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The Sagas of Icelanders

(Íslendingasögur/Sagas of Icelanders)

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  3,336 ratings  ·  193 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
Paperback, 820 pages
Published February 24th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 1200)
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Jan 05, 2013 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
Jul 31, 2009 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
Czarny Pies
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: scandinavian-lit
Because the same language was spoken in north-east England and Icleand at the time of the arrival of William the Conqueror many English speakers consider Icelandic literature to be part of their cultural heritage. For those who subscribe to this notion, this handsome volume will be a great delight.
The sagas were all translated simultaneously under the direction of a signal committee which imposed consistent translations of words for all the works. My own feeling is that what resulted was an arti
Jan 06, 2008 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.
May 30, 2013 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".

This single volume is a Penguin reprint of part of the complete multi-volume translation into English of all the Icelandic mediaeval sagas and tales conducted under the general editorship of Ornolfur Thorsson b
Feb 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Sagas of Icelanders

The ‘Saga age’ was from about 830 to about 1030.
The Sagas were collected and written down about 200 years after the events took place in Norway and Iceland at the time of the Vikings.

It is different from almost any other world literature.
Individual authors are scarcely known, but an entire way of life becomes visible.

Translation from Icelandic into English are from various translators, but the plainness of style expressing little emotion and the way of plain speaking ev
Jun 28, 2009 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
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Realistically I will probably never finish this book but I hope to dip into it again one day. At first it was quite intimidating to see that long table of contents filled with sagas and other essays, but after having read through one of the sagas (The Saga of the People of Laxardal) I realize that it needn't be intimidating. Just pick a saga and read through it. The translation quality is excellent and I found the saga I read to be a page turner. The genealogy can be a bit confusing but it isn't ...more
Daniel Polansky
Prose stories detailing the various misadventures of man and woman who were born or exiled to or who died in Iceland from, roughly speaking 900-1200 AD. What's the point of reading ancient works of world literature? 1) it gives you some insight into a past culture, and into the broader sweep of history. 2) it's difficult, and strange, and not like reading anything written in the last few centuries, and there's a value to that in and of itself. 3) there are always a handful of peculiar concepts w ...more
Dave Bonta
Jul 21, 2012 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
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
A really interesting, and unusual reading experience. This collection of sagas covers a broad range of activity, themes, and quality so I'm finding it a little difficult to sum up, but the main reason these do not rate higher, in my opinion, is because the interest was mostly historical rather than having that extra “classic for all ages” quality.

With such a sampling of from 49 sagas, it is inevitable that the characters will be varied, but the activities that drive them is pretty narrow. While
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
Feb 02, 2018 is currently reading it
It will take me years to finish this, but since I hauled it here from Iceland, I thought I ought to start reading.
Ricky Ganci
Jan 10, 2012 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
Apr 20, 2009 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
Billy Roper
Jun 01, 2016 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.
Mar 01, 2016 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."
Nov 02, 2011 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
Sep 20, 2011 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
Monty Milne
Jan 15, 2015 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
A great resource for readers interested in Icelandic Sagas. Includes helpful references, glossary, maps, and illustrations.
Sep 15, 2011 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
Feb 16, 2016 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
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Archaeology students, historians, Heathens
Recommended to Michael by: serendipity
This collection of translations of the Sagas of Iceland makes a great introduction to Scandinavian culture and legend, and is also a very entertaining read. I would recommend it to anyone interested in pre-modern history or folklore. It’s tempting to compare these tales to more ancient sources like the Odyssey and the Aeneid, and also to more modern works like “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Actually, what makes it most different from modern writing is the constant genealogical and place-name e ...more
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Four stars for Saga and tale selection. Some of the sagas included are not particularly interesting, but nearly all of the included tales are great.
Anna C
Feb 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book has introduced me to my newest literary obsession: medieval Norse sagas.
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
John W.
May 09, 2015 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
Aug 18, 2007 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
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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

Other books in the series

Íslendingasögur/Sagas of Icelanders (1 - 10 of 27 books)
  • Islendingesagaene I: Skalder / Grønland og Vinland
  • Islendingesagaene II: Fredløse / Skalder og helter
  • Islendingesagaene III: Njålssoga / Helter og eventyrere
  • Islendingesagaene IV: Lokale feider
  • Islendingesagaene V: Rikdom og makt / Tro og kamp
  • Egil's Saga
  • Vatnsdæla saga
  • Laxdæla Saga
  • Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories
  • Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoda