The Bactra Review: Occasional and eclectic book reviews by Cosma Shalizi   6

Egil's Saga

attrib. Snorri Sturluson, circa 1230

translated with an introduction by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards

Penguin Books, 1976
This is one of the Icelandic sagas, which means appalling amounts of senseless violence and absolutely no sex --- I suspect the only reason the Moral Majority is not pushing them on the nation's imperilled youth is that the heroes are quite pagan. The squeamish may rest assured, however, that there is very little actual gore.

Egil's Saga covers five generations of Egil's family, starting with his grandfather in Norway, who seems to be a werewolf, and ending with Egil's grandchildren starting murderous fueds in Iceland. In between we have the family falling in and out of favor with the man who makes himself King of Norway, massacres of Finns, Viking raids in Denmark and the British Isles, massacres of Norwegians, Egil committing his first murder at the age of eight (precocious, even in the sagas), massacres of Danes, Egil serving as a mercenary with the English against the Scots, massacres of Scots, the family emigrating to Iceland, three or four coup d'etat in Norway, Egil's poetry (vainglorious, but curiously strong in translation), Egil retiring with his wealth to the life of a domineering, conniving, aggressive poetry-spouting rich farmer in Iceland, and enough retail murders to add up to another wholesale massacre.

The translators' introduction tries to make hay of the "ambiguity", ``irony'' and ``contradiction'' of Egil's character, but to me he seems very much a type and all of a piece: violent, vain, brooding, ambitious, with poetic talent: Nietzsche with balls.

254 pp., plus genealogical tables and maps.
Fiction / Folklore
In print.
Written July 1994, last changed 22 August 1995