Monsters in Society: Alterity, Transgression, and the Use of the Past in Medieval Iceland 9781501514227, 1501514229

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Monsters in Society: Alterity, Transgression, and the Use of the Past in Medieval Iceland
 9781501514227, 1501514229

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Rebecca Merkelbach

Monsters in Society Alterity, Transgression, and the Use of the Past in Medieval Iceland

Rebecca Merkelbach Monsters in Society

The Northern Medieval World

On the Margins of Europe Editorial Board Carolyne Larrington (Chair), St. John’s College, Oxford Oren Falk, Cornell University Dawn Hadley, University of Sheffield Jana Schulman, Western Michigan University Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Universitetet i Oslo

ISBN 978-1-5015-1836-2 e-ISBN (PDF) 978-1-5015-1422-7 e-ISBN (EPUB) 978-1-5015-1409-8 Library of Congress Control Number: 2019945466 Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at http://dnb.dnb.de. © 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston Cover image: Hallur. Pen and ink by Joanne Shortt Butler, 2019 Typesetting: Integra Software Services Pvt. Ltd. Printing and binding: CPI books GmbH, Leck www.degruyter.com

Acknowledgements More people contributed to this monstrous endeavour than it is possible to mention here, but I will try nonetheless. The most significant part of my journey, and of the writing of this book, took place in Cambridge, and thus, first and foremost, I want to thank Judy Quinn for her support in the shaping of this project, and for her faith in my ability to pull all the various stands into one monstrous whole. Within the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, whose supportive and nurturing community has been so important to me and my research over the years, I particularly want to thank Richard Dance, Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, and Brittany Schorn for their invaluable feedback and assistance. During the time I spent studying, teaching, and conducting research in five countries, I met more fantastic, inspiring, and supportive friends and colleagues than any one person deserves. Many of these people have played a significant part in the writing of this book, by answering my many questions, by engaging in stimulating debates that have proved invaluable to my understanding of medieval Icelandic literature and culture, or by hosting conferences and workshops that inspired new ways of thinking. An especially big thank you goes to Carolyne Larrington, Heide Estes, Emily Lethbridge, and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, for their expert advice and guidance, for conversations on social media and in real life, and for telling me that my work is necessary and valued. I also want to thank Torfi Tulinius for a discussion we had after one of his classes, and which led me to change the focus of my research, and Ármann Jakobsson for the hours spent talking about various kinds of trolls. Finally, to my colleagues at the University of Zurich, with whom I spent less time than I would have liked, particularly to Lena Rohrbach and Ragnheiður Hafstað: thank you! Life would not be the same without my extensive, almost global, network of friends, and ultimately, this is as much your work as it was mine, for you were there when I needed you most. Ryder Patzuk-Russell and James McMullen, who accompanied me on one of the most difficult and triumphant stages of this process: this is all your fault. Andreas Schmidt, Sebastian Thoma, and all the other wonderful Bad Boys and Wicked Women in Munich: I am grateful for everything you have done. Gwendolyne Knight, co-editor extraordinaire, Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir, who gave me one hell of a mock viva and the best celebratory lunch, Sarah Künzler, for the many years and pints and conversations that mean so much, Anna Millward, for being yourself, Lena Moser and the people of the Kochrunde, for welcoming me back, fellow teratologist Arngrímur Vídalín and the people of Gimli, the NECRON network, and all the GrASNaCs: no words can express my gratitude. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-201

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Acknowledgements

My journey has been one of There and Back Again, from Tübingen into the world and back, for now. But this journey would never have led anywhere without a seminar taught by Hendrik Lambertus in the winter of 2008, which first got me interested in Old Norse monsters. And it would not have brought me back without the kind and generous mentorship of Stefanie Gropper, to whom I owe so much gratitude. If more scholars were like you, academia would be a kinder place. Finally, there are a small number of people without whom I would not have been able to finish this monstrous project. The friendship, support, and kindness of Jo Shortt Butler, Maria Teresa Ramandi, and Michi Bremauer have made all the difference. For listening to my many worries, for always and unfailingly being there when I needed you, and for providing much-needed distraction at the right time, I am forever grateful. You mean the world to me! I also want to thank Helen Conrad-O’Briain, without whose encouragement I would never have applied to Cambridge, and whose continued support is invaluable. And, last but by no means least, to my father, Andreas Merkelbach, who has always encouraged me to follow my passion and interest, and who has supported me on this difficult path: thank you. This is for all those whom I have loved and lost. Earlier, shorter versions of parts of chapters three, four, five, and six have been published as “Engi maðr skapar sik sjálfr: Fathers, Abuse and Monstrosity in the Outlaw Sagas.” In Bad Boys and Wicked Women: Antagonists and Troublemakers in Old Norse Literature, edited by Daniela Hahn und Andreas Schmidt, 59–93. Munich: Herbert Utz Verlag, 2016. “‘He has long forfeited all kinship ties’: Monstrosity, Familial Disruption, and the Cultural Relevance of the Outlaw Sagas.” Gripla 28 (2017): 103–37. “Volkes Stimme: Interaktion als Dialog in der Konstruktion sozialer Monstrosität in den Isländersagas.” In Stimme und Performanz in der mittelalterlichen Literatur, edited by Monika Unzeitig, Nine Miedema, and Angela Schrott, 251–75. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017. “Eigi í mannlegu eðli: Shape, Monstrosity and Berserkism in the Íslendingasögur.” In Shapeshifters in Medieval North Atlantic Literatures, edited by Santiago Barreiro and Luciana Cordo Russo, 83–105. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019. “Enchanting the Land: Monstrous Magic, Social Concerns and the Natural World in the Íslendingasögur.” In Social Norms in Medieval Scandinavia, edited by Jakub Morawiec, Aleksandra Jochymek, and Grzegorz Bartusik, 213–27. Kalamazoo: ARC Humanities Press, 2019.

Contents Acknowledgements 1

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Monsters in Context 1 Introduction 1 Sagas and Society: Writing a Past for the Needs of the Present Making a Monster: Terminology, Theory, Methods 6 Hvat er trǫll: The Problem of Terminology 6 Monster Theory Contextualized 10 Towards a Theory of Social Monstrosity 13 Corpus Monstrorum 21 Revenants Reconsidered 31 Hybridity and Transgression 31 Observing (Inter-)Action 34 Individual Revenants 34 Groups of Revenants 39 Effects of Revenancy and the Features of Social Monstrosity Destroying the Undead 44

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Between Hero and Monster – Outlaws 51 “Engi maðr skapar sik sjálfr”: Monsters and Their Families 52 Vertical Relations 53 Horizontal Relations 63 “It scares me to close my eyes”: The Monstrous Outlaw 71 Hybridity and Transgression 72 Contagion 74 Economic Impact 76 What about Gísli? 79 Fóstbrœðra saga: Brothers in Outlawry 82 Cursed and Broken: The Outlaw’s Death 86

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Nature and Nurture – Berserkir Going Berserk 102 Hybridity and Transgression Contagion 106 Economic Impact 109 Rape Culture 110 Fire and Iron: Killing Berserkir

101 103

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Walkers Between Worlds – Practitioners of Magic Black Magic 127 Hybridity and Transgression 128 Contagion 131 Economic Impact 132 Enchanting the Land 135 Sticks and Stones: Executing Magic-Users 140

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The Social Perception of Monstrosity 149 Levels of Perspective: Intra- and Extratextual Perception 149 Public Opinion: Expressing and Performing Perception 152 Changing Opinion and Its Effect on the Social Monster 155 The Voice of the People 156 Individual Voices 160 Influencing Opinion: Curing and Killing the Monster 163 Synthesis: The Fluid Continuum of Social Monstrosity 167

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Reading Monstrosity 175 Familiar Monsters, Monstrous Families: Kinship Tensions in the Outlaw Sagas 176 Who Would Marry a Berserk?: Women, Marriage, and Monstrous Offspring 183 Never Let Go: Revenants, Inheritance, and a Haunting Past 189 Magic, Power, and Agency: Humans and the Natural World 196

Conclusion: Writing a Monstrous Past Abbreviations Bibliography Index

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1 Monsters in Context Introduction Monsters are everywhere in Western culture. From the excessively large, corporeally hybrid animals encountered by Alexander the Great and the cyclops of Homer to the current obsession with vampires and zombies, they have haunted cultural discourse. Embodying sociocultural significance, they point to the contemporary concerns of the times and people that created them. The implications of their existence work towards the stabilization and delimitation of society, marking the boundaries of its geographic, social, and moral existence. But many of the monsters that have influenced the human imagination – from Pliny’s monstrous races that infused learned medieval art and thought, to Frankenstein’s monster and the dualist and mutually dependent Jekyll and Hyde, and ultimately to the undead that haunt contemporary popular culture – are in one way or another human. Through their dual nature, they allow the exploration of the limits of humanness and the human capacity for good and evil. But because they border humanity while still being monstrous, they also have a larger significance for the cultures that produced them. This study focuses on a snapshot of this larger discourse on human monsters and monstrous humanness: the part of the Icelandic imagination of the high and late medieval period that found its expression in the Íslendingasögur. This imagination, I argue, was populated – even haunted – by a variety of monstrous characters. The aim is to offer a reading that accounts for the pervasive interest in a subgroup of those characters that medieval Icelanders themselves termed troll or trǫll: the human, social trolls represented by revenants, by major outlaws, by berserkir, and by practitioners of magic in the Íslendingasögur.1 This genre of saga literature, as has so often been observed, relates the settlement of Iceland and the coming of Christianity from the perspective of an audience several centuries removed from the events and people described, an audience that has potentially witnessed the turbulences of the Sturlungaöld. But they are not solely products of the thirteenth century, for the proposed time of their composition extends into the fifteenth century, and their transmission even further into the modern period, with manuscripts being copied in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is therefore not surprising that ideas, character types, and motifs present in this literature might operate on a continuum rather than as reflected through a breaking point; social structures such as the feuding system have been shown to have had as much currency during the proposed time of composition as they had during the time of action, the so-called https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-001

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Saga Age. But these texts are more than just “bændur flugust á” (farmers at fisticuffs), as Jón Ólafsson put it;2 their English denomination, “family sagas,” tells us more about them than one might realize. For these stories are about families, and about the family and kinship system underlying Icelandic society as a stabilizing force, as the very core of that society. These family sagas, as literary texts, reflect (and reflect on) the time of their composition and, at the very least, the beginnings of their transmission,3 and they address concerns and anxieties of the society and the culture that created them. These concerns do not need to be tied to specific historical moments – they are abiding anxieties that cover both the period of writing and the period of transmission. Independent of specific historical developments, this cultural continuum underlies most, if not all, of the Íslendingasögur. Not solely belonging to either the upheaval of settlement or the conversion period, or indeed the equally turbulent Sturlungaöld, these anxieties are deeply rooted in Icelandic society and their expression seems to have appealed to medieval and modern audiences alike. If the dating of the Íslendingasögur were more stable, if we were more certain about the chronology of saga composition, it would be possible to extrapolate further and delve into specific historical moments. Our uncertainty, however, justifies a wide historical focus such as the one I propose here.4 The question is, however, how we are to get at these enduring historical, social, and cultural anxieties, how we are to tease out insights into the social and cultural concerns of the sagas. This is where monsters and monster theory come into play. According to Cohen, the monster is a culturally specific body that arises at times of crisis in order to be read, in order to allow reflection on and insight into the anxieties and preoccupations of the culture that created it. The Íslendingasögur, however, have not only been characterized as realist,5 but have also been broken down into phases of development according to the number of paranormal elements contained in a given text,6 when, instead, in their “mixed modality,” to borrow Clunies Ross’s term,7 their narratives are just as much concerned with the fantastic as they are with the realist – regardless of their time of composition. The paranormal and the monstrous are presented as inherent to the story-world the sagas depict, not as marvellous or extraordinary – but this does not preclude them from being presented as problematic. Therefore, we have to look for the monstrous as that which borders on both the realist and the fantastic. Modern perspectives on monstrosity, such as the one formulated by Cohen and taken up by other teratologists, as well as perspectives from neighboring fields like Neville’s study of monstrosity in Old English literature, enable us to find a way into thinking about medieval Icelandic monsters. Drawing on the work of these scholars, I define the social monster as a type of character – or as individual examples within a character type in the case of

Introduction

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outlaws – that stands on the border between the natural and the supernatural, that partakes both of the human and the paranormal.8 Additionally, these monsters are socially disruptive and harmful: their presence destabilizes society by infecting others with their monstrosity and by economically disrupting the area they haunt. Due to this doubled impact, society perceives them as a threat of monstrous dimensions, a threat that has to be removed in order for social equilibrium to be restored. This definition encompasses a diverse range of characters: revenants are the clearest example, and therefore my discussion will begin with them. Much has been written about the medieval Icelandic undead, but few if any of these readings have gone beyond attempts to categorize them, which in itself does not lead to an understanding of their function. Looking at their monstrosity, however, and at their place within the story-world might be a first step beyond this focus on categorization. Another kind of social monster we encounter in the Íslendingasögur are berserkir, who, through their destructive temper and their sexual harassment of farmers’ wives and daughters, pose a threat to Icelandic society. Similarly, malevolent practitioners of magic endanger the community because they have a knowledge of and power over the natural world that exceeds that of ordinary humans.9 Most controversially perhaps, a large part of my discussion will focus on the monstrous outlaws Grettir, Gísli, and Hörðr, as well as the sworn brothers Þorgeirr and Þormóðr. While it might be counterintuitive to regard these characters as monstrous, it will be shown that they arguably have at least a potential for monstrosity, and that this potential is fulfilled by them to varying degrees. Because of this ontological ambiguity, they are also the most complex character type under discussion. Thus, if the revenants, outlaws, berserkir, and magic-users of the Íslendingasögur can in fact be read as monsters, it becomes possible to explore through them the concerns and anxieties of the times during which the Íslendingasögur were recorded and transmitted. This look at the underlying cultural anxieties that can be addressed through the social monsters of this genre of saga literature then accounts for their presence in said genre: they gave saga authors and audiences a tool to covertly address pervasive cultural and societal anxieties – anxieties so pressing that they could only be explored and played out in the safe space of the past, through the figure of the monster. At this point it is necessary to anticipate some of the definitions and arguments I will develop over the course of this study because they are essential to my reading. Firstly, when referring to monsters, I refer to those figures who, I argue, exhibit, embody, or express features of monstrosity, or who partake of the monstrous. Secondly, the monstrosity specific to the Íslendingasögur is of a

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social rather than physical nature, and all the characters I discuss are, or were, to some extent human and therefore connected to society. Thirdly, monstrosity and the monstrous are, as I will argue, not fixed concepts, and therefore the characters discussed can be more or less monstrous relative to one another, and some can even move between society and monstrosity, being sometimes more and sometimes less monstrous. Ultimately, what is monstrous for the society within the Íslendingasögur can only be understood when the monster is observed, when its actions and the reactions it provokes are analyzed. This analysis of actions and interactions is the aim of chapters two to five, before I turn to societal reactions in chapter six. The question then arises as to why these characters can be found in so many of the Íslendingasögur. The basic premise of the present study is therefore that these characters were meaningful to the culture and society that produced – composed, disseminated – the sagas, and that this meaning goes beyond their immediate entertainment value or their function in the plots of individual stories. The monster communicates beyond the limits of its own body, or the body of the text that tries to contain it, and therefore, chapter seven will explore a possible answer to the questions of why the Íslendingasögur are a literature concerned with the monstrous, and what these monsters could be used to explore within the wider social context that created them. In the following sections, and as an introduction to this study, I will contextualize the points raised so far, both within the sagas as a literature about the past, as well as within theories of monstrosity, before developing an approach to monstrosity suitable for the study of the Íslendingasögur.

Sagas and Society: Writing a Past for the Needs of the Present The premise of this study – the way it investigates the social concerns underlying the Íslendingasögur – is based on the larger assumption that the sagas tell us more about the time of their composition than about the time of their setting. Already in 1975, Jónas Kristjánsson stated that “[í] stað þess að líta á Íslendingasögur sem heimildir um söguöldina hafa menn í vaxandi mæli farið að líta á þær sem endurspeglun frá umhverfi höfundanna, íslenzku þjóðfélagi á þrettándu og fjórtándu öld” (Instead of looking at the Íslendingasögur as sources for the Saga Age, people have increasingly started to regard them as a reflection of the environment of the authors, the Icelandic society of the thirteenth and fourteenth century).10 Since then, many scholars have based their studies on this assumption that “the society of the sagas represents the society the author was familiar with, that is, his own.”11 However, as set out

Sagas and Society: Writing a Past for the Needs of the Present

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above, rather than tying the Íslendingasögur exclusively to the thirteenth century, I will assume a broader perspective to accommodate some of their early transmission history, and to account for the transhistorical appeal of both the sagas and their monsters. In addition to the assumption that the Íslendingasögur reflect concerns of the time of their composition and dissemination, another notion will become important for my reading: that the sagas, and the Íslendingasögur especially, partake in a more or less conscious agenda of re-imagining and interpreting the past for the needs of the present of those who composed and transmitted them. Thus, underlying saga writing is an agenda of writing a “useful past,” as Diana Whaley terms it,12 but this also opens up the possibility of transposing concerns, anxieties, and conflicts of the writers’ own times onto the past, a past that became a tool for addressing such concerns in a covert fashion. As Torfi Tulinius puts it: “although these texts had been composed for amusement and recreation, nonetheless they deal with problems and concerns endemic to [medieval] Iceland,”13 and it is important to stress that entertainment value and sociocultural usefulness are not irreconcilable. Chris Callow states that “[t]he idea that contemporary ideas permeate historicizing texts is hardly a new one,”14 and in recent years, recognizing and acting on this idea has become increasingly relevant to the study of Old Norse literature. Such analyses have often moved within the related field of memory studies,15 or have focused on the fornaldarsögur as what may be called a “safe genre” set far away from the realities of medieval Iceland and thus perhaps more suited to social reflection and commentary since their greater fictionality permitted “a more direct approach to the problems.”16 However, several Íslendingasögur have been read for information on the society that produced them, so that a basis for a similar reading in the present study has been laid in the field.17 One can therefore argue that the view of the past presented in the Íslendingasögur is “colored” by the problematic present in which they took shape as a literary form.18 The paranormal seems to be a particularly apt mode to reflect on problems within one’s society and culture, a means of speaking what might otherwise be unspeakable. It gives expression to tensions perceived in one’s own culture. The sagas use the paranormal and the monstrous to “represent situations of stress, unresolved tension, uncertainty,”19 thus voicing the “ambiguous retrospective view” of the time that produced them.20 This ambiguous view of stress and uncertainty when regarding the past has mostly been attributed to the fact that, when Icelanders looked back at their past, they saw a society undergoing the change of religious conversion. The conversion seems to have “loomed quite as large and momentous in the minds of thirteenth-century saga writers as

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did the colonization of their country,”21 as witnessed by the fact that it appears as a pivotal point in many sagas. However, the sagas themselves, by focusing on the transitional period around the conversion,22 represent a time of potential conflict and characters that are suspended in this liminal period, which “results in what could be called an ontological uncertainty” about these characters and their circumstances.23 It is this time of uncertainty and anxiety during which the uncertainties and anxieties of the authors’ and audiences’ own time could be played out. For, as Cohen notes, it is at such times of crisis that the monster arises.24 This connection to uncertainty makes the monster a particularly useful tool for the investigation of the social concerns underlying cultural products generally – and the Íslendingasögur, with their focus on a time of crisis, particularly.

Making a Monster: Terminology, Theory, Methods Many studies of monsters begin by tracing the etymology of the word, stating that monstrum is derived from both monere (to warn), and monstrare (to point towards or show). Thus, the monster is that which warns and points towards, a portent, something that signifies.25 In the learned discourse about medieval monstrosity, this etymology had great significance, as medieval scholars “believed that the name of a thing, far from being arbitrary, was the key to its nature.”26 Nowadays, the term is often not clearly defined, referring indiscriminately and sometimes simultaneously to a variety of figures that range from its original application, to creatures of huge size or deformed exterior, extraordinary or unnatural beings or occurrences, to people that appear inhuman because of their actions.27 I will use it exclusively in this last sense, to refer to (former) human beings whose actions against and interactions with society have led them to be perceived as monstrous by this society. While this usage of the word is modern (first appearing in the early sixteenth century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary), its use for certain characters in the Íslendingasögur can be justified, and I will outline my argument in detail in the following section. Essentially, however, I argue that, due to the monsters’ transhistorical nature and the resonances of modern preoccupations with them, they enable us to find a way into the medieval, into all those things considered threatening and subversive, disruptive and haunting.

Hvat er trǫll: The Problem of Terminology Concerns with monstrosity, with that which deviates from a perceived norm and subverts, disrupts, and destroys it, have pervaded cultural discourses. Writers of

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antiquity such as Aristotle or Pliny, and early medieval scholars including Isidore and Augustine, were concerned with the role of monstrosities (abnormal births, monstrous races, marvels, and wonders) in the natural world, or, in the case of Christian authors, in God’s creation. They provide the monster theory on which most learned medieval authors based their definition, depiction, and interpretation of monsters.28 However, while a medieval theory of monstrosity exists, there are several reasons why the views of Pliny, Isidore, and Augustine are not always applicable to the vernacular literatures of northwestern Europe, as Neville demonstrates.29 She argues that the learned authors of late antiquity and the early medieval period only address the monstrosity of composite creatures like the humanoid monstrous races, or monstrous animals like dragons. While the Anglo-Saxons knew these authors, learned views cannot have influenced the Anglo-Saxon view of monstrosity: “Grendel and his mother must surely be considered monsters, but they are also clearly descendants of Adam through Cain and therefore human according to Augustine’s guidelines.”30 The human monsters of the Íslendingasögur, just like Grendel, do not fit Augustine’s view of the monstrous races as non-human creatures.31 Moreover, while Grendel and his mother might conform to Isidore’s view that monsters are marvels and wonders, another Old English monster like “a þyrs lurking in a fen is not in any way unusual”32 – just like revenants, outlaws, berserkir, and magic-users are not unusual in the Íslendingasögur. Even more importantly, however, Neville asserts that it is the social dimension of the Beowulf monsters’ threat that makes them monstrous, rather than their conformity to learned views of monstrosity: “Monsters intrude into and threaten human society. This is important: monsters do not threaten individuals only, but society as a whole.”33 This is a key point that forms part of the conceptualization of social monstrosity formulated below. Therefore, any approach to monstrosity depends strongly on the kind of monster and the context in which it appears. Some non-human monsters could be read with Isidore as marvellous and rare occurrences, as portents that point towards or warn about some future event that will happen within the story-world in which they appear.34 Examples in Icelandic literature are the bergbúi (mountain dweller) in Bergbúa þáttr, who is a marvel to those who perceive him – being called an undr (wonder) by the humans who happen upon him35 – or the monsters encountered in faraway places in the fornaldar- or riddarasögur,36 or the uniped in Eiríks saga rauða.37 That the Íslendingasögur rarely feature such monsters does not mean that they are not interested in monstrosity; it only means that the human monsters of this genre cannot be interpreted in the same way as the monsters of romance or legend.38 Similarly, different textual traditions have to be treated and approached in different ways. The Íslendingasögur operate at the intersection of the Latin-

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learned, continental-chivalric, and “native”-vernacular textual traditions, and all three of these traditions influenced the genre as a whole. However, while it is important to examine these intersections and interrelations, they cannot easily be disentangled. I have therefore chosen to focus on the concept of social monstrosity, and to read it from a secular rather than a religious point of view. The Íslendingasögur are complex narratives that operate on a multitude of levels of meaning, and therefore, no one reading can fully untangle all the strands from which they are woven. However, if all the individual approaches to these multi-layered narratives are taken together, a fuller picture will emerge that a single study could not achieve. As Meulengracht Sørensen notes, “interpretations must be seen as trial approaches, so that it is the sum of these attempts, rather than any single interpretation, which comes closest to the truth.”39 Thus, to read and attempt to understand the monstrosity depicted in the Íslendingasögur, we have to find a new approach to it, and for this I will turn to modern theories of monstrosity. This does not mean that I assume that the writers of the Icelandic sagas or their audiences would have called revenants or magic-users “monsters” and meant the same thing as we do nowadays. They might have used the word troll or trǫll, and the question arises why I do not use this term instead of the more contentious, anachronistic “monster.” However, several scholars have drawn attention to the fact that a troll is not always a troll, or at least that not all trolls are what we think they are.40 Martin Arnold states that the term troll is used to provide a “description for some worrying or abnormal characteristic of a human,”41 explicitly linking the human and the trollish; Ármann Jakobsson lists thirteen types of characters the term encompasses;42 John Lindow explores how the term is applied to all sorts of antisocial, potentially paranormal characters across Scandinavian cultural history.43 There is thus a significant overlap between the characters discussed in this study and those who are referred to as trolls,44 while others are compared to or otherwise linked to them.45 Indeed, the term is used more frequently to describe revenants and magic-users than the mountain-dwelling ogres we have come to understand as denoted by the term.46 Interestingly, troll is not used to describe what a creature is, because trolls can be all sorts of things, but what it does (being antisocial) and what effect these actions have (disruption). According to Ármann, “a troll may be categorized by trollish behavior,”47 but what exactly constitutes such behavior needs to be explored. This behavior-based understanding of the term is similar to the usage of reimleikar (hauntings) and aptrgǫngur (revenants) for the undead: instead of focusing on their nature (which the term draugr might do),48 these terms shift our focus onto their actions and their effects. This observation forms a significant part of my approach and is further explored below.

