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Literature: The Saga of Hrolf Kraki
aka: Hrolf Krakis Saga
Hrolf Kraki's Last Stand. (c) 

The Saga of Hrolf Kraki (Hrólfs saga kraka) is a 13th century Icelandic Legendary Saga about the legendary Danish king Hrolf Kraki, who would have lived – if he lived - in the early 6th century.

King Helgi of Denmark, of the famous Skjöldung line, is an accomplished Viking raider. On one of these raids, Helgi rapes Queen Oluf of the Saxons. Years later, on another foray to Saxony, he kidnaps a beautiful shepherd girl, Yrsa. He marries her. Queen Oluf waits until Yrsa is pregnant, then reveals to Helgi that Yrsa is his own daughter.

Devastated, Yrsa leaves Helgi and their infant son Hrolf, and later marries King Adils of Sweden. But Helgi fails to hold his yearning for Yrsa in check, and thus he is lured to his death in Sweden by Adils.

Eventually, the young Hrolf takes over the kingship of Denmark. Noted for his generosity, the best warriors of all the Northlands flock to Hrolf’s service, and the twelve greatest of them become known as Hrolf’s champions. With their help, Hrolf finally ventures to Sweden to demand compensation for his father’s death from Adils. But the devious and sorcerous King of Sweden turns out a less dangerous opponent than Skuld, Hrolf’s own half-sister that Helgi begot with an elf-woman.

By design or coincidence, Hrolf Kraki has several similarities to the King Arthur story: Like Arthur, Hrolf is born from a scandalous relationship as the offspring of a brave but morally defective father whom he never gets to know; and like Arthur, he does not so much excel in heroic feats himself, but lets his trusty band of heroes do the grunt work. Like Arthur, Hrolf has a sorcerous half-sister who is only part human, hates her brother, and eventually is the reason for his destruction. It also goes with the Arthur parallels that Hrolf spends much time in the background while the narrative focuses on the adventures of his famous champions, the most prodigious of whom is the near-invincible Bödvar Bjarki. Other champions that have their own stories are Svipdag the Swede, a former retainer of King Adils, and Hjalti, who grows from Bödvar Bjarki’s wimpy sidekick into a kickass hero in his own right.

The Hrolf Kraki legend shares some of its cast with Beowulf: Etymologically, Hrolf can be equated to Hrothulf, who is mentioned in Beowulf as the son of Halga and nephew of King Hrothgar, who in turn correspond to Helgi and his brother Hroar from Hrolf's Saga; their common ancestor Skjöld figures as Scyld Scefing in Beowulf. Some have also proposed that Bödvar Bjarki, Hrolf's greatest champion, is the Norse equivalent of Beowulf himself. Still, the Saga of Hrolf is not the "Norse version of Beowulf"; both stories have an entirely different plot and are clearly set in mutually exclusive continuities. Certain (fairly minor) parallels will most likely escape the reader without someone pointing them out. It is however true that Bödvar Bjarki and Beowulf share much the same personality.

Hrolf Kraki's Saga is also the name of a novel by Poul Anderson, a retelling of Hrólfs saga kraka augmented by various other sources on King Hrolf, such as Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum and the Prose Edda.

Can be read online here.

Tropes in the Saga of Hrolf Kraki:

  • And Now You Must Marry Me: King Helgi tries to force Queen Olof to marry him by landing an army in her kingdom. It doesn't work.
  • Angel Unaware: The homesteader Hrani that offers his help to Hrolf is actually Odin in disguise.
  • Animal-Themed Superbeing: Bodvar Bjarki's parents are Bjorn and Bera ("bear" and "she-bear"), Bjorn was a were-bear when Bera conceived Bodvar, his nickname means "bear cub", he is as strong as a bear, and in Hrolf's Last Stand, he appears in the shape of a giant spirit-bear.
  • Animorphism: Prince Bjorn is turned into a were-bear, and while under that spell begets Bodvar Bjarki. Much later, in the Battle of Hleidragard, Bödvar Bjarki's spirit charges into battle as a giant bear.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Prince Bjorn, son of a king in Norway, is cursed by his sorcerous Wicked Stepmother to transform into a bear.
  • The Berserker: Bödvar Bjarki in the battle of Hleidragard. "He stormed on as if he was insane."
  • Catch and Return: The retainers in Hrolf’s hall provoke the newcomer Bödvar Bjarki by throwing bones at him. It doesn’t end well for them.
  • Child by Rape: Queen Oluf gets pregnant with Yrsa after being raped by Helgi.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: "Bjorn, the king’s son, and Bera, the farmer’s daughter, played together as children and they got on well. (...) Bera and Bjorn loved each other a lot and were always meeting."
  • Cinderella Circumstances: Yrsa is raised as a servant, without knowing that Queen Oluf is her mother.
  • Cool Sword: Bödvar Bjarki's sword willed to him from his father is a supreme weapon, but it has also many magic limitations: If drawn, it can only be put back into the scabbard after having killed a man, and Bödvar is not allowed to put it under his head when sleeping, to whet it more than three times in his life, and to use it at all during certain intervals.
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: When the superhumanly strong Elk-Frodi is called out for maiming or killing other kids, he argues that it's not his fault that they are so frail.
  • Depending on the Writer: Hrolfs saga makes it a point that Hrolf is physically unimpressive. This is the exact opposite of Hrolf’s description in Gesta Danorum, where he is unusually tall and strong. Gesta Danorum has also the scene when Vögg (Wigg) wonders at Hrolf’s size – only he wonders at Hrolf being so big, while in Hrolfs saga he wonders that he is so short.
  • Dream Team: Hrolf's twelve champions.
  • Ethnic Magician: Queen Hvit.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: When Vögg meets King Hrolf the first time, he is much surprised that Hrolf is so short and lean.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Svipdag is one-eyed after his battle with Adils' berserkers.
  • Evil Sorcerer: King Adils, Queen Hvit, and Skuld all use magic to further their villainous goals. But not every sorcerer is evil, as shown by Vifil who uses his magic to protect the boys Hroar and Helgi.
  • The Fair Folk: While probably not categorically evil, elves in Hrolfs saga are cast in a rather sinister light, as demonstrated by Skuld's proud and devious personality, her mastership of black magic, and the elf warriors that reinforce her in her attack on Hrolf.
  • Full Boar Action: Two times, Hrolf and his champions face off against a giant demonic boar (more specifically, a troll in boar form) — one summoned by Adils, another one by Skuld.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Skuld is a half-elf. Elk-Frodi is an elk from the waist downward because of evil magic, despite both bis parents being human.
  • Identical Twin ID Tag: Thorir Dogfoot and Bodvar Bjarki would look exactly the same if it weren't for Thorir's Do we really have to spell out that he has dog feet?
  • Lady Macbeth: Skuld drives on her husband Hjorward to treacherously attack Hrolf Kraki.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Hrolf's half-sister Skuld can raise the dead and summon a demon ("troll") in boar form.
  • Lady of War: Queen Olof of Saxony is used to leading her warriors in battle.
  • Last Stand: Hrolf and his champions at Hleidragard.
  • Meaningful Rename: After his miraculous character transformation, the farmer's son Hott changes his name to Hjalti.
  • Mugging the Monster: When Bodvar Bjarki first arrives at Hleidragard, the retainers in Hrolf's hall think it's a good idea to pick on the newcomer. They are wrong.
  • Named Weapon: Hrolf’s sword Skofnung, and Gullinhjalti ('Goldenhilt') which he gives to Hjalti.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: Bödvar Bjarki's father Bjorn leaves his three sons three weapons struck into a wall of rock. When the sons later arrive to retrieve the weapons, everyone of them can only take the one weapon intended for him: Elk-Frodi a short-sword, Thorir Dogfoot a battle-axe; only Bödvar can pull out the most precious weapon, a longsword.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: Cursed with Queen Hvit's spell, Bjorn is a bear by day but a man by night.
  • Parental Incest: King Helgi marries his own daughter, though neither of them knows it at the time.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: In the Battle of Hleidragard, Bodvar Bjarki delivers a long rant on what a cowardly jerk Odin is.
  • Rape and Revenge: Queen Oluf avenges herself on Helgi by consciously letting him beget a child with his own daughter.
  • Retcon: Hrólfs saga describes a situation where Hrolf has twelve "champions" and twelve "berserkers" in his service, but a few decades prior, Snorra Edda was clear that Hrolf's twelve champions were Hrolf's twelve berserkers. An oversight of the author when making that change has left a slight Continuity Snarl in the expedition to Sweden, when the saga first says that Hrolf takes both the berserkers and the champions with him, but a little later it becomes clear that only the "champions" are there.
  • Same-Sex Triplets: Elk-Frodi, Thorir Dogfoot, and Bodvar Bjarki.
  • Shapeshifting Lover: Bera and Bjorn, who is a bear by day but turns back into a man by night.
  • Supervillain Lair: King Adils' fortress at Uppsala is riddled with traps and secret doors and passages.
  • Surprise Incest: Helgi has to find out that he unwittingly married his own daughter.
  • Take Our Word for It: Quite cleverly used to top off the climax, the last stand of Hrolf and his champions:
    No need to spin it out with words: there fell King Hrolf and all his champions with good glory. But what a slaughter they dealt out there, words cannot describe it.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Hjalti, a farmer's son, transforms from a wimp into a ferocious champion by eating the heart of a dragon-like monster.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Queen Olof has the sleeping Helgi’s hair shorn off to humiliate him.
  • The Undead: When Skuld and Hjörvard attack Hleidragard, Skuld’s magic makes her fallen warriors come alive again to continue fighting.
  • We Named the Monkey Jack: After being raped by Helgi, Queen Olof gives birth to a daughter. She names her Yrsa after one of her dogs and has her raised as a serf.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Queen Hvit who curses her stepson Bjorn with a Baleful Polymorph.

The Saga of Hervor and HeidrekNon-English LiteratureThe Saga of the Jomsvikings
The Saga of Hervor and HeidrekClassic LiteratureThe Saga of the Jomsvikings
Romance of the Three KingdomsThe EpicThe Saga of the Volsungs

alternative title(s): Saga Of Hrolf Kraki; Hrolf Krakis Saga
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