Mar 6, 2007

A New Saga Favorite

Ok, so I've never met an Icelandic saga that I don't like. But here is one I LOVE:

Sagas of Warrior Poets. Various translators, with an introduction by Diana Whaley. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. 346 pgs. Includes: Kormak's Saga, The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue, The Saga of Bjorn, Champion of the Hitardal People, Viglund's Saga.

Whaley's introduction provides an intellectual framework for understanding the place that this work holds in the saga repertoire, and it also helps explain why this selection from the warrior poets is so spellbinding. First, what they have in common is that they feature a central character who is a poet; there is a love triangle plot; and the hero travels abroad. These stories are "designed more for reading aloud than for private contemplation." Whaley points out characteristics of the warrior poet oeuvre that also are very typical and effective characteristics of sagas in general, namely, "character and motive emerge through action and dialogue", and the characters display "a complex mix of flaws and virtues which is quite rare in European medieval literature." She compares the "spare, stark but vibrant prose" to that of hard-boiled fiction of Hemingway! The "... intricacy and apparent impartiality of much saga narrative give these works an open-endedness that offers fascinating scope for interpretation of their meaning and aesthetic qualities." Thanks to Diana Whaley I can see the peculiar qualities that make the sagas so universally appealing.

Whaley also points out that many of the skals, or poets who make up the heroes in this collection have "awkward temperaments [that] are associated with their poetic gifts." They can be eloquent and gracious, brutal and selfish; they are true anomalies. Each tale in this collection is engrossing and satisfying to read, yet the collection culminates with two exceptionally beautiful tales, with particularly endearing characters.

Viglund's Saga surprises the reader with many selfless individuals, and a hero-poet, Viglund, who is eloquent, devoted and faithful to his love, Ketilrid. The long narrative, with many twists and turns of plot, is a tale both original and fresh, and poignantly romantic. Of the many wonderful sagas, this collection stands out. Don't miss it!

So, in the honored tradition of the Iceland Weather Report I will report that the weather in Richmond tonight is 29.7°F, -1.3°C ...colder than Iceland right now. Perfect weather for a soccer game! My feet are still cold...but not my head, thanks to my Icelandic hat. Our team (i.e. Peter's team) won, 1 to 0, so it was worth it!

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