Apr 6, 2009

Women and Warriors

John's Review of The Happy Warriors

The Happy Warriors, Halldor Laxness' send-up of Icelandic literature, is a good antidote to those afflicted with an inordinate love of romantic sagas. The champion Thorgeir and his prattling poet-skald Thormod bluster and bully their way across Iceland, Europe, and Greenland, leaving a trail of destruction, death, and mutilation in their wake, all in the name of pursuing an invented heroic ideal. While frequently gruesome, there is comedic bite to their framing every act of wanton cruelty as a display of valor, even when inflicted upon the poor and defenseless.

Laxness has a masterful command of the Icelandic sagas, so language and theme flow naturally from an ancient font. What I found most interesting, however, was the role the feminine plays in The Happy Warriors. Thorgeir, Thormod, and various scoundrels hold center stage, but it is the women in their lives who shape their actions. Thorgeir's mother Thorelf “had little to lavish on her son but stories of champions of old” that continue to infect him with a twisted morality. She goes so far as to fete him for his first murder. Thormod gives up life as a Viking in exchange for the placid domesticity of his marriage to Thordis (“I am the bane of glory to hero and skald”), and then she manipulates him into leaving her to search for the killers of his oath-brother. He fails in his quest when he is seduced by an old love, shacking up with her for several years while the trail turns cold. Witches and troll-wives and queens push the action forward, sparking men to war and murder, then just as frequently pull them back from it. Thorgeir and Thormod, of course, remain oblivious to the feminine sphere of influence* and spin their own illusions of what governs the world.

The Happy Warriors is an indictment of the power of literature to sway and corrupt, while at the same using literature to make its point. Halldor Laxness must have enjoyed the irony. If you can find a copy of this book for less than fifty dollars, send it to my wife. It will justify her sway over my life.


*John declines to state whether he thinks this natural sphere of influence pertains to the sagas and Laxness, or whether it is universal. I wonder.

And I ask myself: am I "afflicted with an inordinate love of romantic sagas"? Don't have to wonder about that one, do we.

Thanks to my most special guest contributor.

Read all reviews of The Happy Warriors.


9uy said...

Thanks for the interesting book review.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, thank you.

Rose said...

How come when my husband writes a post on my blog, he gets complimented AND thanked? Last time I give you space, John. And to think how much I had to pay you...

Anonymous said...


this is my first read since way back before I went to Iceland and had those questions for you. I love your blog! you know that.

Professor Batty said...

Universal sphere of influence, definitely.

Rose said...

Joel, maybe you can email me or post something about your Iceland trip, if/when you have time. I'd love to hear about it!

Batty, yep. Without a doubt.

Anonymous said...

I'll be sure to that, I've been wanting to.

But if don't post them, I'll be sure to send some stories and photos on to you. I've been meaning to put them all on flickr.

Rose said...

Excellent, Joel!