As you have probably worked out by now The Last Viking is essentially about a boy who is threatened by bullies but manages to overcome them through the power of his imagination and reserves of courage he didn’t know he possessed until faced with danger. I hate to have to admit it but the plot is inspired directly by the 1952 movie High Noon, starring Gary Cooper as the town marshal and Grace Kelly as his new bride. Now you may wonder how I took this leap from Kansas in 1880 to Denmark in AD980 and back to country town Australia 2010, and what cowboys have to do with Vikings, however, plots are essentially about people and their interactions, and it doesn’t really matter when they are set or what the characters are wearing. Their reaction will generally remain the same when faced with same dilemmas. Well, that’s my excuse, anyway.
Like poor little Knut heading out into the street alone to face the bullies, Gary Cooper, playing the town marshal, has to go and face Frank Miller and his gang of outlaws who have come back to town to kill him for sending them to jail some years before. None of the cowardly town folk will help the marshal so he is forced into a lone shootout throughout the town streets and in the livery stable. Eventually, Princess Grace, a good Quaker girl, shoots the last bully in the back, thereby saving the marshal, her new husband. As the townsfolk rush out to congratulate him, Gary Copper then takes off his tin star and tosses to the ground in disgust at his neighbours’ lack of support, and then rides off into the afternoon.
Though it is older than I am, just, it is a well-made, stark movie set in real time with enormous tension as the town clocks tick relentlessly towards high noon and the dramatic showdown.
Several other western scenes have crept into the pages of our Viking book as well. In the scene where the bullies turn up at Nan and Pop’s house, the long shadows of the three bullies are supposed to be reminiscent of and our nod to the Sergio Leone western movies Once Upon a Time in the West and Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name trilogy, which pay fond homage to all their western predecessors.
I asked James to include a clock on the wall showing 12 o’clock, high noon, but he pointed out our story is set at sundown otherwise there can’t be any long shadows. Der, Norman!
I also wanted to give Little Knut a girlfriend just like Princess Grace who helps save him, but he is a bit young for that sort of thing, and, besides, we have only 32 pages to work with , and, unless you are Academy Award Nominee, Shaun Tan, who was allowed to stretch to 96 pages for The Arrival, 32 pages it is and will remain.
Cate Sutherland, our editor at Fremantle Press, is always slightly amused and doesn’t quite understand my addiction to westerns and how I try and reference them (or even lift whole plots) at every possibility. I think the only westerns she has ever seen have been those DVD’s I’ve sent her as homework, though she did admit to sort of liking High Noon as well as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.