The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and Killer-Skuta (Ep. 19): Both John and Andy felt that the saga was missing something. John suggested that the narrative felt more like a draft than a complete saga, but concluded that this was ultimately the final effort of a less than talented storyteller. He pointed to some strong moments, highlighting the Thorgeir Butter-ring episode in particular, but lamented all of the missed opportunities for good storytelling. John can only recommend The Saga of the People of Reykjadal to those on a mission to read all of the sagas. Everyone else should skip it. John gave it a 3.5.
Andy wasn’t quite so harsh. While he didn’t like the bare-bones narrative style of the saga and its underdeveloped characters, he wondered if this was part of the author’s effort to present a text that read more like history. He doesn’t necessarily believe that, but Andy likes to look for excuses to rate sagas higher than they deserve (says John). The saga deserves some credit for developing and balancing out a complex story of an evolving regional feud. Because of that, Andy gave it a 4.
The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong (Ep. 18): Andy liked Finnbogi’s Saga a bit more than John. While acknowledging the formulaic and folk-motif driven nature of the storytelling, Andy waxed poetic about the complexity of Finnbogi’s character, calling him a “forthright and upstanding hero trapped in an age of suspicion and aggression. He regretted saying that after John chose Finnbogi as thingman. Andy gave the saga a “strong 7.”
John was less impressed. He felt that the characters were flat and unbelievable, highlighting both Finnbogi and Jokul as caricatures of good and evil. The saga, he argued, was unbalanced in its effort to “bend and blend genres.” This is particularly true when Finnbogi travels abroad. For John, the weirdness of these sections doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. Because of this, he gave it a 5. This disturbed Andy, prompting further conversation in which Andy tried to persuade John to bring his score up to a 6 to reward the quality of the reading experience this saga offers. John refused.
After the mics were off, however, things changed. Andy and John continued to debate the merits of the saga. They also reviewed previous scores. All of this led to a minor adjustment in the score. Andy changed his rating to 6.
The Saga of the Greenlanders (Ep. 17): John put it best when he observed, “Never has so much been written about so little.” Both John and Andy agree that the saga has an important place in literary history, primarily for its historical significance. It’s literary merit, however, is another story. It’s not a terribly impressive saga, but it’s worth reading all the same. John scored it at 4.5. Andy gave it a 3.5. While Andy claimed to like Greenlanders’ Saga better than Eirik’s Saga, he still scored it lower. But that was only accidental as he didn’t remember what score he gave Eirik’s Saga.
Grettir’s Saga (Ep. 16): John loved Grettir’s Saga and spoke eloquently about its merits, calling it a love letter to saga literature’s greatest accomplishments. He even snuck in a Sound of Music reference in his rating. As amazing as Grettir’s Saga is, John wasn’t unaware of the saga’s failings. He gave it a 9.
Andy agreed with much of John’s assessment. He was less forgiving of the saga’s failings, however. He compared Grettir’s Saga to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One for its many cameos and its overwhelming obsession with the past. He concluded that Grettir’s Saga is a kind of literary masterpiece, not so much for its plot or characterizations, but for what it accomplishes as a work of art. As high as that praise might sound, he gave it a 9 because the story itself just isn’t as good as it could be.
Quarter Court Results (Ep. 15): For the Quarter Court, we asked our listeners to vote for their favorite saga from the first quarter of Saga Thing‘s coverage of the Saga of the Icelanders. The listeners responded and voted overwhelmingly for Gisli’s Saga. A fair choice.
Vatnsdœla Saga (Ep. 14): Both Andy and John loved this saga back in grad school. Their opinions were complicated by this closer examination. The saga is often and justly criticized for its contrasting of unachievable ideals and stock villains, but this critique seems to only account for the beginning of the narrative. Andy saw a much more nuanced story with characters who get more complex as the saga progresses. He doesn’t enjoy every moment of the saga, but he’s a fan of sagas that speak to the historical moment in interesting ways. Vatnsdœla Saga, in Andy’s opinion, provides a much needed commentary for contemporary audiences about moral leadership. That said, the saga isn’t as accessible as some other texts we’ve read. Andy gave it a 6.5.
John was frustrated by the cardboard cutout villains of the saga and the lack of nuance in the text. He also felt the saga lacked cohesion and grew tired of loosely connected episodes, which is why he gave it a 7.
Viglund’s Saga (Ep. 13): John and Andy were both surprised by how much they liked Viglund’s Saga. John, a saga purist, sometimes felt the saga too clumsily incorporated continental romance themes and styles. It spoke to the end of the golden age of saga literature in Iceland. But, as he said, if you skip over all the “love stuff” then it’s a pretty good saga with some carefully drawn characters. In the end, John respected the saga author’s craft and experimentation and gave it a 7.
Andy wanted to be brief, but gave an impromptu lecture on the saga that even called on scholarship from the late 19th century. After a careful read of the saga and a bit of research, Andy clearly found a lot to love in the post-classical saga. Looking at the saga on its own terms, this one has a lot to offer and he thought it a hidden gem of late saga literature. He scored the saga with an 8.
