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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

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Paola Ivanov, Julien Chapuis, Jonathan Fine
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The Sagas of Icelanders, Ornolfur Thorsson (General Editor)

The Sagas of Icelanders - Various Authors, Martin S. Regal, Ruth C. Ellison, Terry Gunnell, Keneva Kunz, Andrew Wawn, Anthony Maxwell, Katrina C. Attwood, Robert Kellogg, Bernard Scudder, George Clark, Jane Smiley

This book is immediately misleading in that the title might make you think it contains all the Icelandic sagas. It does not; not even close. What it does contain is two of the longest sagas and a selection of the shorter ones (including the Vinland Sagas) as well as a selection of "Tales".

 

This single volume is a Penguin reprint of part of the complete multi-volume translation into English of all the Icelandic mediaeval sagas and tales conducted under the general editorship of Ornolfur Thorsson by a collective of translators and advisory academics. The approach taken offers the benefits of consistency, a simple example being that obscure words are given the same translation into English uniformly across all the works.

 

This volume includes copious supporting material that sets the Icelandic Sagas in their historical, social and literary contexts and provides useful additional information such as family trees that show the interelations of families within and between sagas, diagrams of typical farms and farm houses and Viking sea vessels and a glossary of obscure terms and an index of characters, all of which I found useful. So much for the book in general.

 

Egil's Saga

It's a long time since I read this but my lasting impression is that of a work that sits in an odd place on the literary map. Imagine genres as territories; fiction would be one area, history another, biography another and so on but defining the boundaries exactly would be difficult - is myth fiction or history? for example -  nevermind delimiting the internal genre boundaries within fiction.

 

This saga lands partially within the bounds of all the above mentioned; it's clearly family history and the biography of Egil specifically but such things as shapeshifters are talked about in passing with the same kind of matter-of-fact casualness as Viking raids and farming. Fantastical elements are few and far between, however and never the focus of the narrative, which rarely spends time in Iceland, prefering Norway and even England, where blood feuds, Kings and battles share time with farming, poetry and romances.

 

Treating the work as a novel will likely lead to disappointment; looking at it as a window into a very alien past might lead to fascination.