The Thingmen

We’ve cast ourselves in the role of Icelandic goðar [chieftains]. As such, we’re each recognized as the most respected leading men in our imaginary districts.  Though we’re not exactly nobles or lords according to the traditional lord-retainer model of medieval Europe (see episode 1), we do have formal personal alliances with free men and landholding farmers. These are our thingmen.  They follow us to the thing [assembly] and support our causes with their wit, wisdom, and (if it comes to it) their ability to wield a weapon well.
Near the end of each episode, we’ll both pick a thingman.  By the time we’ve finished reviewing each of the Sagas of the Icelanders we’ll each have a group of pretty imposing figures.  The question, in the end, will be this: Who has the best group of thingmen?
At the end of this incarnation of the podcast, we’ll head to the Althing with our respective thingmen.  With so much pride on the line we wonder:
Who will emerge victorious?

THINGMEN

NJAL’S SAGA

Andy’s Pick

  John’s Response

John’s Pick

Andy’s Response

SAGA OF THE PEOPLE OF REYKJADAL AND KILLER-SKUTA

 Andy’s Pick

Killer Skuta

John’s Response

John’s Pick

Eyjolf Valgerdarson

 

Andy’s Response

A bit of a surprise pick here.  There’s no denying that Eyjolf Valgerdarson wields some power in Iceland.  He’s listed as one of the most powerful chieftains in Iceland during his lifetime.  That’s certainly impressive.  The problem here is that Eyjolf isn’t really in the saga.  He works in the background.  I’d write more about John’s routine of changing the rules of thingmen selection in the midst of the game…but I’m better than that.  Again, disappointed.  Very disappointed.

FINNBOGI’S SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Thorgeir goði of Ljosavatn

John’s Response

John’s Pick

Finnbogi the Strong

Andy’s Response

Had I elected to pick first, I would very likely have taken Finnbogi. What’s not to like about the guy? He’s strong. And…strong.  And let’s not forget that he’s strong.  Instead, I got one of the more influential goðar in all of Iceland. John attempted to pull some chicanery by not mentioning Thorgeir the goði as a thingman option in the hopes of picking him up in another saga.  In addition to giving Finnbogi good advice and saving his hide more than once, Thorgeir is also an influential lawspeaker who will change the course of Iceland’s history. We’ll see him again in Njal’s Saga.

SAGA OF THE GREENLANDERS

Andy’s Pick

Thorfinn Karlsefni

John’s Pick

Snorri Thorfinnsson

 Andy’s Response

This pick really doesn’t deserve much comment. Sure, there’s some stuff named after Snorri.  Sure, he’s the first European born in the New World (at least on record).  But we’re drafting men into our ranks, not babies for our daycare. As a character who is present in the action of the saga only as a baby, Snorri brings very little to the table.   He’s a footnote.  That said, I feel for John, because I don’t know who else he could have picked.

GRETTIR’S SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Onund Treefoot

 John’s Response

I agree with Andy’s pick here wholeheartedly–choosing Grettir over Onund was the hardest choice I’ve made yet in this contest. That’s in no way regret for adding Grettir to my mead hall–it’s more an endorsement of Onund Trefotr as a very strong second pick. I’ve spent a lot of time on Onund as a scholarly subject, but ultimately I was so intrigued by Grettir’s qualities as a tragic ubermensch that I had to bring him on board. But I approve Andy’s pick here, and I won’t say a word against Onund.

John’s Pick

Grettir Asmundarson

 Andy’s Response

This is an interesting choice.  Grettir is a famous Icelander with a very impressive resume.  Unfortunately, he’s also got a pretty lengthy rap sheet.  But that isn’t the real problem of Grettir.  He’s the kid who always got “Does not work well with others” on his report card.  And that’s an understatement.  For all of Grettir’s amazing, monster-slaying abilities, he’s simply not capable of working as part of a team.  I understand John’s choice, but I think it’s a risky move.

VATNSDÆLA SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Thorkel Scratcher

 John’s Response

There’s nothing wrong with ol’ Scratch as a thingman. But in a saga as chock full of great Thingmen as Vatnsdæla, and with specimens of potential thingmanhood like Ingimund and the Ingimundarsons, Ingolf “Stone-slab armor” Thorsteinsson, and Thorstein Ketilsson, I’m a little surprised to see him taken at all. Besides, the author’s half-hearted enthusiasm for Scratcher’s unconvincing adventures doesn’t seem as much of a ringing endorsement to me as it must have seemed to Andy. That said, there’s certainly no shame in Thorkel Scratcher having a seat in Andy’s hall–he’s a man of sterling qualities, and in any case I don’t think there was a bad pick to be made in this saga.

