The Sagas of the Icelanders

Front Cover
Jane Smilely
Penguin Books Limited, 2001 - Fiction - 782 pages
58 Reviews
'The Icelandic Sagas remain one of the great marvels of world literature, a great human achievement.  We can see how much of our Western modern tradition of narrative realism begins with them.  But we can also see that the subsequent seven centuries have produced no other work so timelessly up-to-date, nothing with such a supreme, undistorted sense of actuality, nothing so tempered and tested by such a formidable seriousness of life.'
- Ted Hughes
In Iceland, the ages of the Vikings is alos called the Saga Age.  A unique body of medieval literature, the Sagas rank with the world's great literary treasures-as epic as Homer, as deep in tragedy as Sophocles, as engagingly human as Shakespeare.  Set around the turn of the last millennium, these stories depict with an astonishingly modern realism the lives and deeds of the Norse men and women who first settled Iceland and of their descendants, who ventured farther west-to Greenland and, ultimately, the coast of North America.
The Sagas are not typical heroic literature, but rather tales of flesh-and-blood people burdened with a heroic legacy-the Viking traditions of honor and blood vengeance.  Deeply rooted in the real world of their day, concise and straightforward in style, the Sagas explore perennial human problems: love and hate, fate and freedom, crime and punishment, travel and exile.  For the modern reader, it is the psychological intensity and depth of the characters as much as the codes of honor and ethics that capture the imagination.
Though strong men dominate the Saga stage, it is often clever and beautiful women who manipulate the course of events behind the scenes.  Among the colourful cast of women found throughout the Sagas, perhaps none is more intriguing than Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir.  Born in Iceland, married in Greenland, Dudrid sailed to Vinland, where she bore a son-the first person of European ancestry born in North America.  Formidable and independent-minded, Gudrid was the most widely travelled woman in the world-and would remain so for another five hundred years.
The eleven Sagas and six shorter tales in this volume recount the adventures of the settlers who first came from Norway to Iceland's shores, and how they founded a unique commonwealth of chieftains with no king in this brave new world of towering mountains and lonely fjords.  The celebrated 'Vinland Sagas' Began a new chapter in world history, telling of Leif Eiriksson's pioneering voyage to the New World; these sagas contain the oldest descriptions of the North American continent and mark the first contact between Europeans and Native Americans.
This Penguin edition of The Sagas of Icelanders, commemorating the thousandth anniversary of Leif Eiriksson's historic voyage, is drawn from the first English translation of the entire corpus of the Sagas, together with the forty-nine connected tales-a five-volume set published by Leifur Eiriksson Publishing, Iceland.  Thirty translators were selected for this monumental project, including leading international scholars from seven countries.

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Review: The Sagas of Icelanders

User Review  - Andrew - Goodreads

A pretty nice introduction to the Norse Sagas for those who've never read them before. Read full review

Review: The Sagas of Icelanders

User Review  - Gabriel M. Clarke - Goodreads

I've read various sags before but never such a huge "chunk" at one go. The language (the Icelandic daughter of one of the translators tells me they capture the feel of the original very well) gets ... Read full review

About the author (2001)

Jane Smiley's ten works of fiction include The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, Ordinary Love and Good Will, Moo, A Thousand Acres (which won the Pulitzer Prize), and most recently the bestselling Horse Heaven.

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