HISTORICAL ORIGINS OF LITERATURE

The factual fashion that the anonymous author of Njal’s Saga employs while writing about events that unfolded in eleventh-century Iceland reflects the actual historical inspirations of the story. Events, although debatable as fact or fiction, are presented and structured as being facts that make up a period of Icelandic history. Because of this style of writing, it may be concluded that the saga was written to inform the reader, maybe even in a nostalgic tone, of what life was like in eleventh-century Iceland. My inference arises from the assumption that all writing has a purpose, and that a specific writing style, tone, structure, or language implies a specific purpose.

Njal dies when his homestead, Bergthorsknoll is burned to the ground. The burning of Bergthorsknoll was in fact a historical event described in accounts by Iceland’s early settlers. At the moment of his death, Njal says to those near him, “Put your faith in the mercy of God, for He will not let us burn both in this world and the next” (Njal’s Saga 266). Today those words may appear far-fetched, however in eleventh century Iceland, following the kristnitaka or conversion to Christianity, there is no worthier speech (Jochens 622). With Iceland’s conversion to Christianity, Njal’s death becomes simple; he has lived a good life, commended his soul to God, and is therefore sure to be happy in Heaven. The writer uses actual legal procedures of the Althing as a plot device in the story; drawing on factual structures to create the story. For example, Njal’s plan for Gunnar to make a dowry-claim for his cousin Unn against her divorced husband Hrut uses the legal code of the Althing.

In Njal’s Saga, history and literature join fact and fiction to create an impressive tale of eleventh-century Iceland. The matter-of-fact way in which the saga is written reflects the story’s nature as one that stems from historical events and needs little symbolism or poetry to fulfill its purpose of informing and captivating the reader.

Works Cited

Jochens, Jenny. “Late and Peaceful: Iceland’s Conversion through Arbitration in 1000.” Speculum 74. 3 (1999): 621-655. Print.

Njal’s Saga. Trans. Magnus Magnusson and Herman Palsson. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd.,1960. Print.

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