In my previous post I extolled the virtues of an online tutorial about WordPress on Lynda.com . The most obvious outcome form that is I have installed a new theme WordPress 2017. There are however more subtle changes. Continue reading “A New Theme and a New Look”
Not much doing on the travel front and my reading has slowed down. Recently that’s in the last couple of weeks we ventured across to Kyneton in Victoria https://www.facebook.com/losttrades/. A great show and a nice area to visit. The lovely weekend was marred by the radiator on my car blowing up. Well blowing up is probably too strong it leaked and we had to stop in the middle of nowhere. Halfway between Kyneton and Lancefield where at least an area where we had mobile phone coverage.
So for a weekend away we added almost $2000 for a show that cost $10 to get into. We will go again but maybe fly and hire a care at the other end.
Guide to the classics: the Icelandic saga
Iceland has been in the news quite a lot lately, mainly because of its young soccer team’s outstanding performance in the Euro 2016 football tournament. And there has also been a surge of general interest in other aspects of Icelandic culture, including modern Icelandic literature.
Icelanders love books, both reading and writing them, and in recent years translations of contemporary Icelandic literature have made it into bookshops and literary pages abroad in increasing numbers. Nor must we forget that in 1955 the Icelander Halldór Laxness won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Back in the Middle Ages, Icelanders were great literary producers and consumers too. The term “saga” is used to refer to the new literary genre that developed in Iceland from the late 12th century up to the end of the 15th century and sometimes later than that.
“Saga” is an Icelandic word that means “something said, a narrative”. Originally the term is likely to have been applied to stories that were probably formed and transmitted orally. Later, they came to be recorded in writing, in hand-written manuscripts, many of which survive to the present day, though a good number have perished over the past 500 years or so.
In terms of its structure, the Icelandic saga is usually a prose narrative, but in many cases contains a good deal of embedded poetry. With regard to its subject-matter, the saga falls into several categories, and these allow it to be differentiated into generic sub-groups.
The subjects of sagas
Sagas of kings are historical biographies of the kings of Norway (and to a lesser extent, of Denmark) from prehistoric times into the 14th century. Although the antecedents of the first kings’ sagas were composed by Norwegians, Icelanders quickly became the masters of this genre, which usually contains much embedded poetry. This poetry is attributed to the court poets, or skalds, of these kings, whose compositions (mostly elaborate praise-poems) must have been passed down by word of mouth, in some cases over more than 200 years.
Most Icelandic saga writing was probably considered in the Middle Ages to be a form of history rather than fiction. This does not necessarily mean that the standards of modern historiography were applied to it, but what is narrated is likely to have been considered to be within the bounds of historical probability.
Coleridge’s “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, that constitutes poetic faith” might have applied in the consciousness of some audiences to some of the events and characters that appear in a sub-group of the saga that modern scholars call the fornaldarsögur (“sagas of the old time”), in which supernatural happenings abound. But other people would probably have considered such things to have been normal in the society of the pre-Christian age in Scandinavia and other prehistoric realms.
As for the Icelanders’ own history, that was the subject of several sub-genres of the saga, including the best-known today, the so-called “sagas of Icelanders” or “family sagas”, as they are often known in English.
There were also the so-called “contemporary sagas” that tell of what happened in Icelandic society during the turbulent 13th century – in the middle of which Iceland lost its political independence to Norway – and sagas of bishops and saints.
Furthermore, following the Norwegian king Hákon Hákonarson’s introduction of a programme of translating French romances into Norwegian, another type of saga, the sagas of knights, appeared, at first translating foreign romances, later, in Icelandic hands, developing indigenous romance narratives.
From the 18th century, when saga translations first began to appear in modern European languages, sagas of Icelanders (family sagas) in particular have attracted foreign readers. There are now many English translations to choose from, in some cases multiple versions of a single saga.
