Episode 16d – The Saga of Grettir the Strong (Part 4)

Tristan and Isolde

In the thrilling conclusion to Grettir’s Saga, we follow the slender armed Thorstein Dromund on his quest to avenge his brother.  Thorstein’s adventures carry him from the shores of Norway to the bustling city of Constantinople, where the exiled King Harald Hardrada leads a rag tag bunch of Scandinavians called the Varangian Guard.  And if you thought the Grettir’s Saga author would pass up the chance to throw in another giant of saga literature, you were sorely mistaken.  Sadly, Harald is only featured in a cameo.  The real story of the Grettir’s Saga epilogue is the love affair of Thorstein and Spes.  Often referred to as the Spésar þáttr (The Tale of Spes “Hope”), the epilogue contrasts the epic ethos of the saga world with the more playful spirit of the continental romances.  If you have ever encountered the famous story of Tristan and Isolde, where the two lovers consistently outwit Isolde’s bumbling husband, King Mark, you’ll feel right at home in the Spésar þáttr.  Join us as we review this deceptively simple epilogue and discuss its potential value for understanding the rest of Grettir’s Saga.

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Along the way, we make reference to a few items of interest.  First among these are the blog sites featuring Drangey Island.  There are some pretty impressive pictures on these blogs and stories about Drangey:

  1. http://stuckiniceland.com/north/the-outlaws-paradise/
  2. http://fooface.blogspot.com/2006/07/epic-climb.html

Drangey Ladder

And if you want to take our advice and visit Drangey for yourself, tours are available here: http://www.drangey.net/

Interested in the Brother Robert’s 13th century Saga of Tristram and Isond?  Click on the book and buy a copy:

Or perhaps you’d like to start with Béroul’s The Romance of Tristan:

And finally, we make reference to one of our favorite scholarly articles on Grettir’s Saga, Kathryn Hume’s “The Thematic Design of Grettis Saga” from The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 73.4 (1974): 469-86.  It’s quite fascinating and worth a read.  Free to everyone with access to JSTOR.

Episode 16c – Grettir’s Saga (Part 3)

GrettirandThorirRed-Beard The Saga of Grettir the Strong continues.  In this episode, Grettir arrives home in Iceland only to discover that his father has passed away, his brother has been slain by Thorbjorn Oxen-might, and that he himself has been outlawed for the accidental burning of Thorir of Gard’s sons in Norway.  That’s a lot to take in all at once.  As an outlaw, Grettir is forced to lurk in the wilds, hide in caves, and rely on the kindness of others for food.  Since Grettir’s not terribly kind himself, he usually just steals what he needs.  Join us as we discuss the last of Grettir’s adventures, including amazing feats of strength, battles with a troll-hag and a giant, and a rocky encounter with a witch.  Will Grettir get stumped by the witch’s black magic? Will he go out in a blaze of glory? And will he ever recover from the embarrassment of his exposed manhood?  Find out in this episode of Saga Thing.

Drangey Island in Skagafjörður fjord, where Grettir and Illugi spent their final years.

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Pick up a copy of Grettir’s Saga and discover what we left out!

Grettir's Saga

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!

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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 14a – The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal (Part 1)

Harald Fair-Hair

King Harald Fairhair

The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal tells the story of one family over 5 generations (though John will insist on counting 6).  We begin with Ketil the Large challenging his son, Thorstein, to find out what’s lurking in the woods and killing everybody.  Thorstein turns out to be a very lucky fellow who is soon married to the daughter of a famous earl in Gotland.  Thorstein’s son, Ingimund, is the central figure of this episode of Saga Thing.  We follow Ingimund from his noble youth, through his glory days as a Viking, all the way to his eventual death in the Vatnsdalur region of northern Iceland.  Will his life end peacefully or will he suffer a violent death?  There’s only one way to find out. This episode features giants, witches, and transcendental Laplanders.  We’ve also got epic battles, or at least references to epic battles, seduction, or at least clumsy attempts at seduction, and bloodshed…there’s definitely bloodshed.

[audio http://sagathing.podbean.com/mf/web/xpg6dc/Episode14a-TheSagaofthePeopleofVatnsdalPart1.mp3 ]

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If you like what you hear, pick up a copy of The Sagas of Icelanders from Penguin Books and read the saga for yourself.