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.