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They date from the thirteenth century and fall into two distinct groups. Hrafnkel's Saga, Thorstein the Staff-Struck, and Ale Hood are set in the pastoral society of native Iceland, the homely touch and stark realism giving the incidents a strong feeling of immediacy. The remaining four -Hreidar the Fool, Halldor Sorrason, Audun´s Story, and Ivar´s Story- were written witho They date from the thirteenth century and fall into two distinct groups. Hrafnkel's Saga, Thorstein the Staff-Struck, and Ale Hood are set in the pastoral society of native Iceland, the homely touch and stark realism giving the incidents a strong feeling of immediacy. The remaining four -Hreidar the Fool, Halldor Sorrason, Audun´s Story, and Ivar´s Story- were written without first-hand knowledge of Scandinavia, and describe the adventures of Icelandic poets and peasants at the royal courts of Norway and Iceland. Pagan elements tightly woven into the pattern of Christian ethics give these stories their distinctive character and cohesion.


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They date from the thirteenth century and fall into two distinct groups. Hrafnkel's Saga, Thorstein the Staff-Struck, and Ale Hood are set in the pastoral society of native Iceland, the homely touch and stark realism giving the incidents a strong feeling of immediacy. The remaining four -Hreidar the Fool, Halldor Sorrason, Audun´s Story, and Ivar´s Story- were written witho They date from the thirteenth century and fall into two distinct groups. Hrafnkel's Saga, Thorstein the Staff-Struck, and Ale Hood are set in the pastoral society of native Iceland, the homely touch and stark realism giving the incidents a strong feeling of immediacy. The remaining four -Hreidar the Fool, Halldor Sorrason, Audun´s Story, and Ivar´s Story- were written without first-hand knowledge of Scandinavia, and describe the adventures of Icelandic poets and peasants at the royal courts of Norway and Iceland. Pagan elements tightly woven into the pattern of Christian ethics give these stories their distinctive character and cohesion.