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Most scholars of monstrosity seem to eventually arrive at a point where they state that there probably is no one definition of “monster.”49 Ultimately, one can only look at the creatures themselves and at their actions and let those speak for themselves. As Hurley notes, “the attempts to understand monsters in the [medieval] period and beyond it are as diverse as the creatures they treat. . . . No singular approach to monsters can encompass the diversity of threats they pose for human culture.”50 Similarly, Lindow concludes by stating that “we cannot truly know trolls. If we could, they would not be trolls.”51 The monster escapes classification, even in medieval Iceland, rendering our concept of trolls a vague one, since it not only refers to non-human “Others,” but also, at times, to ethnic or social “Others,” like blámenn or magic-users.52 Using the term “troll” to refer to the characters under discussion would therefore not provide a precise enough term that facilitates approaching, and possibly answering, the questions of how they are portrayed in the texts, and what cultural significance they might have carried. I would therefore argue that using the term “monster” as well as the monster theory that comes with it as a tool to try and understand characters as diverse as revenants, outlaws, berserkir, and practitioners of magic has clear advantages: it provides me with a term that is readily understandable to a modern audience as denoting socially disruptive figures across the ages. Since, as Cohen observes, the monster always returns,53 “[o]ne of the boundaries that a focus on monstrosity arguably disrupts is that between past and present,”54 opening up the possibility of transhistorical approaches, and enabling the use of modern theory to read a medieval text. Monster theory will therefore be used to get a grasp of a part of the elusive concept of the human “Other” that threatens society in the Íslendingasögur, a concept that will facilitate an understanding of a part of those characters that Icelanders themselves would have referred to as troll. I will therefore use an “etic” approach to come to a new and better understanding of a subgroup of the “emic” concept of troll. So far, studies of monstrosity in the Íslendingasögur have been few and far between. A considerable amount of work has been done on the various types of revenants, and magic-users have been studied in detail.55 Other kinds of human monsters have received less attention, or rather, have not been perceived as monstrous at all. Outlaws, for example, have not generally been considered monsters,56 with the exception of Grettir, whose monstrosity was first explored by Arent and Ciklamini in the late 1960s.57 In her article on the use of monsters in Old Norse literature,58 Hume suggests that “the family sagas’ focus on social conflict suits modern predilection in a way that giants and dragons do not,”59 thus implying that social concerns have been regarded as more important by scholars than monsters. While this is a

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correct assessment of much of the scholarship on the Íslendingasögur, this “modern predilection” has not always been able to do their multi-layered narratives justice. In the following, I will therefore suggest that these two dimensions of the Íslendingasögur – the social and the monstrous – are not mutually exclusive; instead, I will argue that they in fact depend on one another. First, however, it is necessary to take a look at the theoretical concepts that will form the basis of this investigation.60

Monster Theory Contextualized The most comprehensive theory of monstrosity that also attempts to transcend historical boundaries is set out by Cohen in his “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” and therefore, even more than twenty years after the original publication of this seminal work, it can still form the foundation of a new investigation of monstrosity. Cohen’s theses, in addition to work by other scholars in the field of teratology, will therefore also form the basis of my own theory as outlined below. I will first trace some of the observations about monstrosity that most modern scholars seem to have shared before building a theory of social monstrosity on that foundation. The cultural specificity of monstrosity forms a good starting point for an overview of previous teratological work, as it is a central assumption in Cohen’s monster theory: his theses are meant to help us understand “cultures through the monsters they bear.”61 He argues that the monster is “an embodiment of a certain cultural moment,”62 incorporating the fears, desires, and anxieties of that time. “The monstrous body is pure culture,”63 and this enables us to read it, for, as Musharbash notes, “monsters are always bound to specific socio-cultural contexts, and within them, signify the issue that most matters to the people they haunt.”64 Moreover, the monster “inhabits the gap between the time of upheaval that created it and the moment into which it is received,”65 communicating with those who read its significance, mediating its cultural importance across the ages, from one time of crisis during which it arose, to another time at which it regains its being and meaning, serving “as a discourse and a representation of change itself.”66 Monsters, therefore, “must be examined within the intricate matrix of relations (social, cultural, and literary-historical) that create them.”67 Thus, the monster’s culturally specific body enables it to “offer a space where society can safely represent and address anxieties of its time.”68 Monsters become “metaphors for our anxiety,”69 and as a “cultural category” demanding to be read,70 they allow us to understand the concerns, anxieties, and desires of a given society at a given point in time – the time at which the monster arises.

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In order to do this cultural work, however, the monstrous body needs to be transgressive, breaching the barriers of history, returning when needed. Therefore, another concept that has pervaded studies of monstrosity is that of hybridity.71 Vampires and zombies transgress the boundaries of life and death, being both and neither in their undeath.72 The monstrous races and monstrous births of learned antique, medieval, and early modern discourses are “disturbing hybrids whose externally incoherent bodies resist attempts to include them in any systematic structuration.”73 Musharbash argues that, in a culture where there is a distinction between humans and animals, monsters can be either a mix of those two categories, or can transcend either, or can be less than either.74 In addition to human-animal hybrids, this outlook on monstrous hybridity and transgression gives us superhuman figures like giants, or monsters that transcend the limits of animal behavior, like dragons. Zombies could be argued to be subhuman, since – unlike vampires – they have lost most of their humanity along with their cognitive abilities. Thus, monsters are manifold and various, and never easily categorized. Even if we find names for them, because of the way they embody cultural concerns, they will change and return in different form. Because of this hybridity, this “propensity to shift,”75 the monster’s greatest threat is its transgression of boundaries, its disruption of binaries, laws, and norms. Although each individual monster is specific to a cultural moment, the importance of monsters to human culture transcends history. The monster’s hybrid body breaks the laws of nature, combining impossible forms. It threatens humans with monstrous sexuality, cultural or religious deviation – for even the monstrous races are not just physically different but also culturally “Strange”76 – or even with annihilation, with being re-incorporated into the monstrous cannibal. Cohen states that “the monster’s very existence is a rebuke to boundary and enclosure,”77 but this transgressiveness enables us to construct alterity through the monstrous body.78 Such monstrous alterity can then be put to social or ideological use: a cultural, sexual, or political “Other” becomes a monster that, because it is a threat to society, has to be overcome and disposed of. Thus, the monster’s inherent transgressiveness is what makes it culturally useful and meaningful, but this usefulness goes further: by transgressing boundaries, the monster not only challenges existing limitations, but also eventually serves to uphold them. By placing monstrosity at the extremes of culture, sexuality, or geography, human society declares that it is dangerous to explore such extremes: “The monster prevents mobility . . ., delimiting the social spaces through which private bodies may move. To step outside this official geography is to risk attack by some monstrous border patrol or (worse) to become monstrous oneself.”79 This last notion, this contagious quality of the monstrous, is

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one of its most threatening aspects. For, as Nietzsche famously put it, “Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein” (He who fights against monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process. And when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you).80 This means that monstrosity threatens those who come too close to it with infection, making those who deal with it monstrous in their own right.81 Through this threat, the “monster of prohibition,” as Cohen calls it – for not every monster partakes in this quality in equal measure82 – reinforces the boundaries of culture by disrupting them and thereby showing what happens to those who themselves wish to disrupt them: they turn into monsters, only to be cast out and destroyed by the dominant society.83 Closely connected to the monster’s policing of boundaries is its role in the definition of selfhood. In this role, the monster becomes a constitutive category,84 part of the “Other” against which we define ourselves.85 Wright argues that the “Other,” just like the monstrous, has come to be integrally related to notions of representation, in which representation of the other is always linked to representation of self. . . . the “other” is never simply a given . . . . It is never just found or encountered, but is always constructed. Like monstrosity, the “other” represents what is external to the “norms” of self and society, but it is also essential to the construction of the self.86

This does not mean, however, that the categories of “Otherness” and monstrosity can be collapsed into one. In the Íslendingasögur, for example, we encounter other socially disruptive characters apart from those I will argue can be read as monstrous, and who can be referred to as “Other”: the ójafnaðarmenn.87 While these characters upset the social equilibrium, they should not be confused with monstrous figures like revenants or berserkir. This is where the notion of transgression comes in: ójafnaðarmenn do not transgress the boundary of ordinary human experience, they do not cross into the realm of the paranormal.88 Many outlaws, and all revenants, berserkir and magic-users, however, do, and this will be explored in the respective chapters. Lambertus notes that what is “Strange” or “Other” often assumes the function of exploring at a safe distance issues that do not belong near or within the “Self”: “Die wichtigste Ausdrucksform für diesen normüberschreitenden Aspekt des Fremden stellt die Figur des Monsters dar” (The figure of the monster displays the most important form of expression of this norm-transgressing aspect of the “Strange”).89 Thus, while monstrosity and “Otherness” are similar in their importance for the construction and definition of identity and selfhood, monstrosity is only one, and perhaps the most extreme, form of a larger concept of

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“Otherness” and (social) deviation.90 All of these are part of the human construction of identity and reality, and without them, one cannot develop a sense of self.91 Therefore, a large part of teratological study has been devoted to the investigation of the monster’s involvement in identity formation. Cohen’s Of Giants is a prominent example of this trend, examining the role of the giant at the heart of medieval English masculinity, especially in its relation to chivalry, and showing that the monster plays an important role in forming, upholding, and policing boundaries of culture and identity. Since this part of monstrous significance has been examined in detail, however, I will not discuss the way human monsters help construct heteronormative identities in medieval Iceland – although such a study would certainly be worthwhile. Rather, I intend to investigate the social function of the monstrous discourse inherent in the Íslendingasögur, since the monsters we encounter in this literature can be argued to be social monsters.

Towards a Theory of Social Monstrosity Cohen calls his monster theory a “set of breakable postulates,”92 and in the following, I will try to break and reassemble some of them in order to bring together a meaningful method with which to approach the potentially monstrous humans, the social monsters, of the Íslendingasögur. Before trying to arrive at such a theory of social monstrosity, however, it is necessary to formally distinguish between the human, social monsters addressed in this study, and the “learned” monsters of medieval scholarly and theological discourse mentioned above, since not every monster “combines the impossible and the forbidden” in equal measure.93 To do so, it is useful to return to the distinction between the “Strange” and the “Other” touched on above. This idea does not yet seem to have found wide-spread use in English-speaking scholarship, so contextualization might be necessary.94 As noted above, the monstrous is only a subcategory of the “Other,” just as it is also only a sub-category of the “Strange.” If we conceive of the two concepts as expressed in a Venn diagram, then monstrosity is where they overlap, and it is this intersection I will focus on. Kearney states that “there is no otherness so exterior or so unconscious . . . that it cannot be at least minimally interpreted by the self.”95 While this is certainly true of some “Others” whom we recognize as other “Selves” distinct from but not opposed to our own “Self,” there are also “Others” that are irreconcilably different or threatening, that cannot be conceived of within our set of cultural expectations – that are unthinkable and unknowable. This is what in German is called das Fremde, which can be translated as either “the Strange” or “the

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Alien” – I will use the former term.96 Schulz argues that “[d]as ‘Fremde’ lässt sich . . . am besten durch Abgrenzung definieren” (the “Strange” can best be defined through differentiation).97 The clearest opposition to the “Strange” is therefore das Eigene (“the Own”), which turns everything that does not belong to it – that does not belong inside its confines – into the “Strange.”98 Unlike the concepts of “Self” and “Other,” this seems to be a group phenomenon rather than one that can be limited to the individual. It also possesses a spatial dimension that the “Other” lacks: what is outside the space of one’s own conceptualization of the world is “Strange” rather than “Other.”99 The “Other” is therefore something within the confines of one’s expectation of the world that does not conform to the “Self.”100 Thus, a dichotomy between the known and the unknown presents itself, and this is the reason why some scholars of “Strangeness” have conflated the “Strange” with a lack of familiarity (Unvertrautheit).101 This implies, however, that the “Strange” can be overcome if one experiences it. This is misleading, especially in the case of the monstrous “Strange”: if the “Strange” is that which is far away and not part of one’s conceptualization of the world – an example would be dog-headed men or other monstrous races – mere experience does not overcome “Strangeness.” Rather, it demands a dissemination and distribution of the “Strange,” as happens in travel accounts in which the travellers supposedly encountered the monstrous “Strange.” But instead of it then becoming part of the “Own” because it has been encountered, it remains “Strange,” outside of what is otherwise known. Thus, rather than being the unknown, the “Strange” is the marvellous and unknowable.102 It is unthinkably, irredeemably alien and cannot be incorporated fully into our own view of the world. The “Other,” however, can be overcome and (re-)incorporated into the “Self” – even if it is monstrous, as I argue in chapter six. To conceive of the closely related concepts of the “Strange” and the “Other,” it might be helpful to see them as placed along a scale or continuum that eventually merges into the “Self”/“Own.” The more distant in time and/or space something that is not part of the “Self” and/or “Own” is, the further down the scale it will be positioned. Similarly, one could think of the monstrous “Other”/monstrous “Strange” continuum as running parallel to such a spectrum: those belonging to the monstrous races, spatially distant and irredeemably alien to human physicality and culture, are “Strange,” whereas the social and cultural monsters of our own countries and cultures – magic-users, berserkir, even cultural “Others” like Jews in the medieval imagination103 – are “Other.” Some creatures, like revenants, would probably assume a liminal position somewhere between the “Other” and the “Strange.” Revenants are “Strange” in that they are unnatural, unknowable, unthinkable. This becomes clear through the way they

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are presented in the sagas: we never see them directly, only the results of their actions. However, they are also “Other” in that they were once human, and unlike other paranormal or “Strange” phenomena, they are met without a sense of wonder.104 This idea of a spectrum of “Otherness” and “Strangeness,” and ultimately of monstrosity, is central to my reading of the monstrous. For it is important to realize that not all monsters are created equal: while they haunt the cultures that created them, they do not do so in the same way, or to the same extent, and this has to be recognized, both when approaching the human monsters of the Íslendingasögur and when studying monstrosity more generally. By “[t]ransgressing the conventional frontiers separating good from evil, human from inhuman, natural from cultural,”105 the monster becomes a third term that, like the abject,106 threatens to destroy the dichotomy between “Self” and “Other,” subject and object, demanding “a system allowing polyphony,”107 a fluid continuum rather than a fixed category. While previous scholars have occasionally addressed this issue of “degrees of monstrosity,”108 Margrit Shildrick probably stated it most explicitly: In place of a morality of principles and rules that speaks to a clear-cut set of binaries setting out the good and the evil, the self and the other, normal and abnormal, the permissible and the prohibited, I turn away from such normative ethics to embrace instead the ambiguity and unpredictability of an openness towards the monstrous other . . . to contest the binary that opposes the monstrous to the normal.109

This kind of approach has gained more currency in recent years. In papers presented at the 16th International Saga Conference held in Zurich in 2015,110 scholars like Ármann Jakobsson, Arngrímur Vídalín, and Sarah Künzler explored the breaking down of dichotomies and binary oppositions.111 They argued, respectively, that trolls, blámenn – whose name, just like the problematic troll itself, can refer to a variety of beings from a black person to a berserkr – and courtly, as opposed to monstrous, bodies can be placed along a continuum.112 My argument that all monstrosity, even all “Otherness,” should be read as operating on a spectrum of fluid continuity is thus only the logical consequence of previous and prevailing ideas in the field. If, however, we assume that monstrosity is not fixed but fluid, the question of what it depends on emerges: what is it that turns ordinary humans into human monsters? In the past, teratologists have tended to prioritize the monstrous body, the physically abnormal, deformed, and hybrid.113 While it is certainly true that, often, “monstrousness is marked through monstrous bodies,”114 this is not true of all potential monsters. In order to understand all kinds of monstrosity, one needs to consider more than just the corporeality of the monster and its often composite

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nature. One needs to study the monster’s behavior, how it acts within and interacts with society, what effect it has on the people who encounter it.115 This approach is the foundation of the theory of social monstrosity that I will develop in the following. Assuming, therefore, that there is a social monstrosity of actions and social interactions, one has to ask how this fits with the main concepts addressed by previous teratologists, such as hybridity. After all, it is the monster’s composite body that “refuses easy classification,”116 a body that transgresses coherent form and natural order. I argue that a similar transgression – and thus hybridity, for the two are closely connected – can be seen on a social level: Foucault states that “[t]he notion of the monster is essentially a legal notion, in a broad sense, of course, since what defines the monster is the fact that its existence and form is not only a violation of the laws of society but also a violation of the laws of nature.”117 If human beings can be regarded as “social animals,” if it is part of human nature to be members of society, then human, social monsters act both against this natural law as well as against societal laws. Moreover, if one accepts Godelier’s assumption that human beings, “in contrast to other social animals, do not just live in society, [but that] they produce society in order to live,”118 the importance of society for human life and survival becomes even more prominent, and that which disrupts society, social stability, and cohesion by transgressing its laws and norms is rendered monstrous. This double transgression of natural and social laws, according to Foucault’s definition, makes a person monstrous, and this assumes particular importance in medieval Iceland, where law and society – vár lǫg – were almost synonymous.119 What is important to note is that all characters under discussion, in one way or another, exhibit such boundary-crossing tendencies: revenants quite obviously transgress the boundary between life and death; outlaws were once members of society who are cast out because of a crime they committed; berserkir have a violent, antisocial nature; practitioners of magic possess knowledge and power that ordinary human beings have no access to.120 It could be argued that such a transgression of boundaries is made possible by a transgression of the law, as is the case with outlaws. Berserkir and magic-users also overstep laws set out in Grágás,121 but these are rarely as clearly invoked in the episodes in which these characters appear as they are in the outlaw sagas. Even there, however, the focus is not on the legal procedure itself but on the outlaw’s response to its result, and this calls into question Foucault’s assertion that “[t]here is monstrosity only when the confusion comes up against, overturns, or disturbs civil, canon, or religious law.”122 Monstrous characters disrupt the laws of society, but that does not mean that these laws need to be either fixed or overtly referred to within the context of the encounter with the monster. Rather, societal and behavioral norms

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are implied in the texts, and these will be given priority over the laws in Old Norse legal texts such as Grágás or Jónsbók, since the literary sources sometimes ignore or contradict the legal ones.123 An individual’s potential to become monstrous therefore seems to be associated with their ability to access or enter a world different from and outside of that of ordinary human experience, rather than with their transgression of specific laws. Their transgressive behavior, however, does not stop at this potential for hybridity. As I will argue, it is especially the transgression of social boundaries – norms rather than laws – that makes a character monstrous, or in other words, that enables the assignment of monstrous status to a human being. Monsters push humanity to its limits, showing what is and what is not acceptable human behavior.124 That “the monster [is] the manifestation of that which disturbs the social ‘norm,’ or troubles an existing understanding of what is acceptably human,”125 is probably even truer of social monsters – who are closer to human society and more haunting in this closeness. Therefore, disrupting social norms – rather than the norms of embodiment – is what turns a problematic, potentially “Other” human into a monster. This focus on social disruptiveness corresponds with Neville’s work on monstrosity. The central point of Neville’s argument is her statement that “merely being Homo sapiens does not grant human status in Old English texts: human status is conferred on the basis of conformance to social rules.”126 This is clear in the case of Grendel, who, as a descendant of Cain, could be called “human” – and who is referred to as both wer (man)127 and healðegn (hall-thane),128 both obviously human epithets.129 However, as someone who turns so decidedly against other humans that he even engages in cannibalism, and who renders the hall, the symbol of society,130 useless, he is clearly monstrous: “He is a monster . . . because he also breaks those boundaries [of social norms], intrudes into human society, performs acts forbidden by society, and thus threatens society’s very existence.”131 What makes Grendel monstrous is that he oversteps social boundaries: he does not pay wergild for his killings, he disrupts human interaction, he does not acknowledge the power of the local ruler, and so on. Because of these crimes, his potential for humanity, for humanness, is forfeit: he lives outside of the human community and its protection. Many of these considerations are, as I argue in chapter three, also true of Grettir:132 he frequently oversteps social norms, stealing from farmers and occupying land that does not belong to him. This moves him further away from the human society he once belonged to. Neville argues that “[h]uman beings exist only in social places like the hall, where their roles, responsibilities, and relationships to each other are clearly defined.”133 While it is possible to overstate the spatial dimension in the monstrous associations of outlawry – especially in the case of the Íslendingasögur134 – it is arguably

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the breaking of social boundaries, the transgression of norms – and thus the behavioral aspect – that causes monstrous change. Thus, just as with the trollish behavior of trolls, it is the monstrous behavior of monsters that matters in the Íslendingasögur. It is again important to note that these are always acts of social deviation that disrupt and endanger society on a fundamental level: “monsters do not threaten individuals only, but society as a whole.”135 Thus, one has to look out for indications that acts of a societally threatening nature have occured, for they might assist in identifying the social monster.136 Neville draws attention to one such act, namely stealing: being a thief equals being a threat of potentially monstrous dimensions,137 and for that reason she states – concerning the closeness of the thief and the þyrs in the Old English poem “Maxims II”138 – that “the þyrs . . . may merely be another miserable exile, in fact. The thief may be another monster.”139 Rather than non-conformity to the laws of nature, then, it is the social monster’s rejection and/or active transgression of social laws that make them a social hybrid: someone who is (or was) human but has now taken a step outside of the human community. These transgressions of the laws of nature and culture will therefore form the first step of my investigation in the following chapters. Transgression is also intimately related to the various forms of disruption – social, economic, natural, genetic – that monstrosity causes, and this too will be further investigated. It needs to be asked, however, whether the demarcations of inside and outside, nature and culture, civilization and the wild are as clear-cut as has previously been argued. This notion will become particularly important in the discussion of the potential monstrosity of outlaws. It also connects to the conception of monstrosity as a fluid spectrum, and raises the question of what an individual’s status as monster is contingent on in such a model. For if one assumes the existence of degrees of monstrosity, if one considers revenants more monstrous than outlaws, and berserkir and magic-users as not exhibiting the same kind and extent of monstrosity, there must be a further dimension that assigns monstrous status to one character but not to another. Such a dimension would enable the recognition of when a problematic character is socially disruptive to a monstrous degree, rather than being a mere nuisance. Mittman argues that “a monster is not really known through observation; how could it be? How could the viewer distinguish between ‘normally’ terrifying phenomena and abnormally terrifying monstrosity? Rather, I submit, the monster is known through its effect, its impact.”140 Since not all monsters are equally monstrous, since what one culture might consider monstrous could be ordinary for another, and since even within the same culture, different monsters can be monstrous in different ways, the impact a monster has on society

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is what it has to be judged by. It is this impact, this effect of the monster’s interaction with society that will direct this society’s assessment of a potentially monstrous figure. Thus, it emerges that “‘monsters’ are matters of perception”:141 for a saga character to be regarded as monstrous, the society inside the saga has to perceive him or her as such. Perceptions of characters within a saga can change, and saga society’s opinions of a saga character are just as volatile as society’s opinions of politicians or celebrities are nowadays. This explains the varying degrees of monstrosity depending on the kind of potential monster. Revenants, for example, are more firmly at the monstrous end of the spectrum because they are almost universally perceived as threatening and unnatural, whereas berserkir, magic-users, and especially outlaws are closer to ordinary society and therefore more ambiguously human. Moreover, if the perception of one and the same individual in a given saga can change over time, this individual can move along the scale of monstrosity, coming sometimes closer to the monstrous, and sometimes closer to the human. Thus, it emerges that “the line between human beings like Heremod [or Grettir] and monsters like Grendel can be both very fine and transgressible”:142 after all, it can be one killing or one stolen sheep too many that can make a difference in deciding whether a character still seems to be human or has already become associated with the monstrous. The expression of social perception in the sagas and the mechanisms of assigning monstrous status will be explored in detail in chapter six. In this context, it will also emerge that the reactions of different people to the monster as well as their different perceptions of it allow us to catch a glimpse into the varying ways behavior was understood and assessed in medieval Iceland. Thus, high-ranking individuals often perceive the monster differently from the ordinary people whose voice is expressed in public opinion, and their perception has a different impact from the perception of the community. These, then, are the outlines of a theory of social monstrosity applicable to the Íslendingasögur. Social monstrosity is thus defined by the actions and interactions of a person whose paranormal associations and antisocial actions facilitate a transgression into the monstrous, as will be discussed in chapters three to five. In these chapters, I will also investigate the way in which outlaws, berserkir, and magic-users interact with a particular aspect of human and social reality: the family, women, and the natural world, respectively. Prior to this, chapter two will serve as a space for basing the theory of social monstrosity in narrative practice: by applying the theory to unambiguously monstrous revenants, I will arrive at a set of features inherent to social monstrosity. These can then be tested against other, more ambiguous characters in the following chapters in order to determine whether these characters can in fact be read as

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potential monsters. This monstrous potential is fulfilled by these characters to varying degrees through the way in which society responds to their actions, perceiving them as monstrous – as hybrid, transgressive, disruptive. One could ultimately call this a dialogue between the potential monster who (inter-)acts and the society that reacts, and this notion will be explored in chapter six. Monsters always communicate, always bear meaning: “Like a letter on a page, the monster signifies something other than itself,”143 Cohen states. The question therefore arises as to what these social monsters signify within the story-world of the Íslendingasögur as well as within the cultural world of the time during which these texts were composed and disseminated. In their nature as social monsters, as creatures that disrupt society with their presence and their acts, the significance of the issue the monster points to must also be of societal importance: social monsters reflect, reflect on, point towards societal concerns. This may become clearer by looking at an analogy: political concerns found political expressions in the sagas, as has, for example, been argued regarding the interactions of the church and the goðar concerning the legal situation in Iceland in the thirteenth century.144 In much the same way, social or cultural concerns had to find their own expression in the sagas, and the monsters discussed can be said to be both: they are social predators, disrupting social stability and order, but they are also embodiments of cultural anxieties. These social concerns and cultural anxieties cannot necessarily be pinned down to one particular decade or even century, or to one specific historical event. Rather, it is more productive to read the monstrous humans of the Íslendingasögur as mirroring general societal concerns that became projected onto them. Or, as Cohen puts it, “the limitation of an inquiry that mainly concerns itself with the interplay of text with immediate historical event is that it cannot account well for transhistorical phenomena, such as the enduring fascination exerted by monsters.”145 The aim in chapter seven is therefore to address the fundamental concerns underlying the conception of social monstrosity in the Íslendingasögur – concerns regarding the most foundational structures of human life and society that are transhistorically relevant. Therefore, they account for the wide variety of narratives in which monstrous characters appear, as well as the lasting appeal these narratives had across the centuries. The social monsters of the Íslendingasögur are not merely unconscious projections of the repressed, or personifications of taboos.146 The processes that inscribed certain types of characters with monstrosity may well have been unconscious, but their ubiquity in the discourse of saga narratives turns them into more than a mere vehicle of the repressed or the tabooed; to recognize this, it is important to read the monster both in its being and in its signification, in the narrative context in which it appears, and in the cultural context in which it bears meaning.

