By Jan Fridegård, translated by Robert E. Bjork
Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2007
ACMRS Occasional Publications Series, Volume 4
A Viking Slave’s Saga is a trilogy of novels by the famous Swedish author Jan Fridegård: Land of Wooden Gods (Trägudars land, 1940), People of the Dawn (Gryningsfolket, 1944), and Sacrificial Smoke (Offerrök, 1949).
Description: The romantic and powerful Viking warrior is a favorite subject of novelists, moviemakers, and historians. But he is not the hero of Land of Wooden Gods. His servant is. Jan Fridegård (1897-1968) recreates the Viking period from a new perspective, bringing to life not only a warfare culture but the institutions that supported it, especially slavery and a religion of fear. Originally published in Sweden in 1940, Land of Wooden Gods is the first volume of a trilogy of novels that Scandinavians consider among the greatest and most accurate every written about the Vikings. For capturing its directness and emotional force in English, Robert E. Bjork won the 1987 Translation Prize of the American-Scandinavian Foundation.
A thrall named Holme is the protagonist of Land of Wooden Gods, which centers on the slave population of Sweden in the ninth century, when the country was on the verge of Christianization. The novel begins with the abandonment of a slave baby, condemned to the wolf-infested woods by a Viking chieftain upset by thrall unrest. The ensuing action shows Holme, the father, acting as not slave has ever before. Fridegård, a master at creating atmosphere, sets the scene for his monumental work: a Viking village, with its log halls, stable, and sty; feuding families and human sacrifice; broadsailed dragon ships; and a port of pirates.
The story continues in the two sequels People of the Dawn and Sacrificial Smoke, which are also included in this volume.
Review by John Kennedy in Scandinavian Studies: “Björk’s translation appears to be a very accurate rendition of Fridegård’s Swedish. It reads extremely well, and the reader has no sense of being confronted with a translation. Unlike the sagas, the work is full of vivid and sometimes beautiful descriptions, frequendy of nature. Dialogue, often so memorable in the sagas, is almost completely absent, but an omniscient author is able to see clearly into the minds of all his characters.”