It’s time to dive back into Laxdaela Saga! This time we’re going to wander away from Olaf Peacock and his family for just a little while. Why? Because it’s time to introduce Guðrún Ósvífsdóttir, one of the central figures of the saga! In this episode, we discuss Guðrún’s dreams, her troubled marriage, and some interesting scholarship on gender identity in the saga age.
While Andy’s away, John will play…a recording of his interview with Svanhildur Óskarsdóttirof the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavik. Join us for a discussion of Árni Magnússon’s status as the savior of saga literature and the work of the Institute still carrying on in his name. How important is Árni to Iceland? Well, we found this picture of him:
If that’s not enough, learn how a fire in Copenhagen nearly wiped out the sagas, how vellum pages “wander” from one library to another, who upset a sixteenth-century reader so much that they wrote “damn him!” in a manuscript’s margin, and why missing white gloves causes call-in complaints to Icelandic television.
Our thanks to Svanhildur for her time, expertise, and good humor. Enjoy the conversation, and we’ll be back to Laxdæla saga as soon as John can convince Andy to come home…
Check out the Árni Magnússon Institute’s website here.
In this episode, Olaf Peacock takes center stage as Hoskuld’s life comes to a peaceful close. But don’t think Hoskuld shuffles off this mortal coil before getting one last jab in at his estranged brother Hrut. This episode features an impressive parade, a somewhat lackluster haunting, a trip to Norway, and funeral and wedding feasts. If that’s not enough for you, then you’ll want to stay tuned to hear how Egil Skallagrimsson’s daughter handles a disagreement with her husband.
Thanks again to Jacob Foust (aka @skarphedin_illustrator) for providing us with an original illustration of Olaf’s encounter with Hrapp. You can find more of his work here on Instagram.
In this episode, little Olaf Peacock travels to Norway and then to Ireland on a journey to meet his grandfather Myrkjartan. But how will he pay for it? Traveling overseas in the 10th century isn’t cheap (it still isn’t). How will King Myrkjartan and the Irish welcome the Icelandic son of the long lost Melkorka? And what familiar figure from Saga Thing past pops in for a visit and a quick marriage arrangement? There’s only one way to find out!
We also discuss the presumed burial mounds of Thord Goddi and Skallagrim Kveldulfsson. We explore John’s fascination with the Campbell’s monomyth and similarities between Olaf Peacock and Anakin Skywalker (yes, you read that correctly). For the runesack, we address a funny little stick with strange scratches on it that leads us into yet another conversation about Celtic influences on medieval Icelandic culture and a chat about the origins of our names. There’s a lot going on here!
As promised, here’s a pictures of Andy’s great-grandfather, Andrew Kormos:
And a picture of John’s namesakes:
As always, thank you to Jacob Foust (aka @skarphedin_illustrator) for another original illustration. You can find more of his work here on Instagram.
And finally, some promised bibliography, including works we referenced and some that were used while prepping the episode:
Clover, Carol J. The Medieval Saga. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987.
We’re back with the third installment of Laxdæla saga! In this lengthy episode, we meet a bunch of minor characters who play a role in the developing tensions in Laxárdalur (the Salmon River Valley). This surprisingly fun section starts with a little disagreement between two former friends over a stack of fish. That disagreement erupts into a violent altercation that drags in the major power players of the district, puts a husband and wife at odds, and eventually leads to an opportunity that Hoskuld Dalla-Kollsson simply can’t pass up.
If that’s not enough for you, we’ve got Hrut’s arrival in Iceland and a suspicious (and frankly rude) seal giving unasked for advice to a helpless family. Not since “whack-a-ghost-seal” have we laughed this hard!
Thanks as always to @skarphedin_illustrator for bringing the text to life. Here we see Hrut fully “aroused” into a frenzy battling for his inheritance. If you’re looking to get one of his illustrations on a shirt or in a print, visit his Etsy page.
With the death of Aud the Deep-Minded and the marriage of her son Olaf Feilan at the end of last episode, you’d expect that we’d be following up on the trajectory of Olaf’s life in this one. Instead, we stick to the saga’s structure and dive into the life of Olaf’s nephew, Hoskuld, the son of Dala-Koll and Olaf’s sister, Thorgerd. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of drama to delight you, even if the saga is still holding back on the bloodshed.