The most widely accessible at present are probably the most recent Penguin translations, which are new editions of a five-volume series originally published in Iceland in 1997 as The Complete Sagas of Icelanders. These were prepared by a number of saga scholars in collaboration with Icelandic colleagues. Increasingly, there are saga translations available on the web, though their quality is not always reliable.
Sagas of Icelanders are about Icelandic families whose ancestors migrated to Iceland from Norway, the British Isles and (in a few cases) other parts of Scandinavia towards the last decades of the ninth and the first three decades of the 10th century AD.
Some people have called Viking-Age and medieval Iceland the first post-colonial European society and there are certainly parallels to be drawn with ideas from contemporary post-colonial studies.
Empire writing back to the motherland
Icelandic saga writing can be seen in the context of the modern idea (first formulated by Australian scholars) of the empire writing back to the motherland, in this case Iceland “writing back” to Norway and to common Scandinavian oral traditions of poetry and story. In this process, medieval Icelandic authors created a new literary form.
The structure of saga narratives allows a number of different thematic and stylistic tropes to flourish. Many sagas of Icelanders are about feuds between families and their supporters; they give graphic accounts of fights, escapes, outlawry and reconciliation. They detail complex legal procedures that, in the absence of a police force on the island, were the individual’s main recourse to justice, but only if he had sufficiently powerful supporters.
Some sagas, the so-called sagas of poets, detail the love lives and stormy careers of well-known skalds, off duty in Iceland from their careers at the Norwegian court. Others are more regional histories of families from certain parts of Iceland and their struggles with neighbours and with the supernatural inhabitants of their region.
The saga form has often been compared to the modern literary form of the novel, but, though similarities exist, there are also important differences. Like the novel, the saga narrates a chronologically defined story, but as often as not, there is not one story, but several intertwined narratives in a saga.
That may sometimes be true of the novel, of course, but saga strands do not always link up to the main narrative. They may just peter out when the saga writer no longer needs a particular character or line of narration. It is common for saga authors to explain that someone or other is now “out of this saga”.
Unlike the novel, the saga does not normally get inside a character’s skin to reveal his or her inner thoughts or psychological motives; rather, external actions ascribed to the character reveal something of his motivation, given the small-scale society described and its conventionalised behaviour. For example, if a character puts on dark-coloured clothes (rather than neutral homespun), then you can be pretty sure something important is going to happen, usually of an aggressive nature.
The stance of the saga’s narrating voice also differs from that of many narrative voices in the modern novel. The persona of the narrator is not omniscient, although he may reveal what the common opinion of a character or an action may be. Sometimes he will refer to dreams or what we would classify as supernatural happenings as indicators of what is likely to occur in the future or how a present action should be judged.
An example from Brennu-Njáls saga, The saga of Burnt Njáll, regarded by many critics as the best of the Icelandic family sagas, shows how the narrative voice in a saga can be heard obliquely.
At a certain point in this saga, a group of men involved in a feud decide to burn Njáll and his family in their farmhouse, an act that was conventionally regarded as a heinous crime. Njáll himself, old and prescient, with an understanding of true Christian values though he lived before the conversion to Christianity, lies down with his wife under an ox hide to wait for death, saying that God “will not let us burn both in this world and the next”.
When, after the fire, the couple’s bodies are discovered to be uncorrupted, the audience is left to draw the conclusion (assuming a medieval understanding of the Christian religion) that God has indeed saved Njáll and his wife even though they were unbaptised. The conclusion here is, however, based upon our knowledge of how medieval Christian audiences, for whom these narratives were written, would think.
It is not directly stated, and quite recently an American scholar, William Ian Miller, has repudiated the interpretation above for one of pragmatic realism: the couple did not burn because the ox hide protected them.
I think myself that Miller is wrong, and that the text contains ample clues of how the audience for which the saga was written would have understood it and how we should understand it today.
Although medieval Icelandic sagas are much less well known than many other classics of European literature, they richly deserve a place in the company of the best that European literature has to offer.
