Written in the thirteenth century, Njal s Saga is a story that explores perennial human problems from failed marriages to divided loyalties, from the law s inability to curb human passions to the terrible consequences when decent men and women are swept up in a tide of violence beyond their control It is populated by memorable and complex characters like Gunnar of Hlidarendi, a powerful warrior with an aversion to killing, and the not so villainous Mord Valgardsson Full of dreams, strange prophecies, violent power struggles, and fragile peace agreements, Njal s Saga tells the compelling story of a fifty year blood feud that, despite its distance from us in time and place, is driven by passions familiar to us all This Penguin Classics edition includes an introduction, chronology, index of characters, plot summary, explanatory notes, maps, and suggestions for further reading


10 thoughts on “Njal's Saga

  1. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    Gunnar got ready to ride to the Thing, and before he left he spoke to Hallgerd Behave yourself while I m away and don t show your bad temper where my friends are concerned The trolls take your friend, she said.Gunnar rode to the Thing and saw that it was no good talking to her The events of Njal s Saga took place between 960 and 1020 in Icelandic society and were written about in the thirteenth century What was so unexpected for me was to discover, in such an ancient culture, the p Gunnar got ready to ride to the Thing, and before he left he spoke to Hallgerd Behave yourself while I m away and don t show your bad temper where my friends are concerned The trolls take your friend, she said.Gunnar rode to the Thing and saw that it was no good talking to her The events of Njal s Saga took place between 960 and 1020 in Icelandic society and were written about in the thirteenth century What was so unexpected for me was to discover, in such an ancient culture, the power that women had in, what I assumed was, a patriarchal society Before I started reading Icelandic sagas, I had the image in my mind of the stereotypical, he man, Viking Icelander, who ruled his home with an iron fist That was not the case at all Hallgerd was famous to scholars of the sagas because she was such a diabolical character She took any slight against her honor very seriously, meddled in others affairs without fear of impunity, manipulated, connived, and ultimately cost seven men their lives in a feud with Bergthora, the wife of Gunnar s friend Njal There was an inordinate amount of goading by women of their husbands in the sagas to push men into conflicts to defend family honor The women, for the most part, did not really come off that well They were depicted as shallow, petty, and quite willing to start an all out blood war over some perceived insult, even if the slight was unintended If a man did raise his hand to his wife, he risked having her burly male relatives appearing on his threshold to give him an attitude adjustment Most disagreements between men, some of them caused by women, were settled at a gathering called Althing Men would get together and discuss who did what to whom and how much compensation was expected to be paid to make up for the loss of a life or of property Again, surprisinglycivilized than anything I would have expected Because of the alliances between people, either through blood or marriage or friendship, blood feuds were taken seriously If things were not settled amicably between families, all of Iceland could find themselves in a civil war In these sagas, there were several moments when things became very precarious As Hallgerd and Bergthora sparred with one another and convinced either their relatives or men who worked for their husbands to kill someone from the other family, the possibility of a savage blood feud erupting became precariously plausible If not for the peaceable nature of their husbands, evenlives would have been lost as these women conducted their own bloody chess match where the pawns were men s lives Njal and Gunnar kept passing the same bag of silver back and forth as compensation for the deaths of their kinsmen to keep the peace Njal was considered one of the wisest men in Iceland, but though many came to him for consul, including Gunnar, his own sons frequently avoided asking him for advice, which eventually led to disaster I m not in their planning said Njal, but I am seldom left out when their plans are good Gunnar was level headed and anticipated problems before they actually materialized, but found himself often unable to stop the consequences He was so mild mannered, but once his ire was raised he could become a fierce and formidable warrior I really grew to appreciate his character as his story was told.Throughout the sagas were foreshadowings or prophecies of what the future would hold When Thorvald, son of Osvif, decided to marry Hallgerd, yes that Hallgerd, the future wife of Gunnar, his father couldn t help but feel the match would be a costly one for his sonHer laughter doesn t seem as good to me as it does to you, said Osvif, and the proof of this will come laterIndeed, it did Hallgerd had a couple of marriages before Gunnar and was known for being difficult to get along with, but she was beautiful, and men continued to be dazzled by her appearance and thought they could handle her conniving and manipulations Despite the very civilized manner with which compensation was handled in this society, there were still plenty of points in the saga where bloody conflict broke out, and there was much lopping of hands, arms, legs, and heads off Skulls were split Torsos were skewered Scars were made One of my favorites was when This is the first time I have laughed since you killed Thrain Skarphedin said, Then here s something to remember him by Terminatoresque He took from his purse one of the molars he had hacked out of Thrain and threw it at Gunnar s eye different Gunnar from the main character and knocked it out onto his cheek Gunnar then fell off the roof Or how about this encounter with THE Gunnar Gunnar saw a red tunic at the window and he made a thrust with his halberd and hit Thorgrim in the waist The Norwegian lost his grip on his shield, his feet slipped and he fell off the roof and then walked to where Gizur and the others were sitting on the ground Gizur looked at him and spoke Well is Gunnar at home Thorgrim answered, Find that out for yourselves, but I ve found out one thing that his halberd s at home Then he fell down dead I ve heard that some people find these sagas tough to read Within a few pages, I found a rhythm with the way the stories were told and within a few chapters I was caught up in the lives of Gunnar and Njal The introduction was a great prep for reading the sagas and provided me with insights that helped me enjoy my reading evenThere were many creatively described, bloodthirsty moments as well as some detailed legal proceedings that confirmed for me the importance of laws to balance the scales between the strongest and the weakest This Icelandic culture around 1000 AD was a society trying to evolve away from their bloody, barbaric past and move toward a civilisation where every life was precious, and the arts could be appreciated as much as the glitter of a sharp sword blade Also see my review of The Saga of the Volsungsand my review of King Harald s SagaIf you wish to seeof my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at


