What better way to begin a new century than with a generous collection—the first such in English—of some of the greatest
stories ever told.
This compendium is a distillation of the Complete Sagas of Icelanders published in five fat volumes in Great Britain in 1997.
From that original edition’s 40 sagas and 49 related briefer tales, Thorsson’s edition extracts ten sagas and seven tales. The
excellence of the sagas (oral tales that were written down in the 13th and 14th centuries, though having existed much earlier)
as literature is attested to in an appreciative Preface by Jane Smiley (whose recent novel, The Greenlanders, is a skillful imitation
of this venerable form) and in a long and informative Introduction by scholar Robert Kellogg. But these wise, blunt tales of
hardship, conflict, and destiny speak eloquently enough for themselves. The greatest of them all, the brooding, Aeschylean Njal’s
Saga is understandably not included. Still, it’s hard to imagine a reader who won’t be hooked by the masterly Egil’s Saga, the
tale of a stubborn farmer’s ongoing feud with several generations of Norwegian royalty. The unforgiving Egil, who’s also an
accomplished poet and warrior, is the saga’s single most memorable figure—unless that distinction belongs to Gudrun
Osvifsdottir, the vengeful hellion of The Saga of the People of Laxardal. Also of highest interest: The Saga of Hrafnkel Frey’ s
Godi, a taut dramatization of the implacability of fate that recalls Sir Walter Scott's magnificent "The Two Drovers"; Gisli
Sursson’s Saga, a compact and thrilling, almost Dostoevskyan revenge tale filled with unforgettable dream imagery; and the
"Tale of Thorstein Shiver," a terrific story of the supernatural.
Irresistible tales that are, as surely as the masterpieces of Homer and Cervantes, the forerunners of the modern European
novel. All honor to (appropriately enough) Viking for making these treasures available.