It’s time to dive back into Laxdaela Saga! This time we’re going to wander away from Olaf Peacock and his family for just a little while. Why? Because it’s time to introduce Guðrún Ósvífsdóttir, one of the central figures of the saga! In this episode, we discuss Guðrún’s dreams, her troubled marriage, and some interesting scholarship on gender identity in the saga age.
We’re back with the third installment of Laxdæla saga! In this lengthy episode, we meet a bunch of minor characters who play a role in the developing tensions in Laxárdalur (the Salmon River Valley). This surprisingly fun section starts with a little disagreement between two former friends over a stack of fish. That disagreement erupts into a violent altercation that drags in the major power players of the district, puts a husband and wife at odds, and eventually leads to an opportunity that Hoskuld Dalla-Kollsson simply can’t pass up.
If that’s not enough for you, we’ve got Hrut’s arrival in Iceland and a suspicious (and frankly rude) seal giving unasked for advice to a helpless family. Not since “whack-a-ghost-seal” have we laughed this hard!
Thanks as always to @skarphedin_illustrator for bringing the text to life. Here we see Hrut fully “aroused” into a frenzy battling for his inheritance. If you’re looking to get one of his illustrations on a shirt or in a print, visit his Etsy page.
In this episode, John and Andy sit down with Robert Eggers and Sjón to chat about the stories behind their recently released saga-inspired film The Northman. That’s right, we’re talking to the director and co-writers of the biggest Viking film to be released since Kirk Douglas was a star! Stick around for the last 20-30 minutes where the four of us work together to put The Northman on trial Saga Thing style.
Warning: This conversation is full of spoilers from the very beginning. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you’ll want to run out and see it before listening. If you’re on the fence about seeing it, then give the episode a listen. Either way, we hope this interview will help you to better appreciate something of the process of creating a large-scale Viking epic for the 21st century and the unparalleled effort to accurately and respectfully adapt Viking Age culture and saga literature for the big screen. The attention to detail in The Northman reflects a great deal of careful research, time, and a genuine love for the rich literary tradition of the Icelandic sagas and Old Norse mythology.
Our thanks to Robert and Sjón for the generous gift of their time and good humor on the Monday morning after the film’s release. And a special thank you to Garrett for helping to set it all up.
In this episode, we dive way down deep into the bag of Sagas of Icelanders to pull out a story that is rarely discussed or even read by experts much less casual fans of medieval Icelandic literature. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad saga, even if it’s a little rough around the narrative edges. This one’s got a lot of the fan favorites, including wrestling, surprise killings, a secret love affair, storms at sea, trolls, and a bear who understands Old Norse! Join us as we begin our journey through The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup (Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls).
If you thought we were done with The Saga of the Sworn Brothers, you were mostly correct. In this episode, we fill in a few gaps in the story of what happened around Thorgeir Havarsson’s death. We start with Thormod’s þáttr, a tale about Thormod’s visit to the court of King Cnut and his first meeting with his future BFF, King Olaf of Norway. We follow that up with Thorarin the Overbearing’sþáttr, which tells of Thorarin’s activities following his ambush on Thorgeir.
Along the way, we talk about the messy manuscript traditions associated with each tale, the characterization of King Cnut in the tales and sagas of Icelanders, the wonders of quantum cake, and our vague memories of George Burns’ Oh, God! trilogy. We conclude the episode with a bit of fan fiction as we speculate on how the fragmentary tale of Thorarin the Overbearing might end and how it could tie into what we know from Fóstbrœðra saga.
Thanks to Jacob Foust for another great original illustration inspired by the stories of medieval Iceland. Follow him on Instagram where he’s @skarphedin_illustrator.
In the final episode of our epic journey through Fóstbrœðra saga (The Saga of the Sworn Brothers) Thormod wraps up his business in Greenland and heads back to Norway and the loving companionship of his new BFF King Olaf. Unfortunately for Thormod and Olaf, there’s another would-be king of Norway lurking out there with plans to seize the throne. Will Olaf and Thormod link arms and defeat the aggressor? Or will the loyal warrior-poet follow his king in death? There’s only one way to find out!
Stick around for the end of the episode where we answer a question from the Runesack and talk about our favorite translations of Beowulf.
