- Series: Penguin Classics (Book 218)
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics (November 30, 1969)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140442189
- ISBN-13: 978-0140442182
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #703,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Laxdaela Saga (Penguin Classics)
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Text: English (translation)
About the Author
Magnus Magnusson is an Icelander who has been resident in Scotland for most of his life, and is well-known for his presentation of the BBC's Mastermind. He is also chairman of the Scottish National Heritage. He studied English and Old Icelandic at Oxford University. Hermann Palsson studied Icelandic at the University of Iceland and Celtic at University College, Dublin. Formerly Professor of Icelandic at the University of Edinburgh and General Editor of the New Saga Library, he has written many books on the history and literature of medieval Iceland. He died in 2003.
Top customer reviews
The saga tells the story of the residents of the Lax river's dale from the founding of Iceland until shortly after the conversion to Chistianity. It is full of humor (the episode of the killing of Helgi, when Helgi strkes Thorkel through the door, wounding him through his helmet, and Thorkel's response is to tell folks that someone is, most certainly, at home). However, what makes this saga truly unique is its handling of tragedy.
In many ways the feud in this saga is similar to that in Njal's saga. Both feuds are between friends, but the fires are stoked by women, for example. But while Halgerd in Njal's Saga is often a less-than-sympathetic figure, Gudrun here is entirely sympathetic.
All in all, this is an impressive saga and well worth reading. It has romance, comedy, tragedy, and much more. I would highly recommend it.
Laxdaela Saga lacks any sense of organized religion until Kjartan and Bolli go to Norway and meet King Olaf. Prior to their trip, sporadic appearances of loosely connected superstitions seem to represent the belief system, such as the ghost of Killer-Hrapp haunting the living (77), the belief that quarreling brings bad luck in fishing villages (69), and the consultation of the "prescient" Gest for the interpretation of Gudrun's dreams (119). The author focuses on human relationships throughout the saga, but in the diction of chapters 40 and 41, a subtle dislike for the church shows through. While the narrative remains very matter-of-fact and with a tone of objectivity, the imposition of a new religion seems to annoy the characters, but they do not become volatile at all.
The author doesn't indict Christianity as a negative institution, but describes King Olaf Tryggvason as a ruthless leader in his campaign to convert Iceland. Olaf is politically shrewd, and knows when to placate Kjartan and when to turn the screws. The first mention of Olaf shows him ordering "a change of faith in Norway, but the people were by no means agreed on it" (143). Shortly after that, Olaf stifles the economy of Iceland by placing an embargo on them "because they refused to accept the new faith he was proclaiming" (144). After a swimming contest with Kjartan, king Olaf offers a gift to Kjartan, and the narrator comments on Kjartan's acceptance: "he put himself too much in the king's power" (145). The city of Trondheim is converted without bloodshed, and the tide turns in favor of conversion. Kjartan declares his opposition, threatening to "burn the king in his house" (146). One of Olaf's spies reports the threat, and Olaf shrewdly becomes magnanimous in a case where he could have executed Kjartan. Olaf understands the value of having Kjartan on his side, and says, "I shall not force you to become Christians on this occasion, for God has said that he does not wish anyone to come to him under duress" (147).
This speech serves Olaf politically, as the crowd cheers for him. Kjartan responds with thanks, and by this act of clemency, Olaf gains Kjartan as an ally, though unconverted. To Olaf's credit, his example of living impresses Kjartan, but while Olaf presents himself as trusting and holy, we learn that "he had spies in all the lodgings of the pagans" (149). During Christmas, Kjartan and Bolli are baptised into the Christian church.
After conversion, Olaf tightens his control over Kjartan by telling him, "I will only grant you leave on the condition that you...compel the people there to accept Christianity, either by force or persuasion" (150). The claim that no one should come to Christianity "under duress" is now abandoned. During the final steps of conversion, pagans are murdered, threats are made, and another embargo goes into effect (151). By the end of chapter 41, Kjartan and three others become political hostages in Norway. In the following chapter, "the whole of the people of Iceland accepted the faith" (153). In comparison to other conversion stories, such as Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the conversion occurs smoothly. The culture is not devastated. Once Kjartan returns to Iceland, we hear little of church affairs. Near the end, Gudrun becomes "a deeply religious woman, and was the first woman in Iceland to learn the Psalter" (153). As a whole, the saga does not seem too concerned with organized religion, but with simple decency.
Amazing stories of human interaction. In general, the characters cannot be categorized as black or white, good or evil, because the author concedes the nuances and imperfections that sometimes get left out of family histories.
Most recent customer reviews
There's little discernible humor in the sagas, but there are occasional moments of grim amusement.Read more
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