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The Sagas of Icelanders

4.29  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,608 Ratings  ·  136 Reviews
In Iceland, the age of the Vikings is also known as the Saga Age. A unique body of medieval literature, the Sagas rank with the world’s great 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 ...more
Paperback, 782 pages
Published February 24th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 1200)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 14, 2014 Brian rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ruard_referred
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
Dec 15, 2009 Briynne rated it really liked it
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
Jan 06, 2008 Itsbecka rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 28, 2009 Hundeschlitten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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:
Mark Sacha
The sagas and tales in this selection account for maybe a bit less than 2/5 of the entire corpus of the Íslendinga sögur - respectable as far as selections go, and for all but a select few, more than enough to convey the general content and scope of this strange body of literature. For all their interweavings, the truth is that nearly every saga I've sampled (from this book, and volumes I and IV of the complete translation) expresses essentially the same qualities of genealogical grounding, paga ...more
Billy Roper
Jun 01, 2016 Billy Roper rated it it was amazing
More history than sagas themselves, this book nonetheless provides a geographical and demographic backdrop for the Norse Sagas which we have remaining to us following their 13th century compilation and preservation in Iceland, primarily by Snorri Sturlusson.
Ricky Ganci
Jan 18, 2012 Ricky Ganci rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Monty Milne
Jan 15, 2015 Monty Milne rated it really liked it
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
Apr 20, 2009 Sandy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sagas-cultural

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
Jul 21, 2012 Dave Bonta rated it really liked it
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
A great resource for readers interested in Icelandic Sagas. Includes helpful references, glossary, maps, and illustrations.
May 08, 2016 Steve rated it it was amazing
I’m currently reading the Sagas of Iceland

Egil's Saga

Egil and his entire family are pricks. Given how this is a story about a great family, the lessons I get is that great men have the capacity for being good and being terrible. Every generation of the family has an ugly and troublemaking brother as well as a handsome and good brother. The good brother dies every time, but with his death, the troublemaker brother comes into his own. The entire family preaches justice, but are always willing to s
Sep 16, 2015 Zadignose marked it as partially-read
The following is not really a review, so skip it if that's what you're after:

I've read several of the sagas included in this collection before (Egil's, Laxardal, Bolli Bollason, Greenlanders, and Eirik the Red), and I intend to deal with additional sagas separately if I review them. However, there are also several "tales" given here that I haven't seen elsewhere, i.e., the shorter works known as Þáttr, and I might as well make some notes on individual t
May 04, 2013 Tyler rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, classics
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
Jun 10, 2012 Carolyn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
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
John W.
May 09, 2015 John W. rated it really liked it
The Icelandic Sagas are a remarkable collection of medieval literature. While in England, France and elsewhere the literature were verse works concentrating on Kings and rulers, the Icelandic Sagas were prose narratives describing ordinary Icelanders especially their heroes who were often on the edge of society. Eril's Saga, the first in the book, is, at least for me, too much of a chronological story of people starting in Norway and then traveling to Iceland. It becomes more interesting toward ...more
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
Dec 07, 2007 Andrew rated it it was amazing
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
Gabriel Clarke
Oct 17, 2014 Gabriel Clarke rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished-in-2014
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.
Paul Callister
Sep 16, 2007 Paul Callister rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 05, 2007 Brian Wood rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 01, 2016 Janine rated it it was amazing
Remarkable and horrifying and beautifully written. This book was an epiphany for me understanding the Calvinist upbringing I had; deep-seeded fear of the "other."
Apr 08, 2013 Tepintzin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pagan
Immensely long, but engaging human stories.
Feb 20, 2016 Kadri rated it really liked it
This collection of Icelandic Sagas was a great detour from all the modern literature and non fiction that I've been reading.
The lives of the people in the sagas are fascinating / numerous people die and/or are outlawed. A poet can get a sword as payment for a well composed poem.
In the beginning I didn't think it would be too interesting, but once you get used to all the bloody incidents and everything else, it's illuminating to say the least.

The book contains:
Egil's Saga
The Saga of the People
Adam  McPhee
I think the Vinland Sagas were my favourite, but not just because of Newfoundland. They’re better stories, I think. I keep thinking about when the exploratory party has to survive on the meat of beached whales, and the one crewman who regrets converting to Christianity is overwhelmed with despair. And Freydis Eriksdottir! I’d love to go back to L’Anse Aux Meadows someday.

I started reading the Sagas hoping for something alien and unknown, and ended up reading stories that were strangely familiar
Neil MacDonald
Apr 02, 2015 Neil MacDonald rated it liked it
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
Mar 21, 2013 Jon rated it liked it
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
Jul 14, 2012 Ardwulf rated it really liked it
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
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  • Egil's Saga
  • Heimskringla: or, The Lives of the Norse Kings
  • Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories
  • Viking Age Iceland
  • Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas (World's Classics)
  • Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
  • The Vikings
  • The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings
  • The Kalevala
  • Gisli Sursson's Saga and the Saga of the People of Eyri
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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