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The Sagas of Icelanders

4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  2,158 ratings  ·  111 reviews
A unique body of medieval literature, the Sagas rank with the world's greatest literary treasures--as epic as Homer, as deep in tragedy as Sophocles, as engagingly human as Shakespeare. Set around the turn of the last millennium, these stories depict with an astonishingly modern realism the lives and deeds of the Norse men and women who first settled Iceland and of their d ...more
Paperback, 782 pages
Published March 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published 1200)
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Stories are important. Maybe even essential. We learn about each other through stories; whether it be the Cliff Notes version of ourselves we tell to coworkers and clients or the long narratives enjoyed of our child's daily exploits at school. Long before our first attempts at writing stories we shared tales of ourselves, our heritage, our world through the spoken word. Homer's hymns, Aesop's fables or Icelandic sagas - they are all instructive, rich and certainly the greater for having been hea ...more
Wow. This book was a huge undertaking, but it was completely worth the effort. The stories are at once familiar and utterly foreign, and so, so fascinating. It took me a while to fall into the patterns and rhythms of the sagas; they tend to wander, go down long tangents, circle back the long way, and then eventually present a central story of sorts. And that’s not to mention that about 80% of the characters – men and women – have names beginning with the prefix “Thor”. I’m not joking. Thorbjorg ...more
The best anthology of Icelandic sagas you can get the States. If you haven't read the sagas, then you haven't said a poem then chopped a guys head off.
I picked up this tome a few years ago and tried to speed through it, like I was reading a history book or a modern, plot-driven page-turner. Bad idea. It was like trying to speedread the Bible, where a verse or two can encapsulate an entire life. In anything, the sagas are even more spare and packed with action than the Bible.

So, this go around, I am taking the sagas on one at a time. I just finished reading The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal, a tale that extends across five generations of a fam
Nov 25, 2013 Robert is currently reading it
Shelves: myth-legend-saga
This book is immediately misleading in that the title might make you think it contains all the Icelandic sagas. It does not; not even close. What it does contain is two of the longest sagas and a selection of the shorter ones (including the Vinland Sagas) as well as a selection of "Tales".


See the complete review here:
Ricky Ganci
I've spent the past month reading many of the major sagas included in this edition, specifically, EGILS SAGA SKALLAGRIMMSON, HRAFNKEL'S SAGA FREYSGODI and LAXDAELA SAGA. I've done so with a great deal of enjoyment, as I'd really never read anything like this. They're essentially just stories about farmers in various degrees of conflict--none of them very complex, none of them very intrcate, all of them very good.

I really enjoyed both EGILS SAGA and LAXDAELA SAGA, because they were kind of connec

Roots time for me. I am half Icelandic. People tend to think of the ancient Norsemen as barbaric murderers. Well, they went a-Viking, and you probably wouldn't want to meet them on one of their "shopping trips". But the Norse had a rich and complicated culture, their own religion, and some of the most powerful sagas in the world. Icelanders were the scribes and intellectuals. The Icelandic sagas have been compared to the Greek in scope and power. Sample a
Dave Bonta
The best one-volume introduction to the sagas. The translation of Egil's Saga features much better English versions of the verses than its predecessors, whicih is essential since it's the biography of a skaldic poet. In Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue, on the other hand, the verses rhyme. Laxdaela is very good, as is Gisli. Of course, the editors had to make tough choices about what to include. Personally, I would've left out the Vinland sagas and the tales in favor of Njal's, and included Grettir rathe ...more
Monty Milne
What a joy to read this book in my timber cabin in the woods, by the flickering of a log fire, with a hard frost outside, and a full moon shining from a starlit northern sky. Perfect conditions in which to enjoy these vivid translations, and feel transported to a more congenial time and place (except for the sudden eruptions of deadly violence...)

I would have given five stars except that some of my favourite sagas are omitted; and also, I wish the publishers hadn't had the daft idea of rough-cut
A great resource for readers interested in Icelandic Sagas. Includes helpful references, glossary, maps, and illustrations.
I originally got ahold of this book because I decided to do some research into Viking-Age Iceland for the novel I'm writing, and the Sagas were the perfect place to go.

