Allen French was born on November 28, 1870, in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1894 and for several years, beginning in 1908, taught English at his alma mater. His first interest, however, was history, and his contributions to historical writing are many and varied.
The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bowby Allen French
Rolf is the only son of Hiarandi the Unlucky. Most of his father's ill luck springs from the fact that he is compassionate and that his neighbor, Einar, covets his land and his spacious hall. The wicked Einar manages to get Hiarandi ensnared in legal difficulties and he is sentenced to spend a year within a bow-shot of his own hall. Not content, Einar sends his henchmen to trick Hiarandi into venturing beyond this perimeter where he will be fair game for slaughter. Hiarandi is killed, but in the process, young Rolf also kills one of Einar's henchmen. Now Rolf is made an outlaw and is forced to flee from Iceland until his sentence is complete. But Rolf will not be content until he can prove that his father was killed within a bowshot of his home--and thus make Einar subject to the law.
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I heard about this through someone else's review that referenced it. This is a powerful story, a real page turner with gripping language and a riveting storyline. Like Beowulf or Lord of the Rings, a strong hero comes of age through reversal and hardship. The hardships truly are a crucible that bring out the best in him and he learns to be a man of the highest ideals, physical, mental, moral. It takes place at a turning point in Icelandic culture, when Christianity is taking hold and the old ways are shifting. The strong Norse sense of fate is there, but also the idea that we transform our lives by how we live them. The language takes some getting used to, but stick through the first couple dozen pages to get the rhythm and you will be moved. I felt like cheering at the end and thought it should be required reading in school because it is a great story and tremendously uplifting. Like a Viking "Star Wars" or "Rocky," albeit on a deeper level. Great communication of Viking culture and law.
The language may be troubling for some but there is good information in the glossary which will help with pronunciation. A stirring Icelandic legend type of story packed full of moral issues and teachings. Who says young people aren't powerful or intelligent? My students LOVE the story.
In about A. D. 1000 to 1010, a generation or so after the introduction of Christianity to Iceland, sixteen-year-old Rolf the son of Hiarandi the Unlucky lives with his father and mother Asdis at Cragness above Broadfirth. One stormy night, at the urging of his wife, Hiarandi lights a signal fire on a dangerous point of his land to save ships instead of letting them crash so that he could take their plunder. However, the life that is saved that night ends up causing Hiarandi’s own death. It is his brother Kiartan, whose later actions allow the neighbor of Hiarandi, Einar of Fellstead who covets Hiarandi’s land, to have Hiarandi unjustly declared an outlaw and even killed. Rolf’s response to the slaying results in his being made outlaw by the same murderous neighbors. So he must flee Iceland, with his faithful cousin Frodi the smith, to the Orkney Islands where he is made a thrall by the proud Grani, must fight both Viking baresarks and Scottish invaders, and ultimately wins the great Viking bow with which he can prove his own innocence and avenge his father’s death. But will he and Frodi ever make it back to Iceland? And even if they do, how can they achieve their aims? Allen French (1870-1946), who also wrote The Red Keep, set in 1165 Burgundy, and The Lost Baron, set in 1200 Cornwall, tells a story based on Icelandic sagas that has an unpredictable plot and dynamic characters, and is filled with foreshadowing and irony. Rolf is a character who exemplifies the effects of Christ’s teachings over the old barbaric customs of Iceland in that he upholds Christian values rather than pagan beliefs and promotes forgiveness instead of pride. Since the book is now in the public domain, several editions of it are available. We chose the Bethlehem Books edition because, frankly, I like Bethlehem Books and prefer to support them. But Dover Publications has an edition entitled The Story of Rolf: A Viking Adventure (2005); Yesterday's Classics has an edition using the original title The Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow (2007); and Wilder Publications has an edition also titled The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow (2009). We did the book as a family read aloud, and everyone really liked it because of its excitement and adventure. Because of all the historical background information, it is a great way to assimilate history, especially of the Viking era, and Rolf serves as a good role model of manliness, courage, self-control, patriotism, and perseverance.