In this episode, the widow Thorgerd finds true love, and a new baby, in the arms of a Norwegian. Will this complicate things for her first-born son Hoskuld? You bet it will. And speaking of Hoskuld. How will he handle the responsibilities of running his late father’s farm and acting as a leading man in the district? If you guessed that he would sail off to Norway on a shopping trip to make some home improvements, you were right!
But the real drama of this episode starts when Hoskuld brings home a bit more than lumber. What could he have brought back to Iceland that sends his wife Jorunn into a sock-flailing rage? Listen and find out!
Sayers, William. “Kjartan’s Choice: The Irish Disconnection in the Sagas of the Icelanders.” Scandinavian-Canadian Studies 3 (1988), 89-114.
Sayers, William. “An Irish Descriptive Topos in Laxdaela saga.” Scripta Islandica 41 (1990), 18-34.
Torfi H. Tulinius, “The Matter of the North: Fiction and Uncertain Identities in thirteenth-century Iceland.” Old Norse Literature and Society. Edited by Margaret Clunies-Ross. Cambridge University Press, 2000. 242-265.
In this episode, John and Andy sit down with Robert Eggers and Sjón to chat about the stories behind their recently released saga-inspired film The Northman. That’s right, we’re talking to the director and co-writers of the biggest Viking film to be released since Kirk Douglas was a star! Stick around for the last 20-30 minutes where the four of us work together to put The Northman on trial Saga Thing style.
Warning: This conversation is full of spoilers from the very beginning. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you’ll want to run out and see it before listening. If you’re on the fence about seeing it, then give the episode a listen. Either way, we hope this interview will help you to better appreciate something of the process of creating a large-scale Viking epic for the 21st century and the unparalleled effort to accurately and respectfully adapt Viking Age culture and saga literature for the big screen. The attention to detail in The Northman reflects a great deal of careful research, time, and a genuine love for the rich literary tradition of the Icelandic sagas and Old Norse mythology.
Our thanks to Robert and Sjón for the generous gift of their time and good humor on the Monday morning after the film’s release. And a special thank you to Garrett for helping to set it all up.
Laxdæla saga holds a special place in the world of medieval Icelandic literature. Of all the Sagas of Icelanders, Laxdæla saga is second only to Njáls saga in the number of surviving manuscripts, suggesting an evergreen enthusiasm and interest in the saga from the time of its composition to the 21st century. While we don’t know for sure who wrote this incredible work of art, many have speculated that it might have been Snorri Sturluson himself. Others posit that it must have been one of Snorri’s nephews, either Óláfr Þórðarson hvítaskáld or Sturla Þórðarson. Given the saga’s interest in the lives of women, others have argued that it must be the work of an unknown female author. Whoever wrote Laxdæla saga, one thing is clear, it is among the most beloved and well-studied of all the Icelandic sagas. We’re very excited to finally set sail on this journey through the saga with you.
In this episode, we explore the first seven chapters of the saga, following the life of Auðr djúpúðga Ketilsdóttir, also known as Unnr. Listeners will recognize her as Auð the Deep-minded, daughter of Ketill flatnefur (Ketil Flatnose). She appears in or is referenced in many sagas, including Eyrbyggja saga, Njáls saga, Grettis saga, and Eiríks saga rauða. Here in Laxdæla saga, more than anywhere else, Auð emerges as the matriarch of Settlement Age Iceland’s leading families. As you’ll discover, Auð’s long arm of influence extends well beyond Iceland.
Join us as we celebrate the life of Auð and the start of Laxdæla saga!
Jacob Foust, @skarphedin_illustrator, has provided us with this handy genealogy to help you keep track of the many characters. It can’t possibly include everyone in the saga, of course, but it’s a useful tool for mapping out the relationships between some of the saga’s major characters.
Skál! It’s time for the second part of our Saga Brief series on Drinking in the Viking Age and the Sagas. We’ve already covered what they drank. Now it’s time to look into how they drank. In this episode, we discuss what they drank from and what they did while drinking. Of course, we can only scratch the surface here. There’s so much more to say.
Grab a glass of your favorite beverage and join us for another good time.
After 5 action packed years, it’s time to meet once again at the Saga Thing Quarter Court. In this episode, we review the judgment winners and a few interesting facts about our journey through the last 10 sagas. Now it’s time for you to rank the sagas and vote.
The polls are open untilMarch 15th (The Ides of March!)
