Eilis Dillon’s “The Singing Cave” was another favorite childhood book of mine for the obvious reasons — a young boy explores a seaside cave and discovers a Viking skeleton, complete with a sword and armor. That pretty much hit all the right notes for me when I was in early gradeschool in the 1980’s. (Some sort of age-appropriate young-adult mystery unfolded after the skeleton disappeared, possibly involving the townspeople, but I don’t even remember that very well. What thrilled me and stayed with me was the kid finding a armored Viking skeleton in a cave.)
The book was published first in 1959 in the United Kingdom by Faber & Faber; Dillon was Irish and the story was set in Ireland. It was released here in America the following year by the now defunct Funk & Wagnalls — the same company that produced those huge reference books that Gen X’ers remember lugging around before the arrival of CD-Roms. (Funk & Wagnalls is a name I haven’t heard in a very long time. It turns out they quite bein’ a thing in 1997.)
I went through one hell of a Viking Phase when I was a kid. (I suppose it wasn’t too different from other kids wanting to be pirates.) I was thrilled with stories about Leif Erikson, and I was pretty happy that his last name sounded like my first. It would be years later when my parents told me that I was actually named after another Viking, Erik the Red, albeit very indirectly. (My parents like the name featured in the “Erik” cigars television commercial.)
I might have talked about this at the blog before, but I even constructed my own “Viking ship” with the kid next door when I was very young. It probably wasn’t seaworthy; it was really just a wooden pallet with some two-by-fours nailed together as a mast, and a white sheet for a sail. (Where had we gotten that sheet? It seems to me that if I’d stolen it from the laundry, I’d have gotten into some trouble for that with my Mom.) Bizarrely, my friend and I etched a bright red Spanish Cross on the sail — even though that emblem had nothing to do with the Vikings. You kinda can’t excuse our stupidity because we were kids … we’d seen plenty of pictures of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria in school.
My Dad also cautioned me and my buddy that our Viking ship might not float. (The hindsight of adulthood assures me that it definitely wouldn’t have floated, but my Dad didn’t want to dash our hopes too abruptly.) He explained to us patiently in the backyard that in order for something to float, it had to “displace its own weight in water.” And … I actually understood that, surprisingly enough. It’s probably the only physics lesson I’ve understood in my life.
In fact … I don’t think we even had a plan in place for moving that boat from the backyard to the water. We were so enamored with the concept of shipbuilding that we kinda didn’t think things through very far at all.