Robert Morss Lovett (essay date 1919)
SOURCE: "The Great Hunger," in The Dial, Chicago, Vol. 66, March 22, 1919, pp. 299-300.
[In the following essay, Lovett discusses the epic qualities of The Great Hunger.]
The epic motive of man in warfare with nature is the first theme of The Great Hunger, by Johan Bojer, translated from the Norwegian by W. J. Alexander Worster and C. Archer. Peer Troen, the hero, bursts upon us in a typical adventure. The boys were forbidden to touch the big deep-sea line because "the thing about a deep-sea line is that it may bring to the surface fish so big and so fearsome that the like has never been seen before." But as all the men of the village are off at the Lofoten fishery, Peer and his friends have carried the line across the fjord and baited the hooks. Now they are hauling in the catch: on the first hook a big cod, on the second a catfish, on the third a great shadow bearing up through the water, a gleam of white, a row of great white teeth on the underside—a Greenland Shark. "The heavy body big as a grown man was heaved in over the gunwale… There it lay raging, the great black beast of prey with its sharp threatening snout and wicked eyes ablaze… Now and again it would leap high up in the air, only to fall back again, writhing furiously, hissing and spitting and frothing at the mouth, its red eyes glaring from one to another of the terrified captors as if to say 'Come on—just a little nearer.'" Knives and gaffs were buried in the creature's back, one gaff between the eyes while another hung on the flank. Now Peer's knife flashed out and sent a stream of blood from between the shoulders, but the blow cost him his foothold—and in a moment the two bodies were rolling over and over together in the bottom of the boat. Then as the brute's jaws seized Peer's arm, Peter Rönningen dropped his oars and sent his knife straight in between the beast's eyes. The blade pierced through to the brain, and the grip of the teeth relaxed. "C-c-cursed d-d-devil!" stammered Peter, as he scrambled back to his oars.
With this auspicious beginning Peer Troen, bastard, sets out to conquer his world. His path leads him far—to the binding of the cataracts of the Nile by barrage, and the taming of the jungles of Abyssinia by railroads. And at length this Beowulf returns to Norway, marries and has children about him, lives at ease in his great house at Loreng, full of the joy of life as he drives his stallions over the frozen lake, or comes home on ski in "the pale winter evenings, with a violet twilight over woods and fields and lake, over white snow and blue"—home to rest, and wine, and joy. But the old restlessness leads him forth to a new adventure, the harnessing of the waters of the Bresna and its lakes far up in the mountains, a struggle with rock and flood and snow, and the weakness of human wills. His success is his ruin—and once more he meets nature...
(The entire section is 1197 words.)