has been recommending Icelandic sagas for quite some time. I finally picked up Njal's Saga
because the Santa Ana has heated my non-air-conditioned apartment to an almost unlivable degree, and I hoped it would make me feel cooler. Also I re-watched the Lord of the Rings
movies while sick, and vaguely recalled the sagas being an inspiration to Tolkien.
I have never before read a saga, and so was charmed by a number of things which I assume are common to the genre: the helpful asides saying, "And now he leaves the story," or "all six of his children will be important later on," and the epithets everyone gets. On the very first page we get this genealogy: Hoskeld's mother was Thorgerd, the daughter of Thorstein the Red, the son of Olaf the White, the son of Ingjald, the son of Helgi and of Thora, the daughter of Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye, the son of Ragnar Hairy-Breeks.
I always loved reading Tolkien's genealogies, and so this sort of thing strikes me as a feature, not a bug.
I'm only a tiny way in and I'm sure the main plot has barely started, but it's already quite action-packed and intriguing: swordfights, lawsuits, curses, and family feuds. Oh, and also pirates. Arrr!
To tease out what I think is the main plot, a guy named Hrut gets engaged to a woman named Unn. But before they marry, he sails off to Norway, where the queen (who is the king's mother, not his wife) helps him in exchange for sexual favors. (I picture her played by Dame Judi Dench. I picture Hrut as played by Sean Bean a la Boromir. Actually, I picture a lot of the guys as played by Sean Bean a la Boromir.) But Hrut stupidly lies about his engagement, and the queen curses him to be unable to consummate his marriage!
Sure enough, when he gets back to his wife Unn, Hrut's cursed penis swells so hugely that he can't wedge it in. (Possibly this is a euphemism for premature ejaculation.) Unn runs back to her father, who makes her explain - in detail - what's wrong. (Ouch.) Unn divorces Hrut, and Unn's father attempts to retrieve her dowry plus a penalty. Hrut challenges the aged father to single combat, which would be suicide, and so the dowry is kept but there's hard feelings on all sides. Everyone proceeds to lick their wounds for a while. But meanwhile...
Hrut's brother Hoskuld (he can be played by David Wenham a la Faramir) has a beautiful daughter, Hallgerd. (Angelina Jolie in a blonde wig.) Hallgerd has a crazy foster father, Thjostolf. At Hallgerd's wedding, Thjostolf stalked about brandishing his axe in a sinister way, but nobody paid any attention.
In a possibly incestuous fit, Thjostolf murders her first husband, then her second husband! Hallgerd, whose middle name is clearly Trouble, (and her second husband's name is Glum, no really) is complicit in the first death but not the second. She dispatches her lunatic foster-father to Hrut, who kills him. I think
Hallgerd assumed that would happen.
Meanwhile, back to the sexual problems of Hrut! Unn, still aggravated over the dowry and running out of funds, gets some kinsman named Gunnar to help her retrieve her money. Gunnar is a great hero (properly he should be movie-Aragorn in a blonde wig, but I totally also picture him as Boromir) but also smart. He goes for help to Njal. Finally we meet Njal! He is a clever man with no beard (perhaps movie-Theoden without the beard) who gives Gunnar this whole intricate plot to legally extract the funds. This actually works.
But while Gunnar is in the area, he meets Hallgerd. Uh-oh. They get engaged. Oh noooooooo!
And that's where I left off.