  2. Jan-Maat Jan-Maat says:

    Often when thinking about the rise of the European novel there s a tendency to look to Cervantes or maybe back to The Golden Ass Yet longer sagas like Njal s saga seem to be very much like novels to me.This is an amazing work Partially based on fact and around factual events such as the coming of Christianity to Iceland view spoiler established in this story thanks to bribery apparently hide spoiler the saga traces a quarrel As it gets out of hand and men reach for weapons calmer heads Often when thinking about the rise of the European novel there s a tendency to look to Cervantes or maybe back to The Golden Ass Yet longer sagas like Njal s saga seem to be very much like novels to me.This is an amazing work Partially based on fact and around factual events such as the coming of Christianity to Iceland view spoiler established in this story thanks to bribery apparently hide spoiler the saga traces a quarrel As it gets out of hand and men reach for weapons calmer heads build settlements between the angry parties However the causes of unhappiness cause the quarrel to break out repeatedly, each time aspeople die, other families are dragged in due to ties of kinship or obligation until one side finishes the argument with an act of simple, but extreme brutality.The sense of impending disaster, apparently averted at times but then back on track gives this work a bleak power, added to which it has a selection of fine feud worthy early Icelandic insults view spoiler from making plain that you think a certain family put dung on their faces to encourage beard growth to telling a man that he enjoys being the recipient of the sexual attentions of a troll on the farm wall repeatedly, naturally such talk in combination with carrying weapons has only one possible outcome and that doesn t involve apologising hide spoiler


  3. Andrew Andrew says:

    It is one of the greatest crimes of recent literature that Penguin has replaced this one of the truly great English translations of any work by anyone with a horrendously execrable translation whose only distinguishing characteristic is that it was donerecently Seek out Magnus Magnusson s translation thankfully there are oodles and oodles of them second hand due to it being assigned in college courses for decades at all costs.This book is really in a class by itself It might be a It is one of the greatest crimes of recent literature that Penguin has replaced this one of the truly great English translations of any work by anyone with a horrendously execrable translation whose only distinguishing characteristic is that it was donerecently Seek out Magnus Magnusson s translation thankfully there are oodles and oodles of them second hand due to it being assigned in college courses for decades at all costs.This book is really in a class by itself It might be an epic poem in Icelandic, but in English it behaves like a real novel, which is jaw dropping, considering it was written about 750 years ago 350 years before DON QUIXOTE, which is generally considered the first real novel and is in contrast to other poetic epics such as THE ILIAD which even in prose translations can hardly be mistaken for real novels Usingor less factual events that took place between 960 AD and 1020 AD, the book is a long but utterly enthralling history of a few families mostly about two in particular and the cycle of violence and murder that self perpetuates between them, unable to be quelled because of the way the legal system and ethics are instituted in pagan Iceland It isn t until Christianity is brought to Iceland in 1000 AD and its precept of forgiveness is introduced to the islanders morality that the violence can at long last end The last scene of the book, when both sides have forgiven each other, is incredibly moving Oh, and a good portion of the plot is a courtroom legal thriller I know, right