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Corpus Monstrorum It is because of the ubiquity of potentially monstrous humans in the Íslendingasögur that I limited the scope of the present study to a few key texts; anything else would result in a superficial overview of the monsters encountered in the sagas and would lack the depth of interpretation. The corpus of texts discussed in the following chapters has been selected on the basis of the characters that can be read as monstrous: revenants, major outlaws, berserkir, and magic-users. Thus, the sagas and episodes in which these characters appear will form the basis of the corpus. Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar, Gísla saga Súrssonar, and Harðar saga ok Hólmverja will constitute the foundation of this corpus. Not only are they the three main outlaw sagas, but they also feature a variety of revenants, magic-users, and berserkir. I will also draw on Fóstbrœðra saga, a saga that has rarely been included in discussions of outlawry. Indeed, the outlawry of Þorgeirr and Þormóðr does not follow the exact same patterns as that of the other three outlaw-heroes and is not necessarily the main governing feature of the narrative,147 but, as will become apparent, as characters they share significant features with Grettir, Gísli, and Hörðr. Of course, outlaws appear in many other sagas as well, mostly as minor characters, but these outlaws cannot be considered potentially monstrous. For the most part, they do not seem to disrupt society in the same way major outlaws do, and they also do not cross the boundary into the paranormal. I have also excluded bands of criminals like that of Óspakr in Eyrbyggja saga since they are not actually outlawed, although they cause similar amounts of trouble for the local community as, for example, Hörðr’s outlaw gang. Other sagas that feature a large cast of potentially monstrous characters and paranormal phenomena are Eyrbyggja saga, Vatnsdœla saga, and Laxdœla saga. All three of these texts contain a variety of revenants, berserkir, and magic-users, some of which – like Halli and Leiknir, who also appear in Heiðarvíga saga, or the Hebridean magic-user family of Kotkell – are among the most memorable of their kind. Eyrbyggja saga and Laxdœla saga, along with Grettis saga, will form the basis of my brief discussion of revenants since these sagas contain the most malevolent specimens of the medieval Icelandic undead – Þórólfr bægifótr, VígaHrappr, and Glámr – as well as one of the two examples of group hauntings, the Fróðá hauntings. The other story of a group of revenants is told in the Greenland hauntings in Flóamanna saga. Berserkir appear too frequently in the Íslendingasögur for me to discuss all instances. I will therefore focus on the encounters with “berserk suitors”148 as depicted in Gísla saga and Grettis saga, draw on the examples in Egils saga, Víga-Glúms saga, and Svarfdæla saga, and explore the stories of more

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individuated berserkir told in Vatnsdœla saga and Eyrbyggja saga. Practitioners of magic also appear on numerous occasions. Laxdœla saga’s Hebridean family and the magic-users involved in the fates of the major outlaws will be discussed here, as well as examples from Vatnsdœla and Eyrbyggja saga. It should be noted, however, that since I will focus exclusively on human protagonists who cross the boundaries between human and parahuman, Bárðar saga will not be discussed in detail, as it deals with giants, trolls, and half-trolls rather than with people born as ordinary members of human society. This saga, however, is another example of the Icelanders’ fascination with figures who transgress boundaries of human and potentially monstrous status. Finally, the matter of textual variants needs to be addressed. Due to the literary nature of the proposed analysis, an in-depth discussion of manuscripts, textual transmission, and variant versions transcends the scope of this study. The focus will be on the Íslendingasögur as literary works rather than as textual artifacts, and for this purpose, I base my discussion on stable, fixed texts as they are presented by the Íslenzk fornrit editions. Major variants will be taken into consideration if they are relevant to my discussion of a specific character. This is the case, for example, with Gísla saga and its variant versions, the Halli and Leiknir episode present in both Eyrbyggja and Heiðarvíga saga, and the complicated transmission of Fóstbrœðra saga. The case of Gísla saga might seem particularly problematic since there are instances in which the two main versions deviate significantly from one another.149 Both versions add details to the constructions of the characters that are absent in the other: In the longer S version, Gísli’s relationship with his father Þorbjǫrn is much more complex and problematic than it is in the shorter M version of the saga, and this opens up interesting points of comparison with the other outlaw-heroes. However, the shorter version is interesting for being more explicit on some issues, for example when it comes to the description of Þorgrímr nef and his magic, and preferring one text over the other would imply that such details would have to be ignored. I have therefore chosen to read the two texts side by side, as different performances of the same story. The berserkr episode in Eyrbyggja saga will be given preference because it is more detailed, but the version told in Heiðarvíga saga is interesting for a variety of reasons that add to the understanding of the literary construction of berserkir, and will therefore be explored as well. When considering this corpus of sagas that I have established as the basis of my analysis, it emerges that it consists of sagas from all three “periods” of saga writing (early, “classical,” and “post-classical”), spanning the period from the early thirteenth to possibly the late fourteenth century. This shows that the characters I discuss, as well as the general interest in monstrosity and the paranormal,

Notes

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cannot be confined to one century or one period of saga composition. Instead, the exploration of revenants, outlaws, berserkir, and practitioners of magic appears to have been a concern that pervaded the imagination of saga writers and audiences across Icelandic history. This again underlines the transhistorical nature of those beings who I will, in the following, argue to be monstrous, as well as the transhistorical nature of the social concerns that could then be explored through these socially monstrous characters. It also shows that the engagement with the paranormal, fantastic, and monstrous is not something that can be relegated to the declining taste of late medieval Icelanders, but which instead represents an ongoing interest throughout the centuries. Thus, by looking at a variety of perspectives on and perceptions of these issues, by addressing them from a variety of angles, I hope that this study will not only contribute to the broader understanding of character – monster – construction in the Íslendingasögur, but that it will also mark a first attempt at a transhistorical reading of the social and cultural concerns underlying saga narratives – anxieties and concerns founded in the reality of the times that composed and disseminated these narratives – through the monsters that populate the Íslendingasögur.

Notes 1.

2. 3.

4. 5. 6.

All translations are my own unless otherwise stated. Quotations from the Íslendingasögur are taken from the Íslenzk fornrit (ÍF) with the exception of the S version of Gísla saga (Gísl, ed. Loth). I use the standardized Old Norse-Icelandic spelling of the names of people and places following those editions, except when referring to places in a historical rather than literary context. Where quoting from non-normalized editions, I have normalized the spelling in accordance with the conventions of the ÍF editions. See Byock, Viking Age Iceland, 154. Rather than tracking the relevance of the concerns explored through monstrous figures all the way to the nineteenth or twentieth century, as such a reading would far exceed the scope of the present study, I in some cases explore issues that influenced Icelandic society until the eighteenth century; see chapter seven. For the most part, however, my focus will be on the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries – the period in which the Íslendingasögur arose, and which saw their early dissemination and transmission. See Clunies Ross, Cambridge Introduction, 69–71. For recent perspectives on the dating of the sagas, see Mundal, ed., Dating the Sagas. On the problem of the somewhat dated, one-dimensional approach to the sagas as either realist(ic) or fictional, see Clunies Ross, “Realism and the Fantastic.” See Arnold, Post-Classical Family Saga, esp. 154, and Vésteinn Ólason, “Fantastic Element.” For an overview of scholarship on the “post-classical” sagas as well as a critique of the dating-based approach to them, see Sävborg, “Den ‘efterklassiska’ islänningasagan.”

24

7. 8.

9.

10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

16. 17.

18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28.

29. 30. 31. 32. 33.

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Clunies Ross, “Realism and the Fantastic,” 453. I follow Ármann Jakobsson’s use of this term rather than the more conventional “supernatural,” “since the focus here is fixed upon human experience, and on human society, rather than nature if it is envisioned . . . as all that is distinct from humanity. This term also draws attention to the idea of the norms of human existence.” Troll Inside You, 22. I define the paranormal as that which exceeds ordinary human experience. To avoid the problematic connotations of terms like “witch,” “sorcerer,” and “magician,” I will denote those characters who use magic as “practitioners of magic,” “magic-users,” or simply “practitioners.” See chapter five. Jónas Kristjánsson, Saga Íslands III, 272–73. Andersson and Miller, Law and Literature, 4. Whaley, “Useful Past.” Torfi Tulinius, Matter of the North, 12. Callow, “Reconstructing the Past,” 300. This has for example resulted in a special volume of Scandinavian Studies on “Memory and Remembering,” ed. by Hermann and Mitchell. For an introduction to the study of collective memory in the Íslendingasögur, see Glauser, “Literary Representation.” Torfi Tulinius, Matter of the North, 39. Especially Laxdœla saga, see Njörður Njarðvík, “Laxdœla saga,” Stefanie Würth, “Temporalität der Laxdœla saga,” and Chris Callow, “Reconstructing the Past.” Also Egils saga, see Torfi Tulinius, Matter of the North, especially the chapter on “Interpreting Egils saga.” For his reading of Eg as reflecting on the Sturlung conflicts, see Enigma of Egill; Eyrbyggja saga, on which Torfi Tulinius has published a series of articles, e.g., “Political Echoes.” And Gísla saga, see Foote, “Saga of Gísli,” 130–31, and Heller, “Aron Hjörleifssohn und Gisli Surssohn.” Harris, “Historical Novel,” 215. Clunies Ross, “Realism and the Fantastic,” 453. Harris, “Historical Novel,” 218. Schach, “Reluctant Christian,” 186. Foote, “Historical Studies,” 137. Torfi Tulinius, “Saga as Myth,” 529. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 6. See Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 4; Shildrick, Embodying the Monster, 5; Bildhauer and Mills, “Conceptualising the Monstrous,” 14. Friedman, Monstrous Races, 109–10. OED Online, s.v. “monster, n., adv., and adj.,” Accessed August 25, 2015, http://www. oed.com/view/Entry/121738?rskey=61mXY0&result=1&isAdvanced=false. For a detailed discussion of this type of monstrosity, see Friedman, Monstrous Races. An alternative approach using the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius is Williams, Deformed Discourse. For a concise introduction, see Hurley, “Monsters.” Neville, “Monsters and Criminals.” Ibid., 110. Ibid., 106. Ibid., 111. Ibid., 112.

Notes

34.

35. 36. 37. 38.

39.

40.

41. 42.

43. 44. 45.

46. 47.

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This also draws attention to the importance of the geographical location in which the monster is encountered: far-away locations like Vínland can be inhabited by marvellous creatures, whereas Iceland cannot. Bergb, 450. For a discussion of monsters and strangers in the riddarasögur, see Lambertus, Monströse Helden. Eir, 231; see Simek, “Medieval Icelandic World View,” 190. It would be simplistic to assume that there was only one kind of monstrosity in the medieval period, an era spanning more than one millennium. However, Rudolf Simek, in his recent Monster im Mittelalter, assumes that the only kind of monstrosity is the “learned” variety of the monstrous races, human-animal hybrids, and monstrous births, since these are what the Latin monstra is used to refer to; see Friedmann, Monstrous Races, 108. However, one cannot simply exclude all other types of monstrosity based on the usage of this term; as Bildhauer and Mills note (“Conceptualising the Monstrous,” 6), “no singular discourse of the monstrous can be discerned in this period, and hence there can be no singular conclusions.” Learned literature is not the only textual tradition depicting monsters of various kinds, and it should not be surprising that the Latin term is not used in vernacular texts. Still, no one has doubted the monstrosity of a creature like Grendel, whose descent from Cain is only one feature of his monstrosity. See Tolkien, “The Monsters and the Critics,” 6. Meulengracht Sørensen, “Murder in Marital Bed,” 238. Arngrímur Vídalín recently completed his doctoral thesis on learned approaches to monsters in Old Norse sources, Skuggsjá sjálfsins. Our two analyses thus complement each other. Another recent publication on this topic is Simek, Trolle, in which he falls into the same trap as in his earlier Monster im Mittelalter; see note 38 above. In this volume, he traces the story of trolls from medieval literature to the present day in a similar way as Lindow, Trolls, but without drawing attention to the complex and problematic meanings of the word troll itself. He thus does not adequately differentiate between human and nonhuman trolls. Instead, he draws a distinction between the monstrous and the demonic (largely based on the practice of anthropophagia), which seems less useful in the present context. This leads him to conclude that, according to medieval terminology, trolls cannot be considered monstrous (80), with which I obviously disagree. Arnold, “Cultural History of the Troll,” 112. Ármann Jakobsson, “Trollish Acts,” 52: “a troll may be a giant or mountain-dweller, a witch, an abnormally strong or large or ugly person, an evil spirit, a ghost, a blámaðr, a magical boar, a heathen demi-god, a demon, a brunnmigi or a berserk.” I emphasized the types of trolls discussed in chapters two to five; outlaws fall under the category of “abnormally strong or large or ugly” persons. Lindow, Trolls, esp. 12. Revenants: Sóti, Þórólfr bægifótr; berserkir: Svartr; magic-users: Geirríðr; outlaws: Grettir. Most notably Gísli, through the way he can pass for Helgi Ingjaldsfífl, who is “nær sem troll” (almost like a troll); Gísl, 79; also Hörðr in his connection to Sóti; see chapter three. Several magic-users are compared to trolls or their magic is denoted as trollskapr; see chapter five. Ármann Jakobsson, “Taxonomy of the Non-existent,” 201. Ármann Jakobsson, “Trollish Acts,” 52.

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48. 49. 50. 51. 52.

53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60.

61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69.

1 Monsters in Context

There is no straightforward translation of this term as its meaning shifts across the contexts in which it appears. For a more in-depth exploration, see chapter two below. Asma, On Monsters, 282. Also Mittman, “Impact of Monsters,” 7: “the monster is outside of such definitions” – i.e., it cannot be grasped. Hurley, “Monsters,” 1182. Lindow, Trolls, 143. Despite the recent fierce debates about whether we can still use this term in medieval studies, I will continue to utilize it in the present context. Since my analysis is concerned with how a dominant social majority marginalizes and monstrifies individuals and minority groups based on their behavioral deviation from social norms, the terms “to Other,” “the Other,” and “Otherness” are useful, not least because they are derived from the same headword and are therefore easier to use than variations of “alterity” and “to marginalize.” In the present study, they are not used within the problematic context of (post-)colonial studies to dehumanize the subaltern, but in a context in which both the dominant majority and the marginalized minority belong largely to the same sociocultural and ethnic context. Still, I have chosen to mark all words belonging to the “Self”/“Other” and “Own”/“Strange” categories using quotation marks and capital letters to refer to their constructed nature and thus to indicate them as problematic. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 4–6. Bildhauer and Mills, “Conceptualising the Monstrous,” 5. For references to relevant scholarship, see chapters two and five, respectively. The exception is McLennan’s doctoral thesis, “Monstrosity,” in which he devotes a chapter to the discussion of the monstrosity of outlaws. Arent, “Heroic Pattern”; Ciklamini, “Grettir and Ketill Hængr.” Hume, “From Saga to Romance.” Ibid., 1. Throughout this study, my methodological and theoretical focus will be mainly derived from literary and cultural studies, supplemented by methods from other disciplines in chapter seven. Other readings of the sagas, for example ones that take into consideration folkloristic approaches, could be equally productive, as has been shown, e.g., by Hallfreður Örn Eiríksson in “Íslendingasögur, folksägner och folksagor,” which raises important points about the development of outlaws from potentially monstrous figures like Grettir in the Íslendingasögur to fully paranormal beings in later folktales. A more recent example is Daniel Sävborg and Karen Bek-Pedersen’s volume Folklore in Old Norse, Old Norse in Folklore, which showcases the many ways in which such retrospective methods can be applied by careful readers. However, that one must indeed be careful with such readings and not let oneself be constrained, e.g., by later categorizations, was shown by Ármann Jakobsson, “Taxonomy of the Non-existent.” Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 4. Ibid., 4. Ibid., 4. Musharbash, “Monsters, Anthropology, and Monster Studies,” 12. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 5. Levina and Bui, “Monster Theory in the 21st Century,” 2. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 5. Levina and Bui, “Monster Theory in the 21st Century,” 1. Kearney, Strangers, Gods and Monsters, 117.

Notes

70. 71.

72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88.

89. 90. 91.

92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97. 98. 99.

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Asma, On Monsters, 13. I do not understand hybridity in a post-colonial way as, e.g., Lambertus does, Monströse Helden, 25–28, but in the way that teratology has so far used it to approach the monster as a mixed category. On the hybridity of these creatures, see MacCormack, “Posthuman Teratology,” 304–5, and Asma, On Monsters, 269. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 6. Musharbash, “Monsters, Anthropology, and Monster Studies,” 9. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 5. See Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 116. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 7. Ibid., 7. Ibid., 12. Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse, Aphorism 146. This idea has been explored especially with regard to vampire slayers; see McClelland, Slayers and Their Vampires. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 13. For examples, see Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 16. Bildhauer and Mills, “Conceptualising the Monstrous,” 2. For a historical overview of the philosophical ideas underlying the concepts of “Otherness” and alterity, see Kearney, Strangers, Gods and Monsters, 10–19. Wright, Monstrosity, 17. Similarly, Mittman states that “all ‘monsters’ are our constructions”; “Impact of Monsters,” 1. Literally, “uneven men”. On these characters, see Shortt Butler, “Narrative Structure.” Þórólfr bægifótr is the exception as he is both an ójafnaðarmaðr in life and a revenant after death. However, since the two happen in sequence rather than simultaneously and are separated by his death, my argument still holds. Lambertus, Monströse Helden, 18. On the distinction between the “Strange” and the “Other,” see below. Kearney suggests that the “Other” mostly takes three expressions in cultural history: his titular Strangers, Gods and Monsters, 7. Others (e.g., Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves) have suggested that the “Strange” or the “Other” resides within each of us. For a discussion of this idea and more generally of the philosophical and psychoanalytical concept of “Strangeness,” see Kearney, Strangers, Gods and Monsters, 65–82. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 4. Foucault, Abnormal, 56. For applications of this distinction in the field of Old Norse literary studies, see Lambertus, Monströse Helden, 20–2, and Schulz, Riesen, 231–52. Kearney, Strangers, Gods and Monsters, 81. In so doing, I follow Carolyne Larrington, who has also considered these concepts (personal communication). Schulz, Riesen, 231. Waldenfels, Grundmotive, 20. This can be seen for example in the way the paranormal and monstrous change once a character leaves Scandinavia, or even Iceland (where there are trolls, but no dragons, unipeds, or other exotic creatures), as well as in the way in which it is represented and

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100.

101. 102.

103. 104. 105. 106. 107. 108.

109. 110. 111. 112. 113.

114. 115. 116. 117. 118. 119. 120. 121. 122. 123. 124.

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used differently in different saga genres. Thus, one can find giants and other figures from learned literature in the fornaldarsögur, but they are not necessarily met with a sense of wonder; see Schulz, Riesen, 244–51. Waldenfels, in his Grundmotive, 2, gives the example of the “Strangeness” of another language as opposed to the “Otherness” of different types of wines: the latter belong to the same category in one’s world, just like monstrous humans are still humans and thus part of the “Other,” not the “Strange.” See Huntemann and Rühling, “Fremdheit als Problem und Programm,” 3. See Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions, 22–23: “The marvelous is a central feature then in the whole complex system of representation . . . through which people in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance apprehended . . . the unfamiliar, the alien, the terrible, the desirable, and the hateful.” On the monstrosity of Jews, see Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 8, or Bildhauer, “Blood, Jews and Monsters.” See Sävborg, “Avstånd, gräns och förundran,” 343. Kearney, Strangers, Gods and Monsters, 117. See Kristeva, Powers of Horror. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 7. Asma, On Monsters, 36: “literature . . . reveals a continuum of degrees.” McLennan, “Monstrosity,” 17: “not all monsters represent severe threats to social values and not all behavioral difference in a human could lead to identification with the monstrous. . . . just as there are varying degrees of ‘Otherness,’ there are clearly also varying degrees of monstrosity and, indeed, humanity.” Shildrick, Embodying the Monster, 3. See Preprints, 48, 49, and 177–78. This is similar to the increased understanding of sexuality and gender as fluid and nonbinary that has been entering mainstream culture in recent years. Interestingly, in his recent Troll Inside You, Ármann Jakobsson seems to largely uphold the binary opposition between trolls and non-trolls; see esp. 17–19. Musharbash stated that, probably “more important to anthropology than to monster studies is the question of how to understand the monstrous body,” “Monsters, Anthropology, and Monster Studies,” 8. Still, many scholars of literary, cultural, and cinematic monsters have focused on the depiction the monstrous body; see Wright, Monstrosity, or Shildrick, Embodying the Monster. Musharbash, “Monsters, Anthropology, and Monster Studies,” 11. See Ármann Jakobsson, “Taxonomy of the Non-Existent,” 207. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 6. Foucault, Abnormal, 55–56. Godelier, Mental and Material, 1. See Hastrup, Island of Anthropology, 34. These transgressive tendencies will be discussed in more detail in the following chapters. Grg, §7, 22–23. Foucault, Abnormal, 63; emphasis mine. See Amory, “Medieval Icelandic Outlaw,” 192–93. See Schmid, “Hybride Figur,” 141: “In der Literatur des Mittelalters . . . wird die monströse Gestalt oft zum Anlass genommen, über die Natur des Menschen

Notes

125. 126. 127. 128. 129.

130. 131. 132. 133. 134. 135. 136. 137. 138.

139. 140. 141. 142. 143. 144. 145. 146. 147. 148. 149.

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nachzudenken” (In medieval literature, the monstrous figure provides a reason to contemplate human nature). See also Olsen and Houwen, “Embodiment,” 12: “medieval monsters function, among other things, to explore both the good and the bad limits of human potential and mark thereby the boundaries of what it means to be human.” Wright, Monstrosity, 2. Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 117. Beowulf, l. 105. Ibid., l. 142. He is of course also referred to by a variety of monstrous designations, but it is this ambiguity of his ontological status that makes him an interesting starting point for a discussion of human and social monsters. References to Beowulf are from Klaeber’s Beowulf. See Hume, “Concept of the Hall.” Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 117. On the connection between Grettir and Grendel, see Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, 140–68. Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 119. See Barraclough, “Inside Outlawry,” and the discussion in the introduction to chapter three. Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 112. These markers will be defined in chapter two, and tested against potentially monstrous humans in chapters three to five. See also Andersson, “Thief in Beowulf,” as well as chapters three and five. “Þeof sceal gangan þystrum wederum. Þyrs sceal on fenne gewunian, / ana innan lande” (The thief must go in dark weather. The þyrs [giant] must live in the fen, alone in the land); “Maxims II,” ll. 43–44, in Shippey, Poems of Wisdom and Learning, 78. Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 119. Mittman, “Impact of Monsters,” 6; emphasis original. Asma, On Monsters, 10. Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 118. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 4. See Torfi Tulinius, “Political Echoes.” Cohen, Of Giants, xvi. Cf. Prince, “Dread, Taboo and The Thing,” 119–20. See Ahola, “Outlawry,” 12 and 120–22. See Blaney, “Berserk Suitor.” I critique this term in chapter four. On the versions of Gísla saga, see Lethbridge, “Narrative Variation.”

2 Revenants Reconsidered For the sake of establishing a theory of social monstrosity in the previous chapter, I assumed that outlaws, berserkir, and magic-users can be regarded as monstrous, but this has to be proven rather than stated, read in the texts rather than simply presupposed. Therefore, I will begin with a case study in order to develop the theory of social monstrosity set out above into a set of practical features of monstrosity that can be applied to or tested against different potentially monstrous characters. Revenants are probably the most unambiguously monstrous figures of all potentially monstrous (former) humans we encounter in the Íslendingasögur, and therefore provide an excellent example on which to test some of the hypotheses made above. Thus, the notion of hybridity and transgression will be tested on them first, before moving on to an analysis of the way action and interaction figure in revenant episodes. A close reading of this case study of the monstrous will then provide a useful and usable set of features exhibited by the most malevolent of monsters, the most socially disruptive and monstrously hybrid characters we encounter in the Íslendingasögur: the undead.1 Such features can then operate as markers of socially disruptive actions, allowing them to be tested against the more ambiguously human characters discussed in the following chapters.

