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Njal's Saga

(Íslendingasögur/Sagas of Icelanders)

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3.97  ·  Rating details ·  3,605 ratings  ·  288 reviews
Written in the thirteenth century, Njal's Saga is a story that explores perennial human problems-from failed marriages to divided loyalties, from the law's inability to curb human passions to the terrible consequences when decent men and women are swept up in a tide of violence beyond their control. It is populated by memorable and complex characters like Gunnar of Hlidare ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published December 6th 2001 by Penguin Classics (first published 1290)
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Ian Njal's Saga probably has roots in oral traditions about the Icelandic past (i.e., around 1000, as recollected in the 1200s). But not in folktales, if…moreNjal's Saga probably has roots in oral traditions about the Icelandic past (i.e., around 1000, as recollected in the 1200s). But not in folktales, if by "folktale" you mean the sort of thing collected by the Brothers Grimm, with anonymous or typically-named protagonists, and plots that could take place anywhere (or nowhere).

Literary influences, including at least some in Latin, also have been identified by scholars, although the author (whoever he was) may have encountered them in oral retellings by those with more book learning.

In any case, this saga (among others) has been increasingly recognized as a very sophisticated piece of storytelling, not a compilation of stories that share some scenes and characters.

(Nor, for that matter, are the sagas just accurate reporting of events, a notion once popular in Iceland and abroad, encouraged by their spare, "journalistic" style, apparent objectivity regarding characters, and great specificity regarding family trees and local landmarks.)

As for "anonymous," that is the standard condition for the Sagas of the Icelanders, as opposed to some of the Kings' Sagas (and perhaps some of the Bishops' sagas, which I have not so much as looked at).

The only exception to this rule may be Egil's Saga, which some distinguished scholars have attributed to Snorri Sturluson (1179–1241), who is more securely tied to the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, the latter a collection of sagas about the kings of Norway.(less)
Lorelie Mansur no, this saga is by anon. Snorri Sturluson wrote the Prose Edda and Egils saga.

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Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
”Gunnar got ready to ride to the Thing, and before he left he spoke to Hallgerd: ‘Behave yourself while I’m away and don’t show your bad temper where my friends are concerned.’

‘The trolls take your friend,’ she said.

Gunnar rode to the Thing and saw that it was no good talking to her.”


 photo Njals20Parchment202_zps1sxuabiu.jpg

The events of Njal’s Saga took place between 960 and 1020 in Icelandic society and were written about in the thirteenth century. What was so unexpected for me was to discover, in such an ancient culture, the powe
...more
Jan-Maat
Often when thinking about the rise of the European novel there's a tendency to look to Cervantes or maybe back to "The Golden Ass". Yet longer sagas like Njal's saga seem to be very much like novels to me.

This is an amazing work. Partially based on fact and around factual events such as the coming of Christianity to Iceland (view spoiler) the saga traces a quarrel. As it gets out of hand and men reach for weapons calmer heads
...more
Andrew
Sep 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is one of the greatest crimes of recent literature that Penguin has replaced this -- one of the truly great English translations of any work by anyone -- with a horrendously execrable translation whose only distinguishing characteristic is that it was done more recently. Seek out Magnus Magnusson's translation (thankfully there are oodles and oodles of them second hand due to it being assigned in college courses for decades) at all costs.

This book is really in a class by itself. It might be a
...more
Nikki
I really enjoyed this one. There's some likeable characters -- even from my soft-hearted modern point of view -- who I really got to care about, which isn't always the case with sagas. I was kind of sad when they went out of the saga. The translation is good, clear and easy to read, and there's helpful footnotes, a good introduction, and other helpful supplementary material. As with all sagas, there's an awful lot of names, but it's still pretty easy to follow.

I found some of it amusing in a som
...more
Terry
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
_Njal’s Saga_ is one of the classics of the medieval genre of the Family Saga, if not perhaps the classic. It has everything you could want in a saga: extended genealogies of multiple families, inter-family conflict between said families through the generations, shifting loyalties, intrigue, bloody battles, crazy nicknames, sardonic witticisms, and enough legal jargon to keep Perry Mason happy. It is populated with characters that seem real and often multidimensional even when they are larger th ...more
Abi
Feb 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those willing to branch out
One of the best sagas, without a doubt. Epic in scale, but still intensely human, the story of burnt-Njal is dramatic, moving and highly entertaining. The saga style takes some getting used to if you've never experienced it before. It is terse, to the point, characterisation and description is kept to a bare minimum, the plot races along at break-neck speed, there's a plethora of characters (a lot of whom have very similar names). It requires... concentration, and you'll almost certainly have to ...more
Aubrey
3.5/5

