Blood on the Snow,
This review is from: Njal's Saga (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
Read `The Saga of Burnt Njal' and you are plunged into a world so different to our own through the medium of probably the finest of the Icelandic saga. But beware, that world bears the same relationship to the real 10th century Iceland as western films have to 19th century America. From `There was a man called Mord Fiddle...' to `....And there I leave the saga of the Burning of Njal' you will find a book crammed with vivid incidents, amazing characters and remorseless fate. It has certainly affected my own reading and writing since I first read it over fifty years ago.
Consider some of the characters. Njal himself is so weak, so wise and yet driven to destruction by his own fatalistic philosophy despite the efforts of Bergthora, his harridan of a wife. One of his sons, Skarp-Hedin, is somebody you should never cross because, to misapply a famous quote of our time, `he has something of the night about him'. Their friend, Gunnar of Hlidarend, is the `impossible hero' (physically superb but with a mind like jelly when it comes to dealing with his wife, Hallgerd). Mord Valgardsson plots to destroy the heroes of the saga through a web of lying promises with the apparent ease of a puppet-master because his victims are obsessed by Fate.
Consider some of the incidents. How Gunnar by trickery forced Hrut, by witchcraft doomed to impotence, to return Unn's dowry. How the row between Bergthora and Hallgerd, so trivial in origin, leads to a series of violent deaths. How Skarp-Hedin's dramatically killed Thrain on the ice of Markar River. How the Njalssons were manoeuvred into murdering their foster-brother.
Throughout the book it taps into the supernatural through dreams and magic. Luck (or fate) plays a major part in the fortunes of men - Kari and Olaf the Peacock are lucky but others are doomed. You'll see a society ready enough to pay compensation but equally ready to start a blood feud over the slightest insult. It describes a society which has in the Althing the oldest parliament in the world but also one where violent death seems almost an everyday event.
Occasionally the book slithers into genuine history - `slithers' is the right word because it exploits historical events such as the conversion of Iceland, the activities of Gunnhild of Norway or the battle of Clontarf by intruding its characters as a means of plot development.
So how much of the story is true? Who knows or cares? Just enjoy the experience of reading one of the great works of mankind.