I am feeling way too lazy to do an extended write-up, but the burning of Njal & co was an AWESOME scene: tragic, dramatic, ironic, and spooky. When Skarp-Hedin is heard singing beneath the charred timbers, and someone says, "I wonder if he's dead or alive," I almost shrieked. All the same, Skarp-Hedin at the Althing is still my favorite scene.

I wish the conclusion had been similarly dramatized instead of narrated. It's so incredibly dramatic and startling, but seemed very sudden. Did Kari really calmly plan to test Flosi, or was it that he was about to freeze to death and had no other choice?
I forgot to mention one of the very beat parts of Gunnar’s last stand. (And also forgot to mention that his halberd sings to warn of danger.)

Gunnar caught sight of a red tunic at the window. He lunged out with his halberd and struck Thorgrim in the belly. Thorgrim dropped his shield, lost his footing, and toppled down from the roof. He strode over to where Gizur and the others were sitting.

Gizur looked up at him and asked, “Is Gunnar at home?”

“That’s for you to find out,” replied Thorgrim. “But I know that his halberd certainly is.”

And with that he fell dead.

After Gunnar’s death, Gunnar’s mom is so furious with Hallgerd that the latter takes one of their two sons and flees for her life. Skarp-Hedin then takes Gunnar’s other son, Hogni, for a stroll past Gunnar’s grave. Suddenly, they see Gunnar inside, happily singing about how he’d rather die than yield. Now I know the source of the scribbled note, “Gunnar enjoys death.”

Hogni takes up Gunnar’s halberd, which his mom had forbidden to be buried with him so it could be used to avenge his death, and he and Skarp-Hedin slaughter several of Gunnar’s killers. Mord weasels out and so lives to make more trouble later, but Hogni is now out of the saga.

In which there are accusations of bottoming for a troll )
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
( Apr. 22nd, 2009 05:40 pm)
What saga or sagas do you all recommend that I read when I'm done with Njal? Please rec a translation, if possible.

I like battles, magic, and family angst better than lawsuits. I am afraid that I entirely skipped a very long courtroom passage because my eyes glazed over. But I can cope with lawsuits if there's other good stuff there as well, as in Njal.
Motto for this entire section, spoken by Gunnar's mother Rannveig: "Housewives around here have managed well enough without resorting to manslaughter."

Words to live by! But not for Hallgerd. Gunnar and Njal share a piece of woodland. Hallgerd decides to get back at Bergthora for the low seating thing by sending her scoundrel servant Kol to kill Njal and Bergthora's servant when Hallgerd decides he's chopping too much wood. Njal and Gunnar hear about this at the Althing. Both of them are very nice about it, and Gunnar pays compensation. But Bergthora hires a man to kill Kol. Once again, Gunnar and Njal are nice about it and compensation is paid.

Meanwhile, Bergthora and Njal's son, Skarp-Hedin, keeps grinning. It's super-creepy.

Hallgerd gets a kinsman of hers, Brynjolf the unruly, to kill the man of Bergthora's who killed Kol. The killings for proxy keep escalating, moving from servants to kinsmen, and portents and fetches are seen. Finally, Bergthora gets her sons involved. Skarp-Hedin is bad-ass in addition to being creepy, and beheads Hallgerd's kinsman. But Njal and Gunnar continue to refuse to get sucked into the feud, and just keep forking over compensation.

Suddenly, Unn, the woman who married Hrut and whom Gunnar and Njal helped retrieve her dowry, returns to the story. Sort of. She's dead now, but her son Mord, by her second marriage, appears. He hates Gunnar. (I don't quite get this - Gunnar did his mother a favor.) Anyway, he's important later on.

Hallgerd, apparently bored with feuding with Bergthora, expands her targets and orders a slave to steal cheese and other dairy products from some guy named Otkel. Gunnar finds out and slaps her. (Take note, this is important.) But when Hallgerd gives some beggars slices of cheese, Mord helps Otkel put them together and compares the full cheese to one of Mord's cheese-molds. The cheese thief has been identified!

In which there are many more lawsuits, and a man falls in love with a hill )
I am not going to live-blog chapter-by-chapter, but 34 and 35 were so awesome that I feel compelled. Also, I have a cake in the oven. (Literally, not euphemistically.)

While trying to figure out who was the father of Hallgerd's daughter Thorgeld, I flipped to the back to check the family tree. To my delight, in addition to learning that it was Glum (there is also a character named Grim; I forget if they're related), I found a bunch of hilarious handwritten notes by the previous owner. I'm sure some of them are only amusing because I don't yet know the context:

People with problems don't have any balls.

Gunnar enjoys death.

"Hrut, the guy with the big dick."

A little siege of Frenchmen making their awful movies.

Eat an apple, kill your brother.

Also this, which is not enclosed in a heart but probably ought to be: Liz armstrong likes the poet Mary Oliver.

And this, which is only funny if, like me, you misread the last word so that it appears to say, Nothing permanent - one guy became Christian and went back to penguins. A second read revealed that what he actually returned to was paganism.

Chapters 34 and 35!

The clearly ill-fated wedding of Hallgerd and Gunnar! This reminds me of how in Indian epics, something always goes wrong at a swayamvara (a ceremony in which a princess chooses her husband from an assembly or tournament or contest for princes), typically involving a brawl, beheadings, and consequent feuds.

No one dies in this one, but some guy named Thrain (hi, Tolkien!) ogles Hallgerd's daughter Thorgeld. His wife Thorhild the Poetess, known for sarcastic verse, tosses a couplet at him which I'm sure was very witty in Icelandic. He divorces her on the spot, and offers to marry Thorgeld. Hoskeld and Gunnar are sensibly dubious, but Njal legalistically points out that there's nothing technically wrong with Thrain. Thorgeld agrees to the match (presumably figuring that at least she can probably get laid by him, unlike some people) and goes off and manages his household well, unlike the spendthrift Hallgerd.

When did people marry, by the way? I am picturing Thorgeld as about sixteen, and probably one of those prematurely sensible teenagers in reaction to Hallgerd not being the world's most emotionally mature mom.

Gunnar and Hallgerd are then invited to Njal's feast. Bergthora, Njal's wife, tries to get Hallgerd to move over for Bergthora's daughter-in-law, Thorhalla, but...

Hallgerd said, "I'm not moving down for anyone, like some outcast hag."

"I am in charge here," said Bergthora; and Thorhalla took her seat.

Bergthora came to the table with washing water. Hallgerd seized her hand and said, "There's not much to choose between you and Njal; you have turtle-back nails on every finger, and Njal is beardless."

"That is true," said Bergthora, "and neither of us finds fault with the other for it. But your husband Thorvald wasn't beardless, but that didn't stop you from having him killed."

Hallgerd said, "It does little good to be married to the bravest man in Iceland if you don't avenge this, Gunnar."

Gunnar sensibly says, "Okay, we're going home now!" But later he has to go to the Althing (what is that?) and asks Hallgerd not to make any trouble for his friends while he's gone.

"The trolls take your friends," she replied.

I sense Trouble!
[livejournal.com profile] janni 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. 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.


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