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Finding a Hero by Lars Walker, Author of “West Oversea”


About Lars Walker

Lars (pronounced Larce) Walker is a native of Kenyon, Minnesota, and  lives in Minneapolis. He has worked as a crabmeat packer in Alaska, a radio announcer, a church secretary and an administrative assistant, and is presently librarian and bookstore manager for the schools of the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations in Plymouth, Minnesota. He is the author of four previously published novels, and is the editor of the journal of the Georg Sverdrup Society. Walker says, “I never believed that God gave me whatever gifts I have in order to entertain fellow Christians. I want to confront the world with the claims of Jesus Christ.” His latest release is West Oversea: A Norse Saga of Mystery, Adventure and Faith. Visit Lars online at www.larswalker.com/ and his blog at www.brandywinebooks.net/

FINDING A HERO

BY LARS WALKER

I sprawled in the playground grass. I was probably crying, or trying not to. I was six years old, in first grade, and an older kid had just knocked me down, something which (I was learning) was part of the daily routine in elementary school.

I was learning a lot about life in those days. I was learning that in the world at large I was a pretty small animal, whose survival meant avoiding predators.

But that particular day was different. Looking up I saw another boy step up to confront my tormenter. He seemed extremely tall to me, and impressively mature—probably seven or eight. He had several friends to back him up.

He looked the bully in the face and said, “Leave him alone. He’s our friend.”

The bully scowled and ran away.

I didn’t know my rescuer from Adam. I never knew why he protected me. I never even found out who he was, although we probably went through ten or eleven years of school together, in a pretty small school. I was too much in awe of him to say anything. He didn’t say anything to me either. He just marched off with his friends.

Heroes.

I looked over to the school entrance and saw a girl watching  the drama. Her cotton dress billowed about her in the wind. I didn’t think she was pretty, but her long, straight-nosed face reminded me of pictures I’d seen in books of my grandmother’s, pictures of angels in what (I would eventually learn) was called the Pre-Raphaelite style.

Ever since that day, I’ve had an image of a Hero in my mind—a tall young man marching at the head of a group of friends, protecting the weak, while an angel looks on.

When I wrote my first published novel, Erling’s Word (later incorporated into a double volume called The Year of the Warrior), I put that memory into the story. I wrote a scene near the beginning in which the narrator, Father Aillil, who has been taken as a slave, is rescued from a beating by the Norwegian chieftain Erling Skjalgsson, who then buys him and gives him his freedom.

Erling, by the way, is an actual historical figure. He features prominently in the sagas of the Norwegian kings. One thing that makes him appealing to the modern reader is that we’re told he ran a self-help program for his slaves. He gave them free time to earn the price of their freedom, and then helped set them up on farms or in trades. When I discovered him (and, as a bonus, realized that he lived in a part of Norway from which many of my ancestors came) I felt I’d found a hero worth immortalizing.

My new novel, West Ovesea, continues Erling’s saga. I have him give up all his power and wealth for a time, because of a point of honor (it’s the sort of thing he’d do). He sails west with his family and supporters, on a voyage to trade with Leif Eriksson (a man he probably actually knew) in Greenland. Due to storms, human enemies, and wizardry, the voyage works out to be a lot longer and more dangerous than planned. They even visit a strange new country recently discovered by Leif.

Heroism isn’t much regarded in our time. “Don’t be a hero” is for us another way of saying, “Don’t be a fool.”

But I have believed, ever since that day in the school yard long ago, that heroes are a precious resource, one that needs to be cultivated. We have need of our heroes.  We saw that truth in a cruel, vivid light one day in September in 2001.

I may never be a hero myself, but I want to tell heroes’ stories. The Vikings had men called skalds, poets who locked heroes’ deeds into poetic form, so they’d be preserved unaltered through the generations.

I like to think I’m a skald of a sort, with a harp made of paper. 

About West Oversea

West OverseaIn this Viking adventure tale, Erling Skjalgsson valiantly relinquishes his power and lands rather than be dishonorable to his evil brother. Supported by a well-drawn cast of characters, Skjalgsson sets sail for uncharted vistas with Greenland as the ultimate destination. The first leg of their voyage takes them to a newly settled Iceland. A dangerous storm blows the adventurers off-course where they encounter new peril with the wild lands and peoples of North America. Meanwhile, Erling’s Irish priest, Father Aillil, on a quest to rescue his enslaved sister, wrestles with a secret dark power that threatens to destroy them all. West Oversea is set against the historical and dramatic Eleventh century backdrop of a Norway in flux as pagan Norwegians are converted to Christianity—sometimes by force.


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