Ugly Covers Of The Long Ships

Chris Partridge of the blog Rowing for Pleasure writes in an e-mail:

I made a mental note when I read your posts about Frans Bengtsson to look out for a copy of The Long Ships. Sounds a good read, I thought. Just now, I went up to the top floor of Partridge Towers to look out a Hornblower book knew my son had up there, and lo and behold I found a copy of The Long Ships there. None of my family has a clue how it got here. I am looking forward to reading it, even though the cover has an even worse historical atrocity than the helmet wings on the new edition. Not only does the Viking warrior in the picture look as though he is asleep, he is wearing a helmet with cow horns. [See picture on the left.]

Cow horns have been comprehensively rubbished lately, even in the popular TV panel game QI. According to a transcript produced by a QI obsessive, Stephen Fry said: “Viking helmets didn’t have horns. It’s thought that they were actually little more than leather skullcaps, or nothing. The idea of horned helmets comes from various pre-Christian Celtic artefacts and depictions: wrong people and wrong era. The modern association with Vikings dates from a Swedish book illustrator named Gustav Malmström in the 1820s and from productions of Wagner’s Ring in the 1870s (not that the Ring is about Vikings), into which it was introduced by Carl Emil Doepler, the designer of that show. Furthermore, the horned helmets were a development of an earlier 19th century romantic notion: the winged helmet. Horns muscled wings out until they were revived by the Thor and Asterix comics.”

Mind you, that didn’t stop a crew from my club, Langstone Cutters, rowing the Great River Race in plastic cow horn helmets.

And so Chris ends his thoughts about awful book covers of the Bengtsson novel. I can only agree. There are some terribly ugly ones with historical blunders like horns and wings on the Vikings’ helmets. Why can’t the illustrators do a little research before they start putting their pen to paper? I believe some of their helmets were made of iron to protect them from sword blows, etc.

Besides the cover of Chris’s edition seen above, the first paperback edition from 1957, published by the New American Library, also has a dreadful cover, seen at the very top of this entry. But, of course, the important thing is what Frans G Bengtsson’s The Long Ships has to offer as a historical novel, not the different covers. I am delighted to hear that Chris found a copy of The Long Ships, and I am certain that he will enjoy the book; I am yet to find a reader of the book who did not like it!

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