- Egil, the Viking Poet: New Approaches to Egil Saga ed. by Laurence de Looze, Jón Karl Helgason, Russell Poole, and Torfi H. Tulinius
Egil, the Viking Poet is a scrupulously edited and cohesive volume that ought to be as warmly received by those who have long studied Egils saga Skallagrímssonar and the medieval Icelandic sagas, as by students and others newly interested in this rich body of medieval vernacular narrative. It comprises twelve essays prefaced by a thoughtful Introduction by one of the four editors, Russell Poole. A useful index (personal names, other Old Norse and medieval works, thematic keywords) concludes the book. The contributing authors are well known in the field of saga [End Page 526] studies and beyond: many have published on Egils saga before, some extensively over the course of their careers.
As emphasized in the introduction to the Selected Bibliography (Chapter 12), Egils saga has been the subject of more scholarship over the course of the past century or so than many other sagas. Key research questions and approaches have revolved around elucidating the date and circumstances of the saga's composition, the identity of its posited author (Snorri Sturluson?), the structure of the saga narrative as a whole, and the saga's themes (for example, the nature of personal and political relationships between protagonists, poetry, and the figure of the poet). One of the strengths of the volume under review is that while these classic questions are engaged with directly by several contributors, other contributors push the boundaries of such traditional lines of enquiry by adopting newer currents of thinking, as will be discussed below.
The essays are grouped into four sections that explore (1) the saga's composition; (2) the identity of the saga's protagonist; (3) emotions and affiliations of different kinds that are manifested in the saga narrative; and (4) the saga's reception.
In Section I, Torfi Tulinius discusses "aspects of the way the saga is constructed and consider[s] whether its author had skaldic forms in mind when he shaped his narrative" (p. 23), and Guðrún Nordal makes a case for "variations of the traditional dróttkvætt" verse-form emerging as an "important characteristic of the poetry spoken by Egil"—a characteristic that furthermore "alerts the reader and listener to underlying themes in the saga" (p. 50). In Section II, Laurence de Looze and Margaret Clunies Ross interrogate aspects of the self in the saga, de Looze applying Paul Ricoeur's and Jean-Pierre Vernant's theoretical ideas about constructions of the self to Egill, and Clunies Ross analyzing instances of self-description in verses attributed to Egill in the saga. Section III is the longest of the four parts. First, Ármann Jakobsson presents a close reading of aspects of the narrative that shed light on the relationship between Egill and his father, Skallagrímr, and between Egill and his brother, Þórólfr, emphasizing empathy and goodness as key concepts in the latter case. The fourth and final essay in this section, by Timothy Tangherlini, also focuses on personal relationships and is discussed in more detail below. Second in Section III, Alison Finlay offers some shrewd analysis of the saga's presentation of Egil's old age, and suggests that poetry might have influenced this picture. Poetry—albeit, a poem that never was—is the point of departure for the third essay in Section III, in which Oren Falk discusses widowhood in Egils saga and Norse culture more widely. Section IV begins with an essay by Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, discussed below, and also contains Jón Karl Helgason's article, in which the reader's experiences and responses to "mentally and even physically disturbing aspects of Egil's Saga" (p. 213) are explored with reference to Sigmund Freud's theory about the uncanny, Julia Kristeva's theory about the...