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The Saga of Didrik of Bern: with The Dwarf King Laurin Paperback – August 26, 2017
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About the Author
Ian Cumpstey lived and worked in Sweden for around eight years. He has now returned to England, and lives in Cumbria. He is an associate member of the Swedish to English literary translators association. He has published three collections of translations of Scandinavian folk ballads: Lord Peter and Little Kerstin (2013), Warrior Lore (2014), and The Faraway North (2016).
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I fell in love with the Dietrich-legends a couple of years ago. Since then, I have read pretty much everything available about them in English, and created several storytelling performances from the various stories from the cycle. I especially enjoyed the Norwegian Thidrekssaga, but while I was aware that there was a Swedish version as well, it was not available in English. This volume makes up for that gap in the literature (and on my bookshelf), and I am extremely grateful for it.
This book contains two texts: The Swedish Didrik saga, and the Danish version of the legend of King Laurin's Rose Garden (one of my favorite legends from the Dietrich cycle). Both are concise, carefully translated, easily readable, and come with a whole lot of useful and interesting notes and comments. They are both broken up into chapters, and also smaller sections. The Didrik saga, as the author notes, has probably been strung together from individual stories in the oral tradition, because sometimes it has inconsistencies, but it still ends up as a continuous story, from Dietrich's ancestry all the way to his death.
If you have never heard of Dietrich before, or never read any of his legends, this book can be a great introduction. It contains most of the important stories, and a lot of the fun ones - Sir Sintram being stuck in a dragon's mouth, Wittich slaying a giant and then pretending to be dead to prank his comrades, a sorcerer-queen raising an army of dragons to combat some knights, Sir Heym the Small trying to live as a monk and failing at it, or Tristan's brother going through the same forbidden love story, but finding a practical way to get out of it alive (and married). Next to these entertaining bits, the saga also contains some of the "big" stories - Dietrich in exile, Hildebrand fighting his own son, and, of course, the End of the Niebelungs, from King Attila's perspective (with Dietrich's active participation, and an incredibly epic fight scene). Most people, when they think "medieval legends with dragons and sorcerers" think King Arthur... but in truth, the Dietrich cycle has a lot more of the dragons, giants, sorcerers, Dwarf kingdoms, and other magical elements. In addition, it is deeply tied to a lot of other famous stories from the Middle Ages, such as King Arthur (see Tristan), Weyland the Smith, Egil the Archer, and, of course, Attila the Hun. The characters that surround Dietrich, just as the King himself, are all interesting and complex, all with their own personality, destiny, and adventures.
This book is a rich and exciting read, opening up an underappreciated world of magic and chivalry.