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Egil's Saga (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 24, 1977
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
My favorite Saga. I can leave this in my forever, pull it out randomly, and sink in. It can $afford$ to get wear and tear, so my nicer books stay home. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Eirik Seppä
Egil is one of the oddest, most unattractive characters you run into in the Icelandic sagas. He is giant (has ogres in his family) and misshapen, murders his first victim at age... Read morePublished on November 16, 2009 by Fíal
I am no scholar of the sagas; in fact, this is only the third one that I've read. I don't know how close this translation is to the original, but I am impressed that the poetry... Read morePublished on January 5, 2006 by Thewsson
This is one of the best of the Sagas I have read. Egil Skallagrimsson is a fascinating character. He is a skilled poet. He's a powerful warrior. Read morePublished on March 16, 2005 by J. W. Kennedy
Hermann Pálsson's translation of Egil's Saga, does a great job of making this Icelandic saga accessible to an English-speaking reader. Read morePublished on November 16, 2003 by Alex Harn
Reader's who are looking for a blunt and quick moving saga should buy Egil's Saga right away. Egil, a Viking worthy of many stories, kills his first man when he's six years old. Read morePublished on November 10, 2003 by Alex Bryson
If I were to describe Egil's Saga in a phrase I'd say it was the portrait of a person who has natural-born monster like qualities(such as those of Cathy in East of Eden, by John... Read morePublished on October 30, 2003 by melissa munoz
This book translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards is well worth the money. It's writing style is fairly smooth and the translation seems to follow the original text... Read morePublished on October 30, 2003 by dw232