Pick your favorite moment of Best Bloodshed, the best Nickname, and the memorable Notable Witticism. You can also vote on which of our Outlawry candidates is worse than all the others. Most important, you get to choose which group of Thingmen you find most impressive according to whatever categories you think best. John’s got a lot of impressive bruisers this time around, led by none other than Egil Skallagrimsson, and Andy’s stocked his hall with the most loyal and capable men, women, trolls, and dogs he could find. Finally, you have the opportunity to share your opinions of our Final Ratings by ranking the top 3 sagas of the Third Quarter (or you can rank all 10). Among the sagas you’ll have to choose from are:
The Saga of Ref the Sly (Króka-Refs saga) – March 2018
The Saga of the People of Kjalarnes (Kjalnesinga saga) – June-July 2018
The Saga of the People of Floi (Flóamanna saga) – September-December 2018
The “Saga” of Ale-Hood (Ölkofra saga/þáttr) – January 2019
The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson (Egils saga Skallagrímssonar) – February 2019-March 2020
The Saga of Hord and the Holm-Dwellers (Harðar saga ok Hólmverja) – May-August 2020
The Saga of Bard the God of Snowfell (Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss) – September-November 2020
The Saga of Thord Menace (Þórðar saga hreðu) – January-April 2021
The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (Fóstbrœðra saga) – June-November 2021
The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup (Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls) – January-February 2022
It’s been a lot of fun working our way through the first 30 Sagas of Icelanders. We’ve only got 10 left! And since we’re starting with Laxdæla saga, it could be another 5-10 years before we call the Fourth and final Quarter Court. Whatever happens, we know we’ll have a great time doing it. We’re glad you’re sharing this journey with us!
In this long overdue Saga Brief, we discuss drinking in the Viking Age and the Sagas of Icelanders. This first part looks at what they were drinking and how it was perceived culturally. In the second part, coming soon, we’ll look into the culture of drinking as we explore where and how they drank.
Here is a short bibliography of the texts and studies referred to, either directly or indirectly, in this episode:
Etting, Vivian. The Story of the Drinking Horn: Drinking Culture in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages. Publications of the National Museum of Denmark v.21, 2013.
Hallgerður Gisladottir, ‘The Use of Whey in Icelandic Households’, in Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Ethnological Food Research, Ireland. J992, ed. Patricia Lysaght (Canongate Academic, 1994), pp. 123-29.
It’s time to put The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup on trial! And as much fun as it is to say Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls, it’s not one of medieval Iceland’s better literary artifacts. We finally get to say what we’ve been thinking in our Final Ratings. But that’s not all! Listen in and find out who wins Best Bloodshed, Notable Witticisms, and a hotly contested Nicknames. Speaking of hotly contested, you won’t want to miss a rare Saga Thing argument that develops over who is most deserving of Outlawry. Never fear, it all ends happily when John and Andy both get the Thingmen they were hoping for.
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about the Body Count. This time around we get some help from a listener in rounding out the body count. We also wrestle once again with the blámaðr and the all important question of whether trolls should be included in the body count.
This is the last saga before our third quarter court. It’s been a long time coming.
When last we left you, Gunnar had just killed a troll woman and a seemingly intelligent bear in an unknown frozen land (check out Jacob’s great illustration of this and more of his work on his Instagram page). The troll woman’s sister seemed kind enough and even warned Gunnar that there were more trolls about. In this episode, we find out how Gunnar does against a family of trolls and what kind of impression he makes on Fala’s father. From there, we’ll follow Gunnar to the court of Hákon Sigurðarson, the Jarl of Lade (Hlaðir). We’ve met Hákon before in the Saga of Finnbogi the Mighty. Things go pretty much the same for Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup as they did for Finnbogi. Whether he survives the encounter or not, this saga’s coming to a close pretty quickly. Listen and find out if Gunnar can impress the jarl with his wrestling skills or if he succumbs to the jarl’s ill-temper. This is a strange but fun one.
In this episode, we dive way down deep into the bag of Sagas of Icelanders to pull out a story that is rarely discussed or even read by experts much less casual fans of medieval Icelandic literature. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad saga, even if it’s a little rough around the narrative edges. This one’s got a lot of the fan favorites, including wrestling, surprise killings, a secret love affair, storms at sea, trolls, and a bear who understands Old Norse! Join us as we begin our journey through The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup (Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls).
In this special Christmas episode of Saga Thing, John and Andy share a curious discovery from a very old journal. Few people know this, but ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (aka A Visit from St Nicholas) by Clement C. Moore was originally inspired by a famous Viking saga about a grumpy outlaw tangling with a supernatural monster. We discuss this exciting revelation and share the story in an effort to brighten your holiday season. Enjoy!