30 review for Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories

  1. 5 out of 5

    Markus

    Hrafnkel is the son of one of the first Norwegian settlers of Iceland, and wishes to set himself up as a powerful priest-chieftain in this promised land. As he goes through the stages of ambition and pride, loss and humiliation, and vengeance and return to authority, Hrafnkel gradually changes his perception of power among men. The Icelandic family sagas, the Medieval Scandinavian version of period dramas, include some of the greatest literary masterpieces of European history, among them the lege Hrafnkel is the son of one of the first Norwegian settlers of Iceland, and wishes to set himself up as a powerful priest-chieftain in this promised land. As he goes through the stages of ambition and pride, loss and humiliation, and vengeance and return to authority, Hrafnkel gradually changes his perception of power among men. The Icelandic family sagas, the Medieval Scandinavian version of period dramas, include some of the greatest literary masterpieces of European history, among them the legendary love story of Laxdæla Saga, and the greatest achievement of them all - Njáls saga. Hranfkels saga, I feel, is not a masterpiece on the same level as some of these other hidden gems, but it still is a deeply fascinating story about power, loss and vengeance. Not only does it put on display excellent examples of the power structures and legal systems of the free Icelandic Commonwealth, it also provides a brilliant introduction to a new reader interested in Medieval Scandinavia and wishing to get an introduction to Old Norse literature. It is short and readable, the English translation is solid, and it contains hints of many of the elements which make other sagas so rewarding.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    This is the book I ought to have started with when I began to dip into Icelandic sagas again recently. The stories are shorter, the plots are tighter with less winding and sidetracking. The cast of characters is usually smaller, so that there are fewer names, patronymics and relationships to keep track of. The characters are sparely but vividly drawn, and even the features of land and sea get some attention when they contribute to the plot. Overall, these tales are easier to digest. Most of the s This is the book I ought to have started with when I began to dip into Icelandic sagas again recently. The stories are shorter, the plots are tighter with less winding and sidetracking. The cast of characters is usually smaller, so that there are fewer names, patronymics and relationships to keep track of. The characters are sparely but vividly drawn, and even the features of land and sea get some attention when they contribute to the plot. Overall, these tales are easier to digest. Most of the same themes I've encountered elsewhere are here too. There is the sense, on the one hand, that good conduct (peacefulness, helpfulness, support of friends and relations) attracts rewards. On the other hand, evil conduct (malicious attitude, excessive violence, vindictiveness, murderousness) attracts punishment. And yet, some characters have different ideas of what exactly constitutes good conduct. This probably has to do with the conversion of Iceland (and other Scandinavian lands and territories) from the old religion to the new. This is most obvious from Hrafnkel's Saga in which a series of unfortunate and tragic events is unleashed when someone dares to ride Hrafnkel's favorite stallion which was dedicated to the god Frey.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    If you're looking for the inspiration for Shadowfax, Gandalf's noble steed, look no further. Freyfaxi the Wonder Pony, noble steed of Hrafnkel is the horse you're looking for. This, and the other stories herein, are marvelous in their own right. But let's face it: it's super fun to see where Tolkien got some of the material for his books.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Hrafnkel is a saga writ small, but with all the propelling blunt force of its lengthier cousins. This simple story told in starkly realistic prose draws a vivid picture of tenth-century Iceland’s snow-capped mountains, mires, and grassy slopes dotted with the homesteads of tetchy farmers, who hold honor more dear than life. The story begins with a murder of a poor peasant, who yielded to the temptation to ride his master’s sacrosanct horse. From this grim beginning, the saga branches into a swif Hrafnkel is a saga writ small, but with all the propelling blunt force of its lengthier cousins. This simple story told in starkly realistic prose draws a vivid picture of tenth-century Iceland’s snow-capped mountains, mires, and grassy slopes dotted with the homesteads of tetchy farmers, who hold honor more dear than life. The story begins with a murder of a poor peasant, who yielded to the temptation to ride his master’s sacrosanct horse. From this grim beginning, the saga branches into a swiftly told series of intertwining episodes involving torture, revenge, and complex legal alliances that lead to an unexpected ending.   The chieftains and smallholders of medieval Iceland placed great value on esteem, self-reliance and grim humor in the face of provocation. A man who felt he had been offended had recourse to the courts; but because of the legal system’s limitations – there were neither prisons nor police, so the execution of judgement was left to the plaintiffs – proper procedure was often ignored, twisted, or broken outright. Hrafnkel’s Saga is rife with abuses spawned both by man’s pride and by the law’s shortcomings. You won’t turn many pages before you find someone else with an axe in his head.   Hrafnkel’s Saga is the place to start before wandering off into the snarled thickets of one of the major Old Norse sagas. Here, you’ll find a rich sampling of the themes and styles perfected by the thirteen-century saga writers. But unlike Njal’s Saga, Egil’s Saga, Laxdœla Saga that sprawl over decades and swamp you with a cast numbering in the hundreds, Hrafnkel’s story is mercifully short – it takes no more than an hour to read – and it deals with barely a dozen important characters. Along with Hrafnkel’s Saga this thin Penguin edition offers five more very short stories, two set in Iceland and three in Norway or Denmark. My favorites were Audun’s Saga, a tale of a boy and his bear; and Ivar’s Saga, an unexpectedly poignant tale of a lovelorn Viking. If this trickle of Old Icelandic literature captures your imagination, then you’re likely to love the maelstrom of the mighty sagas.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    The title story is much more consciously literary than the other stories in this short collection. It's a tale of broken oaths, murder, revenge, legal drama and redemption in medieval Iceland. Several of the other stories have similar themes but have a somewhat different tone, being more like a cross between a short biography of an individual and the anecdotes about him that would get told down the pub on a long winter's night. The latter-most stories take a wider look at the Norse world as they t The title story is much more consciously literary than the other stories in this short collection. It's a tale of broken oaths, murder, revenge, legal drama and redemption in medieval Iceland. Several of the other stories have similar themes but have a somewhat different tone, being more like a cross between a short biography of an individual and the anecdotes about him that would get told down the pub on a long winter's night. The latter-most stories take a wider look at the Norse world as they tell of Icelanders who travel abroad. One character goes so far as Rome, escaping the North altogether for a while. Both types offer a fascinating glimpse of the prevailing culture in an entertaining fashion.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gastjäle

