SNORRI AND THE STRANGERS by Nathaniel Benchley


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We can't blame Benchley for being fascinated with Freydis, Leif Ericson's sister and an early Vinland voyager--who, according to one of the sagas, scared away attacking natives by pulling one of her breasts out of her bodice and slapping it with a sword she had taken from a fallen Norseman. (As Benchley tells it she ""ripped off her blouse and beat her chest with the flat of the sword."") The sagas variously picture Freydis as overbearing, treacherous, and a murderer of her own people; here she is indeed disagreeable to all and bloodthirsty at least toward the Indians--though, in Snorri's father's words, ""not as bad as she sounds."" (Bolognese makes her frowsy, pouting, and formidably, if stereotypically, oversized.) Snorri, too, in Benchley's words ""the first white child to be born in America"" is mentioned in the Sagas, but Benchley has trouble, as would anyone, depicting Freydis' legendary action through his very young eyes--and doesn't even try to make any kind of sense of her. What he ends up with, besides a necessarily vague account of the Vikings' New World explorations, is one dramatic episode that quite overpowers the tamer, plotless experiences of Snorri, the nominal hero. But then Freydis, a looming unknown here as in the sources, is herself a sufficient experience for anyone.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Harper & Row