Hybridity and Transgression Revenants are the clearest representation of “disturbing hybrids” in medieval Icelandic literature,2 thereby fulfilling one of the most basic criteria of monstrosity: they are undead and thus inherently ambiguous, even liminal, because they transgress the boundary between life and death. Like the vampires and zombies that haunt modern culture, they are corporeal, bringing a physical dimension to their activities that is lacking in other types of the undead such as the ghosts of continental medieval discourses.3 Therefore, “ghost” is not an accurate term to describe them, and I will refer to them as “revenants” or “the undead” throughout.4 They are essentially reanimated corpses, retaining resemblance to the living human beings they once were. They are subversions of the living, clinging to life, sometimes even emerging as the doubles of those who fight them.5 Revenants are un-dead, neither living nor dead, and as such, they inhabit “a gap in the fabric of the known . . . in which everything familiar loses its certainty . . . a space in which the human becomes inhuman.”6 Because of their familiarity – both heimlich and https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-002

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2 Revenants Reconsidered

unheimlich7 – they become monstrous: as Kristeva states, the dead are “[a] sudden emergence of uncanniness, which, familiar as it might have been in opaque and forgotten life, now harries me as radically separate, loathsome.”8 Therefore, in their very existence, they break the laws of nature,9 transgressing the most fundamental boundary of human experience, negating the finality of death – the one certainty there is in human existence. Sayers argues that “the reappearance of revenants among the living is less in violation of natural law . . . than in violation of social and territorial law, a transgression and trespassing.”10 While the social aspect of revenant activity is clearly important and is, as I will show below, highlighted throughout the stories of hauntings, the crossing of the natural law that the dead are, and remain, dead is what makes revenants so problematic, and this is signaled by the extent of the fear they are met with, even if they do not actively threaten the living.11 Moreover, the revenants’ transgression of social boundaries would not be possible if they did not break natural laws first: if they were not undead, they would not be able to disrupt social stability in their harmful interaction with the living. Thus, the transgression of natural laws is a precondition for the monstrous acts of social and territorial transgression discussed in the next section: it is their hybrid nature as beings that are both dead and alive that allows revenants to cause disruption to the society of the living. Their undead state, however, is not the only way in which some revenants violate the laws of nature and show their transgressive potential: as revenants, both Hrappr and Þórólfr do not seem to be bound to one species or state of existence. Hrappr is greedy and jealous of everyone who settles at his farm, to the point that he drives his own son to his death.12 When Þorsteinn later wants to take possession of the land, a mysterious seal with human eyes appears and circles his ship so that it capsizes, and everyone on board drowns. Seals, seamammals who can exist both in water and on land, are ambiguous creatures, belonging to two worlds and frequently crossing the boundary between them. Thus, the seal might be a suitable shape for the equally hybrid undead.13 While it is not entirely clear whether the seal is in fact Hrappr, this can be assumed since its appearance directly correlates with the revenant attaining his goal of having his land to himself. Moreover, later on in the saga when Óláfr pái tries to confront Hrappr, he again betrays his transgressiveness since he “fór þar niðr, sem hann var kominn” (sank down into the earth on the spot),14 only to be found in his cairn the next day. He seems to be able to move within or underneath the earth in a way that is not possible for living human beings, and Óláfr has to catch him during the day – when, much like a modern-day vampire, Hrappr is resting – in

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order to dispatch him. Ultimately, Hrappr seems to reach his goal of retaining control over his possessions since “lǫndin leggjask upp á Hrappsstǫðum” (the land at Hrappsstaðir lay fallow).15 Similarly problematic is the transformation of Þórólfr bægifótr into the monstrous bull Glæsir. A cow that has licked his ashes gives birth to a calf that seems promising at first, but soon reveals its true nature – at least to the old foster mother of the farmer Þóroddr who declares that this calf is a troll,16 and she is proven correct when Glæsir kills his owner. When people pursue the bull, Glæsir jumps into a bog and “sǫkk, svá at hann kom aldri upp síðan” (sank, so that he never came up again).17 Just as with Hrappr, the earth is no limit for Glæsir. Even though it is not entirely clear how this bull is conceived – whether he is Þórólfr reborn or otherwise paranormally conceived through the presence of the strange, dapple-grey bull18 – it appears that he fulfills Þórólfr’s agenda. Þóroddr Þorbrandsson does not only take part in Arnkell Þórólfsson’s attempt at putting an end to Þórólfr’s hauntings, but is also implicated in Arnkell’s death.19 Moreover, there is a direct connection between Þórólfr and Glæsir in the way they are described in the episode. When he is dug up, Þórólfr is “inn trollsligsti at sjá; hann var blár sem hel ok digr sem naut” (most trollish to look at; he was blue as hel and big as a bull),20 introducing both trollishness and bovines into the narrative. Before this point, although his immense heaviness is commented on, Þórólfr is never associated with these characteristics. The revenant and the bull are directly connected, both since the other bovine described as a naut is the dapple-grey bull, and because the only other trollish creature to appear in this episode is Glæsir himself. Therefore, the revenant and the bull are so intimately linked that the boundaries between human and animal, between death, undeath, and life, become blurred. Natural boundaries imposed by different species, or even by the surface of the earth itself, are easily transgressed by the already hybrid and transgressive undead who, to quote Cohen again, “exist in an uncultured state.”21 Their antisociality and disruptiveness contribute to this impression of the revenants’ lack of culture – and their resulting closeness to nature, even if the two are not viewed as binary opposites but positioned on a spectrum.22 This ultimately renders them anti-cultural: unlike the dead, who “make culture,”23 the undead un-make culture because they use their hybridity and transgressiveness to annihilate it, becoming anti-human because they make human life impossible. It is therefore important to turn towards the actions of the undead, and to observe how these play out with respect to the antisociality of the undead and contribute to their socially disruptive monstrosity.

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Observing (Inter-)Action I have already commented on the importance of observing action and interaction when it comes to detecting, analyzing, and interpreting signs of social monstrosity: it is a character’s interaction with society, and ultimately the effects derived from this interaction, that render them monstrous in the eyes of society.24 With saga revenants, however, there is an additional reason why one needs to study their actions in and against society in order to grasp their monstrosity, and this reason is contained in the words used to denote the undead in the Íslendingasögur. As discussed above, rather than calling them draugar, as is conventional in contemporary scholarship,25 the sagas refer to these characters as reimleikar (hauntings), and aptrgǫngur (revenants). These terms tell us less about what revenants are (stiff, dead, wooden things like the draugar of poetry) and more about what they do: they walk again after death and haunt the living. Thus, to understand the impact these creatures have on the social reality of the sagas’ story-world as well as the imagination of medieval Icelanders, we have to observe the way they act against and interact with society.

Individual Revenants Just like monsters more generally, however, not all revenants are created equal, and therefore, individual antagonistic revenants have to be considered separately from, for example, groups of revenants. Such an analysis will reveal important differences in their actions and interactions, which will have wider implications for the other (potentially) monstrous characters discussed in subsequent chapters. To begin, therefore, I will discuss the hauntings of Glámr, Þórólfr bægifótr, and Víga-Hrappr, since these three characters are by far the most threatening of the saga undead.26 The origin of the hauntings of antagonistic revenants is often to be found in the character’s antisociality in life,27 thereby providing a starting point for an analysis of what makes them monstrous after death. Þórólfr, Hrappr, and Glámr are already inherently marginal when they are first introduced. Hrappr is of mixed Scottish and Hebridean descent, and while the latter especially never bodes well,28 Hrappr is doubly problematic since he also behaves antisocially by being “ágangssamr við nábúa sína” (aggressive towards his neighbors),29 and by not engaging in the mechanisms of reciprocation.30 Glámr on the other hand is Swedish, a nationality that, in the Íslendingasögur, is to some extent associated with berserkir,31 and the way he is introduced to the saga as well as his appearance have led to speculation about his relation to werewolves,32 and his paranormal

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origin as a malign force sent against Grettir.33 Þórólfr is not as ethnically “Other” as the other two, but he is introduced as a víkingr mikill (great viking).34 While this in itself is not an issue, it can turn into one if a former viking does not give up his occupation and settle for a peaceful farming life. Þórólfr soon betrays this violent inclination by challenging an old, childless man to a duel over land. In this, the first signs of a selfish greed are visible, which will be amplified when Þórólfr returns to haunt: not satisfied with the land acquired by his mother,35 his only choice is to resort to the violent patterns of behavior he is used to from his viking days. Once he has settled on this new, violently obtained property, he turns out to be “inn mesti ójafnaðarmaðr” (the most inequitable man),36 a disruptive force both in the area and within his own family. This first impression is confirmed when the saga returns to Þórólfr twentytwo chapters later: now that he is growing old, he is becoming an even more disruptive person and ójafnaðarfullr (full of injustice).37 This resembles Hrappr’s depiction at this stage in his life, since he too becomes more problematic with age: “hann gerðisk úrigr viðreignar” (he became increasingly difficult to deal with).38 Glámr does not reach old age, but this is not necessary for him to be an unpleasant person: “hann var ósǫngvinn ok trúlauss, stirfinn ok viðskotaillr; ǫllum var hann hvimleiðr” (he was “unchanting” and without faith, peevish and malignant; he was detested by everyone).39 Already at this point, Glámr – whose booming voice is so attractive to sheep – does not want to participate in the harmonious unison of social and religious activity; later, his monstrous presence is mostly announced through sound when he rides the farmhouse.40 This focus on the noises he makes thus sets Glámr even further apart from the community to which he does not (want to) belong. It seems, therefore, that both marginality as well as a lack of popularity based on disruptive behavior or a choice of non-interaction are prerequisites for turning into a malevolent revenant, and these traits are then amplified in and after death.41 Þórólfr eventually tries to play his apparently peace-loving son Arnkell off against Snorri goði, the region’s most ambitious leader. Arnkell wants to avoid this conflict and does not comply with his father’s demands, and because Þórólfr does not get his way, he dies of anger and frustration; it is as if he implodes.42 Both his malice and avarice are again stressed here: Þórólfr only wants to be reconciled with his son out of greed, and when his son does not want to comply, he gets angry. It is in this mood, with anger, hate, and greed on his mind, that he dies. Þórólfr also refuses to communicate with people on the evening of his death, rejecting ordinary social interaction. It is therefore not surprising that the members of his household are óttafullt (afraid) at the ghastly sight of the dead man staring at them.43 Hrappr on the other hand does communicate, but

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in this he betrays the same antisocial greed we have already observed in Þórólfr’s case: Hrappr wants to be buried in the kitchen doorway so that “‘má ek þá enn vendiligar sjá yfir hýbýli mín’” (“I can then more thoroughly watch over my farm”).44 Hrappr, though originally a foreigner, has become so attached to his land and his possessions that he wants to watch over and control them even after death, not wanting to let go of what he had in life. However, he is not content with only watching, but comes back to exert physical control over what he considers his as well. Glámr’s final interactions, too, are markedly antisocial. He calls for food on a fast day, not only violating, but also openly mocking Christian customs by calling them hindrvitni (superstitions), which reveals his anti-Christian nature. The housewife complies out of fear, but warns him that “‘þér mun illa farask í dag, ef þú tekr þetta illbrigði til’” (“things will go badly for you today, if you go ahead with this evil plan”).45 Glámr leaves and “var heldr gustillr,”46 denoting both a foul mood and a foul breath,47 and perhaps implying that the food he should not have eaten did not agree with him. However, while the other two future revenants die of natural causes and are therefore, in Sayers’s words, “self-generated” revenants,48 Glámr is killed by a meinvættr, a malign creature of some kind, and this sets in motion the “chain of malign supernatural activity” at Forsæludalr in which Grettir is swept up.49 Although the men’s origins, position in society, and deaths are therefore more dissimilar than their personalities, they all result in undeath, hauntings, and disruption of the local community. People soon “urðu varir” (became aware) that Glámr and Þórólfr do not lie quietly,50 and Laxdœla saga states explicitly, “svá illr sem [Hrappr] var viðreignar, þá er hann lifði, þá jók nú miklu við, er hann var dauðr” (as difficult as he was to get along with when he was alive, things got much worse when he was dead).51 In all three texts, the focus from now on rests on the way these hauntings impact the local community, confirming that – at least in the case of revenants – monstrosity is evaluated based on the monster’s effect.52 Eyrbyggja saga shifts the focus first to the shepherd who is Þórólfr’s first victim, then to the animals killed by the revenant’s malign presence, and finally to the perception of the people at the farm: “heyrðu menn úti dunur miklar . . . urðu menn ok þess varir, at opt var riðit skálanum” (people heard a great noise outside . . . people also became aware of the fact that the hall was being ridden).53 Þórólfr himself is not visible, and the narration is kept in the passive voice. Only when another victim, Þórólfr’s widow, is present, does he return: “tók Þórólfr nú at ganga svá víða um dalinn, at hann eyddi alla bœi í dalnum” (Þórólfr now started to roam the valley so widely that he emptied all the farms in the area).54 This continues until “engir menn þorðu at fara ferða sinna, þó at ørendi ætti” (no one dared to go on

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journeys, even though they had errands to run),55 and only Arnkell’s intervention puts a temporary halt to the hauntings. Glámr’s depredations are narrated in a very similar manner: people are driven mad and die because of him, he rides the farm building both day and night, and “[v]arla þorðu menn at fara upp í dalinn, þó at ætti nóg ørendi” (people hardly dared to travel in the valley, although they had sufficient business).56 He, too, kills both farmhands and livestock, and eventually the farmer’s daughter dies. The effect of the hauntings on the local community culminates in the assessment that “[þ]ótti mǫnnum til þess horfask, at eyðask myndi allr Vatnsdalr” (people thought that all of Vatnsdalr would be emptied).57 The revenant is unstoppable, and unlike Þórólfr – who does not cause further harm while Arnkell is alive – Glámr has no allegiance to anyone. He is also a more present revenant than Þórólfr, and passive narration is only employed in the lead-up to the fight with Grettir, where the action unfolds from Grettir’s point of view.58 Because of Hrappr’s locally concentrated hauntings – motivated by a desire to hold on to his property rather than by the apparent will to wreak as much havoc as possible – his depiction deviates from the pattern established by Glámr and Þórólfr. Like them, Hrappr kills farmhands and “gerði mikinn ómaka þeim flestum, er í nánd bjuggu” (caused those who were living in the neighborhood much trouble),59 but the only farm abandoned because of his hauntings is Hrappsstaðir itself. Like Þórólfr, Hrappr is eventually reinterred “þar er sízt væri fjárgangr í nánd eða mannaferðir” (far away from the paths of both cattle and people),60 but as soon as his son Sumarliði takes over the farm, Hrappr returns in full force, causing Sumarliði’s death. The drowning of Þorsteinn and his companions has already been discussed in connection to Hrappr’s hybridity, but it is again important to note that this, too, reflects Hrappr’s greed and reluctance to let go of what he still considers his property – Hrappsstaðir remains auðn (deserted) even at the time of the saga’s composition.61 Hrappr re-emerges when Óláfr pái settles at Hjarðarholt, and only at this point does he appear in front of the audience’s eyes, snatching the spear from Óláfr’s hand and sinking into the earth.62 Thus, the sagas allow us to observe the ways in which revenants impact the living in their hauntings and depredations by putting this societal focus at the center of revenant episodes. From this, several themes emerge that are shared by all three of the malevolent undead. The first of these is certainly that revenants do not simply physically attack the living. While this is part of their disruption, the psychological impact they have on those affected by them is at least as important: the undead not only inspire fear and dread, but also drive people insane. Often, the victims are those who were closest to them in life. Þórólfr, for instance, mostly attacks his widow so that “henni sjálfri helt við vitfirring” (she was at the point of losing her mind),63 and she eventually dies

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because of this. Similarly, Hrappr’s presence affects his son Sumarliði so much that “er hann hafði þar litla hríð búit, þá tók hann œrsl ok dó litlu síðar” (when he had lived there for a little while, he went mad and died shortly afterwards).64 Glámr, always the most destructive of the undead, does not stop at one person but “margir fellu í óvit, ef sá hann, en sumir heldu eigi vitinu” (many fainted, when they saw him, and some lost their wits).65 When he focuses his attention on the farmer’s daughter and kills her,66 the implication is that she, too, dies because of the mental strain the hauntings put on her. Revenants are thus closely connected to insanity; much like modern vampires, they drain their victims of sanity, life, and health, and sometimes even of humanity. Beyond driving people insane or to their deaths, revenants also have a profound impact on the farming life of the people they haunt. Throughout the three episodes, it is clear that what revenants attack most frequently or violently are farmhands and farm animals: Hrappr “deyddi flest hjón sín í aptrgǫngunni” (killed most of his farmhands in his revenancy).67 Þórólfr causes the oxen used to transport his body to go trollriða (troll-ridden), while “allt fé, þat er nær kom dys Þórólfs, œrðisk ok œpði til bana” (all animals that came close to Þórólfr’s cairn went mad and cried themselves to death).68 Of the cattle lost when he kills the shepherd, “fannsk sumr dauðr, en sumr hljóp á fjǫll ok fannsk aldri” (some were found dead, and others ran into the mountains and were never found again).69 After death, Glámr, too, seems to be particularly focused on the animals he himself herded in life. When Þorhallr temporarily abandons his farm, “allt kvikfé þat, sem eptir var, deyddi Glámr” (Glámr killed all the livestock that remained there),70 and people specifically do not dare to go up into the valley “með hest eða hund, því at þat var þegar drepit” (with a horse or a dog because it was killed immediately).71 Thus, emphasis is put on the impact revenants have not just on life in general, but on economic survival and prosperity in particular. Moreover, since Þórólfr, for example, kills not only domestic but also wild animals, it also emerges that revenants are not only anti-cultural – they are also anti-natural. Not only do they affect the interactions between the living, or even between the living and their property, but they also affect the relationship between the living and the natural world they inhabit. Just like the words used to refer to the undead, so too does the depiction of their interaction with the living in the sagas shift the focus away from the action itself to the effect it has on the living, both as individuals and whole communities. Saga narratives only allow their audiences to perceive the undead through the eyes of society: we see shepherds running towards a farm, and the broken body of the cowherd at Þorhallsstaðir. We witness the economic destruction caused by the undead. We hear of people being driven away or out of their wits. But we never see the undead in the flesh, never watch them kill

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people or animals,72 until a hero appears to remove the revenant threat. Even then, however, it is not the monstrous body that is at the center of the narrative’s attention, but rather what the monster does, how he engages the hero and, sometimes, how this encounter affects them. Society and its defenders are the focus of the “ghost stories” of the Íslendingasögur, highlighting the societal significance monstrosity has in this literature.

Groups of Revenants This societal focus emerges perhaps even more strongly when society is faced with a group of revenants, and the Fróðá hauntings in Eyrbyggja saga are especially exemplary of such an occurrence. I will also comment on the Greenland hauntings in Flóamanna saga since they offer an interesting comparison. The differences between the episodes are clear: the events at Fróðá place a clearer emphasis on the wider societal consequences of group hauntings, whereas the isolated location of the Greenland hauntings allows a shift in focus from societal conflict to personal and religious differences. At Fróðá, the hauntings work in three phases of six revenants each, with two of these groups dying of some unexplained illness, and one drowning on a fishing trip. Those who die are all ordinary members of society and are only characterized by antisocial behavior after their deaths. While Flóamanna saga also describes the deaths as occurring in phases, those who die have shown antisocial – and especially anti-Christian – tendencies while alive: on the way to Greenland, Jósteinn and his people oppose Þorgils and his Christianity and want to return to worshipping Þórr. Þorgils makes explicit what severe consequences this would have, referring to anyone who would resort to pagan worship as a guðníðingr (traitor to God) in the saga’s longer version,73 and this very effectively separates the two groups even before they arrive in Greenland. Thus, much like Glámr’s and Hrappr’s foreignness, or indeed Glámr’s own lack of faith, their paganism marks Jósteinn and his group as “Other” from the start. Moreover, the religious tensions that are only hinted at in Eyrbyggja saga74 are explicitly played out in the Greenland hauntings, in which the two groups clash first over their adherence to the old and the new faith, respectively, and then over the differences in behavior that arise from these differences in religion. Significantly, it is the difference in behavior, with Þorgils and his group being quiet and going to bed early while the pagans party late into the night, holding so-called náttleikar (night-games),75 that ultimately leads to the one group haunting and the other being haunted, so that the focus is on action and interaction even here. Interestingly, the connection between revenancy and

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insanity emerges once again in this episode: when one of Jósteinn’s men runs outside following a mysterious knock on the door, “varð hann þegar ærr, en um morguninn deyr hann” (he went mad at once and died in the morning).76 This goes on evening after evening, “at maðr ærist ok kallast sjá hinn hlaupa at sér, er áðr dó” (that a man went mad and said he saw the one run towards him who had died before).77 Nijhoff suggests that the noise the pagan groups make enrages Greenland’s landvættir (land spirits), who then cause them to go mad, and that Þorgils tells his people to be quiet because he knows that these spirits can cause trouble – both as pagan creatures and Christian demons.78 However, whether or not vættir are involved in the madness that causes Jósteinn’s people to die,79 insanity is indeed strongly implicated in the disruptive interaction of the undead. Although the shepherd who dies first in Eyrbyggja saga shows some antagonistic interaction with the living,80 there is no further interaction between these revenants and those who live at Fróðá until the final resolution of the situation. In fact, it is notable that the group of drowned men does not interact with the living: they “tóku einskis manns kveðju” (responded to no one’s greetings),81 and thus deny contact, negating the expectation that their appearance is a good omen. Again, the situation is somewhat different in Flóamanna saga: in keeping with their disruptive behavior in life, the now undead pagan group continues to harass the living. The main victim of their depredations is Þorgils,82 which again highlights the religious opposition between the two groups. While individual revenants are violently disruptive in their interaction with the living, the disruptiveness of groups of revenants is depicted in a somewhat different way. At Fróðá, there is little to no interaction between the living and the undead, and therefore, the shocked reaction of the living cannot be based on interaction in the same way as is the case with the individual revenants discussed above. And while the group of revenants haunting Þorgils in Greenland seems to interact more with the living, Flóamanna saga does not specify their actions in the way observed with individual revenants, only referring to them as “allmiklar aptrgöngur” (the greatest hauntings).83 Additionally, they seem to haunt most often that part of the hut that they had inhabited,84 which localizes their threat to some extent. Thus, quality and quantity of interaction do not seem to be the main issues in the case of group hauntings. This, however, does not mean that the living are not affected by the presence of the undead in both cases. Although the Fróðá revenants do not interact with the living, they still have an effect on them, inspiring a similar kind of fear in the people who live at the farm as Þórólfr does several chapters earlier.85 This shows again that revenants are always monstrous, always invoke fear in those who encounter them, even if interaction is minimal. However, the two groups of revenants interact with one

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another, and there seems to be some hostility between the ones who drowned and the ones who died of sickness. This “Land-Meer-Gegensatz” (land-seaopposition) of the two groups of revenants,86 as Klaus Böldl terms it, is an opposition made explicit both by the fact that they throw mud at each other,87 and by the reaction they evoke in the living: at least at the first encounter, the drowned ones are welcomed, whereas those who died of sickness are feared.88 However, while their behavior is a nuisance, the real problem caused by the two groups of revenants is that they take over the main farm building, driving the living from it. In the process, they create a parallel society of the undead – a subversion of the society of the living that is now excluded from the very space that encapsulates its essence: the hall. The undead occupy the fire, denying its benefits to those who need it for warmth and light, and thus rendering the social space unusable. Therein lies their disruptiveness: while they do not actively attack the living, they make ordinary life impossible for them. A similar motif appears in Flóamanna saga, where the saga states that “ekki mátti Þorgils ok hans menn í burt færast, meðan aptrgöngur váru sem mestar” (Þorgils and his people could not get away while the haunting was at its height).89 Thus, there is no escape for them, no way of saving their lives at a point when their rations are already short and they have a newborn to take care of. This, again, shows how threatening the mere presence of the undead is, even if they do not interact in the same active and violently disruptive ways observed with individual revenants above: they effectively disrupt all processes of survival, be it by taking over the communal space or by keeping those they haunt from reentering society. Ultimately, in both the Fróðá and the Greenland hauntings, a similarity to the behavior of hostile undead can be found: the groups hold on to what they had in life – a community, warmth, and a place to go – without having the right to enjoy these things anymore. At Fróðá, they threaten the living by relegating them to the places the dead themselves should inhabit, while the presence of the undead within the desolation of the Greenlandic wilderness underlines the “sense of man’s insignificance and vulnerability in the face of the hostile topography” as well as the hostile paranormal.90 Thus, the opposition between the two communities – the living and the undead – is emphasized, and the danger the revenants embody made manifest. Eyrbyggja saga especially calls attention to the fact that the undead “coalesce amongst the same fields, woods and houses . . . cohabit[ing] with humans, often comfortably, more often rather uncomfortably.”91 The landscape of the undead is the same landscape as that of the living – monsters and humans exist in the same space. This is also central to Flóamanna saga, where the simultaneity of life and undeath comes to symbolize the simultaneity of the old and new faith

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during the conversion period. Just as much as the past to which this old religion clearly belongs, the undead do not let go of the living. This notion lays the foundation for the exploration of the undead’s sociocultural relevance in chapter seven.