    Well-translated sagas wherein we're shown the divers exploits of internally mute Icelanders, who struggle with issues of family honour, personal dignity, Althing arbitration and 'onourable 'onesty. For something written by medieval Christian monks, the stories are conspicuously bereft of overt Biblical references or didactic announcements - rather, the stories are told in a very matter-of-fact manner, the narrators obliterating themselves almost completely. Yet when one peeps between the line-cr Well-translated sagas wherein we're shown the divers exploits of internally mute Icelanders, who struggle with issues of family honour, personal dignity, Althing arbitration and 'onourable 'onesty. For something written by medieval Christian monks, the stories are conspicuously bereft of overt Biblical references or didactic announcements - rather, the stories are told in a very matter-of-fact manner, the narrators obliterating themselves almost completely. Yet when one peeps between the line-cracks, certain themes seem to arise without much remorse inflicted on the characters. The best indicator of someone's righteous conduct is often signified by intimating that they grew very old bones indeed - something which seems to suggest either the monks or the common folk (in the opinion of the monks) valued not only the quality (bolstered by the stories) but the quantity of life. Likewise, maintaining one's honour is considered of utmost importance: humiliation can be revenged, yet one should not go rampant with the extent. People tend to be defined by their actions in these sagas: it is not their birth necessarily or their nature but their meritorious deeds which dictate their worth. Of course the significance of rank ought not to be belittled, since good social ties could buy you justice in the Parliament, and you could not revenge yourself easily on the personages standing on a higher rung, yet your achievements could sometimes excuse your otherwise unorthodox behaviour. What's also fascinating here is that the sagas at times juxtapose etiquette with duties. Certain characters were fain to ignore tattlers, yet they are always convinced otherwise because of the consequences. This seems to point to the fact that the seemingly laudable actions taking place in the sagas are not always motivated by duty but rather incited by fear of contempt. This view is further backed up by the flaws of every single character: some of them are craven, some indiscreet, some sturbborn, some bad-tempered. Perhaps this is where Christianity rears its dragon heads - there is hope of salvation even though we are skewed by nature. In addition, there are nice and sometimes strange details in the stories. For example, in the title saga, Sam ends up rather badly off even though he let Hrafnkel live. In Thorstein, we get a baffling detour to the caprices of his father who attempts to kill a respected farmer towards the end of the tale. In Ale-Hood, the titular character is suddenly discarded in favour of a siblings' scuffle with an unconcluded revenge. And, just to end the list though it could do with further additions, in Hreidar the main character is first shown as a dangerous savant. Nonetheless, instead of criticising the stories for their unexpected distortions of the focal points, I'd rather applaud them for their daring attitude and no-nonsense approach. Due to the overall sparse and direct way of recounting the sagas, these anomalies can be accepted effortlessly compared to similar chinks in the armour of today's literature. And of course, these sagas have been endowed with the halo of tradition, thus being much more than simple stories with hidden value meanings.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alatea

