Title: The Story of Rolf and the Viking’s Bow
Author: Allen French
Major Themes: Vikings, Iceland
Synopsis: Even when he is outlawed and must flee Iceland, Rolf focuses on clearing his father’s name and regaining the family farm and home.
When I started reading The Story of Rolf and the Viking’s Bow to my boys, I wasn’t sure if they would like it. It is an old book, recently reprinted by Yesterday’s Classics and Bethlehem Books, and those old books are usually hard for my boys to get into. I had read a recommendation for it, though, so I told the boys we would try four chapters and then make a decision. Before I had finished the third chapter they were clamoring for more.
Rolf is the son of a man who is under a curse. They live in Iceland, on a farm that used to be large and flourishing. A neighbor, Einar, however, has come into possession of part of the farm, and has his sights set on the rest of it, including the huge longhouse in which Rolf and his parents, and the three servants they have left of the fifty or more men who once worked for them, live. At the beginning of the story, Rolf is in his early teens, and swiftly becoming the best bowman in Iceland.
Einar, with the help of his steward, Ondott Crafty, begins plotting to get rid of Rolf’s father, Hiarandi, so he can take over Cragness for himself. He picks fights in such a way that he can outlaw Hiarandi and then Rolf. Rolf is forced, eventually, to leave Iceland for several years; he goes to the Orkney Islands and becomes a thrall, or slave. How will he gain his freedom, prove his father’s innocence in the incident which brought about his death, and reclaim Cragness, his ancestral farm?
We found The Story of Rolf and the Viking’s Bow to be an engrossing tale, which went along well with our study of Viking times. I loved the ending. Just before the end of the story, I was really wondering what was going to happen, as it seemed that Rolf was being very nasty—and then we learned why!
WARNING: As you would expect in a story of the Vikings, there is a fair amount of violence. What I disliked the most was the two or three times it talked about ghosts. In fact, in chapter 20 a man fights with a ghost. This makes a good opportunity to discuss the spirit world with your children, or skip the scene. The story is based on a fragment from an old Viking saga.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15