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Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories
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Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories

(Íslendingasögur/Sagas of Icelanders)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  661 ratings  ·  40 reviews
They date from the thirteenth century and fall into two distinct groups. Hrafnkel's Saga, Thorstein the Staff-Struck, and Ale Hood are set in the pastoral society of native Iceland, the homely touch and stark realism giving the incidents a strong feeling of immediacy.

The remaining four -Hreidar the Fool, Halldor Sorrason, Auduns Story, and Ivars Story- were written without
Published 1971 by penguin
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3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  661 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Hrafnkel is the son of one of the first Norwegian settlers of Iceland, and wishes to set himself up as a powerful priest-chieftain in this promised land. As he goes through the stages of ambition and pride, loss and humiliation, and vengeance and return to authority, Hrafnkel gradually changes his perception of power among men.

The Icelandic family sagas, the Medieval Scandinavian version of period dramas, include some of the greatest literary masterpieces of European history, among them the lege
This is the book I ought to have started with when I began to dip into Icelandic sagas again recently. The stories are shorter, the plots are tighter with less winding and sidetracking. The cast of characters is usually smaller, so that there are fewer names, patronymics and relationships to keep track of. The characters are sparely but vividly drawn, and even the features of land and sea get some attention when they contribute to the plot. Overall, these tales are easier to digest.

Most of the s
If you're looking for the inspiration for Shadowfax, Gandalf's noble steed, look no further. Freyfaxi the Wonder Pony, noble steed of Hrafnkel is the horse you're looking for. This, and the other stories herein, are marvelous in their own right. But let's face it: it's super fun to see where Tolkien got some of the material for his books.
May 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1970s, medieval, sagas
Hrafnkel is a saga writ small, but with all the propelling blunt force of its lengthier cousins. This simple story told in starkly realistic prose draws a vivid picture of tenth-century Iceland’s snow-capped mountains, mires, and grassy slopes dotted with the homesteads of tetchy farmers, who hold honor more dear than life. The story begins with a murder of a poor peasant, who yielded to the temptation to ride his master’s sacrosanct horse. From this grim beginning, the saga branches into a swif ...more
Jun 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title story is much more consciously literary than the other stories in this short collection. It's a tale of broken oaths, murder, revenge, legal drama and redemption in medieval Iceland.

Several of the other stories have similar themes but have a somewhat different tone, being more like a cross between a short biography of an individual and the anecdotes about him that would get told down the pub on a long winter's night.

The latter-most stories take a wider look at the Norse world as they t
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this mainly for Hrafnel's saga, but I have to admit that others, which I have never even heard before, were quite interesting, too. Also, great introduction that touches upon the biggest questions and problems about Hrafnel's saga and others in this collection.
Adam  McPhee
Hrafnkel's Saga is about a feud and the vicious killings and legal drama that go along with it. There's a Varangian and the lava fields are featured. One of the epithets of King Harald Straight-Hair's ancestor is 'the farter'.

The other stories are much shorter and more straightforward.

