In infant school, aged six, I had a Thorfinn moment. My teacher had made me pencil monitor, but I had paid scant attention. So next day when work was being allocated my body was in the classroom, but my mind was in deep space, leading star fighters in combat with an alien battle cruiser, a huge ship heavily armed with powerful death rays..Then my reverie was interrupted by a little girl who very kindly reminded me that it was my job to give out the pencils. I wandered around a bit, not knowing where they were, then the girl took pity on me. "You don't want to be pencil monitor, do you?" she asked. I said that I didn't, so she rushed to Miss McLeish, and told her that I didn't want the job and asked could she have it. So the girl became pencil monitor and I returned to commanding Star Fleet.
"He's a dreamer!" Miss McLeish told my mother. Thus when I encountered the fictional character of Thorfinn Ragnarson, who dreams through his lessons and prefers the fictional world to the real one there was an instinctive sympathy. Early in the book Thorfinn is having a history lesson about Norse expeditions through Russia, and his teacher despairs that he is looking out of the window and taking nothing in.But his mind is alert and using the lesson to make an imaginary world in which he is a participant, constructing a story out of what the teacher is saying. But he gets into trouble nonetheless.
The book begins with the line, "Of all the lazy and most useless boys ever to attend Norday school, the laziest and most useless was Thorfinn Ragnarson" No one expects anything of his career, and his father doubts that he will have much success and worries what will become of him. Everyone thinks that he is useless, though the women say that he is a nice boy. Thorfinn progresses through life,enduring the miseries of prisoner of war status in World War Two,where in his confinement he turns to writing, where his imagination is allowed to blossom and he finally finds what he can do. The book is a cry from the heart for the education system to recognize the sensitive and imaginative child and refrain from imposing a pre-determined career pattern on him/her.
Thorfinn eventually returns to the now deserted island of Norday, wed now to the dreamy and beautiful young woman who seemed to be out of his reach, and he commits himself to the work of writing the ultimate poem. He has come full circle. Not only has he returned to Norday, but to the self sufficient lifestyle of his ancestors.