So as well as being a huge Tolkien nerd I’m also a saga nerd. I love the Icelandic sagas (came from my passion for Tolkien and Norse mythology). This thread is for anything to do with sagas. (Translations, plot points, humour, questions).
I’d have to say my favourite saga has to be Volsunga Saga (the story of the hero Sigurd, a cursed hoard of gold, a magical ring and a dwarf who turned into a dragon) What are other Dopers’ favourites?
Is Volsunga Saga really an Icelandic saga? It’s certainly not set in Iceland. Nor is Hrolf Kraki Saga.
Also, in Volsunga saga the cursed horde comes from a dwarf, is stolen from him by Loki, then paid to a man whose son was killed by the gods whilst disguised as an otter. The other son then kills the old man for the treasure and turns into a dragon, Fafnir.
The Prose Edda is a saga-like tale about the creation of the world (from the corpse of a giant) and the antics of the gods.
The Poetic Edda is about the same sort of thing, but in the form of obscurantist mythical poetry.
The Icelandic stories are generally about the families of people who settled Iceland. There are also sagas about Scandinavian kings, and similar characters. The Sagas of Erik the Red and Leif Ericson (Greenland Saga, in that case I think) are standard Icelandic sagas, which frequently involve foreign escapades. Egil’s Saga involves trips to Norway, England and York, I think Sweden too. Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue’s saga ends in Sweden. Njal’s saga has scenes in Denmark and the Hebrides. And so on.
My favorites are Hrafnkel’s Saga, Njal’s Saga, and the Laxdaela Saga. Egil’s Saga is pretty good. I got all of these from Penguin and found their translations to be engaging. I did not care for Gisli’s Saga, but it was not a very good translation (something other than Penguin, don’t remember now).
William Ian Miller’s book Bloodtaking and Peacemaking is very worthwhile to read if you want to understand the history and legal system that underpin the events of the sagas.
The Penguin sagas are good and accessible. You can also find older (out of copyright) translations online here. For beginners I think the Penguins would be preferable due to the helpful introductions and footnotes. It will help to have some background knowledge, Icelandic society had some unusual characteristics.
I would also recommend The Laxdaela, Njall’s and Egil’s saga. The former two in particular have a good central narrative which appeals to modern tastes. Some of the others are rather rambling tales of a particular family or locale. Njall’s Saga also has a striking subplot concerning the coming of Christianity to Iceland.
A word of caution: Just about every saga I have read begins with genealogies of the central characters. These stories were originally told around the fire during the long dark days of winter to an audience that knew exactly how to place their own ancestry in these family trees. Indeed many (most, all?) modern Icelanders can still trace their line back to the first settlement. I would recommend that the modern non Icelandic reader does not skip them but shouldn’t stress too much about remembering it all either.
The Penguin translations are very good. But how can anyone not like Gisli Sursson’s Saga? It’s so delightfully bloodthirsty. Especially the clifftop showdown at the end.
Hrafnkel’s saga is a good story, it’s just a pity the ending’s not better. I don’t like the villain winning.
I’ve never read Laxdaela saga.
Egil’s Saga is very good indeed. Very wide-ranging. One of the many sagas with a cameo by Aethelstan. Mainly about Egil Skallagrimson’s family feud with the king of Norway, starting with Harold Fairhair’s conquest of Norway and reconciliation with Egil’s grandfather Night-Wolf, following the family to Iceland and Egil on various international adventures and ending, if memory serves, with Egil’s corpse being dug up and found to have a remarkably thick skull. That might have been one of the notes in the Penguin version, actually.
Njal’s saga is a very popular one, probably the most popular. One of the longer ones, like Egil. The epitome of the family saga, really. Like Hrafnkel’s saga, there’s a lot of legal disputes. Lots of legal stuff in the sagas.
Eyrbyggyja Saga is full of supernatural shenanigans, and stars Snorri the Godi, who appears as a minor character in many of the other sagas as a byword for wisdom. Intervening to stop the slaughter at the end of Njal’s saga, for example.
