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Literature / Eyrbyggja Saga

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Eyrbyggja saga is an Icelandic saga from around the middle of the 13th century. The name translates as Saga of the People of Eyri, in which Eyri is the name of a farm which is one of the main locations in the saga, though by no means the only one.

Norway in the 880s. Bjorn the Easterner, son of Ketil Flatnose, and Thorolf Mostur-Beard incur the wrath of King Harald Finehair and decide to emigrate to the newly-discovered and widely uninhabited land of Iceland. With their friends and relations, they get to a large bay in Western Iceland which Thorolf calls Breidafjord. Thorolf and Bjorn are the first to settle in Breidafjord and share up the land between them.

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Harmony rules Breidafjord as long as Thorolf and Bjorn are alive, but after the old patriarchs have died, tensions appear between the descendants of Thorolf, known as the Thorsnessings, and the Kjalleklings, offspring of Bjorn the Easterner. Trouble is brewing when the Kjalleklings declare they will no longer put up with the ban on defecating on the holy headland of Thorsness, the local assembly ground on the land of the Thorsnessings.

Eyrbyggja saga is a multi-generational saga which traces the history of the region of Breidafjord and its four leading families over a time span of some 150 years from the late 9th century to c. 1030 CE. Whether it's feuding families or illicit love affairs, foul sorcery, haunted farmsteads, trouble with berserkers, or the malicious dead rising from their graves to plague the living, there's always something happening in Breidafjord.

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The 1892 translation by William Morris and Eirikr Magnusson (The Story of the Ere-Dwellers) can be read online here.


Tropes

  • Attending Your Own Funeral: Thorodd of Froda and his men have drowned in a shipwreck, and their bodies have not been found. When his family holds a funeral feast, and all the guests have been seated, Thorodd and his companions come in, soaking wet, and sit down by the fire. While the people are afraid to go near the ghosts, they welcome them and think it is "a happy omen, because in those days it was believed that drowned people had been well received by the sea-goddess, Ran, if they came to their own funeral feast." Unfortunately, the ghosts continue their visits after the feast is over, causing the farmpeople much trouble.
  • Blind Seer: Thorodd's second-sighted foster-mother has gone blind in her old age. When she urges Thorodd to slaughter the bull-calf Glaesir, Thorodd tricks her by slaughtering a different calf. Being blind, she does not realize Glaesir is alive until much later. True to her warnings, Glaesir eventually kills Thorodd.
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  • Burn the Undead: To stop the ravages of the undead Thorolf Twist-Foot, Thorodd has Thorolf's corpse dug up and burnt on a pyre. This puts an end to Thorolf's hauntings; however, a cow which licks up the ashes of the pyre later gives birth to a possessed bull-calf.
  • The Cassandra: Thorodd's second-sighted foster-mother warns Thorodd that the bull-calf Glaesir will bring about his death, and urges him to have it slaughtered. Thorodd does not comply, even though she repeats her warnings several times. When Glaesir is four years old, he suddenly goes mad and pierces Thorodd with a horn, killing him.
    [A]nything she said was just taken as an old woman's ramblings, though many of her prophecies came true.
  • Engagement Challenge: Styr promises the berserk Halli he will give him his daughter Asdis in marriage if Halli and his brother will do a few difficult work orders for him, which is, to clear a path across a lava field, to build a dyke on the farm boundary, and to build a sheep-shed. However, he already plans to rid himself of Halli and has no intention of actually giving him his daughter.
    "[...] I'm going to do as people used to in the old days. Before you win her hand, I'll set you a few difficult tasks."
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Brought into a quandary by the demand of the berserk Halli to marry Styr's daughter Asdis, Styr goes to Snorri to ask him for a good plan to get rid of Halli. Snorri suggests they go to the top of Helgafell (the local holy mountain) to talk, because "Plans made there have never been known to fail." "They went to the top of the hill and sat there in conversation till evening, but nobody knew what they were talking about." We are not told about their intentions until Styr kills Halli in a well-prepared trap.

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