  4. Nicky Nicky says:

    I really enjoyed this one There s some likeable characters even from my soft hearted modern point of view who I really got to care about, which isn t always the case with sagas I was kind of sad when they went out of the saga The translation is good, clear and easy to read, and there s helpful footnotes, a good introduction, and other helpful supplementary material As with all sagas, there s an awful lot of names, but it s still pretty easy to follow.I found some of it amusing in a som I really enjoyed this one There s some likeable characters even from my soft hearted modern point of view who I really got to care about, which isn t always the case with sagas I was kind of sad when they went out of the saga The translation is good, clear and easy to read, and there s helpful footnotes, a good introduction, and other helpful supplementary material As with all sagas, there s an awful lot of names, but it s still pretty easy to follow.I found some of it amusing in a somewhat macabre way especially at the beginning, with Hallgerd s bloodthirsty nature In the end, the eye for an eye mentality of the characters becomes amusing because of the excess of it, to me Gunnar and Njal are refreshing in their refusal to feud with each other.A lot of the saga is based on the points of the law, as well as the killing, which is interesting Someone compared it to a John Grisham book for the Norse, which well, I can see their point ETA I can confirm from doing my own translations that the Penguin edition has a very good translation reasonably accurate, and idiomatic while keeping a good flavour of the original style


  5. Terry Terry says:

    _Njal s Saga_ is one of the classics of the medieval genre of the Family Saga, if not perhaps the classic It has everything you could want in a saga extended genealogies of multiple families, inter family conflict between said families through the generations, shifting loyalties, intrigue, bloody battles, crazy nicknames, sardonic witticisms, and enough legal jargon to keep Perry Mason happy It is populated with characters that seem real and often multidimensional even when they are larger th _Njal s Saga_ is one of the classics of the medieval genre of the Family Saga, if not perhaps the classic It has everything you could want in a saga extended genealogies of multiple families, inter family conflict between said families through the generations, shifting loyalties, intrigue, bloody battles, crazy nicknames, sardonic witticisms, and enough legal jargon to keep Perry Mason happy It is populated with characters that seem real and often multidimensional even when they are larger than life and gives an intriguing insight into the way of life of medieval Iceland with its unique culture and political legal system Despite being named after Njal Thorgeirsson, the saga is wide ranging and seems to support a fair number of protagonists We start, not uncommonly for a saga of this kind, a generation prior to the main events and see how the marriages and relationships of a completely different set of families will come to bear the seeds of destruction for others After this brief introduction centring around the families of Mord Fiddle and the brothers Hoskuld and Hrut andimportantly their daughters Unn and Hallgerd we meet the titular Njal, a man known for his keen legal mind, tendency towards prescience, and the fact that he cannot grow a beard, and his best friend Gunnar Hamundarson This segment of the saga could actually be said to be about Gunnar who is in many ways the consummate saga hero good looking, rich, and unbeatable on the field of combat think Chris Hemsworth as Thor Many adventures and events ensue, but the most important part is that Gunnar is smitten with the aforementioned Hallgerd a beauty known also for her thieves eyes and her pride and enmity with Njal s muchstaid wife Bergthora leads to a feud not to mention a few murders that tests, but does not break, the friendship of the two men Hallgerd is an intriguing figure, a woman of wit and complexity, generally something of a villain, though not without cause or some elements of sympathy She is also an excellent motivator for much of the action in this section of the saga, sowing the seeds for the ultimate climax.We come to see that both Gunnar and Njal are pre eminent men no one can beat Njal in the law courts a fact that he often uses to his and his friends advantage while Gunnar is a peerless warrior of high reputation In the end they are virtually unbeatable when they work together and this of course leads to jealousy, especially given the fact that neither of them is an actual chieftain despite the fact that they effectively lord it over their region and much of Iceland The tensions this causes can only bear so much strain and in the end Gunnar is made to pay with his life for his high position when he refuses to abide by the terms of an exile imposed upon him The next section of the saga centresfirmly on Njal and his family, especially his sons, and their feuds and mis adventures Suffice it to say that these boys do not lack in pride and manage to make enemies enough to bring trouble down upon their house Add to this the manipulations of the wily Mord Valgardsson, the enduring spite of Hallgerd, and the jealousy and enmity of large and powerful factions and we have the makings of a tragic end for the family This is barely scratching the surface of everything that is going on in the saga and the number of interesting characters is impressive most noteworthy to me were Njal s ill starred and sardonic son Skarp Hedin who you would not want to meet in a dark alley and Njal s son in law Kari Solmundarson a swashbuckling hero much in the mould of Gunnar The main storyline is peppered with many side adventures and digressions, some of which a reader will likely find entertaining, while a few others not so much such as a fairly long digression on the introduction of Christianity to Iceland or the chapters at the Althing centring on the legal minutiae of the case against the burners of Njal and his family Characters come and go and things can occasionally feel disjointed and take away from the narrative pace, but overall this is an excellent read and for the most part the narrative pulls you along with it If you re looking for a saga to read you probably won t find a better one than _Njal s Saga_


