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Did your parents never read you a saga before you went to bed? Well then, they were wrong… The supernatural which can be found in sagas is greatly underrated. Although the narration seems quite austere to me, I think the quill simply needs to be put in the right, skilled hands. Snorri will certainly not disagree.
Scandinavist jokes aside, this article aims to focus on a children’s novel written by Terry Jones, a well-known member of Monty Python. The novel was published in 1983 in the United Kingdom, but you can hardly guess it. The book is full of adventures and seems as inventive as ever. If you are not afraid of bearded Vikings, gigantic monsters and impossible quests, then go for it!
Erik is a common man. As the uncontested leader of the Golden Dragon ship, he leads his crew with a steady hand. They are all ready to follow him, wherever he goes. This is precisely what they are doing on page three when they are following him after having randomly decided to look for the land where the sun sets when the night comes. A pretty absurd quest, justified by no particular reason. But who cares? We are not here to think. They are Vikings who only need to lay their hands on something, by looking for a lost treasure or a wondrous land, in order to have something to say to their children and grandchildren.
This is how the whole crew sets sail to the great sea. The action is pithy. Each chapter is like a little story, in which Erik and his men (who bear sweet names such as Ragnar Forkbeard, Thorkild, Sven the Strong and Ulf Sigfusson…) fight against monsters, wizards, natural disasters. On a less regular basis, they also discover the wonders of the world surrounding them and learn how to be wiser. There are numerous encounters, and every one of them teaches something new to Erik and his men. We know very well that this is not what the novel aims at, but this is nonetheless what makes it relevant.
Everything that makes a saga is here, apart from the five-generation genealogy chart. The reader doesn’t have much time to think. Things are very raw. Since every issue is sorted out thanks to a sword or an axe most of the time, it seems quite vain to ask the bearded barbarians for a hint of subtlety or a bit of thinking. Whether it is due to the adaptation of the novel for young readers or to choices made while translating, we are in fact quickly captivated by the raw writing, which makes all this absurdness easily enjoyable.
On top of all this, the book was beautifully illustrated by Boulet, in case you still thought the novel wasn’t worthy enough of your time. The off-the-wall illustrations make us forget that the descriptions are minimal. Indeed, we only get to read dialogues or learn about the characters’ whereabouts. Sometimes we’re pleased to read something as simple as « It is indeed a beautiful landscape. Look at how green the grass is ». It wouldn’t even be weird, since none geographical landmark is needed. However, it is always nice to have a small picture in mind to which we can cling to.
All in all, I would say that my opinion is quite torn, mainly because of the narration. But since it is very unusual to stumble upon such stories, I can only recommend this one, especially to those who are interested in the original sagas, which happen to be quite hard to read. I would also recommend it to those who are just looking for a nice book which can be read in less than two days, a book that tells no more than the story of virtuous warriors who are looking for an obscure but nonetheless virtuous cause.