It’s been a while since I last read an Icelandic saga, but this week I picked up Hrolf Gautreksson. Complete with a Viking warrior princess, a sorcerer’s clever daughter, a magic sword, giants, trolls, beserkers, and lots of larger-than-life Vikings willing to sacrifice entire armies to protect their honor and arrange good marriages.
I love slipping back into sagaland, with its mix of the fantastic and the practical. Saga characters don’t always decide to engage in grand battles. Sometimes they negotiate. Sometimes they decide to listen to their wives and stay home. And they don’t live happily ever after, or unhappily ever after, for that matter–either they die gloriously or, if there’s nothing left to do, quietly leave the story to get on with their lives, and are “out of this saga.”
Anyway, Hrolf Gautreksson had this delightful coda (the paragraph breaks are mine):
People say this is a true story. Although it’s never been committed to vellum, learned men have preserved it in their memories with many of King Hrolf’s exploits not recorded here — a slow pen would be exhausted sooner than his great deeds. The same applies to this story as to a good many others, that people tell it differently. But there are all kinds of people, some travel more widely than others, one man gets to hear what another doesn’t, and both may be telling the truth even though neither knows the whole truth.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that people used to be bigger and stronger than they are now, because it looks as if their claim to be descended from the giants coule be true, and not very far back, either. But now people are levelling out as the races get mixed. It’s likely that a lot of small men would have been killed by the strokes of the big ones, since weapons those days were so heavy that the weaker sort could hardly have been able to lift them from the ground. It’s obvious that small men wouldn’t be lifely to survive being hit with such strong blows and sharp edges.
Even if the weapons failed to bite, anything in their way would be badly damaged, and I think you shouldn’t find fault with the story unless you can improve on it. But whether it’s true or not, let those who enjoy the story who can, while those who can’t had better look for some other amusement.