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Laxdæla Saga

(Íslendingasögur/Sagas of Icelanders)

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,085 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Written around 1245 by an unknown author, the Laxdaela Saga is an extraordinary tale of conflicting kinships and passionate love, and one of the most compelling works of Icelandic literature. Covering 150 years in the lives of the inhabitants of the community of Laxriverdale, the saga focuses primarily upon the story of Gudrun Osvif's-daughter: a proud, beautiful, vain and ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published November 30th 1969 by Penguin Classics (first published 1245)
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May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
'Tell me one thing, Mother,' he asks, 'whom did you love most?'

One of the most well-known of the Old Norse sagas, the Laxdæla Saga follows Guðrún Ósvifsdóttir and her kinsfolk in the Icelandic region of Laxriverdale. Guðrún is mythically revered as the most beautiful woman in the history of Iceland, and the saga details the history of her life and her four very different marriages, through romantic and violent tragedies of all sorts. In the end, the twists and turns and mysteries of her love
Jun 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to El by: Clovis
Shelves: 13th-centurylit
I'm well aware that the Laxdaela Saga is considered the "most important of the Icelandic sagas", so it's probably good that I chose this as my first Icelandic saga. However... if this is touted as being the best, I'm not sure what I'll do about reading the others.

There's a lot of cool stuff here, and I learned quite a bit actually - like how if a woman wanted a divorce she could dress more manly (a man could get a divorce by dressing more effeminately as well), and that one hundred marks of refi
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Laxdaela Saga is a multigenerational soap opera focused on several families of 10th and 11th century Icelanders. There are unlucky lovers, long schemes, extemporaneous versifyings, magic swords and blood feuds galore. The story also provides fascinating cultural and historical perspectives on topics like civic governance, women’s rights, notions of honor, luck and cursing, and the inconveniences of living with murderous, misanthropic ghosts.

If you read Frans Bengtsson’s The Long Ships and enjoy
Manuel Alfonseca
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the great Icelandic sagas. It revolves mainly around the life of Gudrun, a strong woman of four husbands and three sons, who have an important role in the saga.

At some point this text becomes a typical saga, with a chain of murders and revenges. But the most interesting point is its telling of the first introduction of Christianity in Iceland, which took place during the time of king Olaf I of Norway.

Three Norwegian kings are important in the saga: Harald, Olaf I and Olaf II (the holy).
Jul 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Some of the founding sagas of Iceland and in part the basis for Wagner's Ring Cycle (or at least some of the Brunhild parts). Not only is the founding of Iceland described, but also the drama of kidnappings, jealousy, and freezing cold winters. While this saga doesn't directly take place too close to Reykjavik, the landscapes of the Icelandic countryside are 100% more exciting knowing how much drama there is imbedded in the history and literary tradition of the place.
The Laxdaela Saga contains various figures and events, some legendary, some historical, all exaggerated to epic proportions. Though I was drawn in by by the odd names, traditions and blood lust of the Icelandic Viking culture, what set this story apart was the striking modernity at the heart of the plot. It is essentially a strung out love triangle and tale of revenge centering around a woman of extraordinary courage and ambition, Gudrun Ósvífrsdóttir.
Unlike in other pre-modern literature, the
Meredith Miller
Love the episodes with Olaf. All have gothic elements - going to meet his grandfather the Irish king and getting lost in a strange fog of the coast, battling a ghost in the barn. Love reading through to what signifies, what counts for people, in this different time and place, what things motivate the drama. Wonder if any sagas tell stories of peasants and servants? We only ever glimpse them here and in Gunnlaug Serpent's Tongue. I guess sagas were an elite art form.
Read somewhere that this remar
Aug 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who likes a good adventure/romance
Recommended to Leah by: Dr. Bryant Bachman
This is not only my favorite saga but also in the top five of my all time favorite books. I can read it over and over and never tire of it. I love the cast of strong, interesting women. Gudrun is an amazing character! I love how Gudrun's description, although it does contain some physical details, focuses on her intelligence and shrewdness. In contrast, Kjartan's description is almost all physical. This contrast seems to indicate that this is a very different type of saga. Gudrun intrigues me to ...more
Bob Newman
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Bad Dudes with Axes Run Amok---NOT !

The past is clouded over, dark and murky. Once in a while, a hole opens up and we peer in, not sure what we are going to behold. Sometimes the view is understandable, more often, it is difficult to fathom, given our contemporary attitudes and expectations. For a view of another culture far away in time and place, you cannot do better than to read the various Icelandic sagas, though "The Tale of Genji" is certainly up there too. Some people may think Beowulf is
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Icelandic Sagas are the best of the medieval literature. Among all that, Laxdaela Saga is one of the best of the sagas to come from the Viking world with amazing stories of human interaction. Reading this was an amazing experience, specially once you realize that these were real people, whose names are enshrined in the history of Iceland by their descendents.