If you thought we were done with The Saga of the Sworn Brothers, you were mostly correct. In this episode, we fill in a few gaps in the story of what happened around Thorgeir Havarsson’s death. We start with Thormod’s þáttr, a tale about Thormod’s visit to the court of King Cnut and his first meeting with his future BFF, King Olaf of Norway. We follow that up with Thorarin the Overbearing’sþáttr, which tells of Thorarin’s activities following his ambush on Thorgeir.
Along the way, we talk about the messy manuscript traditions associated with each tale, the characterization of King Cnut in the tales and sagas of Icelanders, the wonders of quantum cake, and our vague memories of George Burns’ Oh, God! trilogy. We conclude the episode with a bit of fan fiction as we speculate on how the fragmentary tale of Thorarin the Overbearing might end and how it could tie into what we know from Fóstbrœðra saga.
Thanks to Jacob Foust for another great original illustration inspired by the stories of medieval Iceland. Follow him on Instagram where he’s @skarphedin_illustrator.
The time has come to put Fóstbrœðra saga (The Saga of the Sworn Brothers) on trial. In this episode, we review the whole saga as we run through our favorite judgment categories: Best Bloodshed, Body Count, Nicknames, Notable Witticisms, Outlawry, Thingmen, and Final Ratings. Making this even harder than usual is the fact that Fóstbrœðra saga featured some pretty fantastic examples of the combined Bloodshed/Witticism (bloodicism? wittished?). And as tough as those categories are this time around, we’ve got an even bigger problem when it comes to Outlawry and Thingmen. Will both Thorgeir and Thormod make it through the Outlawry section and be chosen as thingmen? Do John and Andy have a preference for one over the other? And will Fóstbrœðra saga rate as high as some of the greatest works of medieval Iceland? There’s only one way to find out!
Thanks as always to our buddy Jacob Foust for sharing his talents with us once again and producing a series of original illustrations for this saga. Check out more of his work on Instagram – @skarphedin_illustrator.
For those of you interested in digging into some of the sources that John mentioned on parasites in the Middle Ages or the story of how seals keep their testes cool, here you go:
In the final episode of our epic journey through Fóstbrœðra saga (The Saga of the Sworn Brothers) Thormod wraps up his business in Greenland and heads back to Norway and the loving companionship of his new BFF King Olaf. Unfortunately for Thormod and Olaf, there’s another would-be king of Norway lurking out there with plans to seize the throne. Will Olaf and Thormod link arms and defeat the aggressor? Or will the loyal warrior-poet follow his king in death? There’s only one way to find out!
Stick around for the end of the episode where answer a question from the Runesack and talk about our favorite translations of Beowulf.
Here we see Grima’s vision of doom for Thormod and his friends. How will he get out of this one? Thanks to Jacob Foust, aka @skarphedin_illustrator on Instagram, for his work on this one.
In this episode, Thormod Kolbrun’s-Poet sets out to avenge his sworn brother Thorgeir. But Thormod’s in no hurry. First, he stops in Norway to bond with King Olaf. Then he travels to Greenland with a mysterious man called Gest to track down Thorgrim the Troll, one of Thorgeir’s killers. Along the way, Thormod gets distracted by an attractive woman and things get a little messy. Eventually things get back on track and Thormod gets down to business in a most fantastic way.
This one may start a little slow but it finishes really strong with a dramatic fight on a cliff and one of the more hilarious poems we’ve seen since Egil’s Saga. You won’t want to miss it.
For the runesack, we share a comment about angelica (wild celery) and its role in the life of King Olaf Tryggvason (not the same King Olaf from The Saga of the Sworn Brothers). We also respond to a question from Sam about the recent film adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Thanks to @skarphedin_illustrator on Instagram for capturing the final scene of this episode so brilliantly for us. This one was a special request made right after recording and Jacob came through!
In this episode, Thorgeir heads home to Iceland against King Olaf’s advice. Despite being a known outlaw, things go pretty well for Thorgeir at first. His visit takes a turn for the worst when he encounters Gaut Sleituson up north. Their brief meeting triggers events that will change the course of their lives and the trajectory of the saga itself.
