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Iceland, gunnar/hillside OTP, snark snark snark, dying for one's ship, sagas

lnhammer in sagafans

Best starter saga

So what's the best saga to hand to someone who knows nothing about the sagas or medieval Iceland? The best introduction to the world that will get them hooked without getting them totally confused, lost, or turned off?

Because let's face it, while Njal's Saga is the best, it's also the longest and so most intimidating. Furthermore, it's among the most tightly constructed, with hardly any narrative fat to be trimmed from the plot's frame -- which means if you miss something, you can get just a bit lost (for scalable values of "bit"). So possibly not the best introduction. Then there's that standby of world literature anthologies, "Thorstein Staff-Struck," which is a reasonable start -- it has the style and flavor of a typical saga, and large parts of it are readily comprehensible without cultural annotations (especially Thorstein's relationship with his, er, cranky father). But while it had the virtues of brevity, it also has the flaws thereof -- a bit too short to give a full flavor of the other sagas, over just as you've taken the second bite.

But then what? What's your suggestion?

---L.

Comments

My own suggestion is the one world literature anthologies use when they aren't so pressed for space as to need Thorstein: Hrafnkel Frey's Godi. Requires more cultural notes than Thorstein, but while still on the short side, it does give examples of the sort of elaboration and consequences of a typical saga.

---L.
I'd recommend Egil's as a good starter, since it has a solid central biographical thread and a fascinating protagonist.
Even though it takes so long to get to him?

---L.
Hrafnkel is a good starter saga, and I think Gisli makes a good follow-up: it's very spare, but it's very clear.
Gisli might actually make for a good starter. You get both the classic vengeance plot and (unlike Grettir) the strong women who are so much a part of the sagas for me.

Edited at 2009-11-10 03:16 am (UTC)
I was thinking Gisli, too. Though it's been a long time since I was mainlining sagas, so I don't remember them all that well.
I'm probably not the right person to answer this, being Icelandic and an historian as well but I say Hrafnkel's saga. It's concise and with surprisingly modern characters. You don't really need to have a great understanding of medieval culture and society to understand their motivations. Which is perhaps the reason that they make 8th and 9th graders in Iceland read it. Other sagas middle-schoolers often read are the Saga of Gunnlaugur Serpent-tongue, Gísla saga and Grettis saga.
For some reason, Gunnlaugur Serpent-tongue surprises me -- I would not have expected that to be one of the first. Grettir, no surprise at all -- an excellent adventure story, and one I'd suggest ahead of Gisli.

---L.
Hallgerður and Gunnar

January 2014

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