The American Birkebeiner is the largest Nordic ski marathon in North America. Jeff Foltz of the University of Southern Maine and a resident of Camden has participated in the 32-mile race five times. He committed to writing his first novel BIRKEBEINER after seeing the famous Norwegian painting Skiing Birchlegs Crossing the Mountain with the Royal Child by Knud Larsen Bergslein.
Fascinated with the legend portrayed in Berglstein’s work , Folk travelled to Norway to research the thirteenth century folklore of an incredible trek by a young mother, her child and two soldiers across 7000-foot mountains, snow choked valleys and sub-zero temperatures to save the life of her infant boy who would one day be king of Norway.
Eight hundred years ago the Croziers and Birchlegs were engaged in a brutal war over who would control the Norwegian throne. As the legend unfolds, Croziers overrun the Birchlegs at Lillehammer. Desperate to save the life of their two-year-old son King Hakon of the Birchlegs, dying from the wounds of battle, dispatches Prince Hakon and his mother Inga along with two loyal medieval Birchleg Soldiers on an impossible nine-day trek to safety in faraway Nidaros.
The trio is pursued by a force triple their size led by none other than the Crozier heir apparent, Magnus! His mission is to kill Prince Hakon to prevent his possible ascension to the throne and preserve his own legacy. Only a Nordic skier like Folk could attempt to accurately recreate this near impossible ordeal in an environment both breathtakingly beautiful and as hostile as one can imagine. The descriptions are mindful of the detail in the epic true story The Endurance, Ernest Shackelton’s Antarctic sailing from Elephant Island then climbing across the impossible terrain on South Georgia Island to reach the whaling station and ultimately save every member of his crew.
Underlying the suspense and adventure is the time-honored story of motherhood, war and a mothers love for her child. In this novel Folk pursues one version of the royal child legend and makes the mother Inga the heroine. Bergslein’s painting tells the other version of only the two Birchleg Soldiers skiing the child to safety.
BIRKEBEINER could easily be overlooked but once you open the cover, whether or not you are a Nordic skier, you will be enveloped in the story.