Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Long Arm of Coincidence: The Frustrated Connection between 'Beowulf' and 'Grettis Saga'

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Long Arm of Coincidence: The Frustrated Connection between 'Beowulf' and 'Grettis Saga'

Article excerpt

Magnus Fjalldal, The Long Arm of Coincidence: The Frustrated Connection between 'Beowulf and `Grettis saga' (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998). vii +176 pp. ISBN 0-8020-4301-1. L32.50

Magnus Fjalldal reassesses with fierce scepticism the case for a relationship between Beowulf and Grettis saga - texts which Fjalldal describes as `separated by several centuries in time and composed in different countries in different languages'- in spite of the generally recognized parallels- `so many, so obvious, and so detailed', according to one critic - between the two. Fjalldal attacks what may be called a scholarly consensus (although, as he sharply illustrates, the various theories as to this possible relationship are far from complementary) on three fronts: that if no specific link between two texts can be satisfactorily proposed, then even striking parallels should be dismissed as no more than `an amusing literary curiosity'; that the celebrated similarities between Beowulf and Grettis saga are in fact not as striking as has been suggested, and that indeed unjustified assumptions about a genetic relationship between the texts have encouraged ever more shaky comparisons (though of course emphasizing the huge gulf between the circumstances of the two texts in order to play down the likelihood of a genetic relationship between them tends by the same token to undermine the demand that the similarities be absolute to be convincing); and finally, that Grettis saga is an eclectic patchwork of other literary works in Icelandic, from which much of the supposedly analogous material comes.

It is always salutary to have long-held scholarly positions given a good shake. …

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