Monday, July 15, 2013

The Sagas Of The Icelanders

I found this in a used bookstore in Durham, and after reading Njal's Saga, I had to get it. I was eager to read more stories like Njal's, and this is an awesome edition. It is the Penguin Deluxe edition. Translated from the Icelandic five volume set, the stories included are carefully selected pieces from this set. There are plenty of maps, timelines, references, and explanations which are always great, but are particularly useful to people new to the Icelandic tales. I would recommend perusing the description of the political system, boats, farms etc. in the back before reading this book. The political system is different than many reading it are probably used to, and is mentioned frequently. It does not have a few of the more popular sagas such as: Njal, King Hrolf Kraki, or the Volsungs, but I am alright with that as they are easier to find as stand alone pieces. Here is a list of stories that are included in the book:

  1. Egil's Saga
  2. The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal
  3. The Saga of the People of Laxardal
  4. Bolli Bollason's Tale
  5. The Saga of the Confederates
  6. Gisli Sursson's Saga
  7. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue
  8. The Saga of Ref the Sly
  9. The Vinland Sagas
  10. The Saga of the Greenlanders
  11. Erik the Red's Saga    
  1. The Tale of Thorstein Staff-struck
  2. The Tale of Halldor Snorrason II
  3. The Tale of Sarcastic Halli
  4. The Tale of Thorstein Shiver
  5. The Tale of Audun from West Fjords
  6. The Tale of the Story-wise Icelander
The epic battle scenes that the different sagas contain read not as history, but as great scenes in any fantasy novel. I became absorbed in the different stories. I was excited to discover the actual source for the book Hush by Donna Jo Napoli. It is based on The Saga of the People of Laxardal. It is about an Irish princess who is abducted and sold into slavery by Vikings. She doesn't speak for several years to fool her captors. They catch her speaking with the child she has with her master. The truth is revealed. When reading a retelling of a tale I like to have the original to compare it to, so this was a great find.

I also appreciated that, for each story, there is a date given for when it was supposed to have taken place, and a date when it was written down. I like to discover how myths change over time and why that might be. The inclusion of both dates made this easier for me. The two dates give a better idea on how much the tale might have been changed, or what those changes might have been(e.g. the inclusion of christianity in some tales that took place before the area converted to christianity).

I really enjoyed reading the Icelandic tales. This collection of sagas is on My Favorite Books list because I had so much fun reading it. I would recommend them to people who enjoy reading fantasy and history. They are tales about real people, but are full of battles and intrigue as good as any novel.


  1. I love how often the items reviewed here intersect with subjects from my own recent reading; in this case, the book on my end was Haywood's "Viking: the Norse Warrior's Unofficial Manual", which focuses on the Viking lifestyle in general, but is liberally peppered with quotes from and summaries of these very sagas and tales listed here.

    1. I'm glad our reading intersects. It lets us discuss the books better, and compare the books. How did you like Haywood's book? It looked like a fun way to read about history. Should I put it on my list to read? Have you read any of the Sagas?

  2. Haywood gave his piece an interesting flavor in that it was in first person from the perspective of an unnamed 10th-century Viking, but I'm glad this isn't the way historical fact is normally presented. That said, this narrative style did work fairly well for this particular book. My favorite thing about "Viking", though, was the bibliography; due to the sheer volume of references to the literature of the day from throughout the Viking-affected world, (Britain, France, Spain, Russia, etc.) the bibliography forms an extensive reading list that should keep the Viking enthusiast occupied for some time. All in all, I would recommend it as a fun and generally informative read.

  3. & I have read Egil's Saga, but it's been a number of years. I do love Scandinavian literature & language, though, so I'm sure I'll revisit more extensively in the future.

    1. I liked Egil's Saga. I recently discovered a love for Viking tales. I also like a good bibliography. A great source for books you might not have known about. I'll put your suggestion on my list to read.