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4. Continuity? The Icelandic Sagas in Post-Medieval Times

Jón Karl Helgason

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00007.x


In 1945, the first year of Iceland’s independence after almost 700 years of Norwegian and later Danish rule, the writer Halldór Kiljan Laxness wrote his classic article ‘Notes on the Sagas’ (‘Minnisgreinar um fornsögur’). In this work, Laxness airs his views on the early Icelandic sagas, with special emphasis on Njáls saga. He asks literary scholars not to be annoyed with him or to regard him as a trespasser in their field; his simple plea is that, as an Icelandic writer, he ‘cannot exist without constantly thinking about the old books’ ( Laxness 1946 : 9). Laxness was in fact thinking quite a bit about ‘the old books’ in the 1940s, as he was not only responsible for certain controversial modern-spelling editions of several sagas that came out at the time, but was also working on his novel Iceland’s Bell ( Íslandsklukkan ). One of the main characters in this historical novel is the seventeenth century manuscript collector Arnas Arnæus – alias Árni Magnússon (1663 – 1730) – a figure who makes his first appearance in the third chapter, looking for pages of vellum from valuable manuscripts in the farmhouse home of the central character, Jón Hreggviðsson. Iceland’s Bell , like Laxness’s ‘Notes on the Sagas’, deals in part with the Icelanders’ reception of the ancient literature. No sooner has Arnæus entered Jón Hreggviðsson’s poor abode than the farmer starts to praise the saga heroes. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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