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Literature: The Saga of Arrow-Odd
"I want to roam about from land to land, sometimes among the Christians and sometimes among the heathen."The Saga of Arrow-Odd
(Old Norse: Örvar-Odds saga
) is a medieval romance written in 13th century Iceland
Odd, son of Grim Hairy-Cheek of Hrafnista, grows up in Berurjod in Western Norway
. When Odd is seventeen, a witch prophecies that Odd will die at Berurjod, killed by the skull of the horse Faxi. Odd kills Faxi and buries him under rocks, then sets out to become a sea-rover, intent on never returning to Berurjod.
Thus begins a life dedicated to looting and fighting. For now that Odd cannot die unless he returns to the place where he grew up, there is nothing to stop his ruthless quest for fame, riches and power. Or is it?Arrow-Odd's Saga
is an example of an Icelandic lygisaga or romantic saga
, a fantastical narrative set in the world of Norse Mythology
but which uses traditional legends only as a starting point for creative tale-spinning. While Arrow-Odd appears in a bit part both in Gesta Danorum
and The Saga of Hervor and Heidrek
, only the Saga of Arrow-Odd
tells about his career as an immortal adventurer, and Odd's voyages which lead him from the White Sea to Jerusalem, from Greenland to Greece, and even to lands outside the known world go far beyond the traditional geography of Norse heroic legend.
- Cultured Warrior: The viking Hjalmar has set various rules for himself and his warriors, such as not to rob peasants and merchants and never to kidnapp women. But the very first rule he lists is that they will not eat uncooked meat, come what will.
"The first point I want to make is that I and my men refuse to eat raw meat. Plenty of people are in the habit of squeezing a bit of flesh in a piece of cloth and then calling it cooked meat, but in my opinion it's a habit more fit for wolves than men."
- Dramatic Unmask: As king of Greece, Odd vows that he will find out the true identity of the mysterious King Quillanus of Novgorod, a great conqueror who always wears a mask. Odd lands an army in Russia and challenges Quillanus to a tournament. After three days of indecisive jousting, both agree that they are equally strong, and Quillanus suggests they make peace with each other. Odd wants to accept on the condition that Quillanus reveals his true identity to him. Whereupon Quillanus takes off his mask, revealing the scarred face of Ogmund Eythjolfslayer.
“Can you guess who this ugly head belongs to?“
- Draconic Humanoid: In (of all places) England, Odd and his men battle and kill a finngalkn, an "enormous creature" that looks like a hybrid between a dragon and a humanoid:
It had a human head and huge fangs, a long, thick tail, and talons of fantastic size with a great gleaming sword in each claw.
- Famed in Story: Odd gets famous for his raiding expedition to Bjarmaland. Whenever he introduces himself after that, he is usually asked in response whether he is "the Odd that went to Bjarmaland".
- Foil: The blood brothers Hjalmar and Odd. Hjalmar became a viking so he will be able to marry princess Ingibjorg back in Sweden, and voluntarily adheres to a chivalrous code of honor. Odd is quite ruthless, fights for his fame only, is not attached to women and plans never to return home.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Vignir is Odd's son with the giantess Hildigunn. At ten years, he is already much taller and stronger than Odd and also appears much more mature and knowledgeable than one would expect from a child of that age.
- Kraken and Leviathan: Sailing past Greenland in pursuit of Ogmund Tussock, Odd spots two rocks raising themselves up out from the sea, which puzzles Odd. Piloted by Vignir, the ships pass right between the rocks. When they look back later at the day, the rocks have vanished, which baffles Odd even more. Vignir then explains that the rocks were the jaws of the sea-monster Hafgufa, the "biggest monster in the whole ocean" which "swallows men and ships, and whales too, and anything else around", and that they have sailed right through the open maw of the monster. Vignir knew this was not dangerous because Hafgufa had just surfaced and always stays at the surface for at least one tide, even though Ogmund Tussock had summoned the creature to swallow Odd.
- Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: When the witch foretells Odd's fate, she suddenly speaks in alliterative verse.
It won't matter whether
you wander on your way
by the broad sea-firths,
pacing the beaches,
by the driven spray,
here your body will burn
- Tear Off Your Face: When Ogmund and Odd fight at Geirrodsgard and Ogmund once again realizes it is looking bad for him, he tries to escape from Odd by diving into the earth (as trolls can). As Ogmund sinks into the ground, Odd gets hold of his beard, and rips his entire face off.
Just as he did this, Odd got hold of his beard with both hands and jerked it so hard that he ripped off the whole beard with the skin underneath right down the bone, including the entire face and both cheeks, up the forehead and back to the middle of the crown. So they went their separate ways as the ground opened up, and Odd kept what he was holding.
- Turtle Island: Sailing past Greenland, Odd sights a small island covered with heather and sends five men to explore it. The island goes down, drowning the men. Afterwards Odd learns he just encountered the sea-monster Lyngbakr ("Heather-Back").
- Tyke Bomb: Ogmund Eythjolfslayer is begotten by the King of Bjarmaland on a troll-woman and raised, trained and "turned into a troll" by the Bjarmians specifically to kill Odd, in revenge for Odd's depredation of Bjarmaland.
- Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object: When Odd and Hjalmar and the Arngrimssons prepare for single combat, Angantyr Arngrimsson wants to take on Odd, because Odd's magic shirt is supposed to be impenetrable to any weapon, and Angantyr's sword Tyrfing supposedly can cut anything in the world. However, Hjalmar insists that he take on Angantyr, and thus we will never know whether Tyrfing would have worked on Odd's shirt.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Despite Odd's effort to prove the prophecy wrong, everything turns out as the witch foretold. Three-hundred years old, Odd suddenly grows homesick and returns to Berurjod, where he is bitten by a viper nesting in the skull of Faxi.