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The Sagas Of The Icelanders (Viking 1997 * isbn 0965477703)

Almost exactly a year ago I was in the USA where I bought too many books. I also had this book in my hand. Almost 800 pages for a mere $ 20,-. I paged though it and paged through it again and eventually decided not to buy it. I knew hardly any of the sagas, I already spent way too much money on books and my suitcase was starting to become pretty damn heavy. Back home for many months with much reading about our pre-Christian ancestors and their religion and mythology I wished that I could read some of their sagas, so I remembered the book in that small occult bookshop in Seattle. Amazon now has it for only $ 14,28, but to have it shipped here would cost me too, so I used to locate a copy nearer-by. To my surprise I found a copy of a different printing (when you go to Amazon, you will see another cover) in a second hand bookshop in the Netherlands, so I immediately ordered it and received it within a week.

When starting to read it, I soon noticed that this is not my kind of literature. I can’t read fiction or novels and the same goes for 700-year-old stories it seems. A collection was made out of the 49 “complete sagas of the Icelanders” (also for sale) resulting in nine sagas and six tales. Each story is introduced at length with maps, drawing and a summery. At the end there is a very interesting part with extra information.

The sages are long stories (sometimes a few hundred pages), the tales are the same kinds of stories but shorter. The texts are mostly about a man, who was the son of… who was the son of… who was the son of… The man is married to …, a daughter of… a son of… You will get the idea. After such an introduction you will often read about Viking settlers, their raids, but very often social/family-affairs and there and there some warfare. This is told in narritive form with every now and then a poem, because all the great heroes were also poems. Reading the stories you will learn a lot of how the Viking stood in life, the moralilty, etc. There are a few parts with mythological references and here and there you can read about someone performing magic or some information about a ‘Thing’. Quite often you can also read about Vikings going Christian and/or the clash between the old faith and the new one. All this is quite docile, but I found myself having a hard time reading the actual stories which are mostly stuffed with uninteresting details and conversations. Still I am happy that I read the whole book and have a nice thick book on the shelf for referential purposes. Also I am sure there are many people who really like to read old texts like these. They come in very good translations by a number of people, but still in the same style. There is plenty of extra information so I can only highly recommand this book to anyone interested in old literature and/or the Vikings (and meanwhile learning about our own ancestors). Tip: you can see the contents-pages at so you will know which sagas and tales are in the book.

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