Thorstein Staff-struck was okay. Apparently when they weren't feuding and duelling the Icelanders used to make horses fight each other to relieve men of their pastoral boredom, but then the men would get angry and
Mar 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have not actually read this whole book, I just read Hraknkel's Saga in the larger collection of Icelandic Sagas I am going through and wanted a venue to review it on its own. This is a much shorter tale than Egil's Saga, which I read a few weeks ago, and probably much more accessible for that. If Egil's is a novel, then Hrafnkel's is a short story and all the better for it. Told with an economy of information that makes the material timeless and appealingly opaque, this is one of the best piec ...more
Feb 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Back in my teens (during the 1980s) I collected Penguin Classics. I bought a dozen Viking Sagas but never got round to reading any of them. At long last I've decided to remedy the situation and this is the first of them. *Hrafnkel's saga* is one of the shortest major sagas but it's a remarkable work... nonetheless, one of the first examples of "realism" in world literature, though it's a curiously alien realism by modern standards... This book contains six other stories dating from the 13th Cent ...more
Matt Poland
Feb 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good, short introduction to Icelandic sagas. The stories, especially "Thorstein the Staff-Struck," emblematize those things that are so good about the sagas: the collocation of Christian and pagan ideas (and the tension between them), clear-eyed realism and seriousness of tone, and wry humor. I would argue that anyone who grew up in a rural area, in Iceland or elsewhere, will recognize these hard-headed people, and feel at least somewhat welcome in their community.
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not only was Hrafnkel’s Saga written in medieval times, it’s also historical fiction. Written in the 13th century, it describes events loosely based upon characters from the 9th century. Scholars have identified the likely author as Abbot Brand Jonson, a 13th century intellectual, church leader, teacher, and mediator. Several of the stories involve the theme of rulers and mediation, both fair and unfair. Half of the stories take place in Iceland, a rough rural country ruled by feudal lords. A fe ...more
Weirdly enough, I was just discussing Norse sagas with someone when this turned up in my book collection. I have no memory of obtaining it, but there it was.
These are short prose translations of medieval manuscripts, ranging from very short stories to the longer title piece. They unveil a few of the things we understand [or often misunderstand] about the Viking period, and the world of Iceland. In one case, the character is Icelandic, but the action takes place in Europe.
Characters in this world
Jackson Cyril
May 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The great medieval Scandinavian Sagas continue to shock and beguile. Such stunning naturalism, such depth of character psychology, such broad humanism!-- they are, in my view, the best kept secret in Weltliteratur.
Dec 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Has some cool joints. Everyone’s killy, dark, completely homicidally into horses. Plus “Hrafnkel” is almost identical to my crudely elided work email!
Mar 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I guess I was expecting more of an epic oops
Jacob Lehman
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title story is one of the densest, richest short stories you are likely to encounter. Typical saga understated brilliance.
Joseph F.
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Okay, I'm a bit biased here. I LOVE Icelandic sagas. My first was Njal's Saga. This was followed by many others. There are different types of these sagas. Most people are probably more familiar with the legendary ones: stories of heroes, monsters and gods. The most popular of this type is the story of Sigurd(Siegried) and the dragon.
But there is another type: the family sagas. These are much more real to life stories, and much more prosaic. They take place during or just after the Vikings settle
Sep 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The stories in this collection of Icelandic sagas date from the 13th century but take place centuries before that. They're fascinating! I expected Homeric but they're a little more...homey. They're full of characters named Thord and Thorarin, Thorhall and Thorvald (many of whom have bad tempers and handy weapons), and tell of fights among relatives, lawsuits, drinking contests, and staged horse fights. I liked the flawed characters, and I liked that some of them grew and changed while others did ...more
Jacob Lang
May 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting little collection of sagas and stories from the old Icelandic peoples. I'm glad I read this as a primer to Njal's Saga.
There are hints of pagan spiritualism in Hrafnkel's story, but it is not romanticized. The author definitely threw in a few Christian ethical spins (or maybe they would have accumulated naturally through the passing of these tales through medieval Iceland). There are great moments of sacrifice, honour, and a subtle sense of humour in some of these stories. It's a
Travis Ferber
An interesting book for its insight into the world of medieval Iceland. This was a world from whence our judicial system was derived, yet despite these laws the ultimate arbiter of any issue was force in Iceland. From a cultural perspective, the issues and concerns of the characters in the sagas were very similar to our modern day concerns. However, the jilted nature of the linear narrative, plodding along often to anticlimactic ends could be a bit perturbing. It left me thinking how unfortunate ...more
Billy Roper
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like the History Channel series 'Vikings', this is the source material for much of the overall plot line, even if this collection doesn't discuss Ragnar and Rollo specifically. Tales of Norwegian court life during the 1400s, the conquest of the last vestiges of paganism by Christianity, at least to a certain depth, and the grueling but rewarding daily life of commoners in the Icelandic frontier give the reader a taste of what life was like in the early medieval era for all levels of Scand ...more
Mar 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: badasses
Hrafnkel's Saga (pronounced roughly like "Hrapket's Saga") is a very rare work indeed, focusing on the average Old Icelandic farmer rather than the heroes, kings, and poets of the day. It's pretty good to boot. The eponymous hero even strings up a group of men through holes he pokes between their achilles tendons and heel bones.

The Other Icelandic Stories are the real gems, though. They range from cutesy to tragic and are just good fun reads, some of them almost mini-sagas.

I would suggest this b
Brent LaRowe
Great snapshot in medieval Icelandic culture (presumably common enough through Scandinavia that the characters freely travel through it without incident). I found it amusing, though, that a "saga" in Icelandic lore is a lawsuit. Many lawsuits, in fact. The authors of the tales are unknown, but I bet it was John Grisham.
David Newell
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this short book. The stories in it are interesting without having any sort of pretense or grandeur.

They're not cautionary tales, or epics involving heroic acts, but much more mundane. They are stories of people, albeit odd people, and stories of Iceland. A great window into the laws of the time and the attitude of he people.
Thoroughly enjoyable
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting work on the tales of Iceland. It helps if you know who a few historical characters are, especially Harold the Ruthless and his war with Denmark. He comes up frequently. Now, if you’re looking for dragons and elves, this is not the place. These stories read a lot more like the Wild West.
I really enjoyed this- some of it made me laugh out loud at times. A good introduction helped contextualise things and footnotes helped give more detail, but didn't take away from the fast- paced narrative.
Katy Wilmotte
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Teaching 'Hrafnkel's Saga' to undergraduates has certainly made me appreciate it more than on the first read. And the rest of the stories in the collection are fun--favorite has to be 'Hreidar the Fool.'
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely great collection of stories. Sure some of them can be dull at times, but I excuse this as the stories were written in a different era and culture. I highly recommend this to anyone with interest in Medieval or old literature.
Feb 15, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

It's like the Godfather, except with families of Vikings. Having never read any sagas before this one, I have to say I was quite pleasantly surprised. A lot more politics involved than you'd expect.
Jason Freeze
Nice collection of short stories, all of them with a morality component. Unfortunately, the style of the Nordic sagas makes these brief narratives less enjoyable in my opinion as the bulk of the tale revolves around heritage and ancestry. Worth the time if you enjoy this style of writing though.
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Goodreads Librari...: Unknown, Anonymous, and Icelandic sagas 3 38 Aug 21, 2013 11:38AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Stories 1 3 Apr 15, 2012 07:59AM  
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Books can be attributed to "Unknown" when the author or editor (as applicable) is not known and cannot be discovered. If at all possible, list at least one actual author or editor for a book instead of using "Unknown".

Books whose authorship is purposefully withheld should be attributed instead to Anonymous.

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
  • Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoda
  • Bandamanna Saga