Book review: The Legend of Freya
Arden Hills, Minn.
A legend is a story passed down by word of mouth and perhaps embellished with the telling. Danish-born author Pia Litta Funk loved genealogy and history, and this inspired her to write her first novel, a translation of the Legend of Freya, a legend in which she believed.
In Norse mythology, Freyja, or Freya, (old Norse for “the Lady”) is a goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, war, and death. All these qualities are introduced in our heroine, Freya.
Freya, the heroine, loves her homeland in Denmark, particularly the town in which she lives, Roiskelda. She lives a comfortable lifestyle with the privileged middle class of her day. The handsome ships, resting side by side in the harbor, are the pride of Freya’s father, Harald, one of the finest shipwrights among the Danes. Longboats, still in the building process, seem to grow out of the ground.
This, however, is a time of turmoil, confusion, and upheaval. A new religion has arrived from the south and swept across the land, upsetting age-old traditions and values closely connected to the very existence of the people. Freya and her companions do not wish to give up their old gods, preferring to seek out a new land until the religious persecutions ended.
Rumors escalate. Warriors of the new religion massacre those who do not convert but continue to worship traditional gods, such as Odin and Thor.
The strange and far-fetched ideas of love, peace, and freedom sound interesting to Freya, but do not fit with the life she has chosen. Knut, Freya’s brother-in-law, finds the new religion fascinating, and he begins to promote it. This causes a division in the family.
Harald, along with family and friends, is forced to leave Roiskelda. Life on the sea is miserable for all of them. Setting out with no destination in mind causes the travelers to be restless and homesick. Rough waters and unpleasant crowded conditions make life difficult. With people living so close together quarrels develop. Scarcity of food, sickness, and death plague them. Everyone aches for the opportunity to walk on firm ground again. Freya longs to return to Roiskelda but also knows that setting her feet on soil she loved so much is not to be.
Finding land with promise for the travelers is a hope that keeps them moving forward. Land with trees and fresh water and soil, good for planting crops with seeds, tucked away in bundles brought from the homeland.
As the legend develops, the reader learns about many Viking customs. When a man had little to establish a good life or had lost everything in some disaster he would go “raiding.” If that meant plundering and killing, so be it.
Another custom related to death. The one who died was sent out on a burning ship for burial, often with provisions, which assured the dead person that life would be good when they entered Valhalla.
At celebrations there was much feasting and drinking. Discovering new lands and new peoples led not only to warring and killing but also to intermarriage among new peoples. Thus new relationships and new loyalties were developed.
My suggestion to the reader is that to keep a chart of names and relationships: the novel moves swiftly and relationships get tangled in the development of the story. Knowing that this is a legend about a strong woman filled with sorrow and longing for her past, yet moving bravely forward with her ordinary Viking people through the stormy seas of life, kept my attention. I learned a great deal about the culture of Viking life a thousand years ago.
Rosalie Grangaard Grosch was born into a Norwegian/American family in Decorah, Iowa. A graduate of Luther College, she taught music and English in American schools, taught English and developed a team teaching program in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and was a drama/music/English teacher in Lae, Papua New Guinea and Activity Director/Consultant for a long term care facility in St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minn. She is a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul and has written numerous articles for publication.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 11, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.