The Saga of Bjorn Champion of the Hitardal People (Ep. 12): This was an interesting final rating section with some minor disagreements. Like in theHallfred’s Saga episode, they had very different takes on the saga’s quality, but ended up scoring it exactly the same. John argued that Bjorn’s Saga suffered from many of the same problems that Andy held against Kormak’s Saga. He concluded that the saga is full of boring or undeveloped characters, eventually dubbing it a “poor man’s” Egil’s Saga.
Andy disagreed with John’s reading completely, noting that, if anything, the saga could be considered a “poor man’s” Gunnlaug’s Saga. Ultimately, Andy felt that the saga does an effective job of building a good prose narrative with entertaining characters, though he admited that it isn’t perfect. Despite their differences, both arrived at a score of 6.
Kormak’s Saga (Ep. 11): John thoroughly enjoyed himself in Kormak’s Saga, despite the choppy nature of the narrative. Though he finds Kormak a troublesome character (and then selected him as thingman?), he’s more impressed by the author’s treatment of Bersi and Steingerd. John gave it a generous 6.5.
Andy put some distance between himself and his initial enjoyment of the saga, concluding that it gets more credit than it deserves because of the tradition that places Kormak’s Saga as one of the earliest family sagas. Among his major complaints is the fact that the prose is often constructed rather carelessly around the poetry. Both Andy and John also felt that the saga really belonged to Bersi. Andy gave it a somewhat harsh 4.5. Total: 11
Hallfred Troublesome-Poet’s Saga (Ep. 10): John and Andy seemed to disagree about the quality of the saga, but somehow scored it exactly the same. John isn’t a huge fan of the poet’s sagas generally. He found Hallfred somewhat uninspiring as a character and grew frustrated with the episodic nature of the saga as a whole. Andy didn’t agree with him here, arguing instead that Hallfred was an engaging and complex character who evolved in interesting ways over the course of the narrative. John did, however, appreciate the variety of social, cultural, and spiritual issues explored in the saga. Andy wholeheartedly agreed on that point. Both concluded that this short saga has a lot to offer both students and teachers of medieval Icelandic literature, history, and culture. Hallfred’s Saga earned a 6 from John and a 6 from Andy.
Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue’s Saga (Ep. 9): Andy was torn. He didn’t like the saga at first and found the genre inconsistencies problematic. John likewise felt the saga narrative was simply too muddled to achieve anything worthy of a high score. Andy wondered, however, if the author intentionally muddled the genre motifs (which made John groan). Andy and John did agree that the saga wasn’t awesome. Andy gave it a 5.5 (with the .5 representing the hope that the saga author was just being clever). John was less hopeful. He gave it a bland 5. And so, Gunnlaug’s Saga earned an unimpressive 10.5, which could be somewhat generous in retrospect.
Bandamanna saga (Ep. 8): John enjoys the saga for its cynicism and wry social commentary, but withheld points due to the lack of many expected saga characteristics; he awarded it a 7.5, but wishes it could be higher. Andy was slightly more impressed, awarding the saga an 8 for being one of the finer short sagas and for the fun of Ofeig’s clever plots and one-liners. The total, 15.5, is quite noteworthy for such an oddball saga.
Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and his Sons (Ep. 7): No ratings, but we loved it all the same.
Hen-Thorir’s Saga (Ep. 6): Andy liked the saga and gave it a 7, which surprised him a bit. He felt the saga had a strong start, but rushed through the second half and missed some great opportunities. John enjoyed the saga much more than he thought he would. He wished that the characters were more sympathetic, dismissing even poor Blund-Ketil as flat. John gave the saga a 6.5 and acknowledged that it was a hidden gem. He’d recommend Hen-Thorir, but cautions that it feels too much like Norwegian propaganda. The combined score of 13.5 is, perhaps surprisingly, a full point higher than we gave the much more well-known Hrafnkel’s saga!
Gisli’s saga Sursson (Ep. 5): John praised the saga’s psychological depth, spare narrative, and intricate juxtaposition of social institutions. He rewarded it with the first 10 given by either of us. Andy loved the saga for its nuanced portrayal of the central figures and its bloodthirsty ways, and gave it a very respectable 9. The total score of 19 is a new high for us, beating out Eyrbyggja by a mere point. But Andy’s tough stance means that there’s still room at the top…
Eirik the Red’s saga (Ep. 4): In our harshest review yet, John noted the lack of central feuds or characters in the saga as well as the general thinness of detail; in the end , he gave it a slender 3.5. Andy thought John was being a little harsh–he enjoyed the Vinland elements of the story, but agreed that the story lacks depth or memorable characters. He gave it a 4. The total, 7.5, is our lowest yet. But don’t let that stop you from reading and enjoying the saga yourself!
Eyrbyggja Saga (Ep. 3): Both John and Andy disregarded the general critical consensus against Eyrbyggja. Andy penalized the saga one point for its lack of focus on Snorri Goði, giving it a 9. John, to his own surprise, ended up giving the saga a much higher score than he’d anticipated–another 9. The total, 18, is a very respectable score, and sets a high mark that’ll be tough to beat!
Hranfkel’s saga (Ep. 2): John gave it a grudging 6, while Andy was slightly more generous at 6.5. The combined score is therefore 12.5.