Sunday, June 03, 2018

Fortnightly Book, June 3

St. Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney, was a devout Christian, famed for his religious devotion and gentleness; and, because he was a twelfth-century Viking, his devotion and gentleness were regarded as signs that something was wrong with him. Once he refused to participate in a Viking raid because he thought it was morally wrong; he stayed on the ship and sang psalms instead. He was, unsurprisingly, generally despised. He eventually had a falling out with his cousin Haakon over who should rule Orkney; they agreed to meet on an island to discuss the matter amicably, each bringing only two ships. Magnus showed up with his two ships; Haakon showed up with eight. Magnus took refuge in the church, but he was dragged out and executed somewhere around the year 1117.

St. Magnus's story is the subject of the novel Magnus, by Gordon Mackay Brown, which will be the next fortnightly book. Magnus was Mackay Brown's second novel (although he had become well known for his poetry for quite some time before), and was published in 1973. Mackay Brown was himself from Orkney, and after his death was buried on St. Magnus's Day, April 16, so he had a lifelong connection with St. Magnus, whose life he uses as an occasion for reflection on the requirements of self-sacrifice.

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