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Njal's Saga (Penguin Classics) Paperback – May 28, 2002
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About the Author
Robert Cook is Professor of English at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is an historical telling of oral tradition, exaggerations to lift the families that were respected and slander those unliked. It starts with one character's journey, goes onto another (who also gets to deal with the previous character), then onto yet another, then on to families, the take-over of Christianity, internal squabbles, etc. It's actually a really good read if you're into history with a bit of embellishment that's not like America's embellishment of our own history where we've always been good; it stays somewhat objective and embellishes for drama.
I bought this translation, Cook's. There seemed to be two main choices, this or Magnus Magnusson's, and I noticed a few reviewers quite bluntly trashing Cook's translation, promoting Magnus's instead. I decided to start with Cook's anyway, figuring that, even if it was inferior to Magnusson's, I wouldn't know what I was missing, since I hadn't yet read Magusson's. Admittedly, I still haven't read Magnusson's translation, but I enjoyed Cook's translation very much and did not by any means think of it as lacking.
In fact, in Cook's notes on the translation presented in the book, he explains his motivation and justification for translating the saga the way he did, in a way that seems to anticipate the disfavor of his translation by loyal Magnusson fans:
"[This translation] differs from previous translations of Njal's Saga...in attempting to duplicate the sentence structure and spare vocabulary of the Icelandic text."
After giving a few examples of the stylistic eccentricities in which the saga was originally written and demonstrating how he attempted to reproduce them in his translation--even contrasting an excerpt of Magnusson's translation with his own--he goes on to say:
"It is hoped that the reader of this translation will accept--and even learn to enjoy--these and other efforts at fidelity, though they may seem strange at first. The intent has been to create a translation with the stylistic "feel" of the Icelandic original."
Clearly, Cook did not set out to create a dry, inferior translation; rather he set out to create a more stylistically faithful translation, even if it meant sacrificing some of the flare and drama to which we as modern readers are accustomed.
Regarding the story itself...what can one say? There is something immensely powerful about reading a piece of literature that was written over seven centuries ago and discovering that its author and the people about whom he wrote had many of the same thoughts, feelings, and problems that we do today. When a character responds emotionally to a situation, or feels frustrated because of a moral dilemma, we can still, despite the vast chasm of time separating us, so easily relate to him or her. Even the author's humor and wit are delightfully close to home. Stories such as Njal's Saga remind us that people from long ago and far away are just that: people. Just like us. In a popular culture that has a tendency to glorify the ephemeral, trendy Here and Now, it's a fact that's easy to forget.
One of the highlights is a horribly hilarious account of the Battle of Clontarf, in which Brian Boru and his men - including many friends and relatives of his opponents - fight off invading Icelanders hired by his divorced wife to back her sons' claim to kingship. One of those being chased by another with battle-axe raised stops to do up his shoelace. "What are you stopping for?" asks yer man, axe still held ready to drop, and the shoelace-tyer shrugs and says: "I wouldn't reach home by nightfall anyway." The axeman laughs so much he has to let him go.