  6. Debbie Zapata Debbie Zapata says:

    I have had this book on my waiting list for ages, ever since it was recommended to me by my GR friend J.Boo after I mentioned in a review that I was becoming interested in the sagas Thanks, J.Boo It took me forever to get to and almost forever to get through, but I liked it, learned a lot, and want to read others Someday This book at Gutenberg is a 1900 edition of two volumes that were published in 1861 Here is a short paragraph from the editor s preface The present reprint has been prepared I have had this book on my waiting list for ages, ever since it was recommended to me by my GR friend J.Boo after I mentioned in a review that I was becoming interested in the sagas Thanks, J.Boo It took me forever to get to and almost forever to get through, but I liked it, learned a lot, and want to read others Someday This book at Gutenberg is a 1900 edition of two volumes that were published in 1861 Here is a short paragraph from the editor s preface The present reprint has been prepared in order that this incomparable Saga may become accessible to those readers with whom a good story is the first consideration and its bearing upon a nation s history a secondary one or is not considered at all For Burnt Njal may be approached either as a historical document, or as a pure narrative of elemental natures, of strong passions and of heroic feats of strength Some of the best fighting in literature is to be found between its covers Sir George Dasent s version in its capacity as a learned work for the study has had nearly forty years of life it is now offered afresh simply as a brave story for men who have been boys and for boys who are going to be men.They abridged the translator s preface and introduction, and left out the maps and such that were part of the original publication But even with the editing, these pieces are full of information which is important to know in order to understand the action of the story, the why of it all In his introduction, the translator explained a great deal about Iceland society in the 8 9 hundreds He covered how the northmen arrived in Iceland, some superstitions they carried with them, their social principles, and their daily life All of this made it possible for me to see what was happening in the context of the times, and any future readers of this edition need to be sure not to skip this section The events will make muchsense if you have this background in your mind as you read.But even so, it can be confusing at times I lost trackthan once of who was who, but I also was not able to spend much concentrated time with the book So when I would get back to it, I had to keep reviewing where I was and who was doing what I also lost a bit of my interest about halfway through, after one major character was killed off It seems that Njal was not as active a man as I had expected hi to be in his own saga, and I had latched onto Gunnar as my hero But after he was killed, and the story shifted to what happened to his sons and Njal s own sons and the ongoing blood feuds that had escalated because of Gunnar s wife s behavior, I hadtrouble staying involved There werenew people and I was gettingandlost But I hung in there, although I admit to beginning to skim here and there.It is, as the quoted preface says, a pure narrative of elemental natures And sometimes I wondered how any families from those days managed to survive at all But I m glad I read this, and I would like to readsagas I imagine Gutenberg will have some in their listings so I ll just mosey on over and see what titles I can find to add to my Someday Lists


