Join us for a chat with Dr. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, author of Valkyrie: Women of the Viking World. We speak about Valkyries, shield-maidens, and famous women of Icelandic saga and legend. We also talk about the important contributions of Viking Age women to the success of medieval Scandinavian households, raiding parties, and armies. And since we’re all medievalists, we inevitably get around to discussing the thrills and frustrations of working with medieval sources and the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving. We hope you enjoy.
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.
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?
After a brief discussion of betrothal customs in medieval Iceland, John and Andy put Viglund’s Saga on trial. Will Viglund’s axe juggling skills win him an award? Or will he be upstaged by his own horse? Who will be outlawed? Who will earn a spot as thingman? And how does Viglund’s Saga compare to the other Warrior Poet sagas we’ve covered? What value does it have as a saga? So much to think about, so much to learn. Stop wondering and download the Judgments episode now.
The story of Viglund the Fair and his lady Ketilrid is a saga for lovers. This fifteenth century tale, the last of our warrior poet’s sagas, covers several generations. Each generation features a case of true love coming up against the secular tradition of arranged marriage. Can Viglund and Ketilrid overcome the obstacles set in their way and join at last in wedded bliss? It never worked out for the other warrior poets, so why would this one be any different? Listen to find out, if you dare! This is a remarkable, if somewhat late, work of saga literature. While the passage of time has clearly affected the style and structuring of the warrior poet genre, in some ways this is the warrior poet saga you’ve been waiting for. Join us as we examine the romance of Viglund and Ketilrid on this episode of Saga Thing.
In this episode, John and Andy discuss the problem of Thorveig’s curse, Kormak’s efforts to woo Steingerd, and the excellence of Bersi the Dueller. It’s time to judge Kormak’s Saga. Who will be chosen as thingman? Who will be outlawed? Will the Scottish giant get the recognition he deserves for his brief cameo? Download the episode and find out now!
In this episode, Andy and John wonder about Gunnlaug and Hrafn’s motivations, the quality of their poetry, and evaluate their swordsmanship. We also take a closer look at their love of Helga the Fair. As always, we count up the bodies and offer praise to the wittiest saga lines before getting down to the more difficult choices. With no clear villain in the story, who will be outlawed? Would either Gunnlaug or Hrafn make a good thingman? There’s one clear gem of thingman in this saga, but John’s choosing first. What happens when Andy doesn’t get his way? Find out in the Judgment section for The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue.