From the thicket came the sound of snorting and grunting. Among the willows a host of bodies moved – grey, black, whitish and pink. The pigs from Draumtorp had been let loose here for the summer…mother sows caked with mud, young, lean animals, and tiny pink piglets, and even the old boar who was so old, the cook said she was sure his fat must be green and rancid with age…
“At them,” Sigurd cried out. “Let them have it,” and snatching a dry branch from the ground, he charged the herd of pigs, roaring at the top of his voice, and Ivar and Helge roared too as they picked up branches and joined in the chase.
It was all the more thrilling, because it was not without danger; the old boar was mean, and his tusks were terrible. But the whole herd of swine turned tail and crashed through the underbrush, whining and squealing, and so the boys roared still louder and pursued, until they came to the broadest and deepest arm of the brook. The pigs tore through the muddy water, making a terrific splashing and churning, and the boys turned back, laughing and very much elated. They had won a great victory over Koll Kroppinbak and Oskebuska.
Sigurd Jonsson, age 11, and his friends Ivar, 10, and Helge, 7, have invented a marvelous game of make-believe, taking on the roles of the old Norwegian hero Vilmund Vidutan, and his companions Gujamar –son of the king of Bohemia — and a knight named Carthage. Life on their farms in medieval Norway provides plenty of wild spaces to clash makeshift swords and rout their enemies, unwittingly played by a herd of pigs.
One day, however, their make-believe takes a bad turn. The enraged boar charges little Helge, and the only way Sigurd can prevent mortal injury is to kill the boar. One foolish choice leads to another, and rather than face punishment, the three boys run away into the foothills, taking shelter in a crude mountain hut.
Utterly fatigued, remorseful, famished, and frightened, the boys drift to sleep, when, in the pitch blackness a loud crash sets their spines to tingling! A strange man, terribly wounded and on the point of death, enters the hut and collapses. Caked in muck and matted blood, he is nevertheless richly dressed and nobly armed.
Who is this stranger? What arduous errand does he send Sigurd on? Can the three boys redeem themselves from their mischief with the swine herd?
Sigrid Undset, the 1928 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, author of the magnificent Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, wrote this short, exciting novel for children. Who knew?! I am thrilled that the University of Minnesota press recently reprinted this work, first published in 1943.
No one captures the spirit of medieval Norway like Undset. This book offers an enthralling journey into that world, and could be
read aloud to capable listeners ages 9 or 10 and up, or read independently at 11 or 12. Set in the year 1255, we find religious rites and farming practices, clothing, arms and foods, history and superstitions, mountain landscapes, monasteries, and so much more, spliced and squinched skillfully into the storyline.
Excellent story, only about 140 pages long. It’s a bit tricky to follow some of the genealogy that’s included, but making a sketch might help, and truly, it’s not absolutely essential to enjoying the story. Follow this up with a longer novel, Rolf and the Viking Bow, for another masterful medieval Scandinavian setting.