The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow
great story of manliness and courage
In about A. D. 1000 to 1010, a generation or so after the introduction of Christianity to Iceland, sixteen-year-old Rolf the son of Hiarandi the Unlucky lives with his father and mother Asdis at Cragness above Broadfirth. One stormy night, at the urging of his wife, Hiarandi lights a signal fire on a dangerous point of his land to save ships instead of letting them crash so that he could take their plunder. However, the life that is saved that night ends up causing HiarandiÃ¢ÂÂs own death. It is his brother Kiartan, whose later actions allow the neighbor of Hiarandi, Einar of Fellstead who covets HiarandiÃ¢ÂÂs land, to have Hiarandi unjustly declared an outlaw and even killed.
RolfÃ¢ÂÂs response to the slaying results in his being made outlaw by the same murderous neighbors. So he must flee Iceland, with his faithful cousin Frodi the smith, to the Orkney Islands where he is made a thrall by the proud Grani, must fight both Viking baresarks and Scottish invaders, and ultimately wins the great Viking bow with which he can prove his own innocence and avenge his fatherÃ¢ÂÂs death. But will he and Frodi ever make it back to Iceland? And even if they do, how can they achieve their aims? Allen French (1870-1946), who also wrote The Red Keep, set in 1165 Burgundy, and The Lost Baron, set in 1200 Cornwall, tells a story based on Icelandic sagas that has an unpredictable plot and dynamic characters, and is filled with foreshadowing and irony.
Rolf is a character who exemplifies the effects of ChristÃ¢ÂÂs teachings over the old barbaric customs of Iceland in that he upholds Christian values rather than pagan beliefs and promotes forgiveness instead of pride. Since the book is now in the public domain, several editions of it are available. We chose the Bethlehem Books edition because, frankly, I like Bethlehem Books and prefer to support them. But Dover Publications has an edition entitled The Story of Rolf: A Viking Adventure (2005); Yesterday's Classics has an edition using the original title The Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow (2007); and Wilder Publications has an edition also titled The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow (2009). We did the book as a family read aloud, and everyone really liked it because of its excitement and adventure. Because of all the historical background information, it is a great way to assimilate history, especially of the Viking era, and Rolf serves as a good role model of manliness, courage, self-control, patriotism, and perseverance.
December 20, 2012
The theme of pride humbled and forgiveness freely give is excellent! This also clearly illustrates how pagan and Christian influences mingled in the middle ages. I thought the "saga" style and vocabulary might make this difficult to read, but the story itself is gripping enough to easily overpower any unfamiliarity. The only episode that might give younger children a concern is the "coming back to life" of a Viking berserker when his weapons are disturbed. However, this incident is certainly very typical of Norse legends of this period, and can be used as an opportunity to teach about their pagan beliefs.
June 10, 2001