Before that though, we revisit a section of Grettir’s Saga we had previously skipped where Thorgeir and Thormod butt heads with Iceland’s most famous outlaw. We also discuss the physical characteristics of a courageous heart, investigate a few scenes from The Saga of the Volsungs and the Prose Edda, wonder about the jiggliness of a horse heart, chat about vin-berries in Vinland, and laugh at John’s attempts to ferment fruits and other garbage in his youth. As if that’s not enough, we pitch a saga-inspired idea for an Icelandic ultramarathon with an unforgettable name. We had a lot of fun recording this one. We hope you enjoy!
Thanks, as always, to Jacob Foust for sticking with us through the Saga of the Sworn Brothers and sharing his talents. Check out more of his work by visiting his Instagram page.
Oh, and if you make it to the end of the episode and want to know more about Patricia Gonsalves and her amazing Archery camp and classes, visit Lykopis Archery. You can listen to our interview with Patricia and Stephen Fox by revisiting Saga Brief 14: Medieval Archery.
We’re diving back into chapters 7-13 of The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (better known as Fóstbræðra saga). This time, we’re featuring Thormod’s side of the story. Whereas Thorgeir spends his time hacking and slashing his way toward a bad reputation, Thormod is exploring his romantic side, making moves on several local ladies who catch his eye. Will Thormod settle down to a quiet life of marriage and farming? Or will he love ’em and leave ’em for further adventures with his sworn brother? There’s only one way to find out!
In addition to the normal saga discussion, we also chat about dried fish, warrior poets, and the finer points of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. If that’s not enough for you, we open up the runesack and answer a series of questions about medieval studies. We may not cover a lot of chapters here but it’s a full episode.
Thanks as always to Jacob Foust for a pair of great illustrations for this episode. Check out more of his work at instagram.com/skarphedin_illustrator.
When last we left you, Thorgeir and Thormod had decided to go their separate ways. In this episode, we follow Thorgeir on his travels as an outlawed exile from Iceland. As you’d expect, Thorgeir gets up to some things that would make a Viking like Egil Skallagrimsson shake his head in frustration. Needless to say, he doesn’t make a lot of friends along the way. He does, however, find one rather important figure who’s willing to take a chance on him. When Thorgeir finally returns to Iceland, he does so as an agent of the Norwegian crown. I wonder how he handles this responsibility…
Thanks, as always, to @skarphedin_illustrator for yet another brilliant addition to the corpus of Icelandic saga illustrations. Check out more of his work on Instagram and visit his Etsy page.
Fóstbrœðra saga (or The Saga of the Sworn Brothers) tells the story of two men, Thorgeir Havarsson and Thormod Bersason, who are more concerned with success in this life than glory in the next. Together, they wander the countryside of 11th century Iceland causing trouble, damaging property, and taking what they want. Like Grettir, they soon find that this approach to living is not only outdated, it’s a good way to turn a community against you. But, also like Grettir, Thorgeir and Thormod don’t really care.
In this episode, the two young men swear oaths of blood-brotherhood, avenge a fallen father, steal some whale meat and generally unsettle most everyone they encounter. Thorgeir also manages to impress with one of the finest examples of athleticism since Lane Myer skied the K-12. This is a serious contender for best bloodshed when we get to the third Quarter Court. The above picture by Jacob Foust, @skarphedin_illustrator on Instagram, should give you a pretty good idea of what happens.
We’ve also got some great listener observations to share with you at the end of the episode. One of them involves an Icelander proving that some of the incredible acts of bravery we see in the sagas aren’t just the stuff of fiction. Here are the articles we mention:
In this episode, a young Icelander travels to Norway to avenge his father like a true Viking (or at least a close approximation). Unfortunately for him, his target is one of King Magnus Barelegs’ favorites. Listen in and find out if Gisl manages to catch his prey and get away with it. You’ll also hear all about the great Icelandic bishop Jón Ögmundarson, discover the delights of suet sausages, and maybe even witness a miracle or two. All this and more await you in Saga Short 9 – The Tale of Gisl Illugason!
Thanks as always to Jacob Foust for another fresh and original illustration of Gisl in his leper disguise as he ambushes Gjafvald. I would not be shocked if this is the only illustration of Gisl Illugason’s Tale in existence. If you like what Jacob has been doing for us, you can check out his work and follow him on Instagram at Skarpheding_Illustrator. He recently set up an Etsy account here for anyone who wants a shirt or print. Check it out!
Welcome to the first in a series of special Saga Briefs on Interpreting the Past, a series that looks at modern interpretations and perceptions of the medieval. In this episode, John and Andy welcome two scholars, Dr. Verena Höfig (Assistant Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Zachary Melton (Ph.D. student at the University of Iceland).
