21st Century Eyrbyggja Saga

I recently finished reading Saga: A Novel of Medieval Iceland by Jeff Janoda and what an immersive experience it was! The book is billed as a modern retelling/novelization of Eyrbyggja Saga, which is correct, but also slightly misleading because the book really just focuses on a fraction of the overall saga; the action corresponds to chapters 30 through 38 for those of you familiar with the Hermann Pálsson/Paul Edward translation (these are the chapters that focus on the land dispute between Snorri the Priest and Arnkel).

It is quite an achievement to take 20 pages of very curt, matter-of-fact saga story-telling and transform it into an engaging 350 page novel, and that’s what we have here. Janoda has painted the characters to his own styling in a way that completely meshes with the original saga material and that remains believable. Additionally, minor characters from the original saga are given significantly more attention and some new ones are invented to flesh out the narrative. This is particularly true in the case of Janoda’s female characters, since women weren’t given nearly as much attention by the original medieval scribe. They play critical roles in the plot and help move the story forward. The various characters, major and minor, all play their parts in accordance with the original saga and while filling in the in gaps of the original in a consistent manner. The book is true to the original source while adding its own creative take on things, and the blending of the two is incredibly well done.

I obviously highly recommend this book, and if you’re the type of person who somehow managed to find and visit my website, odds are you’re also the type of person who would enjoy it. It’ll make for some great summer reading. And if retellings of sagas are your thing, I’d also strongly recommend Nutcase by Tony Williams.

Helgafell, the Holy Mountain, near the location of Snorri’s farm (photo by Johann Isberg)

Álftafjörður, the fjord around which the action takes place