Njál's Saga

Njál's Saga

Njál's Saga

Njál's Saga

Excerpt

"Never, surely, has the art of story telling, in subsequent centuries, reached the perfection attained by the Icelanders before the invention of printing. Leaving aside the long genealogical lists, so important to the early Icelanders, but rather tedious to a modern reader, I have never found anything to compare with them. And what finer example of this art without art than the Story of Burnt Njal? I read it for the first time in the midst of the scenes where the events took place. All the Icelandic sagas, and this one in particular, spoil one for the reading of contemporary tales. The people 'come alive' of themselves by what they say and do; one is completely unconscious of any narrator. And in the Njáls saga, when the reader comes to Chapters 127 and 128, which tell of the burning of Njál, his wife, and his sons, at Bergthórsknoll, by Flosi and his band of one hundred and twenty men, he will recognize, I think, that perfection in the art of story telling was reached . . . centuries before there was any talk, in the western world, at least, of its being an art."

Thus writes James Norman Hall in his autobiography, My Island Home. Though connoisseurs may take exception to some of the distinguished novelist's statements and may insist that several other sagas excel the Njáls saga as works of art, it remains true that Niála (as the Icelanders fondly call it) has been by all odds the most famous Icelandic saga and the best loved in ancient as well as in modern times. No other saga offers so many stirring scenes, such a gallery of memorable personages subtly yet dramatically portrayed. And though there are dull pages there are many that no one can read unmoved.

Of the size of a modern novel, it is nevertheless far less perspicuous than a novel of similar length by reason of the great variety of its contents and—this must be admitted—the excessive number of characters. Also, the connection of events is not as plain as we are accus-

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