Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

THE LAST OF THE VIKINGS is an epic of the lives of Norwegian fishermen who spend the greater part of their days on the sea, and of their wives who are condemned to bitter anxiety during the months of their husbands’ absence. In open boats scarcely different in construction from those used by their Viking ancestors, these fishermen, in constant battle with the elements, sail the long distance north in search of cod. Johan Bojer vividly depicts the struggle against wind and weather, with danger lurking in every wave.

It is a simple story that Bojer has to tell, and yet it is most effective. It is one of those books that unrolls a canvas on which the artist has employed no bright colors to attract the eye, and yet the characters become living personalities and grip the onlooker. With a few strokes of the pen, Bojer can produce a striking contrast between the peace of the land and the danger of the sea. The peace on shore is a peace made almost insufferable because of the difficulty of the humble peasants of the Norwegian coast country to make a bare living on the land.

Kristaver Myran, the protagonist of THE LAST OF THE VIKINGS, is one of the great characters of modern Norwegian fiction. He is the embodiment of a starkly realistic spirituality characteristic of a race with special depths of darkness to set off the beauty of its northern sunlight. Kristaver had become sole owner of a boat with a reputation for capsizing so often that when it was put up for auction he was the only bidder. He had been a headman for many years but only part owner in the boat; an occasionally successful fishing season did him little good because the profits had to be divided among six men. He owed for the boat, it is true, and would have had to go deeper in debt if he alone had to equip six men for a winter’s fishing. It was foolhardy, but he had made his choice. This attitude is characteristic of Bojer’s pessimistic realism or perhaps of a vague optimism in which things can get no worse so one strikes out hoping to improve his lot a little. It is not the sort of vision to lift the author into the charmed circle of the purveyors of gladness or of that benign optimism which is soothing to, and eagerly consumed by, some readers.

Kristaver’s wife presents a touching picture of a woman who had passed the seventeen years of her married life on the coast but who had lived her...

(The entire section is 984 words.)