There are a lot of written works out there that were never composed solely for the sake of entertainment. Today, these are customarily churned through for philosophical/social/religious/historical/various other noble concerns. All very well, but more rare are the ones through which one can get a firm grip on the origin of 'How to Get Away with Murder' in all its sordid glory: abusing circumstantial technicalities, citing obscure parts of archaic rulings, fighting fire with fire, all in the
...more
Jessica
An amazing, tragic family drama and one of the greatest works I read in college. In fact, as you will note from my shelving, it's one of my favorite books of all time. This has everything: romance, heartbreak, action, legal drama. And it introduced me to Njal's son Skarp-Hedin, the greatest warrior of all time. Full of snappy one-liners, able to decapitate five men with one blow, I tried to name my firstborn after him, but my husband said no. Alas!
Hannah Notess
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: translated
So engrossing that I missed my bus stop once while reading on the bus. I think that is a good sign.

Basically guys hack each other to pieces for 50 years until eventually the only two dudes left finally make peace. People who are all like "Oh our culture is so violent nowadays" should read this for a little perspective. Because a guy will be like "Where's so-and-so?" And another guy will be like "Oh, I severed his head." And the first guy will be like "Oh, that seems like something you'd do." And
...more
Clif Hostetler
Nov 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: epic
Njáls saga is a 13th century Icelandic saga that describes events between the years 960 to 1020. It deserves respect because of its antiquity. But I found it be a challenge to get through.

It is a long collection of stories about "so-and-so" of "such-and-such" family killing "so-and-so" of "such-and-such" family. The names were all exotic to my English language ears; thus it all passed through my memory as a blur. In this regard it reminded me of my reaction to the Iliad. However this book is mu
...more
Czarny Pies
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those who like to study history through literature
Shelves: scandinavian-lit
Beware you need to do a lot of research to make any sense out Njal's Saga. If you just pick it up and start reading, it seems like "100 Years of Solitude" in that it describes a long multi-generational cycle of violence in which all the murderers and all the victims have the same name. The difference is that Gabriel Marquez is parodying a situation which he desperately wants to change whereas the author of Njal's Saga is describing what he considers to be a well-ordered world.

Regretfully, I hav
...more
Duntay
May 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A legal saga with gratuitious violence, revenge,strong characters and what I would call magical realism. It makes me want to visit the site of Njal's farm in Iceland - a country I am fascinated by but only get to pass through .

And our cat is now called 'Ragnar Hairy - Breeks'
Rikkert Kuijper
Oct 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The original Kill Bill
Larou
Jan 10, 2014 added it
Njal's Saga is by far the longest of the sagas of the Icelanders, and it appears to be the general agreement that it is also the best among them, an assessment that I am not going to deviate from. In principle, Njal's Saga is just like the other sagas (The Sagas of Icelanders) - it has their freshness and immediacy that are striking for texts that are hundreds of years old, it has their sparse, laconic style, their reliance on action and dialogue, their absence of psychology and their emphasis o ...more
Zoe's Human
Nov 17, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lt
Njal's Saga is epic tale of toxic masculinity spiraling out of control as a 50 year blood feud builds to greater and greater acts of vengeance over insults like gifts of silk and manliness being called into question. Many people are murdered and an entire family is burnt down in their home. Peace is finally achieved when a man marries a widow. One man is given a bracelet worth 19 cows.

Medieval Icelanders were petty AF.
Annie
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
--------GENERAL THOUGHTS--------

Okay, so this ancient Icelandic saga is confusing but also strangely engrossing and kind of funny (one memorable line: “He will ask you whether there are a lot of good men up [where you’re from]; to which you reply, ‘A lot of perverts, that’s about all.’”).

Names: these get real confusing. There are multiple characters with the same names, and the long-dead author, whoever it is, usually doesn’t bother to make an effort to clarify which Mord (grandfather and grand
...more
Kirsty
I have read an abridged version of Njal's Saga before, but never in its entirety. When I received this tome for my birthday, I was most excited to begin it. Njal's Saga features an incredible amount of characters, and is prefaced by a series of extensive - and necessary - family trees. As with all good sagas, it is filled with slayings, battles, marriages, and betrayals. It is a true epic, and its story is fascinating and far-reaching, but at times I must admit that I found the translation rathe ...more
Brandon Pearce
Feb 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: epic
In the tradition of Icelandic sagas it is very violent and barbaric. Tons of fun in other words, and based on a true story by all accounts. Lots of modern law practice goes back to the people and principles described in this book. My favorite part is the vision of the Valkyries at the end. Delightfully macabre!
Beka Sukhitashvili
მეგონა "უფროსი ედასავით" მაგარი იქნებოდა.
სიუჟეტურად ძალიან ცარიელია: ცოლი მოვიყვანე, გავეყარე, ქონება დავაგროვე, კაცი მოვკალი. სულ, სულ, სულ. სხვა არაფერი ხდება.
რა პრეტენზიებია ეხა ეს?
აი, ისლანდიაში რომ ჩავალ, ერთ ქარბუქიან თვეს, გარეთ ცხვირს რომ ვერ გავყოფ და სულ ცეცხლის პირას ვიჯდები, მაშინ გადმოვიღებ კიდევ ერთხელ ამ წიგნს და აუცილებლად ხმამაღლა წავიკითხავ, მსმენელებთან ერთად.
Anna
Sep 19, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5, some of the feuds were too long and I got bored, but I liked when one of the characters jumped onto ice and slide past someone while killing them. That was cool.
Beth
Blood rains
From the cloudy web
On the broad loom
Of slaughter.
The web of man,
Grey as armor,
Is now being woven;
The Valkyries
Will cross it
With a crimson welt.