John’s Pick

Ingimund the Old

 Andy’s Response

Had I gone first this time around, it’s very likely that I would have chosen Ingimund the Old.  I did, however, find myself debating whether or not to take him if he were still on the board after John picked.  You see, the problem with Ingimund is that he’s just too good to be true.  Like his ancestors, he’s more of a fairy tale character than a true hero of the Icelandic Saga Age.  While I appreciate his monkish pacifism, I don’t know how much a guy like him would help me as a thingman.  I need someone who is physically capable, wise, and ready to respond to the dangers of the day with more than a “please be good, boys.”  So, Ingimund may be attractive at first glance, but, like the costume jewelry John wears, he just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.  I’m happier with my more capable thingman, Thorkel Scratcher.

VIGLUND’S SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Viglund Thorgrimsson

 John’s Response

This is the first time we’ve taken a pair of brothers as Thingmen, and I’m not surprised that Andy went for the more well-known one with the first pick. But there’s a strong case to be made that he got the lesser brother–Viglund’s essentially a type rather than an individual. He’s not a bad type, but without his brother’s good influence, it’s clear he’d be little more than a lovesick murderer. I think Trausti’s wry wit and superior moral code outshine Viglund despite his starring role.

John’s Pick

Trausti Thorgrimsson

 Andy’s Response

This is one of those situations where John had little choice. Trausti, like many of the characters in this saga, plays to his type. He’s loyal and trustworthy, thus his rather obvious name. Like Thorstein Kuggason, he’s pretty unremarkable.  If I’m Snorri goði, I’d be wondering about the group of men John’s been collecting for him to work with lately

THE SAGA OF BJORN CHAMPION OF THE HITARDAL PEOPLE

Andy’s Pick

Bjorn Champion of the Hitardal People

 John’s Response

In the short view, Bjorn is clearly the brand-name guy in this saga. He’s got a lot going for him, not least of which is his status as a (possible) dragonslayer. But he’s probably the least impressive poet among the so-called Warrior-Poets, and his feud with Thord, while satisfyingly bloody, ends with all his neighbors (including some relatively honorable men) banding together to rid themselves of a man they see as an intolerable menace. I’d still have taken Bjorn if he were available, but I don’t think the choice is as clear-cut as Andy would like to believe.

John’s Pick

Thorstein Kuggason

 Andy’s Response

John was in a tough place here.  There’s only one true thingman in this saga. Since Bjorn was already gone by the time John arrived at the thing, he was left with the scraps.  It’s not like Thorstein is a bad guy, it’s just that he’s pretty unremarkable, despite John’s attempts to sell the audience on his virtues.  He is loyal and fair, which are nice attributes in a thingman.  In the end, John was doomed the moment he chose to go first in Kormak’s Saga.

KORMAK’S SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Bersi the Dueller

 John’s Response

There wasn’t any real question about Andy’s choice. I took Kormak for obvious reasons–he’s probably the second most famous warrior-poet in all saga literature. Once Kormak was taken, it was a pretty reasonable move to take Bersi as Thingman. I think, though, that Andy’s comments are those of a man trying to convince himself that his silver medal is gold–Bersi’s a pretty flawed and bloodthirsty figure who might’ve been up for outlawry if we hadn’t had Narfi to kick around. On the whole, though, I would probably have considered Bersi if Kormak hadn’t been available…but that’s a pretty significant “if.”

John’s Pick

Kormak

 Andy’s Response

There really were only two options in this saga, which is typical of the sub-genre we’ve been covering.  I wasn’t at all surprised by John’s selection of Kormak.  Quite frankly, I think Kormak is a great choice.  Like John said, the guy is one of the more famous poets to come out of medieval Iceland.  But he’s also a bit more troublesome than my more excellent and accomplished thingman, Hallfred.

Indeed, John spends a good deal of the Kormak’s Saga episode undercutting his future thingman for all his weaknesses.  I believe John says at one point, “I would question whether Kormak is all that famous a hero.”

My thoughts exactly. I’ll conclude this assessment with a reminder of a brief exchange from the episode:

Andy: Bersi’s kind of the star of the saga.

John: I would tend to agree.

THE SAGA OF HALLFRED TROUBLESOME POET

Andy’s Pick

Hallfred Troublesome-Poet

 John’s Response

This was the obvious choice, and since Andy had first pick for this saga, it’s not surprising that he went for Hallfred, an accomplished poet, globetrotter, and bosom companion of Olaf Tryggvason. Of course, obvious doesn’t always meanright–ultimately, Hallfred’s not so much a saga hero as a Norwegian king’s pet project. He may be an ornament of Andy’s court, but Hallfred isn’t my kind of Thingman.

John’s Pick

Gris Saemingsson

 Andy’s Response

When he was a fictional young man and out of this saga altogether, Gris had a lot going for him. He was a member of the Varangian Guard. For that reason alone I seriously considered taking him. But that was long ago. Sure, he’s a nice guy. A really nice guy. Ultimately, however, he doesn’t do anything. He’s a farmer who lets other men sleep with his wife and can’t seem to do anything about it. I can’t help but chuckle at this choice.

