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Literature / The Saga of Arrow-Odd

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"Örvar-Odd tells Ingibjörg about Hjalmar's death" (August Malmström 1859)

"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 fighting and pillaging. 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, wealth and power. Except maybe that creepy guy Ogmund Eythjofslayer, a semi-monstrous viking who seems to have some unfinished business with Odd—even though Odd has never met him before.

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.


  • Anti-Villain: Ogmund Eythjofslayer is a monstrous half-demon chock full of black magic who kills Odd's entire crew and treacherously murders Odd's blood-brother Thord Prow-Gleam. But later we learn that Ogmund acted in revenge of Odd's depredations in Bjarmaland and so is hardly more ruthless or cruel than Odd. Moreover, after their first encounter Ogmund tries to get away from Odd, and it is Odd who hunts him out of vindictiveness. Ogmund even tries to reconcile with Odd, and eventually offers him his friendship.
  • Arch-Enemy: Ogmund Eythjofslayer and Odd are locked in a deadly feud that lasts for most of their lives and has been triggered by Odd's depredation of Bjarmaland, Odd's very first viking cruise and the same voyage that made him rich and famous in the first place. Despite being deadly enemies, they also have much in common—such as being nigh-immortals who dedicate their lives to the quest for glory by battle and conquest.
  • 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 kidnap 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."
  • Conveniently Placed Sharp Thing: Captured by the viking Saemund, Odd spends the night scheduled to be executed in the morning, with his feet shackled and his hands tied behind his back, and guarded by twelve men. He strikes up a conversation with his guards to lull their vigilance, and eventually sings to them until they are all sleeping. Odd then crawls to a nearby axe and manages to cut the fetters on his hands on its edge. He unties his feet, grabs the axe, kills the guards, and gets away.
  • Death by Despair: When Odd brings news of Hjalmar's death, Ingibjörg looks at the bracelet that was Hjalmar's last present to her, then dies on the spot.
    She took the bracelet and looked at it in silence. Then she leaned back against the chair posts and died.
  • 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 Eythjofslayer.
    “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.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: When Vignir, Odd's son with the giantess Hildigunn, meets his father for the first time, he is stumped that Odd is a normal-sized person, i.e. what amounts to a midget in the eyes of a giant.
    "I'm at a loss for words,“ said Vignir.
    "Why's that?" asked Odd.
    "I can't believe such a puny-looking little wretch as you could be my father," said Vignir.
  • 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.
    • Ogmund Eythjofslayer is the son of the king of Bjarmaland with a troll-woman.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: Sailing past Greenland in pursuit of Ogmund Eythjofslayer, 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 had summoned the creature to swallow Odd.
  • Man Bites Man: The long and hard single combat between the half-troll Ogmund and Vignir is finally decided when Ogmund tears out Vignir's throat with his teeth, killing him.
  • Masking the Deformity: Years after Arrow-Odd has ripped off the face of his archenemy Ogmund Eythjofslayer, he hears of a mysterious warlord called Kvillanus who has made himself king over Novgorod, and who always wears a mask. Odd travels to Novgorod and challenges Kvillanus to jousting. After three days of indecisive jousting, Kvillanus offers to make peace with Odd, and Odd is ready to accept if Kvillanus will reveal his true identity. Kvillanus takes off his mask, revealing that he is Ogmund Eythjofslayer, who has been wearing the mask to hide his mutilated face. It is implied Ogmund's motive is not so much shame or vanity but that he does not want to be recognized because he knows that Odd is still seeking revenge on him.
  • 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,
    or surf-borne
    by the driven spray,
    here your body will burn
    at Berurjod.
  • Prophecy Armor: As a teenager growing up in Berurjod in Norway, Odd receives the prophecy that he will die in Berurjod, killed by the horse Faxi. Odd kills Faxi and leaves Berurjod to become a viking, intending never to return. He survives countless battles unscathed and lives to the age of three-hundred until he gets homesick and resolves to visit Berurjod, where he is bitten by a viper nesting in the skull of Faxi, and dies.
  • Revenge by Proxy: When Ogmund realizes he cannot bring Odd down, he murders Odd's blood brother Thord Prow-Gleam only to punish Odd.
  • Small Parent, Huge Child: Odd, a normal-sized human viking (if long-lived), has a half-giant son named Vignir. By the time they first meet Vignir is already far taller than his father.
  • Super-Toughness: Over the course of his feud with Odd, Ogmund Eythjofslayer gets every bone in his body broken, his face torn off, his buttocks sliced off, and jumps from a 80 yard cliff into the North Atlantic. Yet he survives all and recovers every time, even if gruesomely scarred.
  • 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.
  • Together in Death: When Odd brings Hjalmar's corpse to Sweden, princess Ingibjorg drops dead from grief, and Odd has them buried in the same gravemound.
    "Since they weren't allowed to while they lived, these two can enjoy each other in death."
  • Tragic Bromance: Over the course of his life, Odd loses several of his numerous blood-brothers, each death being a great crisis for him: Asmund, who grew up with Odd, is killed on a raid in Ireland; Thord Prow-Gleam is murdered by Odd's arch-enemy Ogmund, causing Odd to swear vengeance on Ogmund; Hjalmar is killed in single-combat with Angantyr; Gardar is killed at Geirrodsgard when Odd tries to avenge Thord. After the death of Gardar, Odd decides to travel alone, for fear of losing yet more blood-brothers, but ultimately he cannot prevent the death of his last blood-brother Sirnir in battle with Ogmund.
  • 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 Eythjofslayer 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.