King Harald’s Saga

This is a relatively short and straightforward read in an excellent, fluent translation by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson. It was published in 1966, 900 years after the events of the Great Year it describes, for this is the life story of King Harald Sigurdsson, known as Hardrada (hard ruler), the Norwegian king who invaded […]

The Saga of the Jomsvikings

Classifying sagas Hundreds of long prose texts were composed in Iceland in the 13th and 14th centuries, the texts we call sagas. Modern scholars bring some order to this profusion by classifying them as: sagas of Icelanders (Íslendinga sögur) – just over 40 texts describing what purport to be the true exploits of ordinary figures […]

The Saga of Eirik the Red

Two short sagas deal with the legendary discovery of America by Vikings – the Saga of the Greenlanders (Grœnlendinga saga) and the Saga of Eirik the Red (Eiríks saga rauða). Eirik’s saga is slightly longer (13 chapters versus 8) and is thought to be the later of the two, though both only reached their final […]

The Saga of the Greenlanders

Two short sagas deal with the legendary discovery of America by Vikings – the Saga of the Greenlanders (Grœnlendinga saga) and the Saga of Eirik the Red (Eiríks saga rauða). To be honest, neither of them seem to me to have much literary merit and to be mainly of historical interest (which is considerable). The […]

The Saga of Ref the Sly

Króka-Refs saga or The Saga of Ref the Sly is a relatively short one, with just 20 chapters. Summary Everyone thinks Ref is a layabout till he kills his overbearing neighbour and escapes to Greenland where he kills five members of a family who slander him then outwits his pursuers using a Heath-Robinson system of waterworks […]

The saga of Hen-Thorir

Hænsna-Þóris saga takes place in Borgafjord in the west of Iceland. The old William Morris translation included a handy map: Short synopsis An unfortunate misunderstanding leads to the burning of well-thought-of chieftain Blund-Ketil. His son recruits powerful allies and brings the burners to justice, not without several bloody fights. Detailed synopsis 1 – Odd Onundarson […]

The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue

A short saga at a mere 13 chapters, Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue is intimately linked with the other major sagas: the woman in the love triangle at the heart of the saga is Helga, daughter of Thorstein who is the son of Egil Skallgrimsson, the hero of Egils saga; his sister, Thorgerd (Egil’s-daughter) married Olaf the Peacock […]

Eyrbyggja Saga 2

Could be called Snorri’s saga, as Snorri the Priest is born in chapter 12, dies in the last chapter (65) and dominates most of the action in between, if only as peacemaker between the various gangs which come to inhabit the Snæfelsness peninsula in north-west Iceland where it is set. He inhabits a larger proportion […]

Gisli Sursson’s saga

All knowledgeable men agree that Gisli survived as an outlaw longer than any other man, except Grettir Asmundarson. (Chapter 22) Gísla saga Súrssonar aka the saga of Gisli the outlaw. 38 chapters so not short enough to be a tale and not long enough to qualify as a ‘major’ saga, it is often considered the […]

The Saga of the Confederates

Bandamanna saga is that rare thing, a saga with a sense of humour. It is a satire on the venality of the chieftain class who spout fine words and bring big law cases but are only motivated by greed and can be easily bought off. 1 – Ofeig lives in Midfjord. He’s not rich. He […]