That said, at first I found the Sagas pretty challenging (who knew medieval literature was hard?). The stories were interesting and I learned loads about the culture, but the detached writing style and rather different storytelling than what I was used to slowed me down a lot. I think it took me almost two months to finish them al
I am currently reading this, in no particular order, and am loving it! The characters are so utterly recognisable in their human attributes, both positive and negative. These sagas give an insight into the culture and history of those times. I am not finding these sagas archaic or "difficult" either: the stories romp along with such gusto, uncluttered by unnecessary verbiage.
I started with Gisli Sursson's saga, simply because I had seen on Vimeo a wonderful short film called "Memories of old awa
I know I'm probably biased, but this stuff is awesome. As a monument of western literature, the sagas and tales of the Icelanders are as strange as they are magnificent. Intensely violent, utterly human, and completely entertaining. Don't let the thought of having to read Beowulf again fool you. This is not Beowulf. The sagas are surprisingly realistic. Check it out. You'll be glad. Make sure you start with some of the shorter sagas though. The long ones, though great, can be a little too detail ...more
Paul Callister
Sep 16, 2007 Paul Callister rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any lover of classical literature
1. What inspired Tolkien's names.
2. That early Icelanders were a paradox: poet, pirate, farmers who besides exhibiting tremendous individualism and sense of freedom, developed sophisticated legal systems and literature.

Egil's Saga was perhaps the most impressive and the one I keep rereading.
Brian Wood
This is a daunting book at first glance, but the stories are for the ages, and one of humanities greatest treasures. This translation is very easy to read, and I tore through it like fiction.
The Sagas of Icelanders are the stories of the first people settling Iceland, recorded in the 13th century, although the events actually took place as early as 830. Most of them are fairly interesting but they can be difficult to follow because there are so many characters some of which have the same names (Gisil Sursson's Saga has two people named Gisil and the Saga of Eirik the Red has two Eiriks) or have names that are very similar (so many names starting with Thor). They take a lot of concen ...more
Immensely long, but engaging human stories.
Neil MacDonald
Yes I know the Icelandic sagas are supposed to be literary treasures, part of the patrimony of humankind. But I was bored by them. There was an awful lot of smiting, plotting, judgements, and more smiting. It wasn’t totally thus. The Prose Edda, which contains the stories of the gods, while still having a lot of smiting, also conveyed a sense of the Norse pantheon. The trouble is, even these weren’t great as stories. We now expect stories to follow main characters through a sequence of events th ...more
This anthology provides a taste of what Icelandic peoples were writing in the Middle Ages. Most of the sagas here were written down between 1200 and 1400, with the actual tales taking place around 900 to 1100, as Iceland moved from being heathen to Christian. This puts an interesting spin on many of the stories, as the authors sometimes find a need to put a good word in for Christianity, yet they do so largely without saying too much negative about the former ways: those before Christianity were ...more
Pretty much the first thing that struck me about these sagas is how immediately accessible they are – I have read medieval texts before (even if not very many), and usually (i.e., unless one happens to be a medievalist) it takes a lengthy introduction and extensive notes for any modern-day reader to even get the point of any tale from that period, not to mention any deeper significance or wider-ranging connotations. Not that one should expect a penetrating exploration of the conditio humana from ...more
An excellent introduction to the sagas at an extremely reasonable price, with a solid selection and excellent translations from the original Old Icelandic. I do recommend starting near the back of the book, with the two Vinland sagas, if you're new to saga literature. They are approachable and interesting thanks to their subject matter (the Norse discovery and attempted settlement of North America centuries before Columbus,) and fairly short. And they have some memorable characters like Eirik th ...more
So the problem with an omnibus edition of Icelandic Sagas is that they get old pretty fast -- the action is often repetitive, and it doesn't help that many names sound alike and get confusing*.

I think here, as with any story collection, the key is to read just one or two -- as opposed to trying to make it through the entire thing at once.