    Read this mainly for Hrafnel's saga, but I have to admit that others, which I have never even heard before, were quite interesting, too. Also, great introduction that touches upon the biggest questions and problems about Hrafnel's saga and others in this collection.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I never feel comfortable giving ratings to books I read solely for their historical value... but it was interesting!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Hrafnkel's Saga is about a feud and the vicious killings and legal drama that go along with it. There's a Varangian and the lava fields are featured. One of the epithets of King Harald Straight-Hair's ancestor is 'the farter'. The other stories are much shorter and more straightforward. Thorstein Staff-struck was okay. Apparently when they weren't feuding and duelling the Icelanders used to make horses fight each other to relieve men of their pastoral boredom, but then the men would get angry and Hrafnkel's Saga is about a feud and the vicious killings and legal drama that go along with it. There's a Varangian and the lava fields are featured. One of the epithets of King Harald Straight-Hair's ancestor is 'the farter'. The other stories are much shorter and more straightforward. Thorstein Staff-struck was okay. Apparently when they weren't feuding and duelling the Icelanders used to make horses fight each other to relieve men of their pastoral boredom, but then the men would get angry and fight the horses and each other and this lead to feuds and duels. I like how Thorstein and buddy kept taking breaks during their duel to the death. Water break, tie my shoes, let's get new weapons. Of course they call it off and settle their dispute. Reminded me Roland taming the giant in one of the chansons de geste. The moral of the story is don't punch horses in the face. Audun's Tale is about a guy who brings a bear from Greenland to the king of Denmark, in order to pay for a pilgrimage to Rome. But he has trouble with the Norwegian king, who wants the bear for himself. I'm assuming it was a polar bear. Halldor Snorrason gets on the bad side of the Norwegian king and has to hightail it out of Trondheim.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    I have not actually read this whole book, I just read Hraknkel's Saga in the larger collection of Icelandic Sagas I am going through and wanted a venue to review it on its own. This is a much shorter tale than Egil's Saga, which I read a few weeks ago, and probably much more accessible for that. If Egil's is a novel, then Hrafnkel's is a short story and all the better for it. Told with an economy of information that makes the material timeless and appealingly opaque, this is one of the best piec I have not actually read this whole book, I just read Hraknkel's Saga in the larger collection of Icelandic Sagas I am going through and wanted a venue to review it on its own. This is a much shorter tale than Egil's Saga, which I read a few weeks ago, and probably much more accessible for that. If Egil's is a novel, then Hrafnkel's is a short story and all the better for it. Told with an economy of information that makes the material timeless and appealingly opaque, this is one of the best pieces of writing from pre-modern times that I have come across. There are no heroes or villains in Hrafnkel's Saga, only proud men doing irreparable harm to one another because of the philosophies of pride, honor, and devotion which guide their society. The reader's ultimate reaction to the material depends as much upon his or her own perspective and philosophies as anything in the text. Great, great, great stuff.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rhys

    Back in my teens (during the 1980s) I collected Penguin Classics. I bought a dozen Viking Sagas but never got round to reading any of them. At long last I've decided to remedy the situation and this is the first of them. *Hrafnkel's saga* is one of the shortest major sagas but it's a remarkable work... nonetheless, one of the first examples of "realism" in world literature, though it's a curiously alien realism by modern standards... This book contains six other stories dating from the 13th Cent Back in my teens (during the 1980s) I collected Penguin Classics. I bought a dozen Viking Sagas but never got round to reading any of them. At long last I've decided to remedy the situation and this is the first of them. *Hrafnkel's saga* is one of the shortest major sagas but it's a remarkable work... nonetheless, one of the first examples of "realism" in world literature, though it's a curiously alien realism by modern standards... This book contains six other stories dating from the 13th Century. They tell of an age when men were willing to die for the sake of a point of honour; and they were prepared to kill for much less than that. Superb and fascinating!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matt Poland