Laxdaela Saga has a lot of characters (above 150) but that doesn't mean all the characters are equally important. It first traces the story
A story of the Laxdaela people, the Salmon-Valley people. Most consecutive story-line is Gudrun and her husbands, revolving around blood-feuds, drownings, prophecies, and a bit of magic. Heroic not chivalric, but more realistic, if not sometimes difficult to keep different persons straight (ie remember who is son-of-who).
Oct 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tedious at first, it picks up with love triangle and clan blood feuds. So much travelling back and forth to Norway and being entertained by the King. While wealth and power are flaunted, so are honesty and loyalty in conflict--some wise men emerge. Powerful women too.
Michael Eklund
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing how you get caught by this Icelandic sagas. A lot of names, relations and geography and you get confused by it all. But still, you can not help getting gripped by this stories, they feel so real and human. The wheels of revenge, incited by women who amazingly are never touched in this horrible bloodshed.
Mar 22, 2019 rated it liked it
This has been on my bookshelf for decades; avoided by me under the impression it was akin to fantasy, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find how easy to read and absorbing it was; a fast-paced litany of names and marriages, property and children. I'd've read to the end had Christianity not reared its ugly head.
Feb 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
A classic Icelandic saga with that strange mix of deadpan storytelling, dramatic incident and endless genealogical detail. The women in this saga, especially Unn and Gudrun are particularly strong minded and interesting characters.
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Use the Penguin translation if you are going to read it. or watch the solid BBC documentary about the lasting impact of these stories on contemporary Icelandic culture.
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hrapp and his pre and post-death shenanigans was the best thing about this saga
The woman portrait, which rises from Icelandic sagas, shows norse woman in worse light than men. Often they are the one who fanned the flame into a full-fledged fire that doomes all involved. Awesome :)
Feb 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Entertaining family saga and love triangle a la medieval Iceland. This story had it all - concubines, gruesome murder, vengeful ghosts, wise and clairvoyant sages and best of all, a female character that would make Lady Macbeth proud.

The translation I read (by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson) was excellent - clear and with none of those annoying medieval words you find in some translations of medieval work. However, it can be hard to get used to the writing style of the saga. The unknown a
Gary Bruff
I read this as a historical introduction to Iceland in preparation for a trip I took there. I found the work strange but rewarding, and certainly deserving of the status of a classic.

I will only touch on three or four themes here.

First, I was fascinated by the institution of the Althingi, a largely democratic assembly of the chieftains and heads of families that commenced each year. The Althingi served many functions. It was a tribunal for the settlement of grievances as well as a market for the
Feb 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Saga style preamble: minimum characterisation, minimum descriptive writing, lots of violence, sparse narrative, many many characters, lots with similar names. In terms of subject matter and style, this is probably the saga that would most appeal to the uninitiated. The plot isn't too complicated, the narrative stays with the three main characters for a large chunk of the saga, and it contains some of the most fleshed out characters. And everyone loves a good romantic tragedy. It's not the one I ...more
Jan 04, 2012 added it
This one's footnotes weren't as strong as some of the other saga's. The tradition behind the sagas is amazing. There was a part where the magic family arrived outside and put everyone inside the farm to sleep. And this is their "history."

I read recently C.S. Lewis nominated Tolkein for a nobel lit prize. I don't think the committee realized the extent to which he draws from this epic history.

Some of the people have the ability to see the future. The rest can say with a statement what they pred
Monkey C
Aug 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: medievallit
Landlord piss you off? Grab your sword! Need some extra money? There's an ax that needs sharpening! Girlfriend eying the wrong guy at the bar? Get out your spear and magic helmet!

VIKINGS! Manly men with manly names doing manly things! And great women who know their place in the household is in the kitchen! Chock full of great quotes that make feminists scream and Republicans chuckle.

People with names like Snorri the Priest, Killer-Hrapp, An the Black and King Olaf square off in a soap opera of b
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Of all the Icelandic sagas, this is the one that comes closest to reading like a modern novel, though every page still reminds you that this is the product of a very different society and mindset. The narrative will halt for several pages of genealogical information while incidents that would be milked for an entire novel by someone like Stephen King (e.g., the farmer who comes back from the dead to plague his neighbors) are dispatched in a paragraph or two. But if you're willing to adjust your ...more
An ancient Icelandic family saga, with a couple of fantastic elements (prophetic dreams, the ghost of a witch) thrown in, Laxdæla saga tells the story of the people of the Laxdæl ("Salmon River") valley in northwestern Iceland in the late 10th and early 11th century. Characteristic of the sagas, there are a myriad of characters herein, so much so that it's hard to keep track of them, but that's all part of the fun. Another interesting feature is the bald, almost curt language. There are absolute ...more
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first saga I've read, and it's been a long time getting to it. This was a fascinating account of the people that settled the northwest parts of Iceland. While it seems that things were mostly done by the men, there a few women who were clearly powerful and were holding the reins.

The translation was from 1899 and was the first English translation. I expect the translation is fairly faithful to the original language which, as I understand it, was in a specific poetic form. I think I'd
Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this so much: after all, I have a years-long obsession with Iceland. There was some interesting information about ancient Icelandic culture, ties to Norway, Scotland, etc. I thought the politics and social interactions of individuals, families, and allies were fascinating. But . . . it was boring. At least a quarter of the saga feels like the begat section of the Bible, doing nothing but delineating ancestry. Important, yes, I know, but damned dull to read. Then, when a pivotal ...more
Jun 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: norse-stuff
The saga of the people of Laxdale. Not the most thrilling saga - the plot is very complicated, involving the genealogy of several Icelandic clans - but it does have some excited elements of witchcraft, cursed swords, and the like. I re-read this in 2012 as ongoing research for the "Heroes of Midhgardhur" campaign.
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: saga
Good entry point to the Icelandic Sagas. Excellent female characters, a well-drawn feud that stretches over generations, and very clear moments of the kind of stark honor that makes the sagas so compelling. There are slow points, and narrative devices that come up over and again in the saga form make appearances here, and less skillfully than in other sagas, but still a worthy read.
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable, although it covers a series of people and events that are only loosely strung together. In that, it has less of a clear plot than Njal's saga or certainly more mythic stories like the Nibelungenlied. Still, there are a number of interesting points, and some insight into the Icelandic culture that sits as the backdrop.
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Other books in the series

Íslendingasögur/Sagas of Icelanders (1 - 10 of 25 books)
  • Njal's Saga
  • Egil's Saga
  • The Saga of Grettir the Strong
  • The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue
  • Gísla Saga Súrssonar
  • Eyrbyggja Saga
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