THE SAGA OF GUNNLAUG SERPENT-TONGUE

Andy’s Pick

Thorstein Egilsson

 John’s Response

I got the drop on Andy this time out by nabbing Skafti, but I can’t deny that Thorstein’s a heck of a consolation prize. A great bloodline, a quick-witted man, and let’s not forget that berserkers and shape-shifters are in his family tree. Thorstein definitely would’ve been my second choice.

John’s Pick

Skafti the Lawspeaker

 Andy’s Response

First of all, I don’t want to hear anything else about Killer Styr. Talk about choosing a bit player in the saga. Second of all, I would have chosen Skafti if I had gone first. So, I’ll just have to accept my consolation prize. Thorstein’s pretty cool…right?

BANDAMANNA SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Beard-Broddi Bjarnason

 John’s Response

A forgettable choice, but not outlandish considering the paucity of quality thingmen in this saga. Beard-Broddi Bjarnason makes for a solid rank-and-filer, though I’d worry about his tendency to get involved in spurious lawsuits. But at least he has the good sense to keep his mouth shut when my thingman Ofeig is speaking!

John’s Pick

Ofeig Skiðason

 Andy’s Response

Ofeig is a great choice, if you’re looking for a poor and powerless man to hatch a plan. Combined with Snorri goði, this group of thingmen has an impressive amount of craftiness. While I deeply admire Ofeig’s moral conviction, he simply lacks the necessary connections and reputation to really make a difference.  Beard-Broddi, on the other hand, is well off, well respected, and politically savvy.  He plays the role of peacemaker in other sagas, so he can’t be that bad. Ofeig, like John, is also a bit of an ornery old man. I certainly hope my buddy doesn’t take any of Ofeig’s parenting advice.

HEN-THORIR’S SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Tungu Odd

 John’s Response

I’m genuinely shocked by this pick. I know I caught Andy off guard with my selection of Thord Bellower, but I expected a better backup plan than this. Tungu-Odd may be a powerful figure, but a number of other people in this saga are also powerful…and ultimately, Odd’s the loser in this saga, both in the narrative and in our hearts. I can’t help the obvious pun–Andy’s selection makes him the odd man out in this round.

John’s Pick

Thord Bellower

 Andy’s Response

Thord is certainly an impressive character to have on your side.  He’s one of those guys that shows up in a lot of sagas and he usually makes a good impression.  I wish I could say something bad about him, but he’s the guy I really wanted this time around.  While John may have gotten a good thingman, I think I did too.  Plus, he’s still got the dead weight of Leif ‘I don’t do much really’ Eiriksson and Thorkel ‘I don’t even exist’ Thjostarsson.

GISLI’S SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Gisli Sursson

 John’s Response

Well, this was sort of a no-brainer—Gísli’s clearly a blue-chip guy to have on Andy’s roster. Andy played the long game here, deferring on first pick last time and fending off my efforts to outlaw Gísli in this episode. Well played, sir!

John’s Pick

Aud Vesteinsdottir

 Andy’s Response

A very unorthodox choice, but one I wholeheartedly approve. There are few more noble women in the sagas than Aud Vesteinsdottir.  At the same time, while she may be a loyal companion to Gisli, I wonder what she really brings to the table.

EIRIK THE RED’S SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Styr Thorgrimsson

 John’s Response

Andy’s clearly desperate at this point—Styr Thorgrimsson barely appears in the saga, and this pick means a good man like Thorfinn Karlsefni is left out of the Thingmen.  And Styr is Snorri Goði’s father-in-law…Andy’s clearly still reeling from losing Snorri last episode.

John’s Pick

Leif Eiriksson

 Andy’s Response

John went the obvious route on this one and chose Leif Eiriksson, discoverer of the New World.  Who wouldn’t want a windblown missionary helping them at the Alþing?  Well…me!  That’s why I deferred. I see great things coming for me in Gisli’s Saga.

EYRBYGGJA SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Arnkel the Priest

 John’s Response

Arnkel strikes me  as the goody-two-shoes choice, probably made to underscore my alleged ‘conniving’ in taking Snorri. On balance, Andy go the guy I’d rather have a beer with, but I got the guy I’d rather not have plotting against me.

John’s Pick

Snorri Goði

 Andy’s Response

John proved himself to be a conniving scoundrel in choosing the man he’d spent nearly two hours criticizing. Snorri is one of the best, so this is a real win for John. That left me with Arnkel, which isn’t so bad…right?

HRAFNKEL’S SAGA

Andy’s Pick

Hrafnkel Hallfredarson

 John’s Response

Andy made the obvious choice, but I think he’ll regret allying himself with such a famously difficult man…if he’ll kill his own shepherd over a joyride on a horse, what’ll he do when he gets tired of Andy’s leadership?

John’s Pick

Thorkel Thjostarsson

 Andy’s Response

First, I want to be clear that I chose the reformed Hrafnkel.  John chose the only other real option—if I’d lost the coin toss, I’d probably have done the same thing. Thorkel’s clearly a stand-up guy. Still, I think John’s lost some ground to me early on!

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