By Ármann Jakobsson
Making History: Essays on the fornaldarsögur, eds. Martin Arnold and Alison Finlay (London, 2010)
Introduction: ‘Þat sagðir þú, Reginn, at dreki sjá væri eigi meiri en einn lyngormr, en mérsýnask vegar hans æfar miklir ’ “You claimed, Reginn, that this dragon was no bigger than a regular worm, but he seems to me to leave a mighty track.” Before killing Fáfnir, Sigurðr Fáfnisbani is far from enthusiastic. Presumably he is not supposed to realise at this point that he will be famous ever after for slaying this dragon, as his nickname attests. According to Volsunga saga, he mainly desires revenge for the death of his father; it is his foster-father Reginn who keeps urging him to kill the dragon and he continues to postpone it until he has avenged his kinsmen.
Sigurðr’s reluctance is not explained in the saga. If it had been someoneelse, one might suspect anxiety about confronting the dragon. But as will be discussed in more detail later, it is stated on more than one occasion in Volsunga saga that Sigurðr knows no fear. So the most likely option is that he is simply not very interested in the dragon at this stage; he fights it because he has promised to, or so the saga has it: ‘ Efna munu vér þat sem vér hofum þar um heitit, ok ekki fellr oss þat ór minni ’ “We will make good on what we have promised and it has not slipped our mind.”
What is the dragon to Sigurðr? His attitude is interestingly nonchalant. The question arises, Who is Sigurðr the dragon-slayer? Why is he the best person to kill the dragon? And furthermore, why is the dragon important to the hero? The subject of this study is the significance of the dragon in a narrative such as the Sigurðr legend, of which Volsunga saga is but one of many manifestations.