Njal’s Saga, written by an unknown author in the 13th century (around the year 1280), is often regarded as the greatest of the Icelandic sagas. It is primarily a prose narrative, but there are some passages of verse. 24 manuscripts, more copies than of any other saga, have survived, sometimes in fragments. The saga is based on historical even
...more
Chris
Oct 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who knew the Vikings were also skilled lawyers?

Okay, apparently using the word Viking is a misnomer as in the text 'Viking' is used to represent raiders of indistinguishable origin.

Anyway, written 800 or 900 years ago, and purportedly describing events taking place 1000 years ago, this saga has it all, giving truth to the use of the word 'saga.' It has battles, romance (as much as you can have when marriages are arranged - Does this man please you? Good, because you are now married), the conver
...more
Genni
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I recently read a collection of Icelandic Sagas but it did not contain Njal's Saga. I'm glad I made time for this one, for I found it more compelling as classical material than the others.

It was interesting to me how Njal mostly seems to hover over the saga rather than really being part of the action until the end. He reminded me very much of the roll a mentor plays in one's life. They may be often around or in your thoughts, influencing thoughts and events, but you can never quite be close to
...more
Briana
Oct 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, medieval
The storyline of Njal’s Saga can seem hopelessly complicated at first glance. The tales are based on historical events, so there are a number of people who play only minor roles, there are long lists of characters’ ancestries, and there are people who share the same name. However, just a little way into the book, the reader should be able to pick out and focus on the key characters with ease, and once he does, he will become wonderfully invested in their lives. The cast of Njal’s Saga is quite f ...more
John Snow
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm a hopeless reader. When I read a good book, I tend to read it over again – several times. As I write this review, I'm reading Njal's Saga for the second time in a row. The book is fantastic; it is the longest and probably the best of all the Old Icelandic family sagas. The thing is, I have read it before: three or four times in Norwegian and parts of it in the Old Icelandic language. These are the first times I read the saga in English.

Composed in the thirteenth century by an anonymous Icela
...more
Graychin
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
In the modern era most generations of most families tend to pass their time in unremarkable ways. We’re born. We go to school. We work. We marry and maybe have children or even grandchildren. Then we die. Along the way we move house two or three times and take up a hobby. You are likely to be disappointed in reviewing the list of your known ancestors if you want to discover evidence of blood feuds, rapine, piracy, and superior skills in hand-to-hand combat involving axes and halberds. If we’re t ...more
Sara
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
Apologies to Icelandic readers (I liked laxness' Independent People! I swear!) but this book read to me as a satire of the ancient Icelandic legal system. Or maybe a caricature of Icelandic bloodlust? We spend the story following an endless blood feud that is punctuated by failed legal attempts to end it, and when (it seems) that all of the men in Iceland have to be dead at this point, they start fighting the Irish. Yes, yes, ancient human themes of loyalty and honor and all that, but I'm not su ...more
Stephen
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Hands down one of the most-accessible and memorable of the Icelandic sagas.
Piet Michael
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: scandinavian
About half of it is actual, even quite lively storytelling with a momentum of tragedy, whereas the other, a bit more than half is how revenge and law worked in Medieval Iceland's "Democracy".
Brian Delaney
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Viking family sagas are just as badass as they sound.
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Books can be attributed to "Anonymous" for several reasons:

* They are officially published under that name
* They are traditional stories not attributed to a specific author
* They are religious texts not generally attributed to a specific author

Books whose authorship is merely uncertain should be attributed to Unknown.

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
“She was endowed with great beauty for all those attributes that were outside her control, but it was said that in all characteristics for which she herself was responsible, she was utterly wicked” 9 likes
“Those we murder with our mouths often live longest” 7 likes
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