In this book, Theodore M. Andersson, a leading scholar of the Norse sagas, introduces readers to the development of the Icelandic sagas between 1180 and 1280, a crucial period that witnessed a gradual shift of emphasis from tales of adventure and personal distinction to the analysis of political and historical propositions. Beginning with the first full-length sagas and culminating in the ackwledged masterpiece Njals saga, Andersson emphasizes a historical perspective, establishing a chrology for seventeen of the most important sagas and showing how they evolve thematically and stylistically over the century under study. Revisiting the long-standing debate about the oral and literary components of the sagas, Andersson argues that there is a clear progression from the somewhat mechanical gathering of oral lore in the early sagas to an increasingly tight and authorially controlled composition in the later sagas. The early sagas-including The Legendary Saga of Saint Olaf and Odd Srrason's Saga of Olaf Tryggvason-focus on conspicuous individuals and their memorable deeds; later works are more apt to formulate the abstract problems and ideas that preoccupied their authors. As the authors begin to impose their views on the inherited narratives, the sagas become more and more critical and self-conscious, to the point where Njals saga may be considered t only to approximate a vel in our sense of the term but also to comment on the saga form.
Theodore M. Andersson is Professor of Germanic Studies Emeritus at Indiana University. He is the author of several books, including The Sagas of Norwegian Kings (1130-1265),The Partisan Muse in the Early Icelandic Sagas (1200-1250), Early Epic Scenery: Homer, Virgil, and the Medieval Legacy and The Legend of Brynhild; translator of The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason; and cotranslator, with Kari Ellen Gade, of Morkinskinna : The Earliest Icelandic Chronicle of the Norwegian Kings (1030-1157), all from Cornell.