That said it's pretty fascinating when you put it into the historical context. At a time most non-medieval scholars would still call the Dark Ages, the Icelande
I got this book a couple of years ago and decided to read one Saga a year. during the winter months. I dunno, Winter seemed the time for reading Nordic Sagas. So this year I read "The Saga of the Confederates" which, I'm told, is a satire. There is a trickster character who outsmarts the confederates and saves his son, repairs their father-son estrangement, and gets to live comfortably ever after.
Where the first Sagas I read, had little more than bare story, explanation of bloodlines, and prope
The preface by Jane Smiley was a bit disappointing, but the introduction by Robert Kellogg was good, and the translations are great. These sagas still risk a bit of repetitiveness and can seem stiff or wooden in parts, but these new translations (with notes on the source texts used) have made them a good deal fresher than the ones I read as a child (what were my parents thinking? so violent!). The violence is still there, but so is the disarming directness and humor in some spots. Also, the comp ...more
René Van leeuwen
Een opsomming van de belangrijkste sagas van IJsland en Noorwegen. Spannende verhalen met veel beschrijvingen van familiebanden, twisten en noordelijke gebieden. Omdat het een bijna letterlijke vertaling is van de oude sages wordt er zeer veel aandacht gegeven aan de familiebanden en deonderlinge strijd tussen families. Dit maakt het geen vloeiend modern geschreven boek. Desalniettemin is de sfeer in de boeken boeiend en is de layout van het boek geweldig te noemen.
1) Egil's Saga; (tr.) Scudder, Bernard
2) The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal; (tr.) Wawn, Andrew
3) The Saga of the People of Laxardal; (tr.) Kunz, Keneva
4) Bolli Bollason's Tale; (tr.) Kunz, Keneva
5) The Saga of Hrafnkel Frey's Godi; (tr.) Gunnell, Terry
6) The Saga of the Confederates; (tr.) Ellison, Ruth C.
7) Gisli Sursson's Saga; (tr.) Regal, Martin S.
8) The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue; (tr.) Attwood, Katrina C.
9) The Saga of Ref the Sly; (tr.) Clark, George
10) The Vinland Sagas; (tr.) Kunz
The ultimate collections of the most beautifully crafted stories in northern Europe. Full of mystic, wonder and rich characters, they are really not something to be missed at all. If you want to know where Tolkien got much of his influence from, get these books. The most obvious influence these books had on Tolkien was his novelized version of 'The Children of Hurin' which is written in a very similar style to the sagas.
Gabriel M. Clarke
I've read various sags before but never such a huge "chunk" at one go. The language (the Icelandic daughter of one of the translators tells me they capture the feel of the original very well) gets into your blood. I've been going around for days saying things like "that would not seem to be far wrong" or "it may be that I would not be the one who would be far wrong should you turn out to be not entirely right". And the names! The names are demented and wonderful. Essential stuff.
Maxwell Heath
While I unfortunately have read only some of the sagas in this book, I can say that it is definitely an excellent collection. The Icelandic Sagas are an absolutely fascinating mix of history and fiction that tell a number of stories about Viking Age Iceland. There are heroes and villains and other great characters, and all sorts of interesting facts about what the world of the Vikings was like. The Sagas generally have a nice mixture of action and story, with great scenes of combat as well as co ...more
Translated from the Icelandic five volume set, the stories included are carefully selected pieces from this set. There are plenty of maps, timelines, references, and explanations which are always great, but are particularly useful to people new to the Icelandic tales. I would recommend perusing the description of the political system, boats, farms etc. in the back before reading this book. The political system is different than many reading it are probably used to, and is mentioned frequently. I ...more
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  • Egil's Saga
  • Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories
  • Heimskringla: or, The Lives of the Norse Kings
  • Viking Age Iceland
  • Seven Viking Romances
  • Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas (World's Classics)
  • The Vikings
  • Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
  • The Kalevala
  • The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings
  • Early Irish Myths and Sagas
Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
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