The Story of Burnt Njál

My first journey down the Rangriver of the Icelandic Saga hasn’t been easy. Chapter One of The Story of Burnt Njál greeted me with…

Thorgerda was the daughter of Thorstein the Red who was Olaf the White’s son, Ingialld’s son, Helgi’s son. Ingalld’s mother was Thora, daughter of Sigurd Snake-i’-the-eye, who was Ragnar Hairybreek’s son. And the Deeply-wealthy was Thorstein the Red’s mother; she was the daughter of Kettle Flatnose , who was Bjorn Boun’s son, Grims’s son, Lord of Sogn in Norway.

I literally gasped aloud. And then began a family tree which, two chapters in, had run off the page, onto my duvet.

Íslenska : Möðruvallabók (AM 132 fol.13r) Bren...

At this point, I reached a dilemma: panic and reason began an internal battle, the former telling me to slam closed the hideously-confusing book, riddled with aeons of genealogy, and never return; the latter gently ordering me to get a grip. Which I did.

Twenty ‘Sigurds’ later (this bloke is the ‘John’ of the tenth century), my initial reservations have quieted. I have come to the realisation that, unless you are studying Icelandic lineage, the footnotes can be overlooked; the plot remains unharmed. And the plot is fantastic.

Again, I was initially worried that the sparseness of the prose would be uncomfortable but, to the contrary, the pages turn as fluidly as those of an elaborately-crafted thriller.

Perhaps it is the idea that this actually happened that spurs me on, into the night, pursuing Hrut’s travels, Hallgerda’s marriages and Gunnar’s feuds. Not only is Njál’s Saga a piece of prose, it is a piece of history, ‘handed down by word of mouth, told from Althing to Althing, at Spring Thing and Autumn Leet, at all great gatherings of people, and over many a fireside, on sea strand or riverbank.’ (George Webbe Dasent)

Read it!


That World

The sun looks the same.  Its red glare condemns a redder land, pours blood over the bloodless dead, stretches light amongst the shadows.

Yet all has changed.  We have won.

Distorted bodies coat the ground with alien limbs.  The guttering rattle of death has been subsumed by an euphoric silence.

I want to scream, or laugh, but my throat chokes, overcome with the beauty of it:  their warped contours draped awkwardly, still.  No longer grappling.  Free.

Bending to study one close by, I suppress the instinctual flinch, the urge to reach for my holster; I am safe.  Watery eyes, liberated from the malign stare which they once perpetuated, are all that confront me now.  Oddly innocent in their blankness.

As if testing myself, I slide one arm under the stiffened body and pull it into me.  Cradled so, the tiny form betrays nothing of its former self.

My mind wanders lightly over the landscape, littered with lost lives.

Back home.

I remember watching these bodies gratuitously slaughter one another.  I remember the holes into which they stuffed their mutilated peers.  Crunching bones and compressed flesh, more and more…

and more and more.

I remember my bewilderment as I watched them rip gashes in the ground and stretch, with those odd, elongated limbs, holes in the sky.

I remember that particular alien.  It looked just like the rest but we knew it was different.  It had houses everywhere, where it was visited by all the others.  It told them to kill each other.  It told them to throw the bodies in the ground.  It told the bodies to do the same.

Suddenly, the hard creature in my arms is too cold.  I make as if to look at it but find I can’t.  Instead, I imagine it thanking me, thanking us for saving them from themselves.  Can these humankinds feel gratitude?  I never really thought about it before.

‘Fire is Catching’

Is The Hunger Games the new Harry Potter?

Last week I jumped firmly onto The Hunger Games chariot, with its imminent film release prompting me to pick up a copy. As the date, 23rd March 2012, nears, more and more people are doing the same and it seems that another literary phenomenon is on the way, threatening to topple Harry Potter from his broom.

But this is no mean feat. Harry Potter has been amongst us for nearing fifteen years and its hold has yet to slacken. Having grown up in sync with Harry, Hermione and Ron, my life has been so poignantly affected by the series that, even now, I catch myself whispering a hasty Alohomora when I lose my front door key.

All authors dream of becoming the next J.K.Rowling (ignore any claims to the contrary- it’s bare jealousy.) And a few have come close: there was a period of bated breath only recently as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga was taken from book to big screen. But the hype surrounding Edward’s torso paled in comparison with that produced by the final Harry Potter film alone; in the days which followed, the twisted corpses of stray girls, bedecked in ‘Team Jacob’ merchandise, could be found in any Cineworld car park, having being caught in a stampede of bespectacled adults and children. Tragic.

Nonetheless, there is a real possibility that The Hunger Games could do it. Unlike the Twilight Saga, its appeal reaches far beyond the boundaries of lustful teenage imaginings, with themes of power, revenge, identity and survival creating a layered and complex read. Moreover, instead of coaxing heartbroken adolescent girls to the Bella-esque brink of insanity, Suzanne Collin’s heroine, Katniss, is an object of admiration in her independence- I’m confident that she wouldn’t hop onto a motorbike (with a potential rapist) to get a glimpse of her ex’s sparkly abs.

But how does she compare to Harry? In my opinion, Katniss is a character with whom we can better relate: she’s more real *GASP*.  Before you condemn me, hear me out: with all Harry’s been through, surely he would want to take at least a minute to curl up under the duvet with a packet of Hobnobs and a purely platonic Kleenex? But no- on he battles. And in the end, ‘All was well.’ Not so much as a trip to a psychologist.

Katniss’ breakdown in Mockingjay is, therefore, quite reassuring. When my cat died- the only grief I have ever experienced- I cried for weeks, so felt slightly put out as, in the epilogue of The Deathly Hallows, Harry waltzed onto Platform 9 3/4, a perfect picture of marital bliss, with his childhood sweetheart. Where are the needle marks? The haunted, sleepless eyes?

Admittedly, he does have the occasional blip, as demonstrated by his grief for Sirius in The Order of the Phoenix: ‘I-DON’T-WANT-TO-BE-HUMAN!’ But, having just stubbed my toe on the way to this computer (‘F*!”&^G  B%?^$!D  S*&T’), I remain unconvinced.

The epilogue of Mockingjay is less of a disappointment. We are able to see the long term effects of the Games on Katniss as she admits: ‘on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away.’ An advantage of first person narration? Maybe, but I still think we could have been given more of an insight into Harry’s post-Voldermort journey.

Nevertheless, it will take a lot to top Harry Potter. Hogwarts is The Dream: I know I’m not the only one for whom the recollection of their first day at a normal school hurts. Perhaps, then, it is the concept of being special which draws us to Rowling’s fantasy; this could explain the current hysteria over Meyer’s glamorized vamps.

So where does that leave The Hunger Games? With not a vampire or wizard in sight, there is no supernatural appeal and it is difficult to covet Katniss’ dystopian world. Yet there is still huge allure.

Perhaps, perversely, we do desire a life brimming with adventure and peril- a common feature of all three novels. Could it be that in today’s comfortable society we require escapism not into the realm of the serene, but into the realm of grime and death? That we yearn for a Voldermort, or a Volturi, or a President Snow: a removal from monotony?

Maybe that’s just me…


Related Posts:

– The Embarrassing Side Effects of Having Recently Read “The Hunger Games”

– Not Another Blog About the Hunger Games?