Episode 14b – The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal (Part 2)

Ingolf and the Outlaws

Join us for the second half of the epic tale of the Vatnsdal chieftains and their family over six generations. In this episode, we clumsily attempt to trace the final three generations of this remarkable family.  We’ve crammed a lot into this episode and we barely scratch the surface.

We pick up the story with the seven children of Ingimund Thorsteinsson (led by the bickering brothers Thorstein and Jokul) as they seek revenge against their father’s killer and begin a career as luck-favored witch-killers. Along the way, they encounter a particularly impressive villain named Thorolf Sledgehammer and his clowder of ornery cats.  With the district safe from evil-doers, the saga shifts to the next generation.

This section begins with the sons of Thorstein Ingimundarson, Ingolf and some other guy.  Ingolf Thorsteinsson is the important one.  He’s the handsome Don Juan of Iceland who melts hearts and enrages menfolk across the north of Iceland. Ingolf may be a bit narcissistic, but he backs up his boasts with impressive feats of derring-do (see picture above, and note the rock strapped to his chest).

The final generation is represented by Thorkel Scratcher, who we discussed briefly in Hallfred’s Saga Troublesome-poet.  Despite his humble origins as an illegitimate son abandoned to the elements as an infant, Thorkel Scratcher rises to become one of the great figures of Iceland. But great men often have jealous enemies…

This episode is filled to bursting with berserkers, half-giants, demonic pumas, missionaries, witches, outlaws, legendary swords, legendary lovers, and the occasional bloodbath. How does one man with twenty enormous black cats keep the litterbox clean? What are the three tests of a chieftain hero? Can one man singlehandedly take out eighteen bandits if he has big enough stones? Is there room for two berserkers in a single family? And can a Norwegian companion ever survive a saga battle?

Listen in and find out!

Download this episode (right click and save)

In honor of the many Norwegian companions who have fallen in the name of saga violence, we’ve created a special shirt in our Saga Thing store.  Get one for your own Norwegian companion.

  Norwegian Companion ~ 317    ~ 2206

And grab a coffee mug for yourself while you’re at it.  All that and more, available here: Saga Thing store.

Episode 8–Bandamanna saga

Sure, we’ve been branching out into new and exciting territory lately at Saga Thing (Fornaldursogur! Viking Torture! Live tweeting extravaganzas!), but our hearts will always belong to the Family Sagas. This time out, we’ve got the bitterly funny Bandamanna saga, a much-beloved saga set in the mid-11th century and centered around the corruption of Icelandic law by the rich and powerful chieftains of that later age.

The saga pits old money against the nouveau riche against a backdrop of legal wrangling and murder. Can Ofeig Skiðason and his estranged son Odd Ofeigsson put aside their differences in time to thwart the combined forces of eight of the most powerful men in Iceland? What’s Ospak Glumsson (grandson and namesake of the notorious outlaw king of Eyrbyggja saga) doing in this saga? Why do Thorarin of Laugardal’s servant laugh at him behind his back? And was there a second bowman hidden in a grassy knoll as Hermund Illugason’s band of men rode by? Learn the answers to these questions and prepare your own judgments as you enjoy Bandamanna saga–the saga of the Confederates!

Download this episode (right click and save)

Gísla saga poll–Murder in the Dark

The holiday break has us scrambling to finish our eggnog and get to work on Hen-Thorir’s saga. In the meantime, here’s your chance to weigh in on the great mystery at the heart of our last saga: Who slipped silently into Gísli’s house and plunged the spear Grasida into Vestein Vesteinsson’s chest? We’ve come to our own conclusions (which you can hear about in episode 5B), but at least one saga writer disagrees with us. Did we convict the wrong man for the crime, or was our argument convincing enough to justify our outlawry choice? Or did we (and Gísli) miss the boat entirely, allowing a third conspirator (Thorgrim Nef, the sorcerous blacksmith who reforged the shattered sword Grasida into the fatal spearhead) to get away with murder? It’s your call…

Episode 4 Supplement: Norsemen in the New World

Since Eiriks saga is central to the question of when and where Scandinavian explorers visited North America, we thought we’d offer a few resources for those interested in pursuing the topic in more detail than we were able to cover in our latest podcast.

