book-reviews

The Vatnsdaela Saga

by anon. (tr. Andrew Wawn).

Rating: ★★★

This saga tells the story of the original settlers of the Vatnsdalur valley in northern Iceland. Like Egil's Saga, the story begins in Norway at around the time of Harald Fairhair, but unlike Egil's Saga much of the action after the migration remains centred in Iceland, following the family of Ingimundur over the notable events of their lives.

A recurring theme in the story is that of dealing with difficult people, particularly when they are blood-kin or kin to a dear friend. Ingimundur himself was killed by such an individual, leaving his sons to hunt down the culprit who so poorly rewarded the charity he had shown. The writing is not terribly convincing, however, on some of the later targets -- in many cases it seems like Ingimundur's sons were simply spoiling for a fight.

There is also a suspicious amount of Christian editorialising. Ingimundur's death seems to have been recast into the religion of the day -- either by the scribe, or by the later oral tradition he worked from. We do also hear incidentally about the conversion of the region, but there are no details of how or why this came about.

Vatnsdaela lacks the narrative focus of Egil's Saga. The multi-generational style is common to both, but in Egil's Saga it is used as a container for the central story of Egil, whereas Vatnsdaela is more of an anthology of stories about a family, arranged roughly chronologically. For the most part the stories praise the family head, whoever that might be, but we do see some deviation from this in the tales, which retain a flavour of real events and real people. The saga certainly connects itself with the landscape of Iceland, with a great many events being referenced as origins of placenames. Somewhat shaky, but likely worth reading for the insight into the early Icelandic culture.