Norse Saga-O-Rama Day 1

I have a new book out, the first of a series. It’s called The Sagas of Egil the Scarred, Volume 1: The Defenders of Blackspire Abbey and you can find it here
It’s a supernatural Viking adventures, a prequel to the El Mosaico series, and a medieval fantasy story full of demons, witchcraft, hacking, slashing, and everything a fan of those noble Northmen could desire.


To celebrate, I’m going to be recounting some of my favorite Norse Sagas – real accounts of legendary warriors, blood feuds, raids, battles, and monsters from the Viking Age. After you’ve purchased The Defenders of Blackspire Abbey, I urge you to check out some of these primary source documents so you can learn about Vikings firsthand. It’s hard to say if the stories told in these sagas, passed down by oral tradition before being transcribed, are historically accurate – and in some cases, they’re definitely not – but each one is still a great read.

Egil’s Saga
I had a Viking phase in high school. I didn’t start wearing a horned helmet (real Vikings didn’t, as any historian will tell you) or travel around in a long ship, but I had an urge to read about these barbaric, pagan warriors from the North who would charge into battle with a swinging axe, a roar in their throats, and transform into a bear while a blistering heavy metal guitar solo sang praises to Odin. That stuff is pretty appealing for a teenager. I started with Egil’s Saga, an account of the life of Egil Skallagrimson, a wandering warrior, Viking raider, mercenary, and awesome poet. In my mind, there’s no better place to start. Egil is, to use the technical term, a badass. He gets his first kill at the age of seven, splitting another boy’s head with an axe. As he grows older, he travels through Europe, serving as a mercenary and winning battles in what’s now England, raiding Slavic tribesman in what will become Russia, getting involved in a blood feud with Erik Bloodaxe (what a name), the King of Norway, and fighting in numerous ritual Viking duels, known as Holmgangs. The whole saga is pretty much a listing of all the awesome and amazing things Egil does. A quick example – Egil’s in a duel with some crazy Viking berserker champion, who manages to cheat by giving Egil blunt weapons. Egil manages to hold his own, realizes his sword is useless, then tackles his rival and tears out his throat with his teeth. And if that’s not enough, right after tearing out a guy’s throats, he grabs the horns of the cow meant to be scarified to the Gods after the duel, and snaps its neck with his bare hands. Egil’s also an amazing poet, or Skald, and the Saga contains many examples of his poetry. He was once captured by King Bloodaxe and saved his life by writing the guy a particularly wonderful poem. However, Egil is also a troubled and dark figure. Modern scientists think he had Paget’s Disease, giving him a malformed head and frequent headaches. He’s always driven to travel, fight, and kill. In his old age, he’s too feeble to do this and becomes a bitter old man who can’t protect his family. If you want pure action with a little depth, I’d recommend Egil’s Saga without reservations.

Njall’s Saga
Swinging around a massive battleaxe and hacking off a foeman’s head might seem awesome to a teenager who knows about the world solely through video games, Lord of the Rings, and Heavy Metal music, but the reality is violence is much more complex and much darker. No saga talks about the futility of violence and the endless, cyclical nature of revenge and feuds like the famous Njall’s Saga. It’s considered one of the classics of the form and for good reason. Njall’s Saga tells the story of two friends, the eponymous Njall Borgeirsson and Gunnar Hummandarson, and their extended families. They start out as best buds, neighboring land owners and farmers in the harsh frontier of Iceland, but misunderstandings and stupid arguments quickly pit their families against each other in a blood feud. These feuds were a major part of Norse life and Njall’s Saga shows how pointless and endless the quest for vengeance can be. It’s a universal theme (the TV series Justified and the film Blue Ruin do the same sort of thing, but transport it to the family squabbles and honor killings of the modern American South), and Njall’s Saga articulates it beautifully. The story also includes a good look at the conversion of the Icelanders to Christianity, which is fascinating. The Norse were pretty much the last people in Europe to become Christianized, and the process of conversion, with plenty of practical questions and demonstrations surrounding the power of Christ, is uniquely Scandinavian. Christianity also doesn’t make the Vikings any less violent. Njall’s Saga is certainly worth seeking out for anyone interested in examining the not-so-fun consequences of the Viking culture.

The Saga of Grettir the Strong
One cool thing about Norse Sagas is that they’re not exactly realistic. There are historical events, characters, and themes, like the Varangian Guard, Viking Mercenaries serving in the Byzantine Empire, but then, without fanfare, you’ll have wandering Icelandic outlaw Grettir taking on a monstrous ghost creature called a Draugr (a sort of zombie warrior phantom who would be right at home with Game of Thrones’ White Walkers) who is bothering a nearby farm, or dealing with some angry trolls. The mix of real history and magic is a very cool combination and was a major influence on my own stories. Besides the cool fantastic elements, Grettir the Strong’s saga is unique because it paints the tragic picture of a man out of his own time. Grettir is a pagan in a mostly Christian Iceland, and it’s fascinating to see him interact with, respect, or battle his Christian counterparts. He remains defiant, sticks to being an outlaw, and it all leads to a spectacular and violent end. If you want a bit of sorcery with your swords, Grettir’s the way to go.
That’s all for today, but there will be more Sagas coming soon, so keep a good grip on your sword, whisper those prayers to Odin and Thor, and stay vigilant.

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