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The GREAT Icelandic Sagas

Traveling means learning. I am drawn to the history and culture of a place – travel is more than snapping a few photos and trying a new dish. Travel is an opportunity to connect with the people who share our planet. When we travel to new places, we find similarities and differences.

I love to begin learning about a new place before I arrive. Weeks and sometimes months before departing, I start reading and researching. This week I have been diving into Icelandic history – and like most places it is rich with stories and drama.

“We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.”

– Maya Angelou 
Njáls Saga by Ryan Inzana
Ryan Inzana / @ryan_inzana

Lucky for us, Icelanders love books. The average Icelander reads four books per year and 1 in 10 Icelanders will publish something in their lifetime. The tradition of storytelling has been part of Icelandic history since the first settlement. The time between the 9th to the 11th centuries is often called the Saga Age or the Viking Age. there was a whole collection of family sagas written during this time.

Although the authors of the Icelandic Sagas are unknown, most Icelanders can trace their heritage back to these sagas. There is a genealogy website called Íslendingabók and much of the data provided on this site traces back to the Icelandic Sagas.

I wanted to read some of these stories, so I started my search online. There are around 50 sagas in total – so that made it a little difficult to choose. After a bit of research, I selected the Njáls Saga.

According to Britannica, this is one of the longest Icelanders’ sagas, with the most comprehensive picture of Icelandic life.

“Few people are spoken of in the way they would choose.”

― Anonymous, Njal’s Saga

If you are interested in reading the saga or others, you can find it on them on The Icelandic Saga Database.

Or purchase your own copy.

Njáls Saga has two heroes—the brave Gunnar and the wise Njál. It is a great read, full of drama, humor, and witty unexpected word play. 

“Be warned by another’s woe.” 

― Anonymous, Njal’s Saga

Here is a nice synopsis of it done by Dr. Matthew Roby.

I then stumbled upon some of Yoav Tirosh writing and comics. As you might expect these stories are engrained into the Icelandic culture. There is a wealth of humor, satire, and other spin-offs of these stories within Iceland’s current culture.

“As tragic as Shakespeare, as colorful as The Canterbury Tales, as enduring as Beowulf, as epic as The Iliad and eminently more readable than The Holy Bible.” 

The Guardian

I encourage you to explore some of the tales shared in the Icelandic Sagas, they are full of drama, with glacier floods and volcanic eruptions. You’ll find tales of witchcraft & ghosts, along with stories of honor, love, sacrifice, and revenge.

Want to read more about Iceland?

Download a list of 10 Books to Read before Visiting Iceland.

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