Icelandic Sagas

After the publication of The Worm Ouroboros in 1922, Eddison spent the rest of the 1920s immersed in Icelandic sagas. He became interested in the sagas as a boy, reading them in English editions, translated by men such as G.W. Dasent and William Morris. When he had exhausted the available translations, he taught himself Icelandic at school so that he could read them in their original form. The sagas with their gigantic warriors, taut codes of honour and visceral action might have been written to appeal to a young man. Their influence on Eddison cannot be underestimated. He himself admitted that he loved them more than any other literature and that his debt to them was more than could ever be counted.

In 1926 his modern rendition of an Icelandic saga, Styrbiorn the Strong was published by Jonathan Cape. That summer Eddison travelled to Iceland with his family on holiday. There he encountered first-hand the people, the culture and the landscapes that had produced the stories which had captured his imagination since childhood. In an article written for The Bookman in 1927, ‘The Sagas and Iceland of Today’, he described this visit to a country where ‘one is very near the past’. In the largely unchanged landscape, features from the sagas loomed up at every turn, and everyone he met seemed as familiar with the stories and as ready to recite them as they were their own family history. This visit inspired his most ambitious work, a translation from Old Norse into English of one of the longest sagas, Egil’s Saga, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 1930.

See also