The Faroese Saga

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I read The Faroese Saga by G. V. C. Young and Cynthia R. Clewer over this past weekend when Mark and I attended a wedding in Ottawa. It was a short book of sixty pages (all pagination indicated by the page number being written out in full; no cardinal numbers were used) and comprised 58 stories. It was perfect to read in large or small doses. I bought this during my trip to Finland last year. The authors stated in an introductory note that their intention was to translate these sagas to better suit an oral delivery, since sagas were meant for live audiences rather than for readers. I would say that they succeeded, as the delivery was punched with drama and surprises, guaranteed to shock a listener.

From the books on the Faroe Islands that I have been reading, I learned that the Faroese sagas were not separate sagas, but were culled from the vast volumes of Icelandic sagas. They were presented in this separate volume in order to focus attention on the Faroese role in saga history. One will therefore encounter these sagas within the Icelandic oeuvre. The authors provided maps and genealogical tables to assist in keeping all the characters straight, as it was easy to confuse the various Sigmunds with Sigurd and mistake Thora with Thord or Thoralf. I flipped to the tables and maps often.

The tenth century was a time of ruthless violence, and Young and Clewer’s oral style made the tales seem almost Saturday morning comical in their brutality. It was common to read passages like:

“The kinsmen seized their weapons and Sigurd had a large axe in his hand. They ran down to the ship and Sigurd was blaspheming vehemently. He immediately ran on board the ship. The brothers jumped up immediately they heard the swearing and cursing. Sigurd ran at Bjarngrim and hacked him in the chest with the axe, which he held with both hands, so that the axe went right in, and made a wound which caused his immediate death. Thord the Short hacked Hafgrim on the shoulder with his sword and wounded him down the side, so that his arm fell off, and he died on the spot. Gaut the Red hacked Hergrim on the head with an axe and split him down the shoulders. When the three of them were dead, Sigurd said that he did not want to pursue the matter further with those who were left, but he said that he should have the property which the brothers had left behind. However, this did not amount to much.”


“When Gaut heard this, he jumped straight at the fisherman, and hacked him to death and said that he should not cause any more misfortune. Gaut then took over the management of the farm jointly with the widow, and he married her.”

Men married widows and exacted revenge against their enemies. It was all part of Faroese life one thousand years ago. I have several books on the Icelandic sagas which I bought after my trip to Iceland in 2015. I will read them after my trip to Iceland and the Faroe Islands later on this month.

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