Effects of Revenancy and the Features of Social Monstrosity From these episodes, it is possible to draw some conclusions regarding the nature of the impact the monstrous undead have on the society they haunt, and this might facilitate the development of a set of features of social monstrosity that can be tested against other types of potential monsters we encounter in the Íslendingasögur. The essential question is what determines a revenant’s monstrosity. It has been observed that there are differences between the depiction of individual revenants and groups of the undead, and these consist mostly of the way they interact with the living and the resulting perception of disruptiveness by the local community. Groups of revenants interact less frequently and/ or violently with the living, and this influences the way they are perceived by the living: they are problematic because of their monstrous, undead presence, which negatively affects the living both at Fróðá and in Greenland, but they are not as actively harmful as the three malevolent revenants discussed. These differences in the representation of interactions with individual antagonistic revenants as compared to groups of revenants seem to be a useful taxonomic tool for social monsters more generally: the more a monster interacts with society, the more of an effect it will have on society. Since, as seen in chapter one, monstrous interaction is by definition negative in its effects, more interaction will render a character or creature more monstrous, and less interaction, less effect, will make it seem like less of a threat to society. Thus, based on their impact, and on the way society perceives this impact, monsters vary in the degree to which they fulfill their monstrous potential. This observation will form the starting point of my analysis in the following chapters, and will be explored in more detail and in its own right in chapter six. The impact of the monstrous undead is essentially twofold. One of the patterns of interaction especially malevolent revenants exhibit is that they kill animals and farmhands, drive people insane, empty farms, and keep those that remain in the area from going about their daily business. Thus, they make farming and contact with the rest of the country impossible. Their hauntings leave farms empty and desolate, inhibiting economic growth. When they take over an area, all human life, all social interaction between the living, and thus all that human society stands for, effectively comes to an end. Therefore, the undead

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display the absolute extreme of disruptive behavior we see from human monsters in the Íslendingasögur. They make ordinary life impossible for the people in their vicinity, by confining the living to certain spaces, by forcing them to leave, or quite literally by ending their lives – and dead people cannot work on a farm. This is what Sayers refers to as the “economic dimension of revenant activity,”92 and, apart from the human loss, it is the main effect revenants have on the communities they haunt. This dimension is also present in the way Hrappr and Þórólfr, as well as the Fróðá revenants, want to hold on to what they had in life: as Ármann notes, “[t]he ghost has broken the laws of time and space, which also happens to be the law of economics: he should leave his possessions and land behind, but he refuses to do so.”93 In their undead persistence, they do not want to let go – and thus they effectively do not let the next generation take over. Some cases even exhibit a twofold dimension of economic disruptiveness: the greed of the undead that, especially with Hrappr, is sometimes already present in life, as well as the destruction of everything the living depend on. They thus effectively threaten human society with annihilation: no longer able to economically reproduce itself, no longer able to even uphold ordinary functioning, complete societal collapse is not only possible, but imminent. The other effect of interaction with the revenant is contagion,94 which adds another dimension to the threat of societal destruction posed by the undead. In the context of individual revenants, this is nowhere clearer than in the case of Glámr’s fight with Grettir. From the beginning, an opposition is set up between the hall and what is outside it, between light and dark. Glámr wants to drag Grettir into the space outside, knowing that he will be stronger there, and Grettir tries to resist.95 Together, in their struggle, they break the inside of the hall,96 which assumes symbolic qualities as a metaphor for society as a whole. At last, Glámr drags Grettir outside, foreshadowing Grettir’s eventual move away from humanity.97 Moreover, the revenant’s curse has a direct contagious effect on Grettir: “‘heðan af munu falla til þín sekðir ok vígaferli, en flest ǫll verk þín snúask þér til ógæfu ok hamingjuleysis. Þú munt verða útlægr gǫrr’” (“from now on, outlawry and manslaughter will happen to you, and almost all your actions will turn to ill luck for you. You will be made an outlaw”).98 The visible manifestation of this infection – at least for Grettir – are Glámr’s eyes, which haunt him to his death, making him so afraid of the dark that he is dependent on social interaction. The effects of Glámr’s curse are palpable immediately after Grettir has defeated Glámr, and he reports that “ekki batnat hafa um lyndisbragðit ok sagðisk nú miklu verr stilltr en áðr, ok allar mótgørðir verri þykkja” (his temper had not improved, and said that he was now much less calm than before, and that all offenses seemed much more severe to him).99 Both Grettir’s fear of the dark and his worsened temper will eventually lead him

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to his death. That Glámr has this harmful effect on Grettir is facilitated by his ófagnaðarkraptr (evil force),100 which enables him to speak and therefore to interact with the living to a degree not shown by other revenants of this type. Thus, it is again interaction that determines the level of disruptive impact the monster has on those who encounter it. Glámr, however, is not the only contagious revenant. Þórólfr forces those who die because of him to appear in his undead entourage, and his sveitungar (followers) then cause trouble in their collective haunting.101 Despite being implicated in Þórólfr’s disruption, they do not play any further role in the plot and do not need to be removed after Þórólfr himself has been dealt with. His infectiousness, while certainly problematic from an economic point of view, therefore does not serve an end in itself – as is the case with Glámr’s contagiousness – but might be regarded as introducing the theme of undead contagion to the saga that is explored more fully in the Fróðá hauntings, in which infection and disease are at the center of the narrative. In this case, as well as in the Greenland hauntings of Flóamanna saga, the main feature of the revenants’ disruption is their contagiousness, and only through killing and infecting other farmworkers do they have a negative economic impact on the area.102 The revenants at Fróðá therefore become disruptive in their growing numbers even though the element of interaction is absent, while those in Greenland increase their disruptive potential by making others join their ranks. Thus, revenant activity is always multifaceted, always dependent on an interplay between several dimensions of monstrosity that impact not just each other, but also the perception of a revenant’s monstrosity within a saga’s storyworld. However, the themes of hybridity and the transgression of natural and social laws, of disruptive interaction, of a harmful economic impact, and of monstrous contagion are present to some extent in all depictions of revenancy. I therefore posit that these are useful tools in the investigation of social monstrosity in the Íslendingasögur, features that allow us to gauge if a character is truly monstrous or merely a “‘normally’ terrifying” phenomenon.103

Destroying the Undead Before concluding, I will briefly sketch another pattern of interaction with the undead that will prove useful in the discussion of more ambiguously monstrous characters in the following chapters: the way one disposes of them. This is generally done by destroying the revenant’s body “to eliminate the vehicle for a renascent spirit,”104 and there are several steps involved in this process. The first option is often to bury (or re-bury) the body of a (potential) revenant under

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Destroying the Undead

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a dys (cairn).105 This, however, does not hinder its return. The next step is then to destroy the revenant’s physical integrity completely by beheading it and/or burning its body.106 In doing so, one has to be careful that the ashes are not blown about as is the case with Þórólfr, where such carelessness results in Glæsir’s genesis. The ashes are gathered and buried far away from humans and animals, in the wild, or out at sea.107 It therefore seems that, in order to overcome the revenant, one has to find a way of integrating it fully into the natural world, breaking its body apart and leaving it in places far away from the centers of society. Only through this process of literally incorporating the undead body into the landscape can the revenant be contained. This conforms to the view that, in its monstrosity, it is un-cultured or even anti-cultural, that it therefore moves closer to the natural world, and that only if it becomes part of it can its return be prevented. The only exceptions to this pattern are the Fróðá revenants: in keeping with the episode’s strong focus on societal concerns,108 it is through societal mechanisms that the undead are disposed of. In this episode, it therefore emerges that revenants are “eine Bedrohung von weiteren Dimensionen, der die Gemeinschaft nur durch die Mobilisierung ihrer ordnungsstiftenden . . . Energien begegnen kann” (a threat of wider dimensions, which society can only counteract by mobilizing its stabilizing forces).109 These stabilizing forces are legal – and therefore social – and religious means, and together they put an end to the hauntings, curing the disease of monstrosity that had been spreading at Fróðá. This discussion of the monstrous undead has shown that there are certain key features of monstrosity that can be identified in the Íslendingasögur: in addition to hybridity and transgressiveness, these include a disrupted interaction with and disruptive actions towards society that result in contagion and/or a negative economic impact on the local community. To remove the monstrous threat – and it has to be removed for society to resume normal functioning – the monster has to be destroyed completely by breaking its body and returning it to the land. In the following three chapters, I will explore if, and in what way, other potentially monstrous characters conform to these patterns of disruptive interaction, contagion, and economic impact. The deaths of these characters will be considered as well, since they often allow insights into matters that will become relevant in chapter six, namely the perception of monstrous characters by the community on whose margins they move. Since these characters are all living human beings, however, there are other dimensions to their depredations that will be considered as well: their interaction with their families, with women, and with the natural world, respectively. This discussion will then enable me to look into the concerns and anxieties outlaws, berserkir, revenants, and magic-users – in their monstrosity – may have been used to explore.

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Notes 1.

2. 3.

4.

5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.

The research for this chapter had its beginnings in work towards my unpublished master’s thesis, “Revenants and a Haunted Past.” For the present purposes, it has been extensively rewritten and refocused, putting stronger emphasis on the social aspects of revenancy. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 6. In this regard, see Lecouteux, Gespenster und Wiedergänger, and Schmitt, Ghosts in the Middle Ages. One of the revenants who conforms to this pattern, despite his apparent corporeality, is Þorsteinn Eiríksson. In Eir, 216, where the Christian overtones are stronger than in Grœn, it is clear that Þorsteinn corresponds to the continental image of the undead who return to impart wisdom from beyond the grave, and whose main reason for revenancy relates to their problematic burial. The inappropriateness of calling them either draugar or “ghosts” has also been discussed by Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 284, who stresses the difference between the Icelandic undead and their European counterparts as discussed by Schmitt. In the same article, 296, Ármann confusingly states that “medieval Icelandic ghosts are generally spectres, not revenants,” which contradicts the rest of his argument. In a personal communication, he acknowledged that this is an error. Ármann also mentions that there are ghost-like apparitions in the Íslendingasögur, e.g., those encountered by Guðrún or her granddaughter Herdís; Laxd, 287–88. My analysis will be confined to the corporeal undead. Ármann Jakobsson, “Fearless Vampire Killers,” 311. Cohen, “Undead,” 398. Freud, “Das Unheimliche,” 314–15. Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 2. Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 258. Ibid., 255. Cf. Þórgunna, whose appearance makes everyone hræddir (afraid), although she does not interact with the living; Eb, 144. Similarly, (rarely occurring) non-harmful revenants like Þorsteinn Eiríksson are also met with fear and doubt, as in Grœn, 259, even though their interaction is purely verbal and prophetic. See Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 290. For a similar scene involving transgressive magic-users, see chapter five. Laxd, 69. Laxd, 43. Eb, 171–72. Ibid., 176. See Lindow, Trolls, 28, Phelpstead, “Ecocriticism,” 16, and Eb, 170, n. 6. Eb, 94–5. See also Vésteinn Ólason, “Un/Grateful Dead,” 166. Ibid., 169–70. Cohen, “Undead,” 409. On the problem of conceiving of nature and culture as binary opposites, see the introduction to chapter three. Laqueur, Work of the Dead, 13. This will be explored in chapter seven. See Mittman, “Impact of Monsters,” 6.

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Notes

25.

26.

27. 28.

29. 30. 31.

32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46.

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For a recent discussion of the term in prose and poetry, see Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 284–85. John McKinnell proposed that the draugr is always a revenant, even if the word later comes to be associated with tree-based man-kennings; “On the Word draugr.” These are of course not the only malevolent, destructive revenants encountered in the Íslendingasögur: many more are depicted, especially in situations in which a saga’s hero travels abroad. The haugbúi type, e.g., is mostly encountered in Norway and behaves differently from the Icelandic revenants discussed here, interacting less frequently and/or violently with the living and mostly guarding his treasure. Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 289, refers to them as “watchmen,” counting Víga-Hrappr among them. Hrappr’s activity is more localized than that of Glámr or Þórólfr, but I would argue that, in his ability to shift shape, and since he interacts much more with the living than other mound-dwellers, he has more in common with what Ármann calls the “vampire” type than with typical “watchmen” such as Kárr, Gr, 57–58, or Sóti, Harð, 38–43. An exception to the reduced interaction in haugbúar might be Raknarr in Bárð, 161–68; see Ármann Jakobsson, “History of the Trolls?,” 68. Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 258. Hebrideans in the Íslendingasögur are almost always troublemakers and/or paranormally connoted; examples are Kotkell and his family, Laxd, 95 (see chapter five); Þórgunna in Eb, who sets the Fróðárundur in motion, 137–52; Þjóstólfr, Hallgerðr’s foster father, who kills her husbands, Nj, 29–51. Laxd, 20. Ibid., 19: “vildi ekki bœta þat, er hann misgerði” (he did not want to compensate for the harm he did). Foote states that “the Swedes we meet [in the Íslendingasögur] are typically nasty customers,” and argues for anti-Swedish prejudice among Icelandic authors; “Swedish Image,” 19. Sverrir Jakobsson, however, claims that “[t]hose few instances of Swedish berserks who occur in the family sagas . . . are hardly sufficient to support claims of widespread prejudice against Swedes in Medieval Iceland”; “Strangers,” 144, n. 4. Since not all berserkir are Swedish, one may not be able to argue for “widespread prejudice,” but the Swedish berserkir’s foreignness, just like Glámr’s, is utilized by saga authors and contributes to their monstrous “Otherness”; see chapter seven. Ármann Jakobsson, “Fearless Vampire Killers,” 311. Torfi Tulinius, “Framliðnir feður,” 293–94. Eb, 13. Ibid., 13: “Þórólfi þótti þat lítit búland” (Þórolfr thought the settlement was small). Eb, 14. See Shortt Butler, “Narrative Structure,” 42. Ibid., 81. See Ármann Jakobsson, “Specter of Old Age,” 298. Laxd, 39. Gr, 111. Ibid., 119. Cf. Böldl, Eigi einhamr, 118. Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 250. Eb, 92. Laxd, 39. Gr, 111. Ibid., 111.

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47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58.

59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74.

75. 76. 77. 78. 79.

80. 81. 82. 83. 84.

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See Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 292. Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 251. Ibid., 251. See also chapter three. Eb, 93; Gr, 113. Laxd, 39. See Mittman, “Impact of Monsters,” 6, and chapter one. On the perception and evaluation of monstrous activity, see chapter six. Eb, 93. Ibid., 93. Ibid., 94. Gr, 113. Ibid., 116. Ibid., 119: “heyrði Grettir út dynur miklar; var þá farit upp á húsin,” etc. (Grettir heard a great noise outside; then something went [lit. it was gone] up onto the house); emphasis mine. Laxd, 39. Ibid., 40. Ibid., 19. Ibid., 69. Eb, 93. Laxd, 40. Gr, 113. Ibid., 116. Laxd, 39. Eb, 93. Ibid., 93. Gr, 115. Ibid., 115. See Vésteinn Ólason, “Un/Grateful Dead,” 166. Flóam, 280. The saga notes that “þá var enn lítt af numin forneskjan, þó at menn væri skírðir ok kristnir at kalla” (belief in the old ways had then only decreased a little, although people had been baptized and called themselves Christians); Eb, 148. They also do not properly observe the Advent fast and use the Yule-ale for the funeral of Þóroddr and his men. Flóam, 283. Ibid., 284. Ibid., 284. Nijhoff, Flóamanna Saga, 69. If compared with the Glámr episode in Gr, this is a likely possibility: Glámr is killed by a vættr himself, and he has a strong psychological impact on all of his victims, including Grettir. Eb, 146; he, too, changes his behavior and is therefore considered leikinn (bewitched). Ibid., 148. Flóam, 285: “sóttu mest Þorgils” (they attacked Þorgils the most). Flóam, 285. Flóam, 285. Significantly, in the saga’s longer version, they also cross into the other part of the hall and thus pose a more direct threat to those inhabiting it.

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Notes

85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90. 91. 92. 93. 94. 95.

96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102.

103. 104. 105.

106.

107. 108.

109.

49

See Eb, 146: “af þessu varð fólkit allt óttafullt, sem ván var” (because of this, people became very afraid, as was to be expected). Böldl, Eigi einhamr, 129. Eb, 149. Kjartan Ottósson, Fróðárundur, 95. Flóam, 285. Barraclough, “Sailing the Saga Seas,” 8. Hudson, Ghosts, Landscapes, xiii. Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 249. Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 293–94. Ibid., 294, and Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 247. Gr, 120: “Áttu þeir þá allharða sókn, því at þrællinn ætlaði at koma honum út ór bœnum; en svá illt, sem at eiga var við Glám inni, þá sá Grettir, at þó var verra at fásk við hann úti” (They fought extremely hard because the slave wanted to get him out of the farm building; but as difficult as it was to fight with Glámr inside, Grettir saw that it would be even worse to wrestle with him outside). Ibid., 120: “gengu þá frá stokkarnir, ok allt brotnaði, þat sem fyrir varð” (the benches were torn loose, and everything in their way was broken). This is the topic of chapter three. Gr, 121. Ibid., 122. Ibid., 121. Eb, 94. The economic element is only present in Flóam in so far as the revenants prevent Þorgils and his people from leaving. While this indirectly results in the death of Þorgils’s wife, the economic consequences of revenant activity are definitely not the focus of this episode. This shows that each occurrence of monstrous interaction in the sagas ultimately has to be treated in its own right to allow for the significant degree of variation between individual characters and events. Mittman, “Impact of Monsters,” 6. Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 244. Þórólfr: Eb, 92 and 95; Glámr: Gr, 113; Hrappr: Laxd, 69. The equivalent in Flóam is that all those who die are kasaðir (buried); 285. This term tends to be used for paranormal and/or socially disruptive figures. Beheading is not common; apart from Glámr, it is used, e.g., against the father of Björn, Flóam, 255. On the significance of putting the head between the revenant’s thighs, see Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 292. Laxd, 69; Gr, 122. That this is not the case in Flóam shows again that the focus of the two episodes is generally quite different: violent means are necessary to remove the group of pagan revenants. Böldl, Eigi einhamr, 132.

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3 Between Hero and Monster – Outlaws Due to their frequent appearance in the corpus, countless questions have been asked about outlaw characters.1 The historical reality faced by Icelandic outlaws has been discussed with particular interest, as has the relationship between the laws found in Grágás and the literary representation of outlaws in the Íslendingasögur.2 The outlaw sagas themselves, however, do not show much interest in legal proceedings.3 None of the outlaw-heroes is present at the assembly that sentences them. Rather, Gísli and Grettir gloss over it in a verse, Þorgeirr behaves as if unleashed and kills several people on his way out of the country, and Hörðr moves to Geirshólmr with his family even before the official verdict. Therefore, and because these issues have been the subject of several studies,4 I want to focus on the outlaws’ interactions with (members of) society as they are depicted in the sagas, rather than exploring the legal background of the outlaws in their potential historical context. Thus, in keeping with my (inter-)action-based approach to social monstrosity, the focus will not be on the nature of outlawry, but instead on the actions and interactions of those affected by it. Another approach that pervades previous scholarship concerns the outlaws’ relationship to Icelandic society as reflected in their place in the landscape. Part of this approach, particularly for scholars adopting structuralist perspectives, is the notion that Norse cosmology consisted of the binary opposition between nature and culture, civilization and the wild, or Útgarðr and Miðgarðr.5 Hastrup states that “in Iceland, ‘the social’ was coterminous with ‘the law,’”6 and that therefore, outlaws are not only outside the law, but also outside society and thus become part of the wild.7 They share this “antisocial space”8 with the creatures of folk belief, like landvættir and trolls.9 This has led to the opinion that outlawry in itself, with its banishment into the potentially wild spaces away from human habitation, equates a person with these figures. Miller, for example, states: Outlawry means to deprive one of heim in all its senses, literal and pregnant. Its main style is to deny home and hospitality, to deny culture, the warmth of human habitation. The outlaw is thus the lone-wolf, the woods-stalker, the person who, along with the uncanny creatures of the dead and the monster world, belong utangarðs, outside the pale.10

I would argue, however, that their physical location in itself does not mean that outlaws are monstrous, although it may facilitate such an association. Rather, it is important to recognize that “[w]hile outlaws were no longer members of society, they were still human,”11 so that their exile may result in a movement away from society and towards the monstrous, and this movement https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-003

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finds “diverse expressions” in the sagas.12 Since, as argued in chapter one, I do not consider the social monstrosity depicted in the Íslendingasögur to be a fixed and stable category, I also find it problematic to assume that the landscape would have been understood as operating on the binary of útangarðs and innangarðs.13 Rather, there seems to have been a progression of home, infield and outfield, shielings and pastures, which eventually led into the wilderness of the highlands without as harsh and abrupt a boundary as the structuralist approach suggests.14 Such a progression of spaces complicates the notion that it is simply their physical location and the associations it entails that make an outlaw a troll-like monster.15 McLennan suggests that “outlawry is a factor among a variety of processes that potentially lead to monstrous change.”16 This idea of a process rendering outlaws monstrous merits further development. In the following, I will therefore argue that, rather than their physical location on the edges of society alone, caused by their legal removal from the human community, it is their condition as antisocial, disruptive characters that renders outlaws monstrous. Thus, a sentence to outlawry and the removal from human society that comes with it does not mean that a person turns into a monster: rather, as McLennan suggests, there is a process involved in the evolution of an outlaw into a kind of troll. I will call this the “marginalization process,” a – not necessarily linear – process of moving further away from society over time, and of thereby coming closer to the monstrous, which takes a different course with each outlaw, and which can start before the official sentence to outlawry. Some characters, moreover, never actively turn against society (or only against small parts of it) but still draw closer to the monstrous. Therefore, the behavior of the individual greatly influences the development of this process. I will test the features identified in the previous chapter on the representation of major outlaw characters in the Íslendingasögur in an attempt to see whether they apply to such figures, and if we can thus consider them monsters.17 However, since outlaws – unlike revenants – are still alive, and since the major outlaws tend to be characters of high social status who are integrated into kinship structures, the focus in the first part of this chapter will be on their family relationships. I will end with a discussion of the outlaws’ deaths and an assessment of their potential monstrosity.

“Engi maðr skapar sik sjálfr”: Monsters and Their Families Grettir, Gísli, Hörðr, and the sworn brothers are either members of or closely connected to prominent Icelandic families and thus are not as isolated as one

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may think, even during their outlawry. Moreover, their sagas depict them constantly interacting with members of society, which has led Amory to state that “the medieval Icelandic outlaw had some kind of place within society, and not just outside it.”18 It is therefore important to evaluate their interactions with society, not just on the monstrous level of social disruption that will be addressed below, but also in their relations with the members of society closest to them: their families. One of the main concerns of the Íslendingasögur generally is kinship bonds and struggles, and the outlaw sagas are no exception to this rule. However, the relationships, dependencies, and loyalties, as well as the conflicts and disloyalties, are heightened in the context of outlawry. Having an outlaw in the family subjects all kinship relations to particular strain, as even the closest family members are not supposed to interact with him. But the outlaw does not cease to be a kinsman just because of his sentence: legally, being sentenced to outlawry should cut a person off from all previous ties, but in literary practice, this is not the case. Therefore, these matters assume a special role in the narratives. Additionally, family relationships are among the factors that contribute to the outlaw’s movement away from society; they initiate, or accelerate, the marginalization process that leads an outlaw towards the monstrous. This process begins long before the sentence to outlawry and can contribute to the future outlaw committing the crime that gets him excluded from society. Individual family members, however, might also provide a bond with society that keeps the outlaw close, thus preventing the complete severing of his ties with humanity. It is therefore important to examine family ties and tensions in order to understand how social interaction initiates, continues, or interrupts the process of marginalization over the course of an outlaw’s life. Since a future outlaw’s marginalization can begin in childhood or adolescence, those early years will form the starting point of my discussion.

Vertical Relations The early life of the protagonist plays a role in all four sagas, directing our perspective to the characters’ development and their early relationships and interactions. At this stage, vertical family relationships dominate, as fathers and mothers, and in some cases uncles and foster parents, influence the boys or young men. Examining these formative relationships might resemble present-day attempts at looking into the difficult childhoods of future psychopaths to explain why they turned against society in later life. Such a reading could be criticized for being anachronistic, since contemporary ways of

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conceptualizing psychological development or pathology rely on modern scientific developments. However, the sagas show great interest in the workings of the human mind and especially its reactions to trauma and loss.19 While, as Høyersten notes, “these accounts did not have a theoretical prejudice,”20 or a basis in psychological research, there is “at least a common understanding of such patterns” of psychological processes and mental illness.21 The sagas acutely observe human behavior and interaction, and thus have their share of psychological realism. It is therefore possible to add to the existing canon of psychological readings of the sagas the possibility that the outlaw sagas depict episodic or systematic childhood abuse. I will argue that this is the cause of many of the problems these characters encounter in later life, since experiences of childhood abuse often result in psychological and social problems in adulthood.22 Ármann Jakobsson states that, in the cases of Egill and Grettir, “psychological explanations for their rebelliousness, such as the need to gain the attention of an indifferent father, are hinted at.”23 I will show that there is more than a hint of psychological explanations for Grettir’s childhood rebelliousness, and therefore also for his adult difficulties, and that this is also true of Hörðr. Gísli, on the other hand, offers an interesting comparative perspective because of his saga’s variant versions, while Fóstbrœðra saga imagines adolescence in yet another way. Of all outlaw sagas, Grettis saga has most often invited psychological readings.24 These approaches, however, often do not go far enough in illuminating the reasons for Grettir’s actions, and how these relate to his fate as an outlaw. Carolyne Larrington, for example, states that, while Egill has the worst relationship with his father, “Grettir runs him a close second.”25 This assessment makes it surprising that she calls Grettir indolent, and claims that “Grettir’s rebellions [against his father] are petty and cruel.”26 While the way Grettir treats his father’s animals is cruel, this cannot be explained by simply attributing it to “sadism or pathological cruelty” without looking for a cause,27 and therefore it is necessary to reassess the pettiness of Grettir’s actions. When Grettir is first introduced to the saga, he is described as mjǫk ódæll í uppvexti sínum, fátalaðr ok óþýðr, bellinn bæði í orðum ok tiltekðum. Ekki hafði hann ástríki mikit af Ásmundi, fǫður sínum, en móðir hans unni honum mikit. Grettir Ásmundarson var fríðr maðr sýnum, . . . ekki bráðgǫrr, meðan hann var á barnsaldri.28 (he was very difficult to deal with while he was growing up, taciturn and unfriendly, mischievous in both words and deeds. He did not get much love from his father Ásmundr, but his mother loved him dearly. Grettir Ásmundarson was a handsome man, . . . not precocious when he was a child.)

