On my first trip to Iceland, I naively bragged that I had read all the sagas. My listener was too polite to do more than quirk an eyebrow. Of course, I had not read all the sagas. I had read that giant paperback Penguin Classics Deluxe collection, The Sagas of Icelanders, plus The Saga of Burnt Njál. At the time, I didn’t know that more was possible.
For English speakers outside of academia, the ten sagas and assorted short stories of the Penguin compilation remains definitive. But there is another. Continue reading
I usually post on Sundays, and this Sunday is Christmas. A holiday themed post is required. But to be honest, I’m not really feeling the holidays this year. 2016, globally speaking, has been a dumpster fire. Personally, it’s been a mixed bag in which even the many good things were still very hard. After the election, I felt compelled to make the holidays extra joyful this year, but only managed to wear myself out. Judging by the number of Mordor-themed memes in my social media feed, I’m not alone in this. Continue reading
I once stood among a group of writers at a talk presented by then-Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. He said that we would notice Iceland had no statues of presidents or generals, but had many of artists and poets.
In Reykholt, I saw a statue of a man who may have qualified as both. A big man of his time, Snorri was engaged in all sorts of power struggles and eventually died a violent death. He is also credited with preserving (and possibly writing some of) some of the world’s greatest literary treasures, Iceland’s sagas.
This is the view from the hill above the house that is built on the sight of the farm where Egil Skallagrimsson lived a thousand years ago. The view hasn’t changed much in all that time.
Obviously, this house and its attendant church are much more recent constructions than the house that Egil Skallagrimsson built. But this is Egil’s Farm. I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to grow up in a place with so much history.
“Once during winter, there was a ball game at Borg. Egil and Thord played against Skallagrim, who grew tired and they came off better. But that night, after sunset, Egil and Thord began losing. Skallagrim was filled with such strength that he seized Thord and dashed him to the ground so fiercely that he was crushed by the blow and died on the spot. Then he seized Egil.
Skallagrim had a servant-woman called Thorgerd Brák, who had fostered Egil when he was a child. She was an imposing woman, as strong as a man and well versed in magic arts.
Brák said, “You’re attacking your own son like a mad beast, Skallagrim.” Skallagrim let Egil go, but went for her instead. She ran off to the end of Digranes, off the end of the cliff and swam away. Skallagrim threw a large boulder after her which struck her between the shoulder blades. Neither the woman nor the boulder ever came up afterwards.”
I have always been fascinated with the character of Thorgerd Brák. Although she only appears in the story to die, the incident implies so much. She would be such an interesting character to explore. She is the source of Egil’s knowledge of magic, and may have been the only person who ever treated him kindly in his childhood (his parents refused to take an interest even when he committed murder). So much of his character throughout the saga can be traced back to these few lines related to his tough old nanny.