Styrbiorn the Strong

Styrbiorn’s name has sounded in my memory like a drum ever since, twenty years ago, I first read the passing reference to him in the Eyrbyggja Saga.

Eddison’s modern re-imagining of a Norse saga, was inspired by a few tantalizing glimpses of this heroic character in the saga literature. He determined to write Styrbiorn’s story in a modern idiom but imbued with something of the character and the spirit of the Icelandic sagas which he loved. As with all Norse sagas, the characters are real historical figures and the events are recorded in history. From a bare skeleton of facts Eddison creates a compelling story of pride, ambition and arrogance.

Styrbiorn is heir to the throne of Sweden held by his uncle, Eric the Victorious. The story follows his attempts to prove beyond doubt his warrior status and his fitness to attain the throne, which is withheld from him not by his uncle but by his own impetuosity and overweening pride. Styrbiorn’s character is drawn so finely that the reader is both fascinated and repelled by him but never disinterested. The action fills every chapter and draws to a bloody climax, where the outcome rests on a knife-edge, until the very end.

To promote the work on its publication in 1926, Eddison’s friend, Arthur Ransome (author of Swallows and Amazons) wrote, ‘In Styrbiorn he is following to its source one of the main streams of his inspiration…The new book of Eddison’s, wholly different in conception [from The Worm Ouroboros] but with the same Scandinavian roots, will weave a similar spell over those whose hearts are in the north, as his is’. Indeed it was widely praised on publication as a ‘resounding rendering of the saga of one Norse hero’, which had ‘a sweep, a headlong, unveering impetus in the tale that makes for drama and builds to stirring climaxes’. A new edition was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2011.