Unlike other character introductions that present a “finished product,” an adult character, Grettir is introduced as he is í uppvexti sínum. A contrast is invoked

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between the handsome man and the immature boy he is meðan hann var á barnsaldri, showing that there is room for development and improvement both in his character and his physique. The other contrast that is established is that between his unloving father and his caring mother, but a first hint at ambiguity also creeps into the narrative: does Ásmundr not love Grettir because he is ódæll, or is Grettir ódæll because Ásmundr does not love him? This is a question of whether nature or nurture makes a person what they are, and can therefore never be fully resolved.29 Temperament seems to be affected both by genes as well as by one’s environment,30 and it is therefore significant that Grettir’s genealogy in the saga is different from the one in Landnámabók: there, Ǫnundr marries once, not twice as in the saga, and his wife is a descendant of Ketill hœngr.31 Thus, Grettir’s father would be more closely related to the Hrafnistumenn than his mother. The saga therefore denies Ásmundr this genealogy and attributes Grettir’s “giantkiller” background to his maternal family, with Ásdís’s parents both being descended from the Hrafnistumenn32 – and thus to the parent that Grettir gets along with better.33 It could therefore be argued that the saga simply depicts a clash of temperaments between father and son. From the viewpoint of child psychology, however, it is more likely that Grettir’s difficult behavior is a reaction to his father’s emotional distance, as children are very aware of and responsive to the moods and actions of adults.34 This impression is confirmed by Ásmundr’s own problematic relationship with his father: as Robert Cook notes, Ásmundr’s behavior towards Grettir is “inconsistent for a father who was indolent in his own youth,” and who is now “unsympathetic toward a son who balks at lowly tasks.”35 However, an ambiguity inherent in Grettir’s character is introduced here, and it is never fully resolved or clearly stated which comes first: the father’s emotional abuse or the son’s difficult temper. Grettir’s negative perception of the tasks assigned to him as lǫðrmannligt (unmanly)36 potentially leads him to assume that his father is trying to slight him,37 and such assumptions later get him into trouble in his encounters with Auðunn and Skeggi. Added to the fact that “hann var lítill skapdeildarmaðr” (he had little control over his temper),38 this results in Grettir taking his anger out on his father’s farm animals. While, at this point, it is Grettir who is at fault for mutilating and killing the geese, the next failed task paints a different picture of his relationship with his father. Grettir is assigned another lǫðrmannligt task, this time in the hall, a public space,39 so that there are probably people present when Ásmundr verbally abuses Grettir. He accuses him of slen (sloth), calls Grettir mannskræfan (miserable coward), and says “‘[a]ldri er dugr í þér’” (“you’re good for nothing”),40 publicly accusing Grettir of worthlessness and, as Cook notes, “speaking irritably and insultingly to his son, without provocation.”41

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Emotional abuse can be defined as involving both isolated incidents as well as repetitive patterns42 of what psychologists describe as parental behavior, which may vary from neglect, through non-responsive and critical to hostile and controlling behavior, communicating to the child that he has no value, he is not loved or wanted, and that he is only valued as a means to satisfy someone else’s needs and interests.43

This kind of abuse includes “patterns of belittling, blaming, threatening, frightening, discriminating against, or ridiculing,”44 signaling to the child that they are not worthy of a parent’s love and care. This is probably what is meant by Grettir not getting much love from his father: Ásmundr is not only emotionally distant, but also emotionally abusive, as in the scene above. He tells Grettir that he is worthless and despicable, and that he is incapable of fulfilling the only function he is supposed to serve: that of a farm worker.45 Based on this reading, it is not surprising that Grettir looks for ways of getting back at his father, but from his position of inferior power and physical strength, he does this mostly by taking his frustration and anger out on his father’s animals. Only in the back-rubbing incident does he use his chance to physically assault his father. Grettir is a violent, antisocial boy who has little control over his emotions, but this is to be expected from someone who is subjected to emotional and physical abuse:46 Ásmundr does not just verbally insult his son, but also wants to “ljósta Gretti með staf sínum” (hit Grettir with his staff) when Grettir assaults him with the wool comb.47 Thus, Grettir first turns against society in the context of paternal abuse, killing and maiming his father’s farm animals – a severe crime in a society that relies on animals for its survival. The pattern of Grettir’s negative economic impact has been established, and since this plays a major role in the rest of the narrative, as will be shown below, it was necessary to revise prior assumptions about the meaninglessness of Grettir’s actions.48 Another pattern that has been established in his interaction with his father is Grettir’s lack of control, his constant seeking for approval and recognition,49 and his tendency to take everything personally, and these get him into trouble later in life. His encounter with Auðunn at the games exemplifies this tendency: Auðunn throws a ball over Grettir’s head, and he “varð reiðr við þetta, ok þótti Auðunn vilja leika á sik” (became angry at that and thought that Auðunn wanted to make fun of him).50 Insight into Grettir’s thought process reveals that he takes Auðunn’s move as an attempt at humiliating him. Because of his father’s abuse, he is used to such humiliation and therefore more sensitive to it than other people.51 This leads him to react violently because he has never learned to adequately regulate his emotional responses.52 Later, Grettir constantly searches for

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recognition and respect, and ultimately for a place in society. He takes on Glámr to test his strength and be praised for it, and he swims across the fjord for fire in order to be praised by the merchants. These actions, resulting from his “craving for society” and its acceptance,53 lead to his outlawry. Grettir’s tragedy as an outlaw is, as he says, that “‘vera varð ek nǫkkur’” (“I had to be somewhere”),54 but he cannot find a place within society. Socialization of the unruly child has failed because it was attempted through violence. Thus, that “the seeds of adult dysfunction are sown in early childhood stress” has become evident:55 as an adult, Grettir turns against society, as he once turned against his father. Therefore, even though Ásmundr might not have initiated Grettir’s marginalization, he seems to accelerate or intensify it through his abuse. Grettir’s mother Ásdís, on the other hand, provides her son with constant support and shelter – and thus also with a link to society. This does not mean that she is uncritical of her son’s actions: both after Grettir attacks his father and after the flaying of Kengála, she condemns them.56 However, when Grettir is sent abroad without the weapon he asks his father for, she steps up and gives him the ancestral sword of the Vatnsdœlir family, because “‘mér segir svá hugr um, at þú munir þeira við þurfa’” (“my mind tells me that you will need [weapons]”),57 underlining “the importance of [Grettir’s] maternal heritage when the paternal one has been withheld.”58 During Grettir’s outlawry, his mother keeps him close to society by offering him a place to stay, a home, when necessary, and she calls him one of the Vatnsdœlir,59 thereby providing him with a sense of belonging when he is cast out from society.60 She even sacrifices her son Illugi, of whom she says, “‘þykkjumk eigi . . . missa mega’” (“I can’t seem to be able to lose”),61 by sending him to Drangey with Grettir, although she knows that “‘mun ykkarr samdauði tegask’” (“the same death will befall you”).62 After her sons’ deaths, because of her popularity, “allir Miðfirðingar snerusk til liðs með henni” (all the people of Miðfjǫrðr came to her assistance),63 thus providing the force to ensure that Grettir is posthumously reintegrated into society,64 and that his killer is outlawed. Throughout his life and beyond, she is Grettir’s most important link to society and humanity. While it is therefore true for Grettir that, as he states, “‘bezt es barni / . . . móðir’” (“the mother is best for the child”),65 this is not always the case. In Gísla saga, the siblings’ mother does not play a role at all, and in Harðar saga the protagonist’s mother Signý is a destructive force herself. In her introduction, she is described as “skörungr mikill, skjótorð ok skapstór ok harðúðig í öllu” (an outstanding woman, quick-spoken and proud and hard-minded in everything)66 – not an easy person to get along with. Similarly, Hörðr’s father Grímkell is a great chieftain, but also “kallaðr ekki um allt jafnaðarmaðr” (said not to be an equitable man in every respect).67 Thus, when the marriage of these difficult people is

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arranged without Signý’s consent and probably against her will,68 the foundation is laid for the coming conflicts. However, equally important is the displeasure of Signý’s brother Torfi, who also was not asked for advice, and who objects to the match both because Grímkell is “bæði gamall ok harðráðr” (both old and tyrannical),69 and because of financial considerations, and he decides not to attend the wedding, which Grímkell takes badly. Consequently, “gerðist þar nú fátt á milli. Grímkell var stirðlyndr, en Signý var fálát, ok varð fátt um með þeim” (a coolness developed between them. Grimkell was stubborn, and Signý was reserved, and they did not get on well).70 In the context of these tensions, Hörðr is born. Interestingly, even before the saga introduces Hörðr, one already gets a glimpse into his future: through the interpretation of Signý’s dream,71 it is known that “‘ekki er víst, at hann hafi mikit ástríki af flestum frændum sínum’” (“it is not certain that he will have much love from most of his kinsmen”).72 Therefore, the question arises why Hörðr does not get much love from his kinsmen, and just as with Grettir’s temper, the answer seems to lie in his family background. Hörðr is three years old when he is introduced into the saga as snemma mikill vexti ok vænn at áliti, en ekki dáliga bráðgerr fyrst í því, at hann gekk eigi einn sama, þá er hann var þrévetr at aldri; þetta þótti mönnum kynligt ok eigi bráðgerviligt, svá sem hann var frágerðamaðr at öllu öðru.73 (soon big and handsome but not very precocious at first because he could not walk alone when he was three years old; people thought that this was strange and not very promising, as he was remarkable in everything else.)

When Hörðr walks for the first time, he breaks his mother’s favorite necklace. At this, “Signý reiddist mjök ok mælti, ‘Illt varð þín ganga in fyrsta, ok munu hér margar illar eptir fara, ok mun þó verst in síðasta’” (Signý became very angry and said, “Your first walk turned out badly, and many bad ones will follow, but the last one will be the worst”).74 Grímkell overhears those words and he too “reiddist mjök” (became very angry),75 condemns in a verse both the prophecy and the “‘ógóða . . . móður’” (“bad mother”)76 who speaks it, and then has Hörðr taken away. It seems that he projects his anger at his wife onto his son since “[s]vá var Grímkell reiðr orðinn, at hann vildi eigi, at sveinninn væri heima þar” (Grímkell had become so angry that he did not want the boy to be at home there),77 although none of this is Hörðr’s fault. The fragile bond between the parents is easily broken, and the child is made to suffer for it. Not much is needed for the problems between Signý and Torfi on the one hand and Grímkell on the other to escalate: after Signý’s death in childbed, an adult’s anger and frustration are again projected onto a child: “gerði Torfi sik svá reiðan, at hann vildi láta barnit út bera” (Torfi became so angry that he

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wanted to have the child exposed).78 Although the girl is saved by Grímr Signýjarson, Torfi makes further use of her in his attempts to humiliate Grímkell, giving her to the vagrant Sigmundr “til svívirðingar við Grímkel” (to Grímkell’s disgrace).79 Because of this, the girl Þorbjörg is rejected by her father and is fostered by Grímr together with her brother.80 In this saga, therefore, children are utilized by their parents and relatives in their feuds and quarrels, and the constant back and forth between caregivers seems to confuse Hörðr’s sense of attachment.81 While the attachment system mostly influences young children, it has been argued that it “continues to operate and influence behavior across the life span.”82 Adults who did not experience secure attachment in early childhood “may have difficulty getting along with others and be unable to develop a sense of confidence or trust in others.”83 That this is the case with Hörðr can be observed later in the saga: having learned to distrust his relatives, and having been dragged into his father’s dispute with his uncle, he meets his in-laws with suspicion and distrust, and this negatively influences their relationship. Hörðr’s relationship with his father never improves. It seems that, in his disputes with Torfi, Grímkell not only resents his dead wife’s brother, but also fears that there might be something wrong with his son: he states that it would not be to Hörðr’s credit if the saying turned out to be true that “móðurbræðrum yrði menn líkastir” (men turned out to be most like their maternal uncles)84 and accuses Torfi of being eigi einhamr (not of one shape).85 Grímkell therefore does not trust his son. Nor does he take much of an interest in Hörðr’s development, and does not consult him when he betroths Þuríðr to Illugi. The only interaction between them occurs when Hörðr asks Grímkell for capital to go abroad, to which Grímkell responds by accusing Hörðr of ofsi (arrogance) and ágirni (greed).86 This is their last conversation, since Grímkell dies in Hörðr’s absence. Unlike Grettir, Hörðr is therefore never reconciled with his father. The problematic relationship between Grímkell and Torfi does not, however, end with Grímkell’s death. Grímkell ensures that Hörðr is part of their conflict,87 and therefore the struggles between these kinsmen continue, culminating in Torfi’s role in Hörðr’s outlawry. When Hörðr learns that Auðr has involved Torfi in their dispute, he gets angry and kills Auðr with the words, “‘[þ]ú hefir þat illa gert at rægja okkr Torfa saman, ok nú skaltu þess gjalda’” (“You have done badly to set Torfi and me against each other, and now you will pay for it”).88 Torfi’s involvement in Hörðr’s matters therefore directly causes Hörðr to perform the action that results in his outlawry. Torfi is also the one who most strongly condemns Hörðr’s ódæmaverk (unprecedented deed), and who prosecutes the case against him.89

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Thus, Hörðr is another son in conflict with his father, alienated from his birth family and inspired by distrust in his kinsmen, and this distrust forms a thread throughout the rest of the saga; his own family leads Hörðr away from society. The marginalization process that receives further fuel from Hörðr’s conflicts with his horizontal relatives is initiated through his troubled relationship with his vertical kin, through the split between his parents and the ongoing conflict with his uncle. Harðar saga, however, is not the only text to depict such a familial impasse. Gísla saga is even more concerned with the destructive role family relationships can play in a person’s life, in this case by taking a young man’s perception of family honor to extremes. While Gísli’s concern with both his own and his family’s honor is indubitable, few scholars have questioned the reasons for this obsession. This might be due to scholarship’s focus on the shorter (M) version of the saga. However, if one considers the longer (S) version instead, Gísli’s background and therefore the motivation for his actions might become clearer. And again, they are the result of a father-son conflict.90 One of the most significant differences between the shorter and the longer version of the saga is the fact that, in the longer one, Gísli himself does not seem to have a problem with Þórdís’s suitor – called Kolbeinn in this version – visiting the farm. Their father Þorbjǫrn, however, seems to be so displeased with the potential damage these visits might cause the family’s honor that he resorts to goading: Þá tekr Þorbjǫrn til orða, “. . . meylig hefir orðit tiltekjan þín . . . . Nú er þat mikit at vita á gamalaldri at eiga þá sonu, er eigi þykkir meiri karlmennska yfir, enn þar sé konur aðrar.” . . . Nennir Gísli nú eigi lengr at heyra á hrakyrði hans ok gengr fram.91 (Þorbjǫrn then said, “. . . Your behavior has become girlish . . . . It is important to know in one’s old age that one has the kind of sons who do not seem to be more manly than women.” . . . Gísli could not stand to listen to his foul language any longer and left.)

It is only after this incitement and several attempts at talking to Kolbeinn that “Gísli brá sverði ok hjó til hans, ok vannsk Kolbeini þat at fullu” (Gísli drew his sword and struck at him, and this was absolutely enough for Kolbeinn).92 Gísli had earlier told Kolbeinn that “‘ek mun þat mest virða í þrautina, sem vili fǫður míns er’” (“I will honor that most in a difficult situation, which is my father’s will”),93 and this is where the key to both this episode as well as Gísli’s later struggles with his obligations to honor and family ties seems to lie: Gísli has become only too aware of his father’s sense of honor; he knows that his father’s will would be to avenge Vésteinn’s death. This makes Þorbjǫrn’s paternal influence almost as disruptive as Ásmundr’s. Gísli is only good enough for his father – and he does earn Þorbjǫrn’s approval94 – when he does what

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Þorbjǫrn wants. Þorbjǫrn’s disruptive influence, therefore, first causes Gísli to behave in a way that has been described as “stark” or “uncompromising.”95 This paternal influence is later depicted at two key points in the saga: first, when the family decides to leave Norway, and later, during Gísli’s last stand. On both occasions, Gísli speaks verses in which he overtly refers to his father’s influence on his life, first attributing future problems to his father by saying, “‘faðir minn, af þraut þinni / stofnast styrjar efni’” (“trouble will arise from this, my father, because of your struggle”),96 and later crediting Þorbjǫrn with Gísli’s heroic deeds: “‘þá gaf sinum sveini / sverðs minn faðir herðu’” (“my father gave hardness to his boy’s sword”).97 These verses seem to provide a frame for Gísli’s life, as the first and the last verses he speaks show the immense impact Þorbjǫrn had on “his boy,” as Gísli calls himself in the end. While kennings and syntactical inversions are frequently employed in the poetry attributed to Gísli, such linguistic stumbling blocks are conspicuously absent in either set of lines, getting the message across in a manner that is strikingly clear and concise for skaldic poetry. In these verses, Gísli therefore overtly refers to his father as the driving force behind his actions until his dying day. One episode of emotional abuse is significant enough to have a lasting and damaging effect on Gísli’s psyche, since it results in what is probably his first killing – which, as Poilvez argues, is a key point in any (future) outlaw’s life.98 Ultimately, the impression of Gísli’s character and family background created in the S version of the saga is completely different from the honor-driven daddy’s boy of M. In the S version, Gísli emerges as a more balanced and complex character whose background, just like that of the other future outlaws, reveals a problematic relationship with his father. Meulengracht Sørensen argues that these variant readings are different interpretations of the same material: “M emphasizes more than S the difference in character between the two brothers, while S demonstrates more clearly than M the moral conflict into which Gísli is forced by external circumstances.”99 These external circumstances are the pressure Þorbjǫrn puts on his son – and this pressure stays with him for the rest of his life, introducing the conflicts with his siblings and in-laws that in turn lead to his outlawry and death.100 This would also explain why Gísli refers to his father in his last stanza: Þorbjǫrn has indeed hardened Gísli’s sword by giving him reason to kill at least once, and by instilling in him a focus on his kin’s honor that, like a sword, cuts through his family. Contrasting Gísla and Fóstbrœðra saga, Theodore Andersson states that “[a] palpable difference between the two sagas is that one is quite devoid of family attachments whereas the other is organized precisely around family interactions.”101 In the context of these stories of abuse and neglect, the sworn brothers seem indeed to be the exception to the rule: they do not appear to

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suffer any abuse from their fathers. However, family attachments are defined differently in this saga – where fictive brotherhood comes to replace blood or affinal kinship ties – and even here, negative paternal influence can be seen at work. Shortly after the two young men have been introduced, the saga states, Uppgangr þeira gerðisk brátt mikill; fara þeir víða um heruð ok váru eigi vinsælir, tǫlðu margir þá ekki vera jafnaðarmenn. Hǫfðu þeir hald ok traust hjá feðrum sínum, sem ván var at; virðu margir menn sem þeir heldi þá til rangs.102 (Their fame rose quickly; they roamed widely in the district and were not popular, many said that they were not equitable men. They had the support and trust of their fathers, as was to be expected; many people assumed that they were encouraging them to do wrong.)

Thus, a direct connection between their disruptiveness and their fathers’ negative influence is established, and this influence emerges as the root of the sworn brothers’ later antisocial and disruptive behavior. Moreover, Þorgeirr’s first killing, and the one that starts his career of violence, is committed as retribution for his father’s death, and he is praised highly for it by his mother.103 Þormóðr’s father seems to be wiser and more moderate than his son and actually helps him when he is in trouble;104 accordingly, Þormóðr appears to be more moderate than Þorgeirr. However, Bersi still does not manage to socialize his son; Þormóðr’s antisocial tendencies cannot be contained at home. Instead, “Þormóði þótti jafnan daufligt, er hann var heima með feðr sínum” (Þormóðr always found it boring at home with his father),105 and this leads to further trouble with his two lovers. While Hávarr and Bersi are therefore not abusive or negligent towards their sons, they either encourage their antisocial deeds, or at least do not actively discourage them. They do not provide a socially beneficial alternative to the roaming and raiding of the sworn brothers, and thus the foundation for their later disruptive behavior is laid. Therefore, the overall impression arises that all fathers and some mothers have an overwhelmingly negative influence on their future outlaw sons. Ásmundr’s abusive behavior towards Grettir seems to initiate, or at least compound, the lack of control Grettir has over his temper. While this does not excuse Grettir’s behavior in later life, it might provide a reason for it: his violent temper makes him appear more monstrous, as I will explore below, but the fact that this issue probably stems from his problematic interactions with his father humanizes him simultaneously. A similar point can be made about Gísli: his adherence to the heroic code of family honor becomes more understandable – and therefore less uncompromising – when it is given a background. Similarly, Hörðr’s childhood in a broken family allows an understanding of his difficult relationships with his in-laws, while the fact that the sworn brothers are egged on not just by each other but also by their fathers complicates the

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entangledness of interpersonal relationships. To take this further, I will now turn to horizontal kinship ties to investigate how they impact the outlaw’s movement towards or away from monstrosity.

Horizontal Relations Scholars such as Clunies Ross106 and Larrington107 have argued that the Íslendingasögur are largely based around genealogical structures – i.e., that intergenerational kin relationships are the governing feature of both family and narrative patterns in this genre. While vertical relationships are an important feature of saga narratives, one should not dismiss the significance of horizontal, intragenerational kinship structures. In the outlaw sagas, parents, and especially fathers, initiate the action by setting the marginalization process of the outlaw in motion. Once they are “out of the saga,” however, lateral relationships take over. These structures of siblinghood – blood, affinal, fictive – and marriage then guide us through the narratives and keep the marginalization of the outlaw moving in one direction or another. Drawing on Juliet Mitchell’s Siblings, Larrington notes that “the persistence of [often ambivalent sibling] relationships into adulthood” is an integral part of a person’s familial bonding experience, and that the experience of this sibling bond is projected onto “spouses, affines, and peers.”108 This first and most important horizontal relationship will therefore be the starting point of this investigation, but since affinal and fictive bonds assume an in many cases equally important role in the sagas, they will be explored in this context as well. The outlaw saga perhaps most concerned with sibling relations is Gísla saga.109 Gísli, Þorkell, and Þórdís found a network of friendships and alliances, marrying into established Icelandic families, and it is within this network that the tragedy of Gísla saga unfolds, within “a claustrophobic web of marital and sibling relationships, an inward-looking, over-bonded social group.”110 This over-bonding of homosocial ties – and the resulting conflict of loyalties – emerges early on, when Gísli tries to avert Gestr Oddleifsson’s prophecy by making the four in-laws swear the ultimately fateful oath of brotherhood.111 The similarly claustrophobically close proximity of the two farms Hóll and Sæból seems to compound these fractures that already emerge after the failed oath of “unsworn brotherhood,” to borrow Keens’s term.112 As Larrington notes, there is in medieval literature a perception of the “danger that married couples living at close quarters with their siblings will escalate the resulting psychological tensions into open conflict.”113 Ultimately, one failed lateral relationship impacts, and disrupts, another. In-laws turn against each other in a succession of

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unsuccessful attempts at remedying the situation, with Þorgrímr killing Vésteinn to avenge Þorkell’s honor, Gísli avenging the killing of one in-law by murdering another, and Bǫrkr – now married to Þórdís – hiring Eyjólfr, one of his own relatives, to kill Gísli. The killings are, in Hermann Pálsson’s words, “very much a family affair.”114 Different understandings of siblinghood might be one of the pivotal points of the saga, since Gísli seems to have expectations of both his brother and sister that they do not – perhaps cannot – fulfill. Gísli’s relationship with Þorkell is not a positive one, and this is especially marked in the M version of the saga, where, after Bárðr’s killing, it is said that “aldri varð síðan jafnblítt með þeim brœðrum” (the brothers never got along as well afterwards).115 Although the brothers are eventually reconciled,116 the precedent for Þorkell’s association with Þórdís’s lovers and his resistance against his own brother has been set. Therefore, it is not surprising that, after Ásgerðr has revealed her involvement with Vésteinn, Þorkell moves in with Þorgrímr. This breaking of the bond of brotherhood, already present in the failed oath, is what eventually causes the killings of Vésteinn and Þorgrímr, and these result in Þorkell and Gísli drifting further apart. Þórdís has a more direct effect on Gísli’s marginalization process than any other character except, perhaps, for Þorbjǫrn. Her “betrayal” seals Gísli’s fate, and her testimony sentences him to outlawry. The effect that overhearing Gísli’s verse, and deciding what to do with the knowledge it gives her, has on Þórdís will be discussed below. Importantly, however, Þórdís is pregnant when Þorgrímr is killed, and – unlike Guðrún Gjúkadóttir, to whom Gísli compares her – she chooses not only her husband over her brother, but also her son: according to Vésteinn Ólason, “she chooses the lesser of two evils.”117 Instead of leaving her unborn son with the burden of avenging his father by killing his maternal uncle, she utilizes her new husband Bǫrkr and his connections to take care of the responsibility of vengeance. As soon as Bǫrkr has achieved this goal, she disposes of him, showing that, ultimately, her allegiance was neither fully with her brother – whose death she attempts to avenge – nor with her husband, but with her child. Unlike the legendary heroine Guðrún, who sacrifices all her children for vengeance, Þórdís would rather condemn her own brother to outlawry than risk the life of her son. Saga outlaws typically try to rely on their family, especially immediately after they hear of their sentence. Grettir goes to see his mother when he learns what has happened, and Hörðr relies on his wife and sworn brothers for support. Similarly, when he discovers that Þórdís has betrayed him, Gísli thinks that the person most prepared to help him is his brother. But while Þorkell is happy to do small things like pushing Gísli’s snow-covered shoes under the bed

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after the killing of Þorgrímr, when Gísli asks him for more support, he only promises “[a]t gera þik varan við, ef menn vilja drepa þik, en bjargir veiti ek þér engar, þær er mér megi sakar á gefa. Þykki mér mikit af gǫrt við mik, at drepinn er Þorgrímr, mágr minn ok félagi ok virkðavinr.” (“to warn you if people want to kill you, but I will never provide you the kind of help that will get me in trouble. It seems to me a great harm done against me, that Þorgrímr is killed, my brother-in-law and companion and close friend”).118

