09 Oct Reading for the Dark Winter Nights Ahead
October 1983: Finished reading Egil’s Saga!
28 years ago this month, I had just returned to university and had finished reading this particular Icelandic Saga; I barely remember the plot although I had clearly read the book for pleasure as there are no hurriedly written notes or historical references on the yellowing pages of my Penguin classic, all of which would have been present had it been a set text for my medieval history studies. So why have I been drawn back to this particular text all these years later?
This week I began reading a short article in History Today-a fantastic resource for A level students and all lovers of History-about the Sagas of Iceland:
“During the 13th and 14th centuries on a sparsely populated, volcanic and inhospitable island at the edge of the Arctic Circle there was an outpouring of literary creativity unparalleled in the medieval world… How a tiny population of Viking settlers came to produce so many fascinating stories is one of the great riddles of literary history. What was it about the experience, culture and attitude of these Icelandic authors that enabled them to create what has been described as ˜the most remarkable vernacular literature in medieval Europe ?” (Janina Ramirez, The Sagas of Iceland History Today May 2011)
The sagas were copied in manuscripts in Iceland from the medieval period until the early 20th century. The stories were passed down from generation to generation and continue to have an extraordinary hold on local people’s imaginations. In fact recent research suggests that in Iceland more books are written, published and sold per person per year than anywhere else in the world. The impact of these medieval stories remains crucial even in the 21st century. Like their ancestors before them who wrote about farming, love, war, warriors, kings and knights, death and betrayal-one in ten Icelanders today will publish some form of literature during their lifetime.
So, as the dark winter evenings approach, maybe this is the time to re-read and rediscover the Icelandic Sagas that so clearly captured my imagination all those many years ago!