Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Sagas of Icelanders” as Want to Read:
The Sagas of Icelanders
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Sagas of Icelanders

4.3  ·  Rating details ·  3,048 Ratings  ·  164 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Sagas of Icelanders, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Sagas of Icelanders

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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."
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
Tonstant Weader
Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, classics
The Sagas of Icelanders is an expansive collection of Icelandic family sagas and stories. Most of them were written from the 13th and 14th century. Iceland and Greenland were settled a few centuries earlier and the sagas cover the stories of that settlement. With all the interest in Vikings and the success of the TV series, it was fun to go back to some of the original stories of the real Viking adventures.

There are several sagas. Their society is very different from the feudal society of the re
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
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
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
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
Gabriel Clarke
Oct 08, 2014 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 12, 2007 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.
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Yes, this book is IMMENSE and demonstrates Smiley's unreal rigor and discipline. I love Viking sagas and Smiley proves readable over all one million or so pages. I've read it twice
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The World's Liter...: júní: Sagas of the Icelanders 15 24 Jul 05, 2014 08:08AM  
Brain Pain: The Sagas of Icelanders 27 44 Mar 27, 2013 07:03AM  
Question about The Sagas 4 35 May 16, 2012 05:53PM  
  • 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
More about Jane Smiley...

Nonfiction Deals

  • Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival
    $8.24 $1.99
  • A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf
    $27.00 $2.99
  • Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
    $9.99 $2.99
  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
    $10.74 $1.99
  • Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
    $8.99 $1.99
  • A Room of One's Own
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield
    $8.24 $1.99
  • Life in a Medieval City
    $8.24 $1.99
  • Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
    $12.99 $1.99
  • Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych E.R.
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts--Becoming the Person You Want to Be
    $14.99 $2.99
  • The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan
    $8.99 $1.99
  • My Life on the Road
    $13.99 $1.99
  • Too Close to Me: The Middle-Aged Consequences of Revealing A Child Called "It"
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Drinking: A Love Story
    $12.99 $1.99
  • The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen
    $9.99 $2.99
  • The Light Between Us: Stories from Heaven, Lessons for the Living
    $5.99 $1.99
  • Inside the Criminal Mind: Revised and Updated Edition
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
    $9.24 $1.99
  • Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
    $13.99 $2.99
  • How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child
    $8.99 $1.99
  • Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir
    $11.49 $1.99
  • Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me
    $7.99 $1.99
  • Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon
    $11.99 $1.99
  • The Immortal Irishman: Thomas Meager and the Invention of Irish America
    $15.99 $2.99
  • Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Heart of Christianity
    $9.74 $1.99
  • The Federalist Papers
    $4.99 $1.99
  • Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man
    $7.24 $1.99