classic American love story that never happens in reality. Okay, maybe not never, but he actually wrote a novel where the guy who inspired the legend of King Arthur goes off into the sunset with the girl who inspired the legend of the Lady in the Lake, but he's blind by then, so he can't see it, but to sum up, an Edison Marshall hero always always always chooses The Girl. ;)

Bill Crider said...

There are love stories in THE LONG SHIPS, but they're not like Marshall's version of things.

Cap'n Bob said...

Is this The Long Ships with Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, and that damn bell? I saw it when I was a kid and it disappointed me greatly. After The Vikings, I was expecting a rousing action tale and it didn't deliver. Maybe I'd feel different if I saw it now.

Bill Crider said...

That's the one, Cap'n.

Mathew Paust said...

As a descendant of Norsemen I should read The Long Ships, and can't really say why I haven't made any effort to find a copy. Not sure I ever saw the movie, but I enjoyed The Vikings. Thanks for the prod, Bill.

Chris said...

Maybe the best single thing about The Vikings is that its lusty blue-eyed Norse protagonists are played to the bloody hilt by two New York State boys who were the descendants of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. There's a little Viking in all of us, it seems. ODINNNNNNN!!!!! ;)

Mathew Paust said...

And one of those Jewish "Vikings" had the balls of a true Viking when he insisted on busting the Black List and giving Dalton Trumbo screen credit for writing the script.

Chris said...

It's a little more complicated than that--okay, it's a lot more complicated than that, and many Hollywood egos are involved, and I have no idea who's telling the truth. They probably all are, from their various POV's. A lot of people busted the Blacklist, and they should all be proud of doing so. Anyway, Otto Preminger was Jewish as well, though nobody would ever confuse him with a Viking.