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You've no doubt your own book just like this one--the book that you've read so many times since you were a kid that the binding is falling apart, the dust-jacket long gone, and your eyes barely need focus on the page, because you can nearly recite the story from memory. My version of that book, Frederick L. Coe's Knight of the Cross, belonged to my Dad when he was 12 and I was about the same age when I found it on a bookshelf at my grandparents' apartment in Brooklyn. It tells the story of Olaf, a young Norseman of Midhof, who is almost killed in the same battle with the Danes that takes his father. As Olaf teeters on the brink of death a wandering holy man--"once Sigmund the Scald, now John, a humble disciple of the White Christ"--stops at his home and prays over his prostrate form. John assures Olaf's mother that her son will live, but tells her that in exchange Olaf is summoned to a great deed in service of the White Christ and must: "fare forth as cross-sworn, to join the hosts gathering in all Christian lands to free the holy places for Him who came to save the world. No priest will he be, but one whose strength is needed to fight for the cause. This command is laid upon him: Until Jerusalem the Holy be freed from the infidel, no woman will he take to himself, no mead will pass his lips, and ever will he strive onward toward the end to which he is foreordained. This be the word." In the thrilling adventure that follows Olaf is shipwrecked in the Balearic Isles--where he learns to use a sling, to deadly effect; meets the great Norman knights Bohemund and Tancred; serves in the Varangian guard, protecting the Emperor Alexis in Byzantium; guards and wins the heart of Alexis' daughter during a siege by Islamic forces; and all the while wends his way towards the great feat the Lord has set him. Thirty years later, it's still my favorite book.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Frederick Coe Links:

    -ESSAY: The Hour Before Dawn (Frederick L. Coe, Outing)
    -BOOK REVIEW: Knight of the Cross (Kirkus Review)
    -ETEXT: Anna Comnena: The Alexiad
    -WIKIPEDIA: First Crusade
    -WIKIPEDIA: Hugh of Cluny
    -WIKIPEDIA: Pope Urban II
    -WIKIPEDIA: Alexios I Komnenos
    -WIKIPEDIA: Anna Komnenos
    -WIKIPEDIA: Baldwin I of Jerusalem
    -WIKIPEDIA: Bohemond I of Antioch
    -WIKIPEDIA: Tancred, Prince of Galilee
    --BIO: Duggan, Alfred Leo (Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography)
    -Wikipedia: Alfred Duggan
    -ESSAY: Alfred Duggan's Past: On the author Alfred Duggan and his wonderful mastery of Historical fiction (John Derbyshire, February 2005, New Criterion)

Book-related and General Links:

-ESSAY: How a brawl in 18th-century Constantinople changed what we know about the Vikings (Tonicha Upham, April 11, 2024, The Conversation)
    -ESSAY: A Brief History of the Legendary Medieval Battle-Ax: The battle-ax was developed in A.D. 500. The first version, the francisca, was named after Frankish warriors who used them against the Romans. (Warfare History Network, 1/28/2021)
    -ESSAY: When a Viking warrior died for Christ (Martyn Whittock, 27 September 2022, Christianity Today)
-ESSAY: What was the Varangian Guard? A brief history of the Viking warriors of the Byzantine empire (BBC History Extra, 10/22/20)
    -ESSAY: Hooray for the Crusades! (Piers Paul Read, Spring 2002, Independent Women's Forum)
    -ESSAY: How the Media Misconstrue Jihad and the Crusades (Timothy Furnish, 1-13-03, History New Network)