65 typed pages/approx. 120 book pages
translated from ancient Danish (I think)
What is it? The Volsungasaga is an ancient Norse epic that tells the tale of the warrior Volsung, who was the grandson of the god Odin, and of Volsung's descendants. Learn more about it at Wikipedia.
Where did I hear about it? At the Bookworms Carnival on Mythology hosted by Things Mean A Lot of course! 5-Squared posted a fabulous review of this epic that really caught my attention. In fact, it is much better than my review so I suggest you go check it out.
Why did I read it? After 5-Squared's review, I knew I had to check this out at some point. And since I still needed to read a few more books for the Really Old Classics Challenge I decided to search out a copy of the Volsungasaga and dive right in.
So, what did I think about it? That is a tricky question. Part of me enjoyed reading this epic but the rest of me alternated between irritated, confused, and horrified.
- ENJOYED - I love the "Saxon Chronicles" series by Bernard Cornwell. One of the main features of that series is the Danish characters, mostly warriors, who invade Britain. This epic reminded me of many of my favorite characters from that series and filled in some of their mythological history, further fleshing out their stories.
- IRRITATED - When I was in the middle of the story Kiddo asked me about the book and I told him it was basically a story about a bunch of people who are constantly out to get revenge on each other for some murder or another. I told him that I was surprised there were any people left at all, what with all the slaying that was going on. Apparently I spoke to soon; the story ends when all of Volsung's descendants have finally been killed off.
- CONFUSED - I read the translation provided online by the Online Medieval and Classical Library. I don't know if there is another version out there but this was the only one I could find and it really didn't work for me. Imagine reading something like the King James version of the Bible but with tons of outdated words and others with unique spelling or definitions that don't match up to modern language. I did eventually get used to it but I'm sure there are parts of the story I missed out on because I didn't understand all the language.
- HORRIFIED - I know that times were different back then and that the mortality rate among children was very high, but did these women seriously have NO maternal instincts?! I can't recall how many times in the story a mother had her own children killed for some ridiculous reason. In a way it reminded me of the play MEDEA which I read last month. In other ways it reminded me of the books I've read about Sparta, about how mothers expected their sons to be extremely tough and were ashamed of them if they were not. But seriously, NO maternal protectiveness or anything?! I am so glad I didn't live back then ...
In the end ... Looking back over this review you'd think I hated this book. Actually, I didn't. I didn't love it, but I do think it was worth reading. Plus I made some interesting (sometimes amusing) connections while reading it. For example:
- The references to Norse gods Odin and Loki kept reminding me of Stargate SG1. They explained the Norse theology by saying a race of aliens actually started it. Here's an image of Loki from SG1 - I LOVED those little grey guys, especially Thor! And here's a video of Thor if you want to check him out.
- Brynhild was a warrior woman who slept for a very long time before being awoken by the warrior Sigurd. This reminded me of the story of Sleeping Beauty. The two stories end quite differently though ...
- Ragnarok is the name for the end of time in Norse mythology. It was also a theme in the most recent Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes book, THE LANGUAGE OF BEES, by Laurie R. King (reviewed here).
- The descriptions of the dragon Fafnir and his treasure hoard reminded me of Tolkien's dragon Smaug from THE HOBBIT. And don't you just love Justin Gerard's Smaug? I kept imagining this image as I read about Fafnir.
So I can cross off another book for the ROC Challenge - yay!
I'm curious though ... have any of you actually read this or studied in back in your college days? I'd never even heard of it until 5-Squared's review - what about you?