HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow
Author: Allen French
Cover Illustrator: Dick Bobnick
Publisher: Bethlehem Books, republished in 1995
Related website: www.bethlehembooks.com (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 10 and up
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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French, Allen. The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow (originally published as The Story of Rolf and the Viking’s Bow in 1920 by Little Brown, Boston, MA; republished in 1993 by Bethlehem Books, 10194 Garfield St. S., Bathgate, ND 58216). 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.