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History or fiction? Truth-claims and defensive narrators in Icelandic romance-sagas

History or fiction? Truth-claims and defensive narrators in Icelandic romance-sagas

By Ralph O’Connor

Mediaeval Scandinavia, Vol.15 (2005)

Introduction: Straining the bounds of credibility was an activity in which many mediaeval Icelandic saga-authors indulged. In §25 of Göngu-Hrólfs saga, the hero Hrólfr Sturlaugsson wakes up from an enchanted sleep in the back of beyond to find both his feet missing. Somehow he manages to scramble up onto his horse and find his way back to civilisation – in fact, to the very castle where his feet have been secretly preserved by his bride-to-be. Also staying in that castle is a dwarf who happens to be the best healer in the North.

‘He said, … “Now you must lie down by the fire and warm the stumps”. ‘Hrólfr did so. Then he [the dwarf] applied the ointment to the wounds, placed the feet against them, bound them with splints and made Hrólfr lie like that for three nights. Then he removed the bandages and told Hrólfr to stand up and test his strength. Hrólfr did so; his feet were then as efficient and nimble as if they had never been damaged.’

This is rather hard to believe – but our scepticism has been anticipated by the saga-author. At this point the narrator interrupts his own story to address the audience.

Now even if such things seem unbelievable to some people, everyone still has to report what they have seen or heard. It is also difficult in such cases to contradict what the learned folk of old have put together.’

Click here to read this article from the University of Aberdeen

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