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NESP Reviews


The Icelandic Saga
By Peter Hallberg, intro. & notes by Paul Schach

Review by Hringari Óðinssen

       This book begins by speaking on the settlement age, and I cannot find many differences in opinion between Hallberg's characterization of Iceland and what I gleaned from Njal's Saga itself. This condensed history runs straight from the age of the settlement to the rule of the Sturlings, brief and to the point.
       The rest of the history presented runs through to the fall of the commonwealth.
       Much of Hallberg's assessment of the sagas deals with the question of whether they were written as prose, history in the strictest sense, or fictionalizing. He includes a long piece on writing style and character delineation, granting that the artistic effects presented are very finely calculated.
       There is also a chapter on the use of humor and kennings, which, if you know the sagas at all, could be somewhat misleading. I find some of what may be considered 'humourous' in such writing actually barbed attacks on certain individuals, which he does not seem to mention.
       There is an interesting chapter on dreams and destiny in the book, relating to how such ideas were always in support of the native religion, but this part most decidedly has a christian inspired slant to it. Enough said.
       Thereafter he runs a short synopsis of the major and minor sagas, including: Borgfirdinga sogur, the Vestfirdinga sogur, and of course the Austfirdinga sogur.
       Mentioning Norway, he includs Egils saga Skallgrimssonar, and the beautiful Sonatorrek, of which I have most memorized by now.
       Hallfredar and Kormaks sagas are mentioned but not expounded upon.
       There a few language paralled sagas included, namely a piece of the Njala, in Old Icelandic, Modern Icelandic, and Swedish, which make for fascinating comparison. The slight differences in them seem only to be in orthography.
       Over all this is a good preview for anyone needing enticement to actually read them in their original.

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