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Egil's Saga (Everyman's Library (Paper)) Paperback – March 15, 1993

4.3 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Paperback, March 15, 1993
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Text: English (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Founded in 1906 by J.M. Dent, the Everyman Library has always tried to make the best books ever written available to the greatest number of people at the lowest possible price. Unique editorial features that help Everyman Paperback Classics stand out from the crowd include: a leading scholar or literary critic's introduction to the text, a biography of the author, a chronology of her or his life and times, a historical selection of criticism, and a concise plot summary. All books published since 1993 have also been completely restyled: all type has been reset, to offer a clarity and ease of reading unique among editions of the classics; a vibrant, full-color cover design now complements these great texts with beautiful contemporary works of art. But the best feature must be Everyman's uniquely low price. Each Everyman title offers these extensive materials at a price that competes with the most inexpensive editions on the market-but Everyman Paperbacks have durable binding, quality paper, and the highest editorial and scholarly standards.

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Product Details

  • Series: Everyman's Library (Paper)
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Everyman Paperbacks (March 15, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0460872656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0460872652
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,333,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
[February 2014: Amazon has, from time to time, attached my old (2005) review of the earliest translation of "Egil's Saga," with comments on the later ones, to those other translations, blocking me from individually reviewing many of the others. I've now done some extended editing, and included additional information, so it should be more useful -- and certainly fairer to the translators.]

The story of Egil son of Grim the Bald (Skalla-Grim) is one of the prose works from medieval Iceland known as sagas, and of the major sagas it probably most closely approximates the image popularly associated with the word. The story is multi-generational (it opens in the late 850s, and extends beyond Egil's death around 990). It features Viking adventures, and its primary hero is a devotee of Odin, god of kings, warriors, and poets. The hero's grandfather is rumored to be a werewolf, and the hero, himself both warrior and skald (poet), has thrilling encounters with berserkers and assassins, and engages in a feud with a (perfectly historical) king, Eric Bloodaxe, whose wife (later the Queen-Mother) is a sorceress.

Anyone expecting the hero to be a handsome Norseman from a storybook is going to be in for a shock, though. There are several such, including Egil's beloved brother, Thorolf (named for an uncle who is the hero of the opening chapters), but, like his father, Egil himself is actually outstandingly ugly. And his behavior varies from the admirable to the repellent -- even in Viking-Age eyes. (An explanation for some of this has been proposed recently, pointing out stray details in the verse and prose that suggest a now-recognizable medical disorder, possibly genetic, known as Paget's Disease.
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Format: Paperback
I picked up this book in preparation for a trip to Iceland as a way to get a feel for the country's history, so I expected to appreciate it in an educational sense. In that respect, the book did its job. However, I was also surprised to find both the plot and the writing style engaging, so though I started the book out of a sense of duty, I finished the book wrapped up in the story.
The saga follows the life of Egil Skallagrimmson, one of Iceland's early settlers, beginning with a relatively lengthy section about several generations of ancestors preceding any mention of Egil's birth. Egil himself is a morally ambiguous figure, committing his first murder at six, but displaying moments of generosity and leadership as well, and of course he's also a poet. The action revolves primarily around Egil's movements back and forth between Norway and Iceland, though there is also a section that takes place in England, with Egil acting as a mercenary in a war against Scotland. Sagas do not read like modern novels--this is more of a biography that follows Egil birth to death--but part of the saga's purpose is to entertain, and it does that well.
Two things are involved in making this saga readable: first, the skill of the translators, whose sole fault seems to be an utter inability to translate Egil's poetry in any way that conveys why people thought he was such a great poet (maybe it just sounds better in Icelandic). Fortunately, the poetry takes up a pretty small fraction of the book. More significant is the author's skill together with the distinctive features of the saga genre--namely this: the sagas are primarily concerned with people and their actions. Thus every detail serves to carry the plot forward.
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Format: Paperback
This saga examines four generations of a redoubtable Icelandic family of warrior poets thought to be descended from trolls, beginning with Kveldulf in the first generation; Skallagrim, in the second; Egil, in the third; and finally petering out with Thorstein, who is content to be a mere farmer. They are (frequently) outlawed by the powerful kings of Norway, whom they help but whose jealousy clouds their judgment. They let no man stand in their way, and are formidable even in fights at long odds.
Egil Skallagrimsson, in particular, comes across as a force of nature. We see him in action across Scandinavia, in England where he fights with King Athelstan, and as far afield as the Baltic countries. His poetry, of which there are numerous examples in the saga, are interesting -- yet come from a tradition that is alien to ours, probably much closer to BEOWULF than any other English equivalent.
Unlike so many other saga heroes, Egil dies a natural death, living long enough to lose his strength and be bossed about by servant women. Yet his poetic vision remains to the end:
Life fades, I must fall
And face my own end
Not in misery and mourning
But with a man's heart.
This is one of the five major Icelandic "family" sagas, along with NJALS SAGA, LAXDAELA SAGA, GRETTIR'S SAGA, and EYRBYGGJA SAGA. It may be the best of them all (though I have yet to read GRETTIR'S SAGA at this time). In that distant island so far from the harshness of Dark Ages Europe, a major literature was born that is dramatically different from anything else I have encountered, and that has the ability to move me as few things have.
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