Our illustration for this episode is Grima’s vision of doom for Thormod and his friends. How will he get out of this mess? Thanks to Jacob Foust, aka @skarphedin_illustrator on Instagram, for his work on this one.
In this episode, Thorgeir heads home to Iceland against King Olaf’s advice. Despite being a known outlaw, things go pretty well for Thorgeir at first. His visit takes a turn for the worst when he encounters Gaut Sleituson up north. Their brief meeting triggers events that will change the course of their lives and the trajectory of the saga itself.
Before that though, we revisit a section of Grettir’s Saga we had previously skipped where Thorgeir and Thormod butt heads with Iceland’s most famous outlaw. We also discuss the physical characteristics of a courageous heart, investigate a few scenes from The Saga of the Volsungs and the Prose Edda, wonder about the jiggliness of a horse heart, chat about vin-berries in Vinland, and laugh at John’s attempts to ferment fruits and other garbage in his youth. As if that’s not enough, we pitch a saga-inspired idea for an Icelandic ultramarathon with an unforgettable name. We had a lot of fun recording this one. We hope you enjoy!
Thanks, as always, to Jacob Foust for sticking with us through the Saga of the Sworn Brothers and sharing his talents. Check out more of his work by visiting his Instagram page.
Oh, and if you make it to the end of the episode and want to know more about Patricia Gonsalves and her amazing Archery camp and classes, visit Lykopis Archery. You can listen to our interview with Patricia and Stephen Fox by revisiting Saga Brief 14: Medieval Archery.
We’re diving back into chapters 7-13 of The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (better known as Fóstbræðra saga). This time, we’re featuring Thormod’s side of the story. Whereas Thorgeir spends his time hacking and slashing his way toward a bad reputation, Thormod is exploring his romantic side, making moves on several local ladies who catch his eye. Will Thormod settle down to a quiet life of marriage and farming? Or will he love ’em and leave ’em for further adventures with his sworn brother? There’s only one way to find out!
In addition to the normal saga discussion, we also chat about dried fish, warrior poets, and the finer points of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. If that’s not enough for you, we open up the runesack and answer a series of questions about medieval studies. We may not cover a lot of chapters here but it’s a full episode.
Thanks as always to Jacob Foust for a pair of great illustrations for this episode. Check out more of his work at instagram.com/skarphedin_illustrator.
Fóstbrœðra saga (or The Saga of the Sworn Brothers) tells the story of two men, Thorgeir Havarsson and Thormod Bersason, who are more concerned with success in this life than glory in the next. Together, they wander the countryside of 11th century Iceland causing trouble, damaging property, and taking what they want. Like Grettir, they soon find that this approach to living is not only outdated, it’s a good way to turn a community against you. But, also like Grettir, Thorgeir and Thormod don’t really care.
In this episode, the two young men swear oaths of blood-brotherhood, avenge a fallen father, steal some whale meat and generally unsettle most everyone they encounter. Thorgeir also manages to impress with one of the finest examples of athleticism since Lane Myer skied the K-12. This is a serious contender for best bloodshed when we get to the third Quarter Court. The above picture by Jacob Foust, @skarphedin_illustrator on Instagram, should give you a pretty good idea of what happens.
We’ve also got some great listener observations to share with you at the end of the episode. One of them involves an Icelander proving that some of the incredible acts of bravery we see in the sagas aren’t just the stuff of fiction. Here are the articles we mention:
Welcome to the first in a series of special Saga Briefs on Interpreting the Past, a series that looks at modern interpretations and perceptions of the medieval. In this episode, John and Andy welcome two scholars, Dr. Verena Höfig (Assistant Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Zachary Melton (Ph.D. student at the University of Iceland).
We cover a range of topics, including the appeal of Viking Age culture and mythology to modern religious and political movements; the role of literature, history, and social media in the construction of individual and group identities; and the challenges that we face, both as scholars and as citizens of this world, coming to terms with the many differences of interpretation that divide us.
As that list suggests, this isn’t the usual light stroll through the sagas. This episode is short on jokes and heavy on substantive discussion of important issues. Whether you’re an expert or an enthusiast, this one’s worth your time. We hope you enjoy and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Here is a bibliography of the texts and studies referred to, either directly or indirectly, in this episode: