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4.4 out of 5 stars38
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 23 October 2000
For anyone wanting to begin reading Icelandic Literature this has to be the starting point. The collection offers a broad mix of material; from the longer more famous pieces such as Egil's Saga, to the shorter unknown works such as The Saga of Ref the Sly. The titles chosen offer a varied and colourful collection, especially as it groups together so many of the lesser known tales that have for a long time escaped the reader through bad translation and lack of stock. The stories are placed in context by both the critical introduction and by the reference section, though these are only short pieces, their value is considerable, while the useful bibliography leads the interested party towards the more detailed texts available. It is a shame that many of the translators have written in such a scholarly way; the language can become bland at times, this is especially true of the poetry, particularly in Egil's saga, where other additions have provided more vivid and touching stanza translations. Apart from this lack of artistic espression the book remains a marvel, beautifully laid out with a nice feel to it. Packed with bloody battles, wonderfully named characters (Hkraki Filth and Eirik Bloodaxe to name just a few), wicked women and unpronounceable placenames. European literature owes the Icelanders a great deal.
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on 9 June 2009
I bought this in Iceland too, and it is a wonderful souvenir. I was familiar with most of the sagas already but many of them were far better translated than my old copies and I really loved revisiting the harsh and bloody tales that capture so much of the heroic and tragic that was Iceland's Viking history.
Readers need to know that this is not a complete collection and that arguably the most outstanding saga is missing here - namely Njal's Saga and if you are a keen saga reader you should definitely get this one too, as it is a rich and multi-layered tale of tremendous literary merit and also a fantastic read. I personally recommend the Magnus Magnuson translation. I imagine this was missed out of this collection because of its length. Nonethless, this volume contains real gems such as The Saga of Laxardal, Egil's Saga and Gisli's Saga as well as some lesser known tales.
I found the reference section at the back of this book both fascinating and incredibly useful. It has all sorts of gems such as a calendar of the old Icelandic month-names, as well as diagrams of ships and longhouses. I read it for sheer interest and I've also used it regulary for reference.
This is a huge tome, but it will provide many happy hours of reading. And it may well fill you with a desire to visit Iceland, where many of the locations in the sagas can be visited.
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on 30 October 2010
Only two words come out about that book: Purely Magical..
After reading it I asked myself why this world has only one Iceland...?? :)
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on 23 August 2014
As "Burial Rites" was said to have similar themes I read the Laxdaela Saga in a single edition and having enjoyed that turned to the Jane Smiley collection of the most important sagas. The specially commissioned translations worked very well and I was fascinated by the tales and found myself immersed in the lives of the protagonists. There is a helpful introduction to each saga, giving the background to its writing and sometimes to the relevance of the period in Icelandic history in which it was first told. I found the general introduction very interesting and informative too as I did the maps and family trees. Having been twice to Iceland helped me visualise the landscapes and the settings for the tales but i don't think that is necessary to enjoy them. Njal's Saga is a major piece of work and very affecting but there are some shorter and lighter tales near the end of the book. I found a joke told in one that I was still telling in school 1,000 years later!
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on 27 January 2014
I absolutely love this book it is deeply special, it is full of rich language, beautiful poetry, masculine identity, and humanity. The pace of the language used in the sagas makes the book a joy to read.

After reading this book I am going to read more myths and legends.
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on 19 July 2008
Just came back from Iceland, and bought this book during my visit there (needless to say, its cheaper on Amazon, but Ive got a Krona price tag :) ).
Ive always loved medieval literature, but this takes the cake. 500 years before anything we've previously experienced, you cant help but get involved with the characters, and this book gives you the base needed to understand the basics of the writing and context of the age so that you dont get lost, which is easy to do!
I spent 3 hours on my flight back to Barcelona transfixed with Egil's Saga, even though I had already heard the story during my visit.
I cant recommend this book enough.
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on 19 October 2008
I too bought this in Iceland. Without a doubt, this volume is the best introduction to a magic, epic and ancient world that will surprise the reader with a realistic yet full of legend account of what life was almost 1000 years ago in bleak Iceland. The hardship of life, the winters, the unbeatable pursuit of maritime expeditions and the adventurous spirit of old Norsemen, the sorcery and the myths, the history buried under the layers of oral tradition, folk tales, magic, myths, love, death, war, power...a truly different world to get lost into, waiting to be explored.

On the other hand, the book offers enough scholarly advice and context regarding the sagas, the places mentioned, whatever is known of real events and authors, but it can also be read for the pure enjoyment of it, which I think is good too.

I truly recommend this to anyone with an interest in literature, history or both.
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on 18 August 2014
An excellent way to explore a cross-section of Icelandic sagas in an accessible translation and with helpful explanatory notes. I definitely recommend this collection. Sagas include: the Sagas of...Egil, ...the people of Vatnsdal, ...the people of Laxardal, ...Hrafnkel Frey's Godi, ...the Confederates, ...Gisli Surrson, ...Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue, ...Ref the Sly, ...the Greenlanders, ...Eric the Red, Bolli Bollason'sTale, and the short Tales of...Thorstein Staff-struck, ...Halldor Snorrason II, ...Sarcastic Halli, ...Thorstein Shiver, ...Audon from the West Fjords, ...the Story-wise Icelander. There is also a useful reference section looking at Ships, The Farm and Social and Political Structure. Useful maps and 'family trees' help in getting a grasp of geographical and family contexts. A Glossary and Index of Characters complete the book. While not all the sagas are included due to length (eg it does not - understandably - include the long Saga of Njal) this is a wide-ranging selection and would be interesting for any general reader interested in the Icelandic sagas and very useful for undergraduates studying Icelandic/Scandinavian literature and culture. The translations are authoritative but very readable.
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on 8 May 2013
Took me ages to read it but very good and kept me interested until the very end of the book
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on 9 May 2013
I was investigating buying this book on Kindle but beware - the Kindle edition advertised is not of the book it claims to be. It's an unattributed collection of pieces including the Prose Edda (easily available elsewhere) but none of the contents are those of Sagas of the Icelanders. So now I know why it's so cheap!
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