    A good, short introduction to Icelandic sagas. The stories, especially "Thorstein the Staff-Struck," emblematize those things that are so good about the sagas: the collocation of Christian and pagan ideas (and the tension between them), clear-eyed realism and seriousness of tone, and wry humor. I would argue that anyone who grew up in a rural area, in Iceland or elsewhere, will recognize these hard-headed people, and feel at least somewhat welcome in their community.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    Not only was Hrafnkel’s Saga written in medieval times, it’s also historical fiction. Written in the 13th century, it describes events loosely based upon characters from the 9th century. Scholars have identified the likely author as Abbot Brand Jonson, a 13th century intellectual, church leader, teacher, and mediator. Several of the stories involve the theme of rulers and mediation, both fair and unfair. Half of the stories take place in Iceland, a rough rural country ruled by feudal lords. A fe Not only was Hrafnkel’s Saga written in medieval times, it’s also historical fiction. Written in the 13th century, it describes events loosely based upon characters from the 9th century. Scholars have identified the likely author as Abbot Brand Jonson, a 13th century intellectual, church leader, teacher, and mediator. Several of the stories involve the theme of rulers and mediation, both fair and unfair. Half of the stories take place in Iceland, a rough rural country ruled by feudal lords. A few shorter stories take place in the courts of 9th century Norway and Denmark, where kings Harald Hardradi and Svein Ulfsson rule respectively. These latter stories are fictionalized to the point where scholars have determined that the author had no first-hand experience in royal court surrounds. Yet this makes these stories all the more charming and personal. The stories are part action drama, part clan psychology, and part cautionary tale. Life was tough in medieval days! Pride and power are frequent themes, and the craftiest person, rather than the most “moral” often wins these Icelandic power struggles. Killing someone can be the best long-term solution to problems, and missing such opportunities can be fatal. The court stories, by contrast, show more refined sensibilities, where kings don’t punish small and not-so-small transgressions, which is no doubt not historically accurate. Nonetheless, these stories have more familiar themes, such as the king who helps the fool and who tries to keep peace in his land by showing compassion to his subjects. My favorite is “Audun’s Story,” a court story. Auden, a poor laborer, through helpful actions and diplomacy manages to befriend two feuding kings and make a pilgrimage to Rome (Christianity being all the new rage). He experience cycles of poverty and wealth with a even-minded outlook—while all the time providing for his aged mother at home in Iceland. My favorite rural story is “Thorstein the Staff-Struck,” which although it has its share of violence also depicts good governance, fair fighting, and compassion for others rewarded. Historians, lover of all things Nordic, and adult fairy tale buffs will enjoy this historical treasure.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alexander

    At just shy of 100 pages, this collection of Icelandic sagas is a quick and enjoyable read. Unlike other sagas that sometimes get bogged down in genealogical information and throw a number of complicated names at you, these stories feature a small cast of characters overcoming real-world problems. I enjoyed each saga. It was satisfying to see the connections to other works I've recently read, namly Njal's Saga and King Harald's Saga. Minor characters in those tales are expanded in this collectio At just shy of 100 pages, this collection of Icelandic sagas is a quick and enjoyable read. Unlike other sagas that sometimes get bogged down in genealogical information and throw a number of complicated names at you, these stories feature a small cast of characters overcoming real-world problems. I enjoyed each saga. It was satisfying to see the connections to other works I've recently read, namly Njal's Saga and King Harald's Saga. Minor characters in those tales are expanded in this collection. My personal favorite was Thorstein Staff-Struck, which involves a feud that is driven not by the participants so much as those who push them into bloodshed by stressing the need to protect one's honor. The collection closes with Ivar's tale, which is also a gem. It features a retainer of the Norwegian king who is lovesick for a woman he can never have, his brother's wife. The solution is a far-cry to the usual heroic deeds described in later medieval epics. Instead we are given a human and highly relatable glimpse into how little has changed over the centuries when it comes to mending a broken heart.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Weirdly enough, I was just discussing Norse sagas with someone when this turned up in my book collection. I have no memory of obtaining it, but there it was. These are short prose translations of medieval manuscripts, ranging from very short stories to the longer title piece. They unveil a few of the things we understand [or often misunderstand] about the Viking period, and the world of Iceland. In one case, the character is Icelandic, but the action takes place in Europe. Characters in this world Weirdly enough, I was just discussing Norse sagas with someone when this turned up in my book collection. I have no memory of obtaining it, but there it was. These are short prose translations of medieval manuscripts, ranging from very short stories to the longer title piece. They unveil a few of the things we understand [or often misunderstand] about the Viking period, and the world of Iceland. In one case, the character is Icelandic, but the action takes place in Europe. Characters in this world don't always get what we think of as "justice," and their idea of a court of law isn't ours, but several of the stories are centered around legal cases. The book is short enough that you won't get bogged down, and the snippets of history that crop up in the footnotes are interesting enough that you will want to read those, too. The stories are good but not great, simply because some of them are very straightforward, and are about characters that are hard to like, by modern standards. Still, the book is worth reading if you're interesting in Viking history.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David Cain