We cover a range of topics, including the appeal of Viking Age culture and mythology to modern religious and political movements; the role of literature, history, and social media in the construction of individual and group identities; and the challenges that we face, both as scholars and as citizens of this world, coming to terms with the many differences of interpretation that divide us.
As that list suggests, this isn’t the usual light stroll through the sagas. This episode is short on jokes and heavy on substantive discussion of important issues. Whether you’re an expert or an enthusiast, this one’s worth your time. We hope you enjoy and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Here is a bibliography of the texts and studies referred to, either directly or indirectly, in this episode:
Welcome to the Saga Thing! It’s time to put The Saga of Thord Menace on trial. Will Thord win Best Bloodshed for the many men he chops in half? Will his Body Count be high enough to earn him a respectable BCDM ranking? And will John ever stop talking about nicknames? There’s only one way to find out!
So, here’s a change of pace. In this section, a small group of men are going to try to kill Thord Menace.
But since this is the final episode in our summary of The Saga of Thord Menace, there are only two possible outcomes. Will Thord finish off the endless string of men waiting to ambush him? Or will the countless relatives of Orm finally get their revenge? Either way, we’re putting this violent saga to bed.
This action packed episode features the return of Skeggi of Midfjord, who quickly proves that he’s no pushover. And when he draws, that legendary Viking sword, blood must flow. Will Eid once again be the voice of reason in the feud between his two fathers? Or will Skeggi and his crew put an end to the menace of Thord?
There’s only one way to find out!
Thanks again to the brilliant Jacob Faust for his work illustrating this story for us. You can find more of his work on Instagram, where he’s @skarphedin_illustrator.
Lots of Viking style fun and medieval adventuring on this episode of Saga Thing. Join us for part 2 of The Saga of Thord Menace!
Orm is dead and Skeggi of Midfjord is unable to avenge his awful nephew. It’s time to see where all of this leaves Thord Menace. If the original illustrations for this chapter by @skarphedin_illustrator are any indication, things are going to get a little messy.
Here’s Thord getting to know Orm’s business partner, Indridi.
And here’s an action shot of Thord’s meeting with Ozur.
Saga Thing returns from a much needed holiday break to tackle The Saga of Thord Menace. In this episode we meet the family of Thord, explore the formulas of saga writing, witness the assassination of Norwegian royalty, and learn how young Thord earned his menacing nickname. Oh, and we finally get to see some saga characters taking advantage of the lovely hot springs of Iceland. It’s a great start to a saga that rarely gets the attention it deserves. Join us for The Saga of Thord Menace!
Our thanks to Bryan Foust for returning to share his talents with us once again. Check out his work on Instagram, where he’s known as @skarphedin_illustrator.
In this Saga Short, we journey with Auðun of the Westfjords, an Icelander who gives everything he has to purchase a polar bear in Greenland. Why buy a polar bear, you ask? Well, what makes a more impressive gift for a king than a polar bear? In this brilliant and widely anthologized þáttr, Auðun will travel throughout Scandinavia, suffer the pangs of hunger and poverty, visit Rome, survive a debilitating illness, gain the love of a wealthy benefactor, and get the better of a certain hard-minded king. Join us for this holiday gift-giving special as we discuss The Tale of Auðun and the Bear!
When you’re finished you might enjoy watching this cute animated version of the story.
And if you’re one of those types that like to peruse some good bibliography:
Antonsson, Haki. “The Construction of Auðunar þáttr Vestfirzka: A Case of Typological Thinking in Early Old Norse Prose.” Scandinavian Studies 90, no. 4 (2018): 485-508.
Fichtner, Edward G. “Gift Exchange and Initiation in the ‘Auđunar Þáttr Vestfirzka’.” Scandinavian Studies 51, no. 3 (1979): 249-72.
Miller, William Ian. Audun and the Polar Bear: Luck, Law, and Largess in a Medieval Tale of Risky Business. 1. Vol. 1. Medieval Law and Its Practice. Boston, MA: Brill, 2008.
Pálsson, Hermann, ed. Hrafnkel’s Saga: and Other Stories. Translated by Hermann Pálsson. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1971.
It’s time to put the Saga of Bard the God of Snowfell on trial! Critics and saga enthusiasts are often divided on this one. Where will John and Andy rank Bard’s Saga? Who will win Best Bloodshed? Why is Andy suddenly contributing to Nicknames? And which of the heroic figures in this saga will be honored with the title of Thingman? Listen and find out!
