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Egil in a 17th century manuscript.

"They are all very arrogant men, knowing no moderation, and not caring whom they have to deal with."
King Harald Finehair
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The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson (Original title: Egils saga Skallagrimssonar), or Egil’s Saga for short, is an Icelandic Saga from c. 1240.

When King Harald Tangle-Hair rolls over Norway to subject all its petty kings to his rule, his handsome forecastleman Thorolf, son of Kveldulf, serves with distinction, and is made a great chief. But Thorolf is slandered, and already the king feels he has given Thorolf too much power. One thing leads to another, and Thorolf ends his life as a rebel, killed at the hands of the king. Kveldulf and his other son, ugly Skallagrim, avenge Thorolf, then flee to the newly discovered land of Iceland, where kings have no power.

In Iceland, two sons are born to Skallagrim: Thorolf, who is handsome and popular, and Egil, who is ugly and troublesome. The brothers do not turn out more peaceful than their forebears and in time sail for Norway in search of adventure. And they find plenty of it.

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Egil's Saga is partly a family saga, partly a biography of a semi-legendary pagan Icelandic poet. As it follows Egil's life as a farmer and chieftain at home and a pirate and mercenary on his voyages around 10th century Europe, it tells about the many memorable circumstances that led to the creation of Egil's poems.

Can be read online here. A free audiobook is available here.


Provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Human: There are many hints that Kveld-Ulf's family line is part giant. All of them are exceptionally big and strong, and Skallagrim and Egil are moreover monstrously ugly, having abnormally thick and bulging skulls. All of them show occasional berserking behavior—as is typical for trolls—and Kveld-Ulf is rumored to be a shapeshifter. When Skallagrim goes to King Harald, the doorguard who announces the arrivals is not sure "if they can be called men" because "they are more like giants in size and looks", and when Egil seeks out Arinbjorn at York, the messenger describes him to Arinbjorn as "big as a troll". Kveld-Ulf's genealogy also suggestively mentions that he had a maternal uncle called Hallbjorn Halftroll.
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  • Buried Alive: When King Herlaug of Namdal hears that Harald Finehair is preparing to conquer Namdal, he, together with eleven of his men, enters a newly-built gravemound, and "[t]he mound was closed after them." The End.
  • Child Prodigy: At age three, Egil is "as big and strong as other boys of six and seven" and already "clever with words". When Skallagrim does not want to take him to a feast at Egil's maternal grandfather Yngvar's, Egil rides to the feast all alone. At the same feast he recites his first poems.
  • Curse: After his final falling out with King Eirik and right before departing from Norway, Egil on the island of Herdla plants a horse's head on a pole, turns it towards Norway and curses the land-spirits of Norway
    "so that they may all wander astray, none reaching or finding his home until they drive King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild from the land."
  • Death Glare: In his poem "Arinbjarnarkviða" ("Praise of Arinbjorn"), Egil recalls his last meeting with his deadly enemy Eirik Bloodaxe, when, as a castaway, he delivered himself to Eirik's mercy in Eirik's royal hall:
    You weren't safe looking him straight
    In the eye. No kindness there!
    It glittered like a snake's, grew
    Ever more snake-like the more you stared.
  • Died Standing Up: The morning after he has sunk his money into a swamp, Skallagrim is found dead sitting upright on the edge of his bed. The people of the farm are creeped out, and their behavior shows they are afraid that Skallagrim may turn a revenant.
    [Skallagrim] was dead and so stiff that no-one could get him raised or straightened, though everything was tried.
  • Distant Finale: A good hundred years after the death of Egil, his bones were uncovered and placed in a newly built church (so the saga states). People tried their swords on the skull, and it didn't budge. "Thus, the people knew the skull was Egil's".
    • The treasure of gold which Egil hid has not been found to this very day, and is a local legend among Icelanders. That said, a Reykjavik newspaper used it as an April day prank some years back. Considering this, the finale is still distant.
  • Drinking Contest: The drinking at Armod's farm soon turns into a drinking contest, fueled by Armod's and Egil's passive-aggressive hostility towards each other.
    The drinking soon became on man one horn, the horn to be drained at each toast. [...] At every cup that Armod drained he said, "I drink to you, Egil," and the men of the house drank to Egil's companions, using the same formula.
  • Grief Song: After dropping his initial plan to starve himself to death, Egil expresses his grief about the death of his son Bodvar in the poem "Sonatorrek" (Loss of Sons).
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In the Battle of Vinheid, Thorolf skewers the English defector Earl Hring through his chest with a spear, then raises him up and plants the spear shaft on the ground so both armies can see the earl dying. Not long after, the terrified Scots break into a general flight.
  • Improvised Armor: When Egil and his companions expect an ambush on the forest road between Varmland and Norway, Egil ties a large flat stone to his chest by winding a rope around his upper body. Thus prepared, Egil fights his way through two ambushes and comes out without serious wounds.
  • Leave No Witnesses: Living out his life in the house of Grim, the aged Egil rides out at evening, accompanied by two slaves and carrying his two chests of silver with him. He does not return for a whole night, and in the morning returns without the silver and without the slaves, revealing that he has hidden the treasure and that he has killed the slaves to keep the secret.
  • Legendary Weapon: When Egil departs from York, Arinbjorn presents him Dragvandil, a sword once owned by the hero Ketil Salmon, who "had used it in his single combats". Egil uses Dragvandil when he kills the berserk Ljot, and also wields it in his duel with Atli. Ketil Salmon and his duels are the subject of another saga, The Saga of Ketil Salmon.
  • Man Bites Man: Fighting a judicial duel with Atli, Egil finds that his sword is useless because Atli is magically protected against iron weapons. Egil wrestles Atli down with his bare hands and kills him by biting through his windpipe.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The same year after Egil has spoken his curse over Eirik and Gunnhild, Eirik's rule is challenged by his brother Hakon, and by next spring Eirik and Gunnhild are forced to flee Norway.
  • Named Weapon:
    • In the Battle of Vinheid, Egil wears a sword called Adder which he looted in Courland and which he uses to kill Jarl Adils. Later Egil receives another sword, Dragvandil, as a gift from Arinbjorn, which he seems to prefer after that.
    • Thorolf Skallagrimsson has a sword called Long.
  • Never Gets Drunk: Armod does his best to get Egil and his companions drunk. When his companions are becoming incapacitated, Egil drinks their shares in addition to his own. When Egil himself cannot drink any more, he stands up, takes Armod by the shoulders and vomits into his face... then goes back to his seat and asks for more drink. Egil keeps drinking until all others have given up, draining a large horn at one go every time.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Invoked: In his grief-poem about the drowning of his son Bodvar, Egil expresses his regret that he has no power to avenge himself on Aegir and Ran, the gods of the sea.
    If a sword could heal my hurt,
    Aegir would brew no more beer.
    I'd fling myself at that fierce
    Wave-raiser and his mate, Ran.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: When Skallagrim is in a fit of 'shape-strength', he is even stronger than usual but also an incontrollable madman who kills indiscriminately. When Egil is twelve and playing at a ball-game against his father and it looks like Skallagrim is going to lose, Skallagrim suddenly becomes 'shape-strong' and kills Egil's best friend Thord, his nanny Thorgerd, and very nearly Egil himself.
  • Uriah Gambit: For two years in succession, the tax-collectors of King Hakon have been ambushed and killed on the forest-road returning from the outlying province of Varmland. The third year, Hakon forces Egil's friend Thorstein to choose between collecting the taxes from Varmland or being outlawed. Egil offers to go in Thorstein's place, and since the king's messengers know Hakon is ill-disposed towards Egil too, they accept, calculating that any possible outcome will please Hakon. The journey is undertaken in winter, the king's men desert Egil and his companions, and the Varmlanders ambush them with superior numbers twice; yet Egil succeeds in the mission.
  • Werewolf Theme Naming: Egil's grandfather Ulf, nicknamed Kveld-Ulf, is rumored to be a "shape-changer"—someone whose spirit roams around in animal shape while the shape-changer appears to sleep. 'Kveld-Ulf' means 'evening-wolf' and alludes to him turning a wolf (úlfr) at evening (kveld; i.e. when he goes to sleep).

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