    The seven medieval sagas in this short volume (written in the 13th century) are each about as straightforward and simple as an epic saga can be. Much of the conflict is "man vs. man", with sometimes arbitrary disagreements leading to serious consequences, other times being resolved easily. These are very plot-driven, offering little insight into the motivations of these characters. These would probably best be described as historical fiction, as many of the characters were real people in the 11t The seven medieval sagas in this short volume (written in the 13th century) are each about as straightforward and simple as an epic saga can be. Much of the conflict is "man vs. man", with sometimes arbitrary disagreements leading to serious consequences, other times being resolved easily. These are very plot-driven, offering little insight into the motivations of these characters. These would probably best be described as historical fiction, as many of the characters were real people in the 11th and 12th centuries. Most of the action takes place in Iceland, with some characters venturing further afield to Norway, Denmark, and Italy. The English translation makes these quite readable and accessible to a modern audience.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jackson Cyril

    The great medieval Scandinavian Sagas continue to shock and beguile. Such stunning naturalism, such depth of character psychology, such broad humanism!-- they are, in my view, the best kept secret in Weltliteratur.

  18. 5 out of 5

    C

    "Short is the age of over-boldness" If a man let's you ride all except one if his horses, don't ride the horse forbidden to you. Also, maybe you shouldn't murder someone just for stealing a horse, especially after he rescued your missing sheep....

  19. 5 out of 5

    microlith

    Has some cool joints. Everyone’s killy, dark, completely homicidally into horses. Plus “Hrafnkel” is almost identical to my crudely elided work email!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Lehman

    The title story is one of the densest, richest short stories you are likely to encounter. Typical saga understated brilliance.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I guess I was expecting more of an epic oops

  22. 5 out of 5

    Keith Blackman

    Icelandic sage that takes place in the 10th century, probably written down in the 13th century.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Claire Martin

    Classic story that illustrates how wonderful the sagas are.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Frasca

    Strange but fascinating

  25. 4 out of 5

    K. P.

    Read these back in college, fun time.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bassem Raafat

    I thought i would enjoy these more, but they don't offer the same Medieval vibe you would find with Chaucer for example. The stories are plain and easy to follow, however the characters are either ideally good and promoting good morals in more of a fable fashion rather than true human behavior, or plain evil and are offered as an example of inappropriate conduct. These are supposed to be stories from everyday life in medieval Iceland and they do give insight about the land and history, and what i I thought i would enjoy these more, but they don't offer the same Medieval vibe you would find with Chaucer for example. The stories are plain and easy to follow, however the characters are either ideally good and promoting good morals in more of a fable fashion rather than true human behavior, or plain evil and are offered as an example of inappropriate conduct. These are supposed to be stories from everyday life in medieval Iceland and they do give insight about the land and history, and what i liked about that period is the overlap between christian and pagan views at that time where people would celebrate Christmas and Easter and go on pilgrimage to Rome yet still have priest chieftains and other gods in one of the tales.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joseph F.

    Okay, I'm a bit biased here. I LOVE Icelandic sagas. My first was Njal's Saga. This was followed by many others. There are different types of these sagas. Most people are probably more familiar with the legendary ones: stories of heroes, monsters and gods. The most popular of this type is the story of Sigurd(Siegried) and the dragon. But there is another type: the family sagas. These are much more real to life stories, and much more prosaic. They take place during or just after the Vikings settle Okay, I'm a bit biased here. I LOVE Icelandic sagas. My first was Njal's Saga. This was followed by many others. There are different types of these sagas. Most people are probably more familiar with the legendary ones: stories of heroes, monsters and gods. The most popular of this type is the story of Sigurd(Siegried) and the dragon. But there is another type: the family sagas. These are much more real to life stories, and much more prosaic. They take place during or just after the Vikings settled in Iceland, but they were written a few hundred years later. Here you will find stories concerning various families and what life was like on a farmstead in Iceland during a time that was hard and gritty. there are here some great grim stories of murder, betrayal, revenge, sorcery and the notorious blood feud. But there is also much kindness and humor: kinship, friendship, generosity, ribaldry. It is amazing that even though this is a different world that we may not relate to, we can't help but feel for the characters and situations. This is mainly because no matter what time and place, humans undergo suffering, no matter how undeserved it may seem. Hrafnkel's Saga, the first of the stories, tells how a powerful and rich farmer is cut down to size because of a murder he committed. But just when you think he is beaten, his fortunes are reversed for the better, thanks to some hard work combined with a little humility. I'm not going to go into the details of the other stories, just that they are all great and deserve a wider audience.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Janis

