". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

*The Long Ships* - Winter Recreation

The Swedish author, Frans G. Bengtsson's The Long Ships, is an old-fashioned historical novel, in the sense of Scott and Dumas having a child, while the Polish Nobel for Literature Prize winner, Henryk Sienkiewicz's brilliant historical novels stand in as Godparents.  Allow me the lazy cutpasta from wiki:
[ "With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i mieczem, 1884), which took place during the 17th century Cossack revolt known as the Khmelnytsky Uprising; made into a movie with the same title. A video game based on the novel, Mount&Blade: With Fire & Sword, has been released by Turkish studio TaleWorlds.;[5]

The Deluge, (Potop, 1886), describing the Swedish invasion of Poland known as The Deluge; made into a movie with the same title;

Fire in the Steppe also called Pan Michael (Pan Wołodyjowski, 1888), which took place during wars with the Ottoman Empire in the late 17th century; made into a film titled Colonel Wolodyjowski.

The Teutonic Knights, also translated as The Knights of the Cross, (Krzyżacy, 1900, relating to the Battle of Grunwald); made into a movie with the same title in 1960 by Aleksander Ford." ]

These are among my favorite historical fictions, whether as novels or films -- the films are splendid recreations of time, place and historical events. However, Sienkiewicz's novelist's narrative voice at least, is somewhat humorless, though not entirely so. There is some situational comic moments -- and if one can imagine oneself into the milieu it is funny.
It's interesting to contrast these four writers' sense of comic as they are all different. Scott finds most of his humor in character -- he deliberately writes comic characters. Dumas's sense of the comic is that of bouyant reparte among characters in conflict, whether they are friends or enemies, that often leads to a ridiculous and dangerous contretemps that resolves via an equally witty series of antic words and actions among the actors within the scene. Yes it's difficult not to visualize these scenes as upon a theater's stage, as Dumas's characters were as successful there as on the pages within book.

What is different about Bengtsson's humor is that the narrative voice contains an ironic lighteness, a twentieth century quality (though Bengtsson was born in 1894, the novel's first section was published in 1941 and the second in 1945). The narrative voice puts a slight distance between the reader and Bengtsson's characters. This is mostly pointed at 10th century Christianity and its aggressively proselytizing priests, as judged so wanting in real gods and real manhood, by the tenths century Scandinavians, Muslims, Jews and Saxons. As we read along it seems that Bengstsson's novel may likely haven been a resource-inspiration for several of the current nordic adventure series (the hero is named Orm -- and it seems that the protagonists of all these current series is named Orm) from Robert Low to M.D. Lachlan.

Though I will say that Bengtsson feels to me a more consistently graceful writer than Bernard Cornwell, Cornwell's protagonist of his Saxon Stories, Uthred, is as finely created a protagonist as Bengstsson's Orm -- whether or not he was influenced by The Long Ships.

Tales filled with the men of the old sagas and their companions, their adventures a-viking and their strife with each other -- these are what I love to read or watch, snug by my fire in my bed, in the dark, frigid days and nights of winter. The Long Ships fills this desire to perfection.

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