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New Medieval Books: Iceland

Five new books for those interested in the sagas and society of Iceland during the Middle Ages.

The Althing site at Þingvellir National Park

Stories Set Forth with Fair Words: The Evolution of Medieval Romance in Iceland

By Marianne E. Kalinke

University of Wales Press
ISBN: 9781786830678

Excerpt: By the end of the thirteenth century Icelandic literature was both sizeable and varied, indeed quite extraordinary. Its proponents excelled in producing mythography, historiography, hagiography, biography and prose epic. The last is exemplified by the unique Islendingasogur; Sagas of Icelanders, also known as Family Sagas in the English-speaking world. Into this flourishing literary scene, translations of more or less contemporary French literature were introduced, that is, courtly lays and romances and the epic poems known as chanson de geste. The earliest renderings of these foreign narratives occurred in the second quarter of the thirteenth century in Norway, and before long the translations were transmitted to Iceland. There they were copied, completed, revised and adapted. In no time they inspired Icelanders to try their own hand at this imported narrative type. a new genre was born in Iceland, the riddarasaga, romance.

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Sturla Þórðarson: Skald, Chieftain and Lawman

Edited by Jón Viðar Sigurðsson and Sverrir Jakobsson

Brill
ISBN: 9789004342354

Excerpt: Sturla Þórðarson is one of Iceland’s most famous medieval politicians and authors. He lived during the most turbulent of times in Icelandic history, the civil war period between 1220-1264 usually called the Sturlunga Age after the family Sturla belonged to. During the years 1262 to 1264, Iceland became a tributary land of Norway, and later in 1271 and 1281, respectively, the country received two new law books, Jarnsiða and Jonsbok, which introduced a new administration system based on a Norwegian model. The new system transformed the old chieftaincy system which had been established when Iceland was settled around 870. Thus, Sturla belonged to the last generation of goðar (‘chieftains’, sing. goði) and the first generation of hirðmenn (‘royal liegemen’), who were also members of the new royal administration in Iceland.

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The Troll Inside You: Paranormal Activity in the Medieval North

By Ármann Jakobsson

Punctum Books
ISBN: 978-1-947447-00-4

What do medieval Icelanders mean when they say “troll”? What did they see when they saw a troll? What did the troll signify to them? And why did they see them?

The principal subject of this book is the Norse idea of the troll, which the author uses to engage with the larger topic of paranormal experiences in the medieval North. The texts under study are from 13th-, 14th-, and 15th-century Iceland. The focus of the book is on the ways in which paranormal experiences are related and defined in these texts and how those definitions have framed and continue to frame scholarly interpretations of the paranormal.

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Echoes of Valhalla: The Afterlife of the Eddas and Sagas

By Jón Karl Helgason

Reaktion Books
ISBN: 9781780237152

Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf, Wagner’s Valkyrie Brünnhilde, Marvel’s superhero the Mighty Thor and the Vikings heading for Valhalla in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’: these are just a few examples of how Icelandic medieval literature has shaped the human imagination during the past 150 years.

Echoes of Valhalla is a unique account of modern adaptations of the Icelandic eddas (poems of Norse mythology) and sagas (ancient prose accounts of Viking history, voyages and battles). Jón Karl Helgason looks at comic books, plays, music and films, exploring reincarnations of the Nordic gods Thor and Odin and the saga characters Hallgerd Long-legs, Gunnar of Hlidarendi and Leif the Lucky, as well as the works of the medieval writer Snorri Sturluson. He looks at Scandinavian, British and American cases, as well as German, Italian and Japanese adaptions. Examples include the cartoonists Jack Kirby and Peter Madsen, playwrights Henrik Ibsen and Gordon Bottomley, travellers Frederick Metcalfe and Poul Vad, composers Richard Wagner and Edward Elgar, rock musicians Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and film directors Roy William Neill and Richard Fleischer.

Echoes of Valhalla shows how disparate, age-old poems and prose from medieval rural Iceland have become a part of our shared cultural experience today – how the eddas and sagas themselves live on. The book will appeal to the wide audience interested in Viking mythology and history, as well as films, books, music, graphic novels.

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Egil’s Saga: The Story of Egil Skallagrimson

Retold by Brynhildur Thorarinsdottir

Real Reads
ISBN:978-1-906230-87-6

Is it really possible to become famous throughout your country and beyond both as a fearless warrior and as a renowned poet? Egil Skallagrimsson lived in Iceland a thousand years ago, and this is the story of his long and violent life. He could compose beautiful poetry, but he was also capable of staggering brutality. Can Egil successfully avenge his father’s exile from Norway, defend his honor against the Norwegian King Erik Bloodaxe, and support the English King Athelstan in his battles against the Scots? When his travels finally find him at home again in Iceland, how will Egil feel about his family-his loving wife Asgerd, the brother he lost in battle, and his dead sons? And what will he do with his two chests of silver?

Real Reads are accessible texts designed to support the literacy development of primary and lower secondary age children while introducing them to the riches of our international literary heritage. Each book is a retelling of a work of great literature from one of the world’s greatest cultures, fitted into a 64-page book, making classic stories, dramas and histories available to intelligent young readers as a bridge to the full texts, to language students wanting access to other cultures, and to adult readers who are unlikely ever to read the original versions.

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