Book #21

The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue

In this epic tale from the Viking Age that ranges across Scandinavia and Viking Britain, two poets compete for the love of Helga the Fair - with fatal consequences.

My reason for purchasing the Little Black Classics was to be exposed to forms to literature I would never think to pick up otherwise. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue is an example: a Viking saga. I loved it.

Although this form of story involves lots of character names, their parents' names, and their parents' parents' names, this exemplifies the importance of heritage and ancestry at that time (year 990 - 1010, people, it doesn't get much more classic than this). It's difficult to get used to when the pages are filled with who was everyone's father, but you soon find retaining this information doesn't really matter, and this allows you to persevere with the plot - don't hang yourself from the family trees.

The tale is essentially that of a love triangle; Gunnlaug is promised Helga the Fair as a bride, but is asked to come back in three years once he has matured. His rival, Hrafn, gets in there first, and violence ensues. It's all about honour and pride, rather than asking the woman who she really wants to be with. But hey, tenth century, I can wash my hands of you.

As both rivals are poets, we get to read some excellent verse from both of them, and I found myself (with the help of the handy glossary) learning more about their language. The poetry gets easier to understand the further you venture into the saga, and I found myself recognising some real personality in these, which wasn't otherwise obvious in the prose.

A great little story, and a worthwhile short read. I feel more enlightened with Viking saga now than I ever was, and I'm pleased I'm learning more of literature and language the further I delve into the Little Black Classics range.