Twice more after this, Gísli asks him for help, but only receives some money and finally a boat. In the S version, Gísli continually calls Þorkell bróðir,119 trying to invoke their close familial bond and thereby pressuring his now estranged kinsman into providing him the assistance he needs, but to no avail. Gísli’s disappointment with his brother is palpable when he states that “eigi þó svá lítilliga við hann gera mundu, ef hann stœði í hans rúmi” (he would not behave in such a petty way towards Þorkell, if he were in his place).120 Gísli does not receive the support from his brother that he needs to survive during his outlawry. Therefore, rather than providing a bond with human community, Þorkell’s behavior drives Gísli further away from society. Similarly ambiguous relationships between brother and sister, and destructive relationships between in-laws, are explored in Harðar saga. The first fractures in the lateral relationships presented in this saga are already visible when Hörðr is twelve years old: his half-sister Þuríðr is getting married to Illugi inn rauði, Hörðr is not consulted, and this leads to him being unwilling to attend the wedding.121 Geirr ultimately persuades Hörðr to go “‘at bæn minni, en at sóma þínum’” (“for my sake, and for your honor”).122 In this early scene of affinal conflict, many of the tensions that later dominate the saga, and especially Hörðr’s distrust in his in-laws, are established. His close relationship with his sister Þorbjörg also emerges from it: when Hörðr gives her the ring he received as a token of friendship from Illugi, he says that “‘ek ann þér mest allra manna’” (“I love you most of all people”).123 Larrington remarks that this closeness of crosssex siblings is unusual in medieval Iceland,124 but even this relationship is complicated when Þorbjörg gets married to Indriði, as Hörðr is again not present when the betrothal is made. Illugi and Indriði are left to establish their own relationship in Hörðr’s absence, and when Grímkell dies, they take over the farm. Hörðr grows up together with Geirr and Þorbjörg, and this early bond establishes their later closeness. In addition to Geirr, who remains one of the main influences in Hörðr’s life, for better or for worse, Hörðr acquires other fictive brothers during the course of his life. Geirr insists on taking Helgi Sigmundarson to Norway, despite Þorbjörg and Hörðr’s misgivings. This is the first instance in

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which Geirr and Hörðr disagree, with serious consequences, and another pattern in their interaction is established; later, their disagreement over vital matters on Geirshólmr eventually fractures the group of outlaws. Amory takes this to be a transposition of the instability in relationships between two outlaws from the personal to the social level, which in turn destabilizes the outlaw community on Geirshólmr.125 It is, however, also possible to read this as part of the conflicted kinship structures explored in the outlaw sagas, especially since this motif is already present in their relationship before Hörðr is outlawed. Geirr makes it increasingly impossible for Hörðr to lead the Hólmverjar, and this results in the downfall of the entire community. On his journey to Gautland, Hörðr gains another brother in Hróarr, who is both his fóstbróðir and later his brother-in-law.126 A final brother joins Hörðr and his men in Sigurðr Torfafóstri. As his nickname reveals, Sigurðr was fostered by Hörðr’s uncle Torfi, and that he joins Hörðr and goes with him into outlawry is significant: he effectively changes sides, transferring his allegiance from the man who brought him up to the man who saved his life, regardless of the enmity between the two.127 Hörðr is thus embedded in a variety of sibling structures, both affinal and fictive, and these forces eventually clash after Hörðr’s ódæmaverk (unprecedented deed).128 Much as in Gísla saga, two factions are formed, with Hörðr and his fictive brothers on one side, and his in-laws on the other, and the rift between them deepens as the Hólmverjar commit more crimes. Illugi is the first to attack, and this seems to confirm the prophecy Hörðr made when Illugi married Þuríðr: “‘Hart sækir þú eptir, mágr, ok þetta bauð mér fyrir löngu hugr, sem nú er fram komit’” (“You are pursuing hard, brother-in-law, and long ago I had a presentiment of what has now come to pass”).129 Like Gísli, Hörðr invokes their family relationship when he calls Illugi mágr, but Illugi only responds, “‘[m]ikit hafi þér ok til gert’” (“[y]ou have done much to make this happen”).130 For Illugi, Hörðr has crossed a line, and he and Indriði – together with Torfi – are the ones who press hardest for the death of the island-dwellers. Thus, Hörðr’s main conflict during his outlawry is with his in-laws, and this eventually extends to Þorbjörg as well. The most disruptive action Hörðr performs during his life is probably his attempt to burn his sister and her family to death for no other reason than “‘þar sem þeir hafa einart,’ segir hann, ‘mér í móti verit, en aldri með, í svá miklum nauðum sem ek hefi staddr verit’” (“because they have always,” he said, “been against me but never supported me in the great need I have been in”).131 Although his plan does not succeed, attempting such a monstrous act breaks the camel’s back: at this point, the chieftains and farmers of the district assemble against the Hólmverjar, and because of the attempted burning, Illugi renounces all kinship ties with Hörðr.132

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Hörðr’s lack of stable relationships outside the island leaves him open to attack, and to manipulation. Kjartan uses Hörðr’s kinship troubles against him when he says that “Illuga ok vini hans eiga mikinn hlut í, at þeir færi frjálsir” (Illugi and his friends played a large part in letting them go free).133 When Hörðr finally leaves the island, the deception is revealed. His last interaction with his in-laws is symptomatic of their broken relationship: Hörðr mælti þá: “Heldr fast bindr þú nú, mágr.” Indriði svarar: “Þat kenndir þú mér, þá er þú vildir mik inni brenna.” Illugi mælti til Indriða: “Eigi á Hörðr þó góða mágana, enda hefir hann illa til gert.” Indriði svarar: “Löngu hefir hann því fyrirgert, at nökkurar tengdir sé við hann virðandi.”134 (Hörðr said: “You’re binding me rather firmly now, brother-in-law.” Indriði said: “You taught me this when you wanted to burn me in my house.” Illugi said to Indriði: “Hörðr does not have good brothers-in-law, although he has done much to make this happen.” Indriði replied: “He forfeited long ago that any relations with him are to be valued.”)

Hörðr again tries to invoke their relationship status in the word mágr, but Indriði, and to a lesser extent Illugi, revoke their ties with him. Thus, Signý’s dream, the prophecy that “‘ekki er víst, at hann hafi mikit ástríki af flestum frændum sínum’” (“it is not certain that he will have much love from most of his relatives”),135 is fulfilled not only in Hörðr’s vertical relations, but also through his affinal relatives. But, while Hörðr perceives his in-laws as having led him into his marginalized position by not helping him as he expected them to, it is above all his own disruptive influence on his family that the saga explores. In the end, this disruptive influence compounds his growing marginality, and contributes to the formation of an alliance of farmers that brings him down. The only strong link Hörðr has to society is Þorbjörg, even though he almost breaks it. However, despite her love for her brother, she is not prepared to give up her marriage to Indriði for him, thus making the same choice as Þórdís. She “cannot save her brother,”136 but she tries to ensure that he is suitably avenged, and after her public announcement that “‘ek skal verða þess manns bani eðr láta verða, sem Hörð, bróður minn, vegr’” (“I will kill or have killed the man who slays my brother”),137 people are less inclined to kill him. After his death, she is the most active force working towards his posthumous reintegration,138 and this becomes the source of her fame.139 Grettir is the only major outlaw who does not come into conflict with his siblings, neither blood nor affinal. Grettir is also famously credited for coining the phrase, “‘[b]err er hverr á bakinu nema sér bróður eigi’” (“bare is the back of each man unless he has a brother”),140 testifying to his close relationships with his brothers. The saga states that, although – or maybe because141 – they are very dissimilar in their characters, Grettir’s relationship with Atli is close. Even when

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“gerðisk ofsi Grettis svá mikill, at honum þótti ser ekki ófœrt” (Grettir’s arrogance became so great that he thought nothing was beyond him),142 the saga still notes that “fell vel á með þeim brœðrum” (the brothers got on well).143 Ultimately, however, Grettir causes Atli’s death, for Atli dies in a feud with Þorbjǫrn øxnamegin that Grettir starts before leaving for Norway. Even the origin of this feud is rooted in the family. The conflict between Grettir and Atli on one side, and Þorbjǫrn øxnamegin and Þorbjǫrn ferðalangr on the other, escalates after the latter insults Ásmundr, saying, “‘[l]ítit lagðisk nú fyrir kappan, því at hann kafnaði í stofureyk sem hundr, en eigi var skaði at honum, því at hann gerðisk nú gamalœrr’” (“the champion didn’t meet a great end, because he suffocated in the smoke of his sitting room like a dog. But that was no loss, because he had been getting senile”).144 Grettir takes immediate vengeance on Þorbjǫrn for insulting his father, and out of this, the conflict between Atli and Þorbjǫrn øxnamegin arises, resulting in Atli’s death. When Grettir learns of this and also hears that “uppgangr Þorbjarnar øxnamegins var svá mikill, at væri óvist, at Ásdís húsfreyja gæti setit á Bjargi” (the rise of Þorbjǫrn øxnamegin was so great that it was uncertain whether Ásdís could stay at Bjarg),145 he does not hesitate to secure both his family’s reputation and his mother’s safety, and kills both Þorbjǫrn and his son. Ásdís’s reaction to these events is telling: not only does she declare him a full member of the Vatnsdœlir ætt; she also notes that “‘mun þetta upphaf ok undirrót sekða þinna’” (“this will be the beginning and the root cause of your outlawry”),146 thereby directly linking Atli’s death and Grettir’s outlawry. Thus, these events become firmly embedded in the family matrix. Grettir’s conflicts with other men indirectly lead to the death of his brother, but the main reason for this can again be found in Grettir’s conflicted relationship with his father. When his mother is in danger, he tries to help her in the only way he can – through violence – but thereby gets himself into more trouble. Later, he draws his younger brother Illugi into death with him, and these complex fraternal interactions show that, although relationships between brothers might be good, they are not always mutually beneficial. Grettir’s disruptive influence on his family is most visible in these relationships, and interestingly, this is true both before and during his outlawry. The only brother whose death Grettir does not cause is Þorsteinn drómundr, whose good luck protects him from Grettir’s negative influence, but whose love for Grettir drives him “to the ends of the known world to avenge his half-brother.”147 Overall, however, “his relations with his brothers are excellent,”148 and this distinguishes Grettir from Gísli and Hörðr. In Grettir’s case, it all leads back to his father. Fóstbrœðra saga rightfully deserves its title,149 with its plot revolving around the relationship of the sworn brothers Þorgeirr and Þormóðr, and around the

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latter’s revenge for the former’s death. They both grow up in Ísafjǫrðr, “ok var snimmendis vingan með þeim, því at þeir váru í mǫrgu skapglíkir” (and soon became friends because they were much alike in temperament).150 Therefore, “tóku þeir þat ráð með fastmælum, at sá þeira skyldi hefna annars, er lengr lifði” (they swore an oath that the one who lived longer should avenge the other),151 and they consecrate their oath with the same pagan ritual that fails so dramatically in Gísla saga. Unlike the protagonists of that saga, however, neither Þorgeirr nor Þormóðr seem to have any siblings, and are thus free to swear loyalty to whomever they please without it resulting in a conflict of allegiance. Together, they cause so much damage in the district that the chieftain, Vermundr, is forced to tell Þorgeirr’s father Hávarr to move elsewhere. He says explicitly that “‘sýnisk mér standa af Þorgeiri, syni þínum, órói ok stormr. . . . væntum vér ok, at minni stormr standi af Þormóði, ef þeir Þorgeirr skiljask’” (“Þorgeirr, your son, seems to me to cause trouble and tumult. . . . we also expect Þormóðr to cause less trouble, if he and Þorgeirr part ways”).152 Thus, at least in Vermundr’s view, it is Þorgeirr who incites his sworn brother to mischief, displaying the disruptive influence he has on Þormóðr, and allowing an exploration of the potential problems of fictive kinship. Undeterred by the trouble he has caused his father, Þorgeirr frequently comes to visit Ísafjǫrðr, and after he has avenged his father’s death, he seems to move in with Þormóðr and his father Bersi. At this point, the saga states that “[v]áru þeir Þormóðr inir beztu vinir” (Þorgeirr and Þormóðr were the best of friends).153 This friendship lasts all the way through their raiding career, until Þorgeirr is declared an outlaw for killing Þorgils Másson. It is at this “peak of antisocial behavior”154 that Þorgeirr asks Þormóðr the fateful question, “‘[h]vat ætlar þú, hvárr okkarr myndi af ǫðrum bera, ef vit reyndim með okkr?’” (“What do you think, who of us would defeat the other if we fought against each other?”).155 Þormóðr, however, decides to end their friendship rather than fight against his brother; for him, Þorgeirr “steps over the line”156 when he asks this question, betraying his socially transgressive nature.157 According to Larrington, Þormóðr realizes in this moment that “his dangerous, even psychotic, companion could turn on him at any moment.”158 This episode therefore marks a “Wendepunkt im Leben der Schwurbrüder, die von nun an getrennte Wege gehen” (a turning point in the life of the sworn brothers, who from now on go their separate ways).159 However, Þormóðr’s loyalty to Þorgeirr does not fail; he commemorates his friend and his deeds in Þorgeirsdrápa, and he goes to extraordinary lengths to avenge his death.160 Thus, Fóstbrœðra saga presents fictive brotherhood as a source both of support as well as of trouble. The two young men find friendship and loyalty in each other, but their disruptiveness is also intensified in this close relationship. Especially Þorgeirr’s

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negative influence on Þormóðr is revealed at several points in the saga, and his outlawry is the direct result of Þorgeirr’s death. In the outlaw sagas, then, siblinghood – blood, affinal, and fictive – emerges as a force for both good and bad: it can be a source of strength and support, as in Grettir’s case, but it can also complicate matters if these often fragile bonds become overstrained. One should never fully rely on the support of a brother, for the people closest to an outlaw are often the ones who lead him furthest away from societal integration. Since both Gísli and Hörðr are married, and since these relationships play significant roles in their lives, I will briefly comment on this type of horizontal relationship. Auðr particularly has been called “the ideal of the loyal and worthy wife,”161 and she stands with Gísli until the end. Gísli’s trust in her is absolute. Auðr defends her husband whenever Eyjólfr grái turns up at their house in Geirþjófsfjǫrðr, even though he threatens to kill her.162 She even tries to play a part in his last stand, so that Gísli comments that “‘[þ]at vissa ek fyrir lǫngu, at ek var vel kvæntr, en þó vissa ek eigi, at ek væra svá vel kvæntr sem ek em’” (“I have long known that I was well married, but I did not know that I was as well married as I am”).163 Auðr and the small house they have in the isolated fjord offer Gísli a home and a connection to human society.164 This connection is strong enough to make him calm down for her sake when she protects her nephews after they have killed Þorkell.165 This is one of the saga’s key scenes, a scene in which Gísli’s fate is decided: by killing Vésteinn’s sons, “he would have severed his last links with humanity by irreparably damaging his relationship with his wife Auðr.”166 Gísli might have been able to fulfill his monstrous potential, but because of his love for his wife, he remains more human than either Grettir – who lacks this link to society – or Hörðr – whose attachment to his wife does not play the same role. Such love comes with a price, however. Because Auðr binds Gísli to society, she also binds society to him, making it easier for Eyjólfr to find Gísli. Thus, there is no relationship in Gísla saga that is unequivocally positive, that has no negative consequences for any of the parties involved. Unlike Auðr, Helga jarlsdóttir hardly figures while her husband is alive. Although the saga states that “Hörðr unni mikit Helgu” (Hörðr loved Helga greatly),167 she is almost irrelevant to the action during Hörðr’s outlawry. Only towards the end of his life does she re-enter the narrative: knowing that her husband is doomed to die, “[g]rét Helga þá sáran” (Helga cried bitterly),168 but, like Þórdís, she tries to protect her sons by abandoning the outlaw. This course of action seems to be the only one possible for a woman who is torn between her offspring and an outlaw in her family, and both women show greater

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allegiance to their children. After Hörðr has been killed, however, Helga becomes the center of narrative attention when she swims across the fjord with her sons.169 From that point on, she helps Þorbjörg in avenging Hörðr’s death, and in the process, she sacrifices the life of one of her sons. Since Helga does not play a role in the narrative during Hörðr’s outlawry, however, it is difficult to assess what influence his relationship with her had on his gradual marginalization. Because of her involvement in his vengeance, one could argue that Helga eventually helps reintegrate Hörðr into society, since the sheer number of people killed for his sake is one of the reasons why Styrmir declares Hörðr the greatest outlaw.170 Family relationships, both vertical and horizontal, therefore contribute to the outlaw’s gradual movement away from society. His marginalization process is initiated or accelerated by paternal involvement, either in the form of emotional abuse, neglect, or goading, but maternal influence is not always beneficial either. Brothers and sisters, supposed sources of stability, have the power to help their outlawed siblings but often choose not to get involved, or even actively turn against their brothers. Meanwhile, the outlaw’s presence puts immense strain on all relationships, fragmenting already broken families, endangering his kin, and asking more of them than they can give. The families of the outlaw sagas are broken and disrupted, but also breaking and disruptive; the negative influence between family and (future) outlaw is one of mutual destruction. These issues will be taken up again in chapter seven in the context of the role of the family in medieval Icelandic society, and I will argue that, through the outlaw, concerns about the fracturing of kinship bonds could be explored.

“It scares me to close my eyes”:171 The Monstrous Outlaw It is within this context, then, that the outlaw emerges in his potential for monstrosity: the process that eventually leads him away from society is initiated through the disrupted and disruptive interactions with his family, and this leaves him on his own. How, or indeed whether, this monstrous potential is fulfilled by the characters under discussion will be analyzed in the following. I will apply the features observed in connection with less ambiguously monstrous revenants to explore if, and if so, how, these men cross boundaries, infect others with their monstrousness, and impact the local economy. This discussion will then allow an assessment of the extent to which outlaws can be argued to be monstrously disruptive in their actions against society.

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Hybridity and Transgression An outlaw is transgressive because, in order to become an outlaw, he must have transgressed the law. Grettir, Gísli, Hörðr, and the sworn brothers overstep a societal boundary when they commit the crime that causes them to be sentenced to outlawry, by killing another human being (or several) without then following social mechanisms for atonement. Such a crime is perceived as so grave and disruptive that it warrants a person’s exclusion from society to the extent that they are not to be interacted with, not to be helped, and not to be moved abroad.172 Moreover, there is always something uncanny about the future outlaw when he commits these killings. Gísli’s murder of Þorgrímr in the dark bed-closet of his sister has earned him a reputation for sexual deviancy.173 Grettir resembles Grendel rather than Beowulf in the troll-like way he ræðr (bursts) into the house in Norway,174 which results in the people inside thinking “at óvættir myndi vera” (that this might be a monster).175 And there is something strange and out of character about the excessive rage in which Hörðr kills Auðr and burns down his farm. There is therefore already something present in these characters that would explain their crossing into the realm of the “Other.” Moreover, if, as argued in chapter one, a human being is only human in the context of society, then being forcibly removed from society would automatically result in nonhuman status. It is not so simple, however: outlaws do not stop interacting with members of their family just because they are legally forbidden from doing so. Therefore, there must be an additional dimension to this issue. This overstepping of societal boundaries is, in itself, not the reason an outlaw turns into a monster – otherwise, all outlaws would be depicted and perceived as monstrous in the Íslendingasögur, and this is not necessarily the case with minor outlaw characters.176 However, this first transgression propels their movement towards monstrosity, which was initiated through their problematic family background: being pushed beyond the limits of society, the outlaw’s status as someone who constantly walks on the edge of society but is isolated from it then seems to facilitate a second boundary-crossing that leads these characters partially out of the world of ordinary human experience. This can be seen in Grettir’s growing association with trolls as he spends time away from human company in Þórisdalr,177 as well as in Gísli’s haunting dreams that gain more and more control over his waking life as his outlawry progresses. Hörðr – who founds his own parallel society – presents a different case, since he does not experience the same isolation as Grettir and Gísli. One can argue, however, that the growing use of magic against him and his men, and the herfjöturr (war fetters)178 that come over him before he is killed, represent his way of crossing into the realm of the paranormal.

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This association with the paranormal is often already present in the future outlaw’s character before his first transgression: Gísli is a “draumamaðr mikill ok berdreymr” (a great dreamer and his dreams were prophetic),179 both before he kills Þorgrímr and after he is sentenced for it. Grettir has no problem passing as a potential berserkr to Þorfinnr’s wife and household when he tricks Ǫgmundr illi and Þórir þǫmb, showing that, in the eyes of the people of Háramarsey, he already has the potential to become monstrous.180 Hörðr, on the other hand, cannot be deceived by sjónhverfingar (“sight-turnings,” i.e., illusions),181 which also moves him closer to the paranormal. Thus, rather than facilitating the association with the paranormal, the first transgression of social norms compounds a character trait already present in these men, enhancing Gísli’s ability to dream, increasing Grettir’s interactions with creatures more monstrous than him, and heightening Hörðr’s destructive potential. Moreover, both Grettir and Hörðr encounter malevolent undead creatures before their social, criminal transgression, and neither of them escapes from these encounters unscathed. I have already discussed Glámr’s contagious effect on Grettir, and Hörðr seems to be similarly affected by Sóti’s curse, even though he is not its direct object: after his fight with Sóti, he performs what is later referred to as an ódæmaverk,182 an unparalleled, outrageous, potentially monstrous action, when he kills Auðr and burns down his farm. One could therefore argue that Hörðr has been infected by Sóti’s contagious monstrosity during his fight. Moreover, both Grettir and Hörðr are associated with hel(l) in these encounters. Grettir is said to lie “í milli heims ok heljar” (literally: between the world and hel)183 when he looks into Glámr’s eyes, and of Hörðr and Geirr it is said after the encounter with Sóti that it seemed that they had been “ór helju heimt” (brought back from hel).184 This shows that both Grettir – who is later twice referred to as a heljarmaðr (hellish man)185 – and Hörðr become associated with potentially disruptive paranormal forces; they have crossed a boundary. Additionally, since he has been with Hörðr in the fight against Sóti, Geirr also becomes a victim of Sóti’s curse. Infected with monstrosity, he later joins Hörðr in his exile. This twofold crossing of both social and paranormal boundaries might also explain why outlaws are the only potentially monstrous characters of the Íslendingasögur that both haunt and are haunted. Both Gísli and Grettir are troubled by their fear of the dark – or rather, of what is in the dark. After Grettir’s fight with Glámr, the saga states that the cause of his fear lies in the darkness – the phantoms and creatures that have now become visible to him, and that are normally hidden to ordinary people:186 “sýndisk honum þá hvers kyns skrípi” (all kinds of phantoms then appeared to him).187 Similarly, Gísli is afraid of the dream women that appear to him at night, not of the night itself, as noted in the M version of the saga: “Nú gerðisk svá mikit um drauma Gísla,

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at hann gerir svá myrkhræddan, at hann þorir hvergi einn saman at vera, ok þegar hann leggr sín augu saman, þá sýnisk honum in sama kona” (Now Gísli started dreaming so much that he became so afraid of the dark that he did not dare to be alone, and as soon as he closed his eyes, the same woman appeared to him).188 Hörðr does not have these issues, which probably results from his being less isolated than other outlaws, and the same can be said about Þorgeirr and Þormóðr. They therefore escape this apparent outlaw disease that is symptomatic of Grettir’s and Gísli’s transgression, their crossing of boundaries that ordinary human beings do not – and probably should not – cross. Once traversed, however, they lead to all sorts of other issues for the outlaw – and for the society he interacts with. These issues – contagion and economic impact – will now be explored.