    The stories in this collection of Icelandic sagas date from the 13th century but take place centuries before that. They're fascinating! I expected Homeric but they're a little more...homey. They're full of characters named Thord and Thorarin, Thorhall and Thorvald (many of whom have bad tempers and handy weapons), and tell of fights among relatives, lawsuits, drinking contests, and staged horse fights. I liked the flawed characters, and I liked that some of them grew and changed while others did The stories in this collection of Icelandic sagas date from the 13th century but take place centuries before that. They're fascinating! I expected Homeric but they're a little more...homey. They're full of characters named Thord and Thorarin, Thorhall and Thorvald (many of whom have bad tempers and handy weapons), and tell of fights among relatives, lawsuits, drinking contests, and staged horse fights. I liked the flawed characters, and I liked that some of them grew and changed while others didn't. I was especially drawn to the sense of place in these tales, and how places became tied to events (when Freyfaxi the horse is killed on a bluff, it is forever after known as Freyfaxahamar). Bogs and moors are described in great detail, as if the reader were being told how to get to Thorkel's farmstead. It was great to experience this new world of literature.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Lang

    An interesting little collection of sagas and stories from the old Icelandic peoples. I'm glad I read this as a primer to Njal's Saga. There are hints of pagan spiritualism in Hrafnkel's story, but it is not romanticized. The author definitely threw in a few Christian ethical spins (or maybe they would have accumulated naturally through the passing of these tales through medieval Iceland). There are great moments of sacrifice, honour, and a subtle sense of humour in some of these stories. It's a An interesting little collection of sagas and stories from the old Icelandic peoples. I'm glad I read this as a primer to Njal's Saga. There are hints of pagan spiritualism in Hrafnkel's story, but it is not romanticized. The author definitely threw in a few Christian ethical spins (or maybe they would have accumulated naturally through the passing of these tales through medieval Iceland). There are great moments of sacrifice, honour, and a subtle sense of humour in some of these stories. It's a quick read, so if you have a few hours, give it a go. I particularly liked little moments of description and lineage in Hrafnkel's saga and some of the other longer ones. It conjures a lot of "Viking" imagery and history. Anyways, I have high expectations now for Njal's saga, and I hope I get a bigger glimpse at the native spirituality as well in that story.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Travis Ferber

    An interesting book for its insight into the world of medieval Iceland. This was a world from whence our judicial system was derived, yet despite these laws the ultimate arbiter of any issue was force in Iceland. From a cultural perspective, the issues and concerns of the characters in the sagas were very similar to our modern day concerns. However, the jilted nature of the linear narrative, plodding along often to anticlimactic ends could be a bit perturbing. It left me thinking how unfortunate An interesting book for its insight into the world of medieval Iceland. This was a world from whence our judicial system was derived, yet despite these laws the ultimate arbiter of any issue was force in Iceland. From a cultural perspective, the issues and concerns of the characters in the sagas were very similar to our modern day concerns. However, the jilted nature of the linear narrative, plodding along often to anticlimactic ends could be a bit perturbing. It left me thinking how unfortunate for the Icelanders if these were the stories that they were told. Some left me scratching my head going, "That's it?" Perhaps that's an even more telling insight into the culture and its connection with our own: the medieval Icelanders had bad writers too.

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