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swan_tower in sagafans

"... and I think you shouldn't find fault with the story unless you can improve on it" -- part two

A while ago, Janni posted about the afterword to Hrolf Gautreksson, wherein the author basically says, keep your trap shut unless you can do better.

I don't think I ever read that saga . . . but I've taken said author up on his challenge.

I first encountered the poem "The Waking of Angantyr" (for which you can blame my weird fixation on Hervarar saga) in Patricia Terry's Poems of the Elder Edda. Not that "Waking" is from the Elder Edda, but it is composed in an eddic style, which is why she included it. The poem stuck in my head, and then I encountered it again in my Old Norse class; we didn't translate it, but E.V. Gordon includes it in An Introduction to Old Norse. And, as it happens, gets his facts wrong: he says Hervor wants the sword from Angantyr so she can go get revenge. Which isn't what happens; if memory serves, Hjalmar died of his wounds after fighting Angantyr et al, and Arrow-Odd goes off to have his own saga before dying of a snakebite. I didn't know that at the time, though, so between the two of them, Terry and Gordon planted a certain image in my head, of the context around this poem.

Then I read the saga.

I may be weirdly fixated on Hervarar saga, but that doesn't mean I like it. In truth, I was rather disappointed when I finally read it. The different sections don't hang together particularly well, and Hervor -- the badass viking shieldmaiden-type who dragged her father's ghost up to demand his sword from him -- pretty much goes home and has kids after that. Which is so not what I wanted. I found fault, as the author put it, and so I set out to improve on it.

The short version was published last month in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. It has possibly given me more trouble than any short story in my life; I think I wrote the first draft before I tracked down the saga, based solely on the poem, but then after being disappointed by the larger story, I started on my own larger version. That novel hasn't been published yet -- I'd want to give it a thorough revision before my agent showed it to anyone -- but I hope it will be someday. Even if writing it made working on the short story a beast. See, that one needed revision, too, but by then I had all this other context in my head, that doesn't really fit into a short story . . . it would be bad enough if it were the beginning of the novel, but nooooo. I had to put the confrontation at the barrow-mound in the middle of the novel. So it has both backstory and consequences that just don't fit into that little tale.

(For the record? I don't recommend trying this at home. It doesn't work well.)

But anyway. The failure to use Hervor interestingly enough disappointed me, and so I decided to tell a version that went the way I thought it should, where she really did go get revenge afterward. There are other changes, too, some of them owing to my bad memory; I originally thought it was Angantyr and his twelve sons, not Angantyr and his eleven brothers, and got the wrong data too firmly fixed in my head to let go. And y'know, they're berserkers, so it seems to me that she should be, too -- that's one of the ideas the novel spawned, which I had to fight to keep out of the short -- plus you really need something for how she summons up their ghosts, so now you've got blood-magic running around in the story, too . . . .

Who knows what the author of Hervarar saga would think of my version. I don't know that he'd consider it an improvement. But I'm happy with it, and I really do hope the long version sees print someday.

Which brings me to my question: what's the biggest fault in the sagas you've read? What's the plot hole or failure to be interesting that you most want to improve upon? (janni, you're not allowed to say "Hallgerd." We already know about her. Pick another one. <g>)


(Bookmarking story to read later!)

Well, in Laxdæla there's Kjartan's telling Guðrún "I'll give you anything you want to make up for my leaving!" followed by "I mean, except for that!" Doesn't the man know that when you say "I'll give you anything" you'd better be prepared to follow through, especially when you're a character in a larger-than-life story, but really even just as a general practical guideline to day-to-day life?

I'm not sure I want to improve on that one so much as give Kjartan an Even Harder Time for it, though. Because really. What was he thinking?

I've also been puzzled by the bit in Völsunga where Sigurður swears his true love for and desire to marry Brynhildur, then ... just wanders off to another kingdom. And she in turn, having agreed to his declarations (but also prophecied they wouldn't be happy together), constructs a test for him when he comes back, rather than just announcing to her foster-father (or whoever it was), "no, no, I have the marriage thing in hand, just waiting for Sigurður here."

But I'm not sure there'd be a story at all, if I fixed that. :-)

Edited at 2009-11-12 02:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, doing alt versions where people behave sensibly kind of kills the story. :-)
I'm still not sure whether that the central slaying in Gisli's Saga is not shown on stage is a problem or not. I mean, Gisli admits he does, but we never see it. For all we know, he may be covering for someone else -- though there'd have to be a pretty damn powerful reason for it, given what he goes through.

So, flaw or writer snickering up his sleeve at how my narrative expectations have been thwarted? I don't know.

"A pretty damn powerful reason" sounds like story-bait to me!
But of course.

Someone else's though, as I can't think of one myself and have other fish in the frying pan.

and have other fish in the frying pan

We'll wait. :-)
Hallgerður and Gunnar

January 2014

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