Sagacious by Jonathan Crook
18th September 2017
Vikings! If the image that springs to mind features horned helmets and skull goblets (alas, both fallacies), then reading a few Icelandic sagas will surely change your perception of the Nordic women and men of yore: farmers, shepherds, lawyers, poets, axe-wielding warriors, conquerors of the British Isles and Normandy (literally, "Northmen"), and nautical engineers whose vessels reached North American shores through open ocean and Constantinople via the maze of Eastern European rivers that feed the Black Sea. Rich, curious, and insightful, the Icelandic Sagas offer a fascinating perspective on the Norse Vikings before, during, and after their settlement of the uninhabited island, Iceland.
Whether mythology, history, or poetry, the Icelandic Sagas are a pleasure to read. At the age of six, Egil axed a peer to death for being a more talented athlete. Three years earlier, he rode a horse to a feast that his father had forbidden him from attending–"You [Egil] are difficult enough to cope with when you're sober"–and recited his first poem. These two events offer a glimpse of the sensitive, strong-willed, tempestuous, and poetic Egil Skallagrimsson, whose family is chronicled from its origins in Norway to its settlement in Iceland in Egil's Saga. The Prose Edda lays out an unforgettable mythological framework depicting Yggdrasil, the cosmos envisioned as a great ash tree encompassing the human and godly realms, and Ragnarok, the icy-fiery apocalyptic final battle of the gods after which all life will be extinguished and subsequently re-birthed. Njal's Saga details a ruthless blood feud that neither poetry recitals nor legal cases manage to stop from spiraling wildly out of control. An age-old story that continues to ring true.
Finally, it would be hard to disappoint with The Saga of the Volsungs' hidden treasure, dragon-slaying, and cursed gold ring. Sound familiar to fans of Tolkien?