Before we judge Bard’s Saga, we take a short break to speak about this crazy story with our good friend Will Biel, a PhD candidate in Medieval Studies at the University of Connecticut. Will brings his expertise on Bard’s Saga, medieval European romance literature, and Dungeons and Dragons to our table for a fascinating discussion. We think you’ll enjoy this fun interview!
In the thrilling conclusion to Bard’s Saga, Gest makes his way to the court of King Olaf Tryggvason in Norway. Despite the king’s best efforts to convert his Icelandic guest, the son of Bard is reluctant to abandon the old gods. Gest’s faith will be tested when he accepts a mission to break into the burial mound of an old Viking called Raknar in Greenland. Along the way, he’ll encounter Odin, argue with a priest, battle against 500 undead oarsmen, and wrestle with Raknar himself. Does Gest have what it takes to defeat the devilish draugr? Will the old gods provide the strength he needs to claim the treasure? Or will Gest discover the true power of the Christian god? Find out on this exciting episode of Saga Thing!
Ever wonder what happens when trolls, giants, and ogres get together for a party? Be our guest in this fun episode as we follow Bard’s son Gest to a Yule feast hosted by a troll-woman and then to a wedding bash in the cave hall of Kolbjorn the ogre. Learn all about fun party games like “skin-throwing” and “joint-toss.” And if that’s not enough for you, we’ve also got missing sheep, a damsel in distress, a heroic dog, and a battle for the ages! All that and more in one episode of your favorite podcast about medieval Icelandic literature, Saga Thing!
Thanks again to Bryan Foust for his exciting illustrations for this saga. You can see more of his work on his Instragram page, where he is @skarphedin_illustrator. Click on the link and follow him!
In this short episode, John and Andy got together for a drink and a chat to celebrate after Saga Thing reached the 1 million downloads milestone. Sure it took 7 years to get there. But we’re still surprised that anybody’s listening. Thanks for joining us on this journey.
In this episode, we begin our summary and discussion of the fantastical Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss, The Saga of Bard the Snowfell God. This saga is set in the rugged and fantastic landscape of Snaefellsnes in West Iceland. Here you’ll discover how trolls and giants migrated to Iceland alongside the humans. One of them, Bard Dumbsson, becomes a guardian spirit who wanders the land “in a grey cloak and hood with a belt of walrus-hide, carrying a two-pronged staff in his hand with a long spike for walking on the ice.” We follow the saga of Bard and his family through multiple generations and quite a few calamities.
A special thanks to our guest illustrator, Jacob Foust, who will be working with us through Bard’s Saga. You can find on Instagram as @skarphedin_illustrator. Jacob just recently started sharing his illustrations of the sagas and Norse myths. We find them absolutely delightful. Follow him on Instagram and let him know how much you love his work.
If you haven’t seen it already on social media, here’s Bard and giving his nephews a piece of his mind.
And Helga drifting out to sea:
I’d put the bibliography John mentioned in right here if John had given me any. Alas, John left me hanging. Oh well.
In this episode, John and Andy sit down (virtually) with Dana Dalicsek to talk about sailing in the Viking Age, life onboard a ship, and the methodologies of modern maritime archaeologists who dive deep beneath the ocean’s surface to excavate and study the shipwrecks the Vikings left behind. We hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did.
It’s time to put the Saga of Hord and the Holm-Dwellers on trial. As usual, we’ll select winners in the following categories: Best Bloodshed, Nicknames, and Notable Witticisms. We’ll also offer a Body Count for this surprisingly bloody saga. Plus there’s Outlawry, Thingmen, and Final Ratings!
Does Hord have what it takes to make it into our group of Thingmen? Or has he pushed things too far and earned himself an official Saga Thing sentence of outlawry? There’s only one way to find out!
It’s time for the thrilling conclusion to The Saga of Hord and theHolm-Dwellers. In this episode, Hord and his followers continue to raid the farms of Hvalfjord like a bunch of unruly Vikings. Things don’t go as planned when they target the livestock of Indridi, husband of Hord’s sister Thorbjorg. Things get heated as Hord attempts to set fire to his kinsman’s home. And while those flames are soon extinguished, the embers of hostility soon flare up into a wildfire that threaten to consume Hord and his outlaw companions.
