It seems that I am completely alone in my lukewarm feelings about this book. According to this blog about the process of writing The last Viking, the book has been shortlisted for an impressive number of awards and earlier this month won the Crystal Kite award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (but the people at the internet can’t tell me who has won the award in the past so I don’t know if I should be impressed or not). Even HH liked it!
The last Viking tells the story of a little boy with the heebee geebees. He is afraid of the dark, he is afraid of the wind and he is afraid of pirates. What he should be afraid of is going to the park. During a trip to his grandparents’ house, Knut née Josh, gets some unsupervised time and is HORRENDOUSLY bullied by a bunch of kids who are undoubtedly going to take up smoking and end up unhappy or the CEO of a bank.
Somehow he manages to untie himself and goes home and retreats into a world of fantasy like Anders Breivik. Well, not quite like Anders but he does try to set the backyard on fire. All of this, in Josh’s mind or reality or something, catches the interest of the ancient Norse gods who intervene on his behalf or something.
The book is a very rich experience. The pages are lined with Viking runes and there is a key in the back so that young cryptographers can practice decoding. There is also an extract from the gigantic tome that Josh’s grandpa gave him that gives us some background into Viking history. Furthermore, as CBCA judge Michelle Prawer points out, the illustrations add a great deal to the story – nobody in the book tells us why Josh is being shipped off to his grandparents place but, from the illustrations, we do know.
In my humble opinion, the book lacks a bit of a moral compass and doesn’t really give kids any guidance on dealing with the issues that Josh has (both anxietywise and bullywise). A cleverer ending might have built that in. But who am I to ciriticise? The book is a great adventure and if I put myself into the shoes of a kid reading this I reckon I would be pretty thrilled about all that horrible stuff that happen to Josh in the park and that there are gods just hanging around wearing ace hats and intervening on decendents’ behalf. No doubt Jorgensen wished something like this was around when he was a little berserker.