Contagion One of the problems of monstrosity is that it spreads, that it infects the people who encounter the monster. Thus, it has repercussions for wider society, not stopping at one person but potentially drawing many – in Hörðr’s case as many as 180 people – into its circle of influence.189 Apart from these strangers, Hörðr seems to spread his monstrosity mostly among the ones close to him. While Hörðr and Helgi are declared outlaws for their crimes, Geirr, who did not take part in them, joins them voluntarily. However, he becomes fully involved with the actions of the Hólmverjar, at the very latest when he suggests burning Hörðr’s kinsmen to death. Through his actions, he is embedded into the monstrous fabric of the community of the Hólmverjar. Together, and with their families, these men build themselves a life on the island that comes to bear Geirr’s name. By taking their families and households with them into outlawry and to Geirshólmr – thus physically separating them from society – Hörðr and his brothers arguably contaminate them with the monstrosity that has infected them during their encounter with Sóti, and which, I would argue, leads Hörðr to act violently when he kills Auðr. Although the saga never explores this implication in as much detail as, for example, Gísla saga does, Hörðr’s wife and children are especially impacted by his outlawry. The outlaw’s influence on women is further explored when Geirr abducts Sigríðr nauðga (against her will),190 implying that he intends to rape her. While this is not addressed explicitly in the saga, Geirr’s behavior introduces another kind of threat: that of the sexual predator, which will be explored in the context of berserkir in chapter four. Moreover, this parallel society of outlaws and criminals tries to imitate human culture by building a hall and establishing its own laws.191 Just like the

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niðsele (battle-hall) that Grendel and his mother inhabit in Beowulf,192 the community on Geirshólmr is a subversion of society, preying on it and living off it like a parasite. They turn into a “Krebsgeschwür der Gesellschaft, das beseitigt werden muss” (a tumor of society that has to be removed).193 Thus, the Hólmverjar come to resemble a group of revenants: in their continually growing numbers,194 the way they draw in troublemakers and criminals, and in the establishment of a kind of parallel society, they are reminiscent of the Fróðá hauntings,195 betraying the contagious nature of their monstrous presence. A similar monstrous presence exists in the form of the meinvættr (evil spirit, harmful creature) in Forsæludalr, who causes Glámr’s death. This monstrous presence, and the “chain of malign supernatural activity” it sets in motion,196 have far-reaching consequences for everyone who comes into contact with it: the shepherd Þorgautr – whom it kills but does not infect – Grettir, and Þorbjǫrn ǫngull. In Grettis saga, it therefore seems that monstrosity is transmitted from monster to slayer, and while this can be explained in the case of Glámr, and probably also of Grettir,197 it is important to explore how Þorbjǫrn can become infected as well. Parallels exist between the characters of Grettir and Þorbjǫrn. The latter is introduced as “illfengr ok ófyrirleitinn” (ill-natured and reckless),198 and he and his stepmother do not get along. One day, when she insults and injures him in a way reminiscent of Ásmundr’s treatment of Grettir, he “þreif til hennar óþyrmiliga, svá at hon lagðisk í rekkju af, ok af því dó hon síðan, ok sǫgðu menn, at hon hefði verit ólétt. Síðan varð hann mestr óeirðarmaðr” (gripped her harshly, so that she was confined to bed because of it, and she died of it afterwards. People said that she was pregnant. After that, Þorbjǫrn became a great troublemaker).199 Þorbjǫrn’s reaction to her insult is arguably monstrous in its own right: violence against women is rarely explored in the Íslendingasögur, and when it occurs, it is the subject of immense outrage.200 Moreover, because of his stepmother’s pregnancy, Þorbjǫrn not only takes the life of a woman, but also that of her unborn child, his half-sibling. This action seems to exacerbate his temper, turning him into an óeirðarmaðr, a term that is also used frequently of Grettir, and which denotes them both as troublemakers.201 Þorbjǫrn’s rash temper, therefore, is similar to Grettir’s. Grettir himself recognizes this similarity, stating that “‘vit munum ekki kafna í vinsældum manna’” (“the two of us won’t drown in popularity”).202 A temper like Þorbjǫrn’s or Grettir’s seems to make one susceptible to the contagious nature of monstrosity. Hawes argues that it is Grettir’s “rash temper that will help make him an outcast from society and bring about his downfall.”203 This temper that, as shown above, originates in Grettir’s problematic relationship with his father, and which worsens after Glámr’s curse, resurfaces at key points in his life – the ordeal, his interactions with Glaumr and Þuríðr, and the rash

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manner in which he strikes at the cursed log.204 It not only complicates his relationships with other people both before and after his sentence, but also indirectly leads to his demise. Þorbjǫrn does not emerge from his final encounter with Grettir as he had planned. Having finally overcome Grettir, he hopes not only to keep the island he acquired cheaply,205 but also to get the money Þórir í Garði put on Grettir’s head. Þórir, however, is displeased by the way Þorbjǫrn disposed of Grettir: “‘ekki vilda ek þat til lífs hans vinna, at gera mik at ódáðamanni eða fordæðu, sem þú hefir gǫrt; mun ek síðr leggja þér fé, at mér sýnisk þú ólífismaðr vera fyrir galdr ok fjǫlkynngi’” (“I did not want to claim his life by becoming an evildoer or sorcerer like you have done; I will not give you the money, because it seems to me that you have no right to live because of your magic and sorcery”).206 As expected, Grettir’s kinsmen react similarly, but they go even further. Rather than just declaring Þorbjǫrn an ólífismaðr, they ensure that he becomes one and have him sentenced to outlawry for using magic and killing a man doomed to die.207 In his eagerness to get rid of Grettir, Þorbjǫrn goes too far. Just like Grettir before – who kills Glámr in his desire for fame – he becomes infected with monstrosity, continuing the “chain of malign supernatural activity” into his own outlawry.208 Only Þorsteinn drómundr, a man of extraordinary personal luck, or gæfa,209 manages to end the chain set in motion by the meinvættr in Forsæludalr. Both Grettir and Hörðr are therefore contagious, infecting those who encounter them with their monstrosity. However, Hörðr’s outlaw colony turns into a “Bedrohung von weiteren Dimensionen” (a threat of wider dimensions) than the infectiousness that emanates from Grettir:210 while the latter only affects individuals – his killer, and perhaps Illugi211 – Hörðr and his kinsmen draw in up to 180 people that all need to be fed, clothed, and defended, contributing significantly to their economic impact, to which I will now turn.

Economic Impact The economic impact of Grettir’s depredations appears soon after he is outlawed and runs through his saga like a thread, forming the main basis of his disruptiveness. Early in his outlawry, Grettir starts roaming Ísafjǫrðr and “lét . . . sópa greipr um eignir smábœnda ok hafði af hverjum þat, er hann vildi” (carried off all of the small farmers’ belongings and had from each what he wanted),212 and in doing so, he “gerði mǫrgum harðleikit” (caused trouble to many).213 The episode stresses repeatedly that these smábœndr suffer from Grettir’s predations.214 In an almost Gulliveresque scene, they eventually

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manage to overcome the sleeping Grettir. He only escapes them because Þorbjǫrg digra is able to save his life due to her superior social status, and she makes him promise to leave her farmers alone. However, since Grettir does not manage to find permanent support or a place where he can stay – either because “bar jafnan eitthvert við, þat er engi tók við honum” (something always happened so that they did not take him in),215 or because he does not want to pull his weight on the farm of a relative216 – Grettir soon resorts to raiding, ræna, again. Only Skapti’s advice that “‘væri allt betra um at tala, ef þú ræntir eigi’” (“everything would now be better to consider, if you did not steal from people”)217 puts a temporary stop to Grettir’s depredations and he tries to better his ways. However, due to the problems he has caused, even his friends and kinsmen now become more and more reluctant to take him in. An even clearer example of Grettir’s economic impact is his stay on Drangey. To mitigate Grettir’s potentially disruptive influence, the farmers try to strike a bargain with him, but Grettir declares, “‘heðan fer ek eigi, nema ek sé dauðr um dreginn’” (“I will not go away from here unless I am carried off dead”),218 refusing to leave or return the farmers’ belongings. To the farmers, he therefore becomes a vargr:219 like a wolf among sheep, Grettir takes what he wants and there is no way for the farmers to get rid of him. Grettir’s disruption makes it easy for Þorbjǫrn ǫngull to buy up a large part of the island – on the condition that he should “koma Gretti á brottu” (get rid of Grettir).220 Two issues can therefore be observed in this episode: firstly, that the farmers of Skagafjǫrðr consider Grettir a disruptive and dangerous force on their doorstep, and secondly, that economic considerations drive Þorbjǫrn ǫngull to try to overcome Grettir in whatever way possible.221 From these episodes, a pattern emerges: Grettir takes from people what he wants, without consideration for their needs. He regards himself as superior because of his greater physical strength, which he uses to negatively impact the communities on whose margins he roams. Through this abuse of the strength and superiority that at other times allow him to protect society from forces more monstrous than himself, Grettir becomes monstrous in his own right: when he lurks next to the Kjǫlr road, he develops a similarity to Glámr, whose hauntings prevent the farmers of Vatnsdalr from pursuing their everyday business,222 and his stealing of sheep especially on Drangey is as severe a threat to economic prosperity in the area as Þórólfr bægifótr’s killing of animals. As Hawes notes, “[t]his parallel to the non-human world emphasizes the danger that Grettir now poses to his society. Sheep-stealing may seem to be a trivial act for such a strong man, but it can threaten the livelihood of a farm-based society like medieval Iceland.”223 In these contexts, the local farmers start to call Grettir a dólgr (fiend, enemy, monster),224 vargr (wolf, criminal, outlaw),225 or

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vágestr (dangerous guest, terrible stranger),226 which bears witness to his disruptive impact on the local community. Harðar saga explores how closely the economic impact of the monster’s presence can be linked to its contagious nature: if the Hólmverjar had not swelled to the size of a “social aberration,”227 their economic impact on the local community would have been less severe. Therefore, the raiding trips of Hörðr and his men on the farmers of Hvalfjǫrðr emerge as the main focus of the narrative, and the background against which the theme of kinship struggles can be explored, as soon as the community on Geirshólmr has been established. After early trips for stealing, stela – a dishonorable act that is committed in secrecy causing “the darkest shame” for the thief228 – Hörðr urges that they adopt raiding, ræna, as a more honorable way of acquiring other people’s goods to avoid the shame associated with being a thief.229 The effect on the local farmers, however, remains the same. But the farmers of Hvalfjǫrðr are not the smábœndr Grettir antagonizes in Ísafjǫrðr, too weak to fight back: instead, Hörðr and his men always encounter resistance, and many of them die in the raids. In these encounters, the defense put up by Hörðr and his kinsmen is foregrounded,230 and the saga tries hard to separate Hörðr from the more problematic actions of his followers. The blame is supposed to be shifted from Hörðr to his companions,231 but within the storyworld this strategy does not succeed: no distinction is made between him and the rest of his band, and for the farmers, Hörðr is an inherent part of the outlaw community.232 If anything, and as discussed above, his attempt at burning his sister and her husband in their house makes him even more monstrously disruptive than the rest of his gang.233 Hörðr eventually wants to turn their lives around, planning to attack a merchant vessel – which would also be an economically disruptive action – in order to leave the area, because he realizes that “‘vér verðum allir drepnir, sakir þess at menn munu eigi þola oss svá mikinn ójöfnuð sem vér bjóðum’” (“we will all be killed because people will not tolerate us since we are treating them so inequitably”),234 but this comes too late. Too severe is the negative impact the Hólmverjar have had on the local farmers. Their constant raiding establishes an opposition between them, the Hólmverjar, on the one hand, and the landsmenn on the other. These designations are an attempt on the land-dwellers’ part at “Othering” the disruptive island-dwellers, comparable to the people of Skagafjǫrðr describing Grettir as a vargr. They are united by their suffering at the hands of the criminals on the island, and it becomes a nauðsynjaverk (necessary action)235 for them to remove the disruptive elements; otherwise, the local community cannot regain peace. The Hólmverjar, much like revenants, thus become a threat that must be removed for society to return to stability. The greatest weakness of the group of

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island-dwelling criminals lies in their numbers: too many outlaws and troublemakers have assembled on Geirshólmr, and their presence destabilizes the area to such an extent that the farmers and chieftains form an alliance against them. Economic considerations are thus paramount in removing the threat they pose from the Hvalfjǫrðr area, and in this case, all means are justified. Shortt Butler notes that reciprocity, jafnaðr, is impossible for an outlaw, and that, to some extent, it might be expected of him to be economically disruptive.236 However, the sheer length of Grettir’s outlawry, and the number of people Hörðr assembles around himself, add an extra dimension to their necessary disruption, and consequently, these outlaws come to resemble revenants in their destructiveness. Hörðr and his colony of outlaws and criminals exemplify this, since they feed off the work and livelihood of those who live within society, but Grettir’s constant depredations are just as disruptive to the communities through which he moves, and they make him so many enemies that he cannot safely stay anywhere. These men might not be as destructive as the worst undead, since they do not empty entire valleys, but they are threatening enough to both the lives and the economic survival of the local communities that a solution has to be found, and the monster eliminated.

What about Gísli? At first glance, Gísli does not fit in with these contagious, economically disruptive outlaws, and when it comes to monster fights, obvious signs of contagion, and negative economic impact, Gísli does not have much in common with Grettir or Hörðr. He does not interact with revenants, and therefore does not catch the disease of monstrosity from someone else. Moreover, unlike Grettir or Hörðr, he is never forced to resort to raiding the neighboring farms since he lives close to his wife for most of his outlawry; he even contributes to economic productivity through his craftsmanship. McLennan notes that Gísli “is the least monstrous of the major outlaws.”237 While he also states that Gísli shows some “ambiguities during his outlawry,”238 McLennan devotes much less space to him than he does to Grettir or Hörðr, concluding that, even in his last stand, Gísli is “not a monster.”239 Similarly, Barraclough admits that “Gísli’s experience of outlawry is embedded more consistently in the social landscape, but despite his attempts to anchor himself in this sphere, he cannot avoid an association with the marginal realm outside it.”240 But this in itself, according to Barraclough, does not necessarily mean that he becomes monstrous in the eyes of society. How, then, does Gísli fit the picture of potential monstrosity painted by the other outlaws?

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According to my argument, monstrosity is a social concept in the Íslendingasögur, and thus, Grettis saga focuses on its protagonist’s attempts at interacting with and becoming integrated into society, whereas Harðar saga is concerned with Hörðr’s establishment of a parallel society on the island of Geirshólmr. Gísla saga, however, passes over such matters in one sentence: shortly after Gísli is outlawed, the saga states that “þrjá vetr ferr hann um allt Ísland ok hittir hǫfðingja ok biðr sér liðs” (for three years, Gísli travelled around the country and met up with chieftains and asked for support).241 If this is compared with Grettis saga, the main plot of which consists of the protagonist’s journey across the country and his attempts at enlisting support, one must conclude that Gísla saga is not interested in such travels. At the same time, Gísli does not interact with a larger community, as Hörðr does in Hvalfjǫrðr. Thus, the main concern of Gísla saga does not appear to lie with wider society. Therefore, the concept of monstrosity must also be adjusted to account for such a shift in interest – for Gísli still has the potential to become monstrous in his transgressive outlawry and his paranormal associations. I therefore suggest to read Gísli not in his interactions with and impact on society as a whole, but in the context of his family. Another reason for such a reading is that most of the characters of Gísla saga are related to Gísli, either by blood, like Ingjaldr, or by marriage, like Eyjólfr, who is a cousin of Þórdís’s husbands. The saga’s focus therefore lies on the family of its protagonist rather than on wider society; as Andersson states, “Gísla saga is perhaps the first [family saga] in which family is the true subject. . . . family dynamics efface all other concerns in Gísla saga.”242 It is in this context that we must read Gísli’s monstrous potential. In this light, Gísli’s actions can be understood as disruptive. Whereas Grettir’s and Hörðr’s actions result in society turning against them, Gísli’s killing of Þorgrímr is more than a crime against society, although he killed not only his goði but also his brother-in-law. This action completely fragments the family – which until Vésteinn’s death had been slowly drifting apart, but which had still been contained in the narrow confines of Haukadalr. Now, however, Þórdís has to decide where her allegiance lies, and the distress these conflicting loyalties cause her is highlighted in the narrative. Shortly before he leaves Haukadalr in the spring, Bǫrkr asks her, “‘hví þú vart svá óglǫð fyrst á hausti, . . . ok þú hefir því heitit at segja mér, áðr en ek fœra heiman’” (“why you were so unhappy in the autumn, . . . and you have promised to tell me this, before I leave home”).243 Þórdís is not only sad to discover that her brother Gísli had killed Þorgrímr, but this statement shows also that it has taken her a certain amount of time to decide whether or not to tell Bǫrkr about her discovery. The S version of the saga has Bǫrkr state explicitly that “‘ek hefi þik stundum eptir spurt’” (“I have asked you about this from time to time”),244 indicating that it takes Þórdís until his

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departure to decide whether or not she wants to betray her brother. Moreover, her attempt on Eyjólfr’s life at the end of the saga shows that Þórdís is never able to make a clear decision, but remains in conflict for years. Further evidence of Gísli’s disruptive effect on his family is the fact that the people he possibly infects with his monstrosity are his wife and foster daughter. The shorter version of the saga makes this explicit by having Eyjólfr say to Auðr, “‘[m]áttu ok á þat líta,’ segir hann, ‘hversu óhallkvæmt þér verðr at liggja í eyðifirði þessum ok hljóta þat af óhǫppum Gísla ok sjá aldri frændr ok nauðleytamenn’” (“You should also consider,” he said, “how unpleasant it must be for you to be confined to this desolate fjord and suffer this because of Gísli’s bad luck and never see your relatives and close kin”).245 Gísli has a contagious effect on those who are associated with him: because of him, his wife and foster daughter are just as much separated from society as he is, and, unlike him, they lack the ability to leave Geirþjófsfjǫrðr and see their relatives. Effectively, they therefore become outlaws themselves – at least in the social if not in the legal sense – associated with the remote location and the isolation forced upon them by the choices of the head of their household. Gísli depends on Auðr; without her, he would drift off into the darkness of his dreams and sever his ties with humanity completely. But, as Miller notes, “the little sociality [Gísli] is granted by the loyalty and dedication of the two women who sustain him is funded proportionally by their own loss of social contact.”246 Nor does Eyjólfr carry a lot of luck away from his encounter with the outlaw, being twice assaulted by women, suggesting that, at least in the eyes of Þórdís – the only relative left to make judgements at this point – he has infected himself and become monstrous, as her brother was, and thus deserves to be killed with his own sword.247 Unlike the other outlaw sagas, however, Gísla saga is a narrative about internalization and its effects. Not only does it limit its focus to the family, as mentioned above, with its action unfolding in a “claustrophobic web of marital and sibling relationships.”248 The saga reflects this narrow focus in the “confined landscape of narrow fjords and valleys; a potentially claustrophobic world that magnifies the strengths and weaknesses of the bonds that unite society.”249 It also internalizes its protagonist’s association with the paranormal by letting the monster fights other outlaws engage in take place inside Gísli’s mind, having him contend with two dream women, and the dream women also with each other.250 O’Donoghue draws attention to the fact that there is no distinction between the two dream women in the verses, but that this is “a construct of the prose narrative,”251 as if the saga writer wanted to heighten Gísli’s experience of the paranormal. This internalization of the paranormal is a gradual process taking place over the course of his outlawry, and intensifying as his death approaches. The process culminates in the dream in chapter thirty,

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which is told directly, without the mediation of Auðr’s presence. By this point, the audience has become fully immersed in Gísli’s mind, the action centring entirely on his thought processes, and the other characters in the story do not take part in these experiences anymore. Even after this, however, the dreams increase until Gísli’s death, resulting in his fear of darkness and isolation. The S version states that “tekr þá aldri af honum draumana” (the dreams then never subsided),252 and no prose framework is given for the narration of dream poetry anymore, underlining the immediacy of these insights into Gísli’s turmoil. Through the dreams and the women that appear in them, it seems that Gísli’s inner struggles are made manifest to the audience, providing an insight into the outlaw’s psyche, and allowing a glimpse of a “verfolgten, verlassenen und gequälten Menschen” (a hunted, abandoned, and tormented human being).253 Like Grettir, Gísli suffers from a fear of the dark because of his internal struggles, haunted as Grettir is by what he has seen and done. Generally, Gísli is more difficult to categorize than either Grettir or Hörðr, both of whom are more unambiguously monstrous in their actions against society. His ambiguity is most pronounced in his adoption of different disguises that confuse his pursuers,254 and it could be argued that Gísli constructs himself as someone whose humanity is uncertain.255 Thus, Gísli, more than the other outlaws, seems to be suspended in an uncertain ontological state that problematizes our conceptions of the boundaries between human and monster. He shifts not only in his shapes and disguises, into the landscape and out of it, but his character is also highly variable across the tradition associated with him. He can never be fully grasped, always elusive, always escaping. It is this “propensity to shift”256 that underlines Gísli’s familial disruptiveness and makes him monstrous in the end.

Fóstbrœðra saga: Brothers in Outlawry Much of the scholarship on Fóstbrœðra saga has focused on the saga’s dating, which, to this day, is still contested,257 as well as on the problematic manuscript tradition, and on the saga’s learned and Christian influences.258 At the very latest since Halldor Laxness’s Gerpla, readings of the saga have tended to regard it as a parody or satire.259 It has also been read as a skáldasaga,260 but less frequently as an outlaw saga. However, its two protagonists are outlaws at least for a part of their lives, and while outlawry may not be the main concern of the narrative and does not lead directly to the outlaws’ deaths,261 it can still be considered an outlaw saga: Fóstbrœðra saga shares similarities with the other three sagas in general – especially in terms of character development and interest in the paranormal, especially the role of magic – and with Grettis saga

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in particular. In some versions,262 Grettir himself opens the saga with the story of his stay in the Westfjords and his encounter with Þorbjǫrg digra, setting the scene for the stories of social disruption, raiding, and outlawry that follow, and establishing a character with whom the sworn brothers can be compared.263 Fóstbrœðra saga also deals with many of the same concerns that are addressed by other outlaw sagas, for example by using similar motifs as other outlaw sagas in the context of family ties and tensions, as has been discussed. Another concern is the notion that certain humans have a potential for monstrosity, and that outlawry is often both a symptom and the cause of the development of this potential. Thus, despite its different scope and focus, this is still a saga that deals with the issues a human being faces when forced to live on the edges of society. In this saga, however, contagion plays a minor role, and I will focus on other aspects of the narrative instead, particularly on Þorgeirr’s association with the animalistic, Þormóðr’s relationships with women, and the relationship of both sworn brothers with the king they serve. Just like Gísla saga, which shifts the focus away from society in general towards the outlaw’s family, this saga therefore needs “special treatment,” highlighting once more the need for differentiation in the context of monstrosity. Much like Grettir, the two protagonists of the saga start their careers of social disruption early in life. As noted above, their early predations force Þorgeirr’s father to leave the district, but things get worse after Hávarr’s death and Þorgeirr’s first killing. At the beginning of their career, it is not specified what the sworn brothers do to be called “ekki . . . jafnaðarmenn” (not . . . equitable men),264 or, euphemistically, “miðlungi vinsælir” (not particularly popular).265 The two of them – later accompanied by seven companions – roam throughout the Westfjords and cause “mikil óhœgendi” (great difficulty) for the farmers.266 Thus, what is presented here is only the effect the sworn brothers have on the local community, but not what they actually do, contrasting with the more straightforward depictions of Grettir’s and Hörðr’s economic impact. Only after their socially beneficial stay with Sigrfljóð is the audience finally informed of the way in which the sworn brothers cause such trouble: “hafa þeir þat af hverjum manni, sem þeir kveðja; váru allir við þá hræddir” (they had from each man what they demanded; everyone was afraid of them).267 Withholding this detail until after the one instance in which their inclination to fighting has benefited society heightens their disruptiveness even further: they are like lions among sheep,268 criminals in a farming society that cannot contain them. The way in which their stealing from the farmers is described also mirrors Grettir’s actions in Ísafjǫrðr, invoking a direct comparison with this most destructive outlaw once again. While the two of them thus cause considerable damage to the community, Þorgeirr seems to be just as capable of wreaking havoc on his own. Early on, he

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is called an andvaragestr (unwelcome guest),269 and this is repeated shortly after Þormóðr breaks off their friendship, underlining Þorgeirr’s disruptiveness when he is alone. Moreover, Þorgeirr is also frequently compared to a lion, hit óarga dýr, in the klausur.270 Based on European tradition, this could be taken as a positive comparison. I would argue, however, that it underscores the ambiguity of Þorgeirr’s character. As Heinrich Beck has shown, the appellation hit óarga dýr denotes lions that can be both positively and negatively connoted:271 they can appear not only as examples of courage and strength, but also as enemies that have to be overcome. The lion is a predator, and so is Þorgeirr in those instances in which he is compared to the animal.272 Moreover, Þorgeirr is not only associated with a male, but also with a female lion,273 and comparing a man to any kind of female animal can hardly be considered complimentary.274 Thus, rather than taking the lion comparisons of the klausur as attributing either positive or negative connotations to Þorgeirr’s character, they seem to highlight the ambiguity, and thus the hybridity, of his character as situated somewhere between human and animal, even though the animal might be a potentially noble one. In the description of his character, however, the different versions of the saga vary considerably, with Flateyjarbók including some episodes and klausur that the other versions omit. The most prominent of these are the angelica episode, in which Þorgeirr’s psychopathic nature is highlighted, as well as the more poignant killings he performs when he is unleashed upon society after his sentence to outlawry, by, for example, killing a farmhand who simply “‘stóð svá vel til hǫggsins’” (“stood so well for the blow”).275 Both Möðruvallabók and Hauksbók omit this episode, and while it is not necessary for our understanding of Þorgeirr’s character – his sociopathic tendencies are well established at this point in the text – one might wonder why it is Flateyjarbók that tells us of this particularly antisocial, monstrous killing. After all, one might assume that Flateyjarbók wants to establish the sworn brothers as men worthy of being retainers of King Óláfr Haraldsson, into whose saga their stories are interpolated. It might, however, be possible that the Flateyjarbók compiler wanted to stress the differences in Þorgeirr’s character before and after he encounters the saintly king: in Iceland, Þorgeirr is unpredictable and sociopathic, but when he joins the retinue of King Óláfr, he – while never becoming an easy person to get along with – appears to be more in control of his actions. In this respect, Þorgeirr resembles those berserkir who cause little harm while they are elite warriors in a ruler’s retinue, but who, once they lose this purpose that directs their monstrous abilities into socially beneficial channels, turn into as much of a menace for the general population as Þorgeirr does.276 That this differentiation between Þorgeirr pre- and post-hirðmaðr is what the compiler of Flateyjarbók wants to achieve is hinted at in the preface to the first section of Fóstbrœðra saga:

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Má af sliku merkja gœzku ok giftu Óláfs konungs at hann vætti þat athald svá miklum óeirðarmǫnnum sem þeir váru fóstbræðr, at þeir elskuðu konunginn yfir alla menn fram. Urðu þeim ok síðan sín verk ǫll at frægð ok frama, þau sem þeir unnu í heiðr við konunginn, ok syndu af sér agæta vörn, dáð ok drengiskap, áðr þeir endaðu sitt líf.277 (From this one may notice the goodness and good luck of King Óláfr, that he showed that restraint to such great troublemakers as the sworn brothers were, so that they loved the king above all other men. Afterwards all their deeds turned to their renown and distinction, which they performed in honor of the king and in which they showed excellent defense, valor and courage, before they ended their lives.)

In addition to emphasizing the unruliness of both sworn brothers, and the change they undergo under his influence, this assessment connects King Óláfr with Icelandic chieftains whose reputation is enhanced by being able to control outlaws and other monstrous characters when they are staying with them – a role exemplified by Þorgils Arason, who successfully houses both the sworn brothers and Grettir over a winter. Óláfr is thus marked as the only force that can contain the sworn brothers, and under his aegis, they both perform societally beneficial deeds.278 Þorgeirr’s only misfortune, ógæfa, is that he leaves the king’s service.279 Ultimately, however, the image the saga paints of Þorgeirr is of a figure whose psychopathic tendencies and associations with the animalistic render him deeply ambiguous, even if some of his character flaws are resolved while he is with King Óláfr. Þormóðr at first appears to be less problematic than his companion; in fact, he hardly plays a role in the saga while Þorgeirr is still in Iceland. However, while one could argue that he simply fulfills the roles of the skáld and womanizer often found in other poets’