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Literature / Fridthjof's Saga

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The Saga of Fridthjof the Bold (Old Norse: Friðþjófs saga hins frœkna) is a medieval Icelandic romance, written by an anonymous author probably around 1300 AD.

In the kingdom of Sogn in Norway, the great warrior Thorstein is friends with King Beli of Sogn. And so it is no wonder that Beli's daughter Ingibjörg and Thorstein's son Fridthjof grow up to love each other. But when King Beli has died and Fridthjof asks Ingibjörg in marriage from her brothers, the new kings Helgi and Halfdan, the brothers tell him that Ingibjörg is too good for him, seeing as he has no royal pedigree.


King Hring of Hringerike challenges the kings of Sogn to battle. Fridthjof declines to support the kings, which forces them to submit to Hring. In exchange for peace, Hring demands and receives Ingibjörg in marriage. The kings take revenge on Fridthjof by banishing him from the kingdom.

Fridthjof becomes wealthy and famous as a viking, but after four years of raiding, Fridthjof feels he must see Ingibjörg again. He dons a disguise and sets out for King Hring's hall.

A free translation of Fridthjof's Saga by William Morris and Eiríkr Magnússon (1875) is available here.


Tropes in Fridthjof's Saga:

  • Cool Boat: Ellidi, the ship Fridthjof inherits from his father, goes very fast and is "the best ship in the ocean" and "the best [ship] that has ever been in the Northlands". In part thanks to Ellidi's excellence, Fridthjof and his companions survive a magical storm on their voyage to Orkney.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Ingibjörg and Fridthjof love each other, but Ingibjörg's brothers despise Fridthjof because he is not of royal rank, and instead force her to marry King Hring, who is old but actually a fine guy. As Fridthjof cannot bring himself to act against Hring, he offers to go away and never see Ingibjörg again, but Hring stops him and reveals that he has a deadly illness and knows he will die soon. He makes Fridthjof his jarl and successor, and at Hring's funeral Fridthjof marries Ingibjorg in accordance with Hring's own wish.
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  • In the Hood: When Fridthjof goes to King Hring's hall to see Ingibjörg again (who is now Hring's wife), he puts on a "great shaggy cloak" and a hood which hangs down over his face. When he enters the hall, pretending to be an old beggar, he takes a seat in a corner and keeps his hood on so that it "fall[s] over his face". Notably, the "success" of this disguise is depicted quite realistically, as the stranger arouses the attention of the king at once, and the further events imply that Hring immediately suspects that the stranger is Fridthjof, even though he has never seen him before.
  • The Musical: Adapted into a song cycle in the 1800s by Swedish poet Esaias Tegnér. This cycle got so popular it created a number of inspirations - Henrik Ibsen refers to the tale in more than one play, and the heroine of The Lady From the Sea is even named after Fridthjof`s ship ("Ellida").
  • Sapient Ship: Fridthjof's ship Ellidi is enchanted "so that she had learned to understand human speech." When Fridthjof and his companions are caught in a storm on their voyage to Orkney and they become aware that the storm is caused by two witches riding on a whale, Fridthjof tells Bjorn to steer Ellidi towards the whale and chants a verse calling on Ellidi to crush the witches to death with its prow. This works. While there is no definite proof that Ellidi reacted to Fridthjof's call, the narration suggests that it did.
  • Secret Test of Character: King Hring is strolling in a forest alone with his retainer Thjof (who is actually Fridthjof and in love with Hring's wife), when he suddenly wants to take a nap and appears to fall fast asleep and "snores loudly". Though the situation presents a seemingly ideal opportunity for Fridthjof to rid himself of his romantic rival, Fridthjof draws his sword only to throw it far away. A little later Hring gets up and reveals that he has long recognized Fridthjof and that he has only pretended to be asleep to test Fridthjof's character. As Fridthjof has done the upright thing, Hring rewards him by appointing him his successor.
  • Teeth Flying: Fridthjof slams the heavy purse that contains the tribute from Orkney into King Helgi's face "so that two teeth were knocked out of Helgi's mouth".
  • Uriah Gambit: Because Fridthjof has refused to join the royal levy and visited princess Ingibjorg against the prohibition of her brothers, the kings Helgi and Halfdan, the kings demand that Fridthjof makes amends for his offences by sailing to Orkney to collect the kings' tribute. Fridthjof accepts the condition, but as soon as he has departed, the kings hire two witches to summon a sea storm with the intent to drown Fridthjof, and which Fridthjof survives only narrowly.


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