Benchley, a writer distinguished for his thoroughgoing civility, is all at sea in this attempt to recreate the exploits of the Norse sagas through the eyes of an unabashedly average, unheroic Viking. Gunnar Egilson, who tells this tale as an old man, begins as a raider but is soon disgusted by violence and, after being reluctantly converted to Christianity by King Olav Tryggvesson, he sets sail with Leif Eriksson for Iceland and eventually to Vinland. Gunnar reports sadly, but rather impassively, on his comrades' senseless murder of a party of Skraelings (Indians), the escalating hostilities that follow, and the failure of morale that leads to the final abandonment of Vinland. But it's hard to get involved in Gunnar's disappointment or his eventual happy return to his childhood sweetheart in Denmark; who can take seriously a Viking who talks about ""toilet facilities""? And even Leif Eriksson, lecturing on the difference between the folklore monster Kraken and the real giant squid, tends to sound more like a professor than an 11th century explorer. In his foreword Benchley notes that the speech of the sagas sounds ""stilted"" to modern ears, but his modernized dialogue is no great improvement. Gunnar's life story might serve for those who want a comfortably contemporary middleman to lead them through the sagas, but it robs the Vikings of their stature as mythic roughnecks without substituting any new interpretation. A bit too calculated.