We do not know the names of their authors, and must recognise that the anonymity of those who created them has a literary point to make: sagas narrate history, and that history belongs, if not to everyone living in Iceland at the time of writing (and to their modern descendants), then to specific families and other interest groups, whose ancestors figure in their stories. The authors shaped those stories but did not distort them.
My 2010 book, The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic saga, may be of interest for readers seeking a further introduction to the sagas.
I have had something of a read- a-thon on my recent cruise holiday. Managing to read six novels in nine days this is a personal best. Three books from my tablet and three from the ship’s library.
The books in the ship’s library were all good and volumes that I would not have searched out. Nothing like making do with what you have. Two were from English TV shows or rather the TV shows are based on the books. A DCI Banks novel the 21st in the series a great yarn and an easy read. The other was an Inspector Thorne mystery Time of Death which was intriguing. The last of the books was Called Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty. This is a s far as In=know not a TV series. A great yarn set against the backdrop of the ‘Troubles” in Northern Ireland.
Two different authors made up the last three books. Prequels to the Inspector Erlendur series by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason. I have really enjoyed the series and the two prequel volumes Reykjavik Nights and Into Oblivion were up to the mark. Rounding out my reading was the The Keeper of Lost Causes by Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen the first in new series for me and another great read. Next in the series is The Absent One which I have already made a start on..
Well that’s holiday reading !
A beautiful spot in the Pacific with something of a tragic past. This island is part of the Loyalty Islands which are part of the French territory of New Caledonia. We were there om 15th July 2016 as you can see by the photo it was a glorious day.
Today the Isle of Pines is about pristine waters snorkeling and tourism. We arrived on a cruise ship which anchored of the coast and we’re ferried in on the ship’s lifeboats.
The locals were friendly and didn’t really tout for business making for a relaxed day on the beach.
The history of the Isle of Pines is darker. It was a French penal colony from 1872 until 1913. Besides criminals there were also political prisoners banished to the Isle of Pines. These political prisoners were from the Paris Commune. I have linked to the Wikipedia article on this period of French History.
According to plaques near the ruins of the old penal colony the indigenous people the Kanaks, the link is to a Wikipedia article on theses people. In short the French annexure of these Islands did meet with resistance from the indigenous people.
I’m trying to post across three devices using the WordPress app on android. I had been writing post off-line on a recent holiday but the drafts are no more. I can redo but that’s not the point.
This then becomes test post. I had only written two posts so no big deal. I did discover that it’s not possible to attach images whilst offline. Now the app can’t access images on the device a bit useless really. Arrgh!
Completing this on a PC after logging in to the dashboard. I wasn’t able to upload any images from the Android App.
Haven’t been able to post from the WordPress app for quite a while. The photo was random so I could test this function as well. Hoping a new host will rectify this.
First of all its been a while since my last post so this is in part to rectify that situation. I have finally organised to have the blog moved to the domain rather than a sub folder. This seems to be working fine.
My reading which I record on this site has slowed down a little this year so that has contributed to a lower post rate. The lack of camera time has also been evidenced by a paucity of holiday photos. Even my other blog at sentimentalaboutwood.com has suffered a little this year.
Lucky this isn’t my livelihood .
Upgraded to the much hyped Android 5.02 Lollipop. So far my experience sucks. I waited patiently for the OTA version hoping that the initial bugs would be gone.
My tablet a Nexus 7 2012 with sim card capacity runs as though it is full of glue. It slows down progressively to the point where the only solution is an irritating reboot. I have deleted unused apps. Taken away the live wallpaper and so on.
I even tweeted about with the has hashtag #LollipopUpdate. Got a fairly quick response from @googlenexus. Their recommendation was to restart in safe mode. Did that and the tablet seemed to spring into life. Now I have to determine which apps are causing the hassle. I only install apps from the google play store. Haven’t noticed any warnings about compatibility with Lollipop.
Despite my rant I have managed to type all of this on the tablet whilst using a hotspot from my iPhone.