In this exciting and action packed episode, Hord returns to Iceland with a rich wife and an enhanced reputation. After he inherits land from his father, Grimkel, things seem to be looking good for Hord and his young family. But things take a turn for the worse when the gods turn their backs on him and Hord’s luck quickly begins to run out. An incident with some horses and a very sharp sword send him into outlawry. But Hord won’t be going into the wilderness alone. Find out who goes with him and how they set up a base of operations on the island now known as Geirsholm (featured in the photo I took from the shore near Bjarteyarsundur).
If you’re interested in visiting the stomping grounds of Hord and his men, then I highly recommend you spend the night at Bjarteyarsundur farm. You can camp in the field or stay in one of their cottages for a very reasonable price. And you can’t beat the views and hospitality.
For those of you who like to hike, then you’ll want to experience the nearby Glymur Falls hike. Here’s one of many amazing vistas you get to see on the way up to one of Iceland’s tallest and most beautiful waterfalls (note Geirsholm in the distance).
Join us for a chat with Dr. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, author of Valkyrie: Women of the Viking World. We speak about Valkyries, shield-maidens, and famous women of Icelandic saga and legend. We also talk about the important contributions of Viking Age women to the success of medieval Scandinavian households, raiding parties, and armies. And since we’re all medievalists, we inevitably get around to discussing the thrills and frustrations of working with medieval sources and the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving. We hope you enjoy.
It’s time to start another saga! This time, we’ve decided to finish off the last of the “outlaw sagas.” We’re headed to south-western Iceland for the thrilling post-classical Saga of Hord and the Island-Dwellers, also known as Harðar saga og Hólmverja. In this episode, we meet all the principle characters (there are a lot) and get to know our protagonist a bit before he dives headlong into the life of a medieval Icelandic outlaw. This section of the saga features a troubled marriage, prophetic dreams, an abandoned child, a thrilling fight with an undead Viking, and an amazing head of hair. We hope you enjoy!
Warning: This episode may not be suitable for young children
It’s winter in Norway, a time when most people huddle together with family and friends to share warmth, tell stories, and await the coming of spring. But the Christian king Olaf the Stout has heard word about strange goings-on at a farm in the north, where the lady of the house has found a new way to pass the time—she’s starting her own religious cult. So the king and his friends must travel through the winter weather in disguise to learn just what this household is worshiping in the woods—and what they find is something altogether more ridiculous than they could have imagined.
This one’s unlike anything else we’ve read on the podcast so far—it’s got a well-endowed horse, a boy who’s given to shouting dirty poetry, an open-mike of verse-making at the farmhouse, three men who all choose the same disguise, and a dog who’s hungry for a good time. And what on earth is the farmer’s wife keeping in that long box that smells of leeks and herbs? Enjoy the strange world of Völsa þáttr!
You’d better not say “Who’s there?” Strange things are afoot during the Winter Nights feast at Hall of Siða’s homestead. Thorhall the Prophet warns everyone to stay inside. But some do-gooders simply can’t help themselves when they hear a knock at the door. Find out who’s there in this chilling episode of Saga Shorts.
What happens when Thorarin Nefjolsson and his friend Thorstein Ragnhildarson leave the court of King Cnut to visit his rival King Olaf? One of them will have to prove his loyalty by submitting to a trial by ordeal. What is a trial by ordeal, you ask? How does it work? Listen and find out!
What happens when a few 19th century scholars, a baking powder magnate, a transcendental poet, and a pair of Norwegian archaeologist explorers start looking for the real site of Vinland? John and Andy spoke at Bridgewater State University and the Scandinavian Cultural Center in West Newton, MA to answer that question. In this live episode, we review the Vinland sagas and then explore the efforts of prominent 19th century gentlemen to locate Vinland in the Boston area. If you’ve never visited Norumbega Tower, Dighton Rock, or “Krossanes beach” in Duxbury, you’ll want to after this.
Our thanks to Bridgewater State University’s English department for helping Andy travel from Oxford, Mississippi. And to the Scandinavian Cultural Center in West Newton, MA for hosting this live event.
The presentation we used and some photos we took follow:
After a full year of summary and discussion, the time has come to put Egil’s Saga on trial. If you don’t remember how judgments work, we totally understand. In this episode we review candidates for the following categories: Best Bloodshed, Nicknames, Notable Witticisms, Outlawry, and Thingmen. We also provide a tally of the saga’s untimely deaths and offer a final rating of the saga. Will your favorite moment of saga violence make the cut? Will John keep his Nicknames section under 20 minutes? Will Egil survive the outlawry section? And does Egil’s Saga have what it takes to join Njal’s Saga as a perfect 20? There’s only one way to find out!