Audun’s Tale is a tiny saga, about a lucky man called Audun and his polar bear traversing the war-torn waters of the north. Generally seen as a well-crafted short story.
Bandamanna saga is a comedy about a self-made man who causes envy in some of the aristocrats who conspire to take his wealth, which doesn’t end well.
Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue (or worm-tongue)'s saga is about an unpleasant, waspish man who gets in a fight with a poet over a woman. In the central conflict Gunnlaug was certainly in the right, arsehole or not. Ends in a big fight.
Grettir’s saga is about a superhumanly strong man who wrestles a ghost and, because he wins, gets cursed. Has adventures as an outlaw.
Hrolf Kraki’s saga is different, it’s a portmanteau of stories about how Hrolf Kraki’s men came to be with him. Bodvar’s story is the best. Then ends, I seem to remember, with a big battle between the heroes and an army of zombies led by a wild boar… There’s also a dragon in this one, and a prince who gets turned into a bear by his step-mother/witch. And an outlaw who is half deer or something. Brilliant story, but not down-to-earth and gritty and realistic like the Icelandic family sagas.
The Prose Edda is about the gods. Baldur’s death. Something to do with apples of immortality and Loki giving birth to a super horse. The twilight of the gods. I think Thor has some sort of feud with a giant world-encompassing snake.
Well it depends on how you define Icelandic saga. AFAIK there are three categories:
förnaldasogur (“Sagas of olden-times” or legendary sagas): Basically these are stories based on Scandinavian legendary tradition and usually include supernatural aspects (like Bödvar Bjarki transforming into a bear in Hrolfs saga kraka) involve the Norse gods and feature magic. They also include purely fictional stories made up by anonymous authors. Volsunga saga is a fornaldasaga based on an old legend recorded in Norway and fused with real events taking place in the 5th century AD (at least there’s one theory)
Islendingasogur (“Icelanders’ sagas”): These are stories based more on facts and people from the settlement and commonwealth period in Iceland (9th-13th century). These are stories like Gisla sagaGrettis saga (both about outlaws in 9th century (Gisli) and 10th century Iceland (Grettir) ) , Laxdaela sagaBrennu-Njáls saga and Egils saga, which are about families in the Laxardal in Western Iceland, a series of blood feuds which eventually end in a man and his wife being burned alive in their own houses, and the famous poet Egil Skallagrimsson, who is described as ugly with a fierce temper, having been a difficult child who split another boy’s skull with an axe when he was seven, and to have composed a poem in honour of King Eric Bloodaxe of Norway as a means of bartering his life. He supposedly did it in one night.
riddarasogur, konungasogur, and byskupasogur (knights’ sagas, kings’ sagas and bishops’sagas) The knights’ sagas are Icelandic translations and adaptations of medieval poetic romances like the Arthurian legends or other chivalric romances from continental Europe. Kings’ sagas are histories of Scandinavian kings like Snorri’s *Heimskringla or History of the Kings of Norway * or the Ynglinga saga about an early Swedish dynasty. Bishops’ sagas are lives of Icelandic churchmen, especially bishops.
All these tend to be called Icelandic sagas because they originated in Iceland or came from Icelandic manuscripts and were written as prose narratives including some poetry.
Not a single Edda, but my favourite is this cd of modern singers and musicians re-creating sections of various eddas. There’s some debate as to whether they would have been sung in this manner, but I still like it!
And if you get the cd, it comes with 100+ page booklet with a multi-lingual text.
The Icelandic they’re singing, with English, French and German translations all laid out alongside each other…
I recently read Njal’s Saga and there was one part I wondered about. I can’t remember names so bare with me but it happens at the very end of the book. One character has been declared an outlaw and he goes to a friend for help, this friend is very boastful and full of himself (his interactions with his wife are pretty amusing).
The author obviously doesn’t like him and downplays his actions etc however the boastful man does exactly what he said he was going to do, he protects the other character, travels with him, fights bravely and well, doesn’t betray him etc
Basically why was the boastful man portrayed in such a negative way?