Barnaby Thieme's Reviews > The Saga of the Volsungs

The Saga of the Volsungs by Anonymous
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Medieval Icelandic literature is highly variable in quality and comprehensibility, but the Volsung Saga is a masterpiece of the genre, and here it is masterfully translated and presented by Byock. This edition includes extremely useful explanatory notes, a vital glossary of characters, and an introductory essay that is by itself worth the cost of this book.

Like many Icelandic sagas, this is a brooding history of semi-historical kings overshadowed by augers of doom. It exhults in shocking acts of violence that make "Medea" and "Titus Andronicus" seem restrained by comparison. The moral tone is ambivalent and grim, as its heroes slay, conquer, and betray themselves and one another under the watchful eyes and sometimes at the direction of the old Norse pantheon.

The pacing of the work and its frequent evocation of verse remind the reader of its likely origins as a bardic work. The breathless leap from climax to climax is a bit fatiguing, and this book is best sipped.

If you are considering reading this work to enhance your understanding of Wagner's Nibelungen Ring, you should not hesitate to buy it. This saga informed Wagner's "poem" more than any other source material he consulted, and you'll find most of the principle events included within. Many interpretive puzzles that have baffled me for years were quickly resolved by reading this work; in many cases events that I found puzzling were simply reproduced faithfully from the source material.

To the student of history, mythology, opera, or literature, this book is an excellent and worthwhile read.
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