The Legendary Sagas of the North | University of Iceland Skip to main content

The Legendary Sagas of the North

Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir, Professor at the Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies

The Legendary Sagas are a group of sagas the have not been as popular and well known in Iceland as the Sagas of the Icelanders, even though they are written in the same period, i.e. the 13th and 14th centuries and contain stories and myths about heroes and fantastic beasts. The Legendary Sagas take place mostly in Scandinavia before the settling of Iceland, and at least one of them, Völsunga Saga inspired J.R.R. Tolkien in creating Middle Earth; the world of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttr, Professor of Icelandic Literature, delves into the world of these fascinating tales. Like Tolkien before her, she was fascinated by Völsunga Saga in her youth. “I read Völsunga Saga in college and it hit me right in the heart – so much so that after reading it I got this excellent idea to study Icelandic at the university and get acquainted with medieval literature. At university my interest grew to the extent that I wished to know everything about the Legendary Sagas,” she says.

Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir

Aðalheiður points out that no research has been done on the larger cultural context of the Legendary Sagas in Europe and she expects that her research will greatly improve knowledge of this genre.

Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir, Professor at the Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies

Aðalheiður’s study is comprehensive. She goes into details concerning the origins of the Legendary Sagas in annals, poetry and art all over Europe. ”Subsequently I tackle their subjects as a whole in the Icelandic literary tradition,” says Aðalheiður who received in the autumn of 2016 recognition from the Royal Gustavus Adolphus Academy for her research on Nordic folklore and literature.

Aðalheiður plans to publish the results of her research in a three volume book. The first volume is in the final stages. “Often I need to work on obscure sources and in some cases I have had to go to other countries to explore and photograph ancient artifacts,” she says about this exciting project.

Aðalheiður points out that no research has been done on the larger cultural context of the Legendary Sagas in Europe and she expects that her research will greatly improve knowledge of this genre. “I hope that the study will deepen our knowledge of Icelandic literary history and pique people’s interest in these gems that are our common heritage,” she concludes.