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Njal's Saga

Published by Penguin Classics, Translation by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson.


I was minding my own business on the third floor of the Montgomery College-Rockville library when a desire came over me to retrieve a book of poetry from the Stacks. Shortly after entering the mazelike halls filled with shelves of books, I discovered, to my great chagrin, that I had forgotten where the poetry book was. After walking to where I thought that it should be, I found myself in a small area (PT7269), that was filled with books about icelandic mythology. As I did not want the trip to go to waste, I picked one of the books out at random and pocketed it for later examination. After returning to the reference desk, I was eventually successful in retrieving the poetry collection, but as of now, one and a half weeks later, I still have not opened it, as my full attention has been devoted to the book that I selected by virtue of luck.


The first thing that struck me about the book was that all of the sentences were short, and the authors almost never used adjectives in their writing. Curiously enough, the document was still quite readable, even though the style of writing was foreign to me.

Another interesting thing that confused me was that everything that the characters in the story said came true. A striking example of this happens just a short way into the story; in the midst of a battle against some pirates this passage occurs:

..Ulf the Unwashed saw this and said, 'That was a heavy blow, Hrut; you have much to thank Queen Gunnhild for.'

'I have the feeling that those will be your last words,' said Hrut.

At that very moment Alti noticed a gap in Ulf's defence and hurled a spear that went right through him. The fighting now flared up even more fiercely...

Initially I thought that this sequence was just a coincidence, but then I began to pay more attention to what the characters say during the tale, and I came up with the surprising conclusion that no one ever utters a false statement, even the 'bad' guys (more on this later).


This story has some of the best action sequences that I have ever seen, even including fantasy-novels! Here's a direct quote from Chapter 92. The situation is this: Skarp-Hedin and some friends of his are about to ambush a group led by Thrain, another icelandic warrior. Unfortunately, Skarp-Hedin's shoe came untied while his group was racing down to intercept Thrain, so he was left somewhat behind.
...They turned down towards the ice-bridge, running as fast as they could. Skarp-Hedin jumped up as soon as he had tied his shoe, and hoisted his axe. He raced down straight towards the river, which was much to depe to be forded anywhere along that stretch. A huge sheet of ice had formed a low hump on the other side of the channel. It was as smooth as glass, and Thrain and his men had stopped on the middlo of this hump. Skarp-Hedin made a leap and cleared the channel between the ice-banks, steadied himself, and at once went into a slide: the ice was glassy-smooth, and he skimmed along as fast as a bird.

Thrain was then abot to put on his helmet. Skarp-Hedin came swooping down on him and swung at him with his axe. The axe crashed down on his head and split it down to the jaw-bone, spilling the back-teeth on to the ice. It all happened so quickly that no one had time to land a blow on Skarp-Hedin as he skimmed past at great speed. Tjorvi threw a shield into his path, but Skarp-Hedin cleared it with a jump without losing his balance and slid to the other end of the sheet-ice.