  7. Abi Abi says:

    One of the best sagas, without a doubt Epic in scale, but still intensely human, the story of burnt Njal is dramatic, moving and highly entertaining The saga style takes some getting used to if you ve never experienced it before It is terse, to the point, characterisation and description is kept to a bare minimum, the plot races along at break neck speed, there s a plethora of characters a lot of whom have very similar names It requires concentration, and you ll almost certainly have to One of the best sagas, without a doubt Epic in scale, but still intensely human, the story of burnt Njal is dramatic, moving and highly entertaining The saga style takes some getting used to if you ve never experienced it before It is terse, to the point, characterisation and description is kept to a bare minimum, the plot races along at break neck speed, there s a plethora of characters a lot of whom have very similar names It requires concentration, and you ll almost certainly have to resort to consulting the family trees so thoughtfully included It made me laugh when I saw a family tree included in One Hundred Years of Solitude Six generations I scoffed, That s nothing, even if they do all have the same names Njal s Saga has seven Thorsteins, eight Thorkels, six Thorgeirs, six Thorgerds and about forty other characters whose names begin with Thor Although to readers of modern literature, the difficult style can be off putting, it is definitely worth perservering because this is one of the greatest stories ever told


  8. Aubrey Aubrey says:

    3.5 5There are a lot of written works out there that were never composed solely for the sake of entertainment Today, these are customarily churned through for philosophical social religious historical various other noble concerns All very well, butrare are the ones through which one can get a firm grip on the origin of How to Get Away with Murder in all its sordid glory abusing circumstantial technicalities, citing obscure parts of archaic rulings, fighting fire with fire, all in the 3.5 5There are a lot of written works out there that were never composed solely for the sake of entertainment Today, these are customarily churned through for philosophical social religious historical various other noble concerns All very well, butrare are the ones through which one can get a firm grip on the origin of How to Get Away with Murder in all its sordid glory abusing circumstantial technicalities, citing obscure parts of archaic rulings, fighting fire with fire, all in the effort to, leastwise in terms of the main story, continue the toppling dominoes of a revenge tragedy I won t pretend I didn t find the TV show farengaging than the saga, but that s a natural consequence of modern taste and modern law You won t find habeas corpus or DNA evidence or drone surveillance in the world of Njal Instead, you ll get outlaws, premonitions, fifty bajilliion witnesses, hundreds of judges, gigantic religious shifts, lawyers, and the kind of evidence based foresight that Sherlock would kill to have if he ever found himself the head of an 10th 11th century Icelandic household One would think having multiple instances of a character uttering a string of events that are later replicated exactly in the narrative would dull rather than sharpen the intensity of the events, but often the logic is so strangely engaging that you wouldn t be surprised if such crafty plots of social manipulation had actually worked all those centuries ago.The great thing about anonymous narratives is that the entire point is no one is supposed to know who wrote them This isn t a case of an Unknown, of course One could take the onanistic route and assume that a narrative filled with characters that look like you was necessarily written by someone who looks like you bear in mind both characters and writer were composed writing in the era before White People were invented , but that would turn a conscious denial of obsession with the individual into indoctrination The common route is commonly taken by those who confuse common sense with anything but the current hegemony of a dominant paradigm, which is why I subvert it when I can by reading anonymous works during Women in Translation Month of the Summer of Women You could argue with this if you really wanted to, but then you d have to take on the OED as part of your set of claims, although from the looks of it, their staff is too uniformly incompetent to give anonymous as pure and self effacing definition as it deserves This all has very little to do with Vikings and blood feuds and clairvoyance and everything to do with my own reasons for reading really old stuff, but as long as I m prolonging its survival by reading it, no one has any credible reason to complain.As much as I am intrigued by and have been advised to pursue, my heart lies in literature, not law This is why I liked Beowulf , as it is, in one simplistic sense, prettier, as well aspoignant One can admittedly extract farjuicy material from this saga s treasure trove of sociocultural norms of the period both written of and writing, but that would have been best served by reading this in academia, and I already spent my one work classes on Middlemarch, Paradise Lost, and The Canterbury Tales I would love to come back however, to see what I could see Grad school, perhaps


  9. Jessica Jessica says:

    An amazing, tragic family drama and one of the greatest works I read in college In fact, as you will note from my shelving, it s one of my favorite books of all time This has everything romance, heartbreak, action, legal drama And it introduced me to Njal s son Skarp Hedin, the greatest warrior of all time Full of snappy one liners, able to decapitate five men with one blow, I tried to name my firstborn after him, but my husband said no Alas


  10. Atimia Atimia Atimia Atimia says:

    The original Kill Bill