In this episode of Saga Thing, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment in Iceland’s history as the fierce Thangbrand arrives on a mission from King Olaf Tryggvason to convert Iceland once and for all. It turns out John and Andy aren’t the only ones who love a good digression. This section of the saga is book-ended by action and violence brought on by the slaying of Thrain Sigfusson, but it’s mostly about Thangbrand’s visit to Iceland and the resulting divide between the growing number of Christians and those who remain loyal to Odin. This episode features its usual share of bloodshed and wit, but we’ve also got some blasphemous poetry for you, a bit of history, a miracle, and an important test for a berserk. There’s something for everyone!
In this episode, we travel to foreign lands with Thrain Sigfusson and two of the Njalssons. Thrain will find things easy going, but the prophecy of hard times for the Njalssons proves true. We’ll also introduce you to two new players in the saga, the heroic Kari Salmundarson and the villainous Killer-Hrapp. This episode of Saga Thing is full of adventure, intrigue, and digressions. Join John and Andy as they discuss the politics of medieval Orkney, minor deities of the Norse pantheon, and the wonders of the Icelandic landscape. There’s something here for everyone!
This episode of Saga Thing is all about revenge. We conclude the Gunnar section of Njal’s Saga with a look into the aftermath of our hero’s death, the vengeance he demands, and the fate of his brother, Kolskeggi. If Njal wants to avenge his friend and secure his position in the region, he’ll have to act fast. Fortunately, he’s got his son, Skarphedin, and Gunnar’s son, Hogni, as willing swords. Gunnar’s ghost helps get things moving. While we don’t cover a lot of ground in the saga this time around, we do explore some important issues that inform our reading of the first half of the saga and give us something to look for as we embark on the saga’s dark second half. We discuss Gunnar’s pride, the ethics of Njal’s behavior, and we finally tackle the “halberd” controversy. Hallgerð gets her fair share of our attention as well.
Gunnar has been told that he will live to be an old man if he can avoid killing two men from the same bloodline and if he never breaks a settlement. Achieving this is easier said than done, especially since Gunnar’s personal body count increases every time a challenger appears. In this episode, Gunnar’s patience will be tested as Morð Valgardsson, Thorgeir Starkaðarson, and Thorgeir Otkelsson plot to finish off their rival once and for all. But will they have what it takes to bring down Iceland’s champion? Will Njal be able to rescue his friend once again? And will Hallgerð forgive Gunnar for the slap, or will she once again seek vengeance? Find out in part 4 of Njal’s Saga!
In the third part of Njal’s Saga, we find Gunnar suffering an identity crisis after being pulled into a series of feuds. As Njal tells him, this is the beginning of Gunnar’s career in killing. In addition to a lot of fighting, this episode also features a discussion of saga-age masculinity, cheese theft, horse fighting, and famine survival. Yes, that’s right. I said cheese theft. Listen and learn, people. Listen and learn.
In this episode, we introduce Gunnar Hamundarson and his wise friend Njal Thorgeirsson. We’ll follow Gunnar on a few adventures before he settles down with the lovely, but dangerous Hallgerd Hoskuldsdottir. If you thought Hallgerd was harsh in Part 1 of our summer saga, just wait until you see what she’s up to this time around. Will the friendship of Njal and Gunnar survive the escalating violence spurred on by their wives, or will they be consumed by it and destroyed? There’s only one way to find out.
For anyone who’s interested, we’ve put together a select bibliography for Njal’s Saga. We have mentioned a few of these, but there’s plenty more here for your perusal. Obviously, you’ll need a good library to access most of these.
In this first part of our epic summer saga, we introduce Njal’s Saga and the initial section where marriage, gender roles, and female independence are the central themes. We begin with the story of Hrut Herjolfsson, who leaves his bride-to-be in Iceland to fetch an inheritance in Norway. Along the way, the handsome young Hrut finds himself more involved in the royal family than is proper. Scandal! After getting ensnared in the web of the Norwegian queen mother, Gunnhild, Hrut will bring home a curse that will set the whole action of Njal’s Saga into motion. We also meet Hrut’s lovely and dynamic niece, Hallgerd Hoskuldsdottir, a fiercely independent woman who will play a significant role in the development of this saga. When we first meet her, we learn that she has the eyes of a thief, which never bodes well. This episode covers Hallgerd’s first two marriages, both of which involve domestic violence followed by a visit from Hallgerd’s vengeful foster-father Thjostolf. Hallgerd may be beautiful, cunning, and seductive, but she’s hardly the passive female of most medieval literature. We look forward to spending some time with her this summer and hearing how you all feel about her character.
In this fun-filled episode, John and Andy offer their judgments on The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and Killer-Skuta. Listen and learn how a leather thong can really improve your spear-throwing distance. It’s true. You’ll also learn about the wonders of hearth bread with butter and be introduced to the BCDM, our newest method for calculating a saga’s body count. It’s an action packed episode with plenty of laughs and some good discussion of history and literature. Those of you who prefer a steady flow of action and laughs will have to forgive us for our scholarly tangents, but those with a genuine interest in saga literature will get what they came here for.
There are a number of videos featuring the use of the ankyle/amentum. We’ve selected the following two as the most reasonable illustrations of the tool.
As promised, I’m including the recipe for hearth bread that John mentions in Notable Witticism:
Thorgeir Butter-Ring’s Bread
3 cups whole wheat or rye flour
2 cups white or all-purpose flour
3/4 cup steel-cut or rolled oats
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups water
Oven (I mean, go ahead and hearth-bake the bread if you want to be a stickler for accuracy).
Mix together both kinds of flour, the oats, the salt, and the baking soda in a large bowl.
Gradually add water while stirring with a wooden spoon until it is stiff and difficult to stir further. NOTE: do not use an automatic mixer for this step. Seriously, how many 10th century Icelanders do you think had a KitchenAid?
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough (you may want to wet or flour your hands for this step). Stop when dough is malleable and thoroughly integrated.
Form the dough into a round or oval shape on a baking stone and place it in the oven. NOTE: The oven is still cold at this point.
Now set the oven to 375 degree Fahrenheit (190 Celsius), and bake for 55-70 minutes (depending on elevation and oven).
Take the bread out of the oven when it looks, you know, bready (I’m not a cook. Also, it’s unlikely that actual 10th century Icelanders, who cooked their bread in fire ashes or on a hearth-stone, were overly fussy about exact timing. Eyeball it). Let it cool on a rack.
Eat the bread while it’s warm. And of course, Thorgeir Butter-Ring recommends using plenty of butter, but I found cheese, honey, or apple slices works fine too.
Come to Mývatn, where the scenery stuns, the flies bite, and swords sting! In this episode, we welcome Killer-Skúta back to Iceland. Not bound by the conditions of the settlement established by Áskel, on his deathbead, Skúta is free to wreak vengeance upon those who dishonored his family. He’ll also have to contend with the various families in the region who don’t take so kindly to his handling of their kin folk. And that’s the story, more or less. Killer-Skúta certainly earns his nickname in this one. Along the way, you’ll also learn the worst way to die in Mývatn.
In this episode, we travel to the northern districts of Thingey and Eyjafjord where the Askel the goði spends most of his time working out settlements to save the skin of his nephews. You won’t meet a more saintly Icelander than the wise Askel goði, but you might question his loyalty to Vemund Fjorleifarson. But, as Vemund’s uncle, poor Askel is caught between a rock and a hard place. Will his support of Vemund cost Askel the ultimate price in the end, or will he make an honest man of his wayward nephew? Find out as Saga Thing takes on the first half of The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and Killer-Skuta.