I. History

Attempts at interpreting the geographical information provided in the Vínland sagas have ranged across centuries, resulting in a series of speculative maps (including the 16th c. Skálholt Map, item 1) and at least one spectacular example that is almost certainly a clever forgery (The Vínland Map, item 2).

1. Skálholt Map (c.1690 reproduction of lost 1570s original)                        

File:Vinland Map HiRes.jpg

2. The Vínland Map

Attempts to chart the various voyages of the Vínland saga explorers are also common, and generally produce something more or less like this:


3. A Wikimedia Commons map showing Leif’s voyage (as differently described in Eirik the Red’s saga and in The Saga of the Greenlanders) as well as those of the manly Karlsefni, the violent Eirik himself, and Bjarni Herjolfsson; the mapmaker wisely chose not to include Thorstein Eiriksson’s farcical “lost summer” wandering around the North Atlantic…

There are many other attempts to definitively establish the pattern of Scandinavian exploration and settlement: look herehere, and here for various efforts in this direction.

II. A Little Light Reading

Probably the most exhaustive work on the subject of the Vínland landing sites was done by the husband and wife team of Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad. The couple followed clues from the Vínland sagas, some made some nifty guesses based on the topography of various places along the Atlantic coast, and deduced from linguistic evidence that everyone else who’d looked for the landing site was too far south–and in 1960 they found a Norse settlement that sure looks like the right place…The Viking Discovery of America: The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland by the Ingstads explains the process by which they found the site; if you’re a sucker for archeological procedurals, it makes for some quality reading.

One of the few serious arguments against the Ingstads’ claim was put forward by Erik Wahlgren, whose book The Vikings and America concedes the archeological value of L’Anse aux Meadows but argues for a Vínland landing site further south.

If, on the other hand, you’d just like a light overview of the history of the Vínland explorations and a brief discussion of L’Anse aux Meadows, you might try the “Vinland” chapter of the highly readable Tony Horwitz’s A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America. Horwitz’s details are sometimes a little fuzzy, but he covers the major issues fairly well, and does it in about a tenth the page count of the other books listed here.

III. Documentaries

In case you’re really, really interested in the whole Vínland sagas story and don’t have anything else to do for an hour or so, here are a couple of publicly-available documentaries on the subject:

If you make it through all that and still have questions, let us know and we’ll do our best!

Episode 1B: Medieval Iceland–Conflict, Conversion, Collapse

In this second part of our first episode, we explore the socio-political structure of Commonwealth Iceland, its conversion to Christianity, and the end of the Commonwealth era. How does a man kill his enemy politely? Why was Iceland’s religious future decided under a blanket fort? Who killed Snorri Sturluson in the basement with the knife? And what happens when John lets his sheep loose on Andy’s lawn? Find out here!

Download this episode (right click and save)

Episode 1A: The Settlement Age

Our podcast begins with an introduction to the Settlement Age of Iceland (c.870-930 A.D.), a combination of Scandinavian migration and land-grab that led to an unprecedented consensus-based medieval Commonwealth. The story of anti-authoritarian Norsemen fleeing the expansionist wars of Norwegian king Harald Fair-Hair is only one part of a wave of settlement that saw shiploads of men, women, children, and livestock suddenly transplanted onto a volcanic island in the north Atlantic. Join Andy and John in a discussion of the life-or-death questions faced by these hardy souls as they learned to thrive in this challenging new land. They brought their swords, their livestock, and their high-seat pillars, so they were ready for anything…or so they thought. But were the new settlers prepared to deal with one another?

Download this episode (right click and save)

Saga Thing is coming…

Hello, and welcome to Saga Thing…or, well, Saga Thing’s blog and website.

To be entirely accurate, welcome to the placeholder for Saga Thing’s blog and website. You’re here a bit early (your dedication to medieval Icelandic literature, by the way, is impressive, and we commend you for it).

We anticipate having this site up and running (with exciting visuals, supplemental content, and of course our first podcasts) in September.

In the meantime, feel free to share your enthusiasm with your many, many saga-loving friends! You can also tell them about our twitter feed (@sagathingpod) and our facebook site (https://www.facebook.com/sagathingpodcast). If they haven’t run away screaming by then, you can also encourage them to read Hrafnkels saga in anticipation of our first regular episode.

We’re very excited to be finally getting this podcast off the ground, and look forward to hearing what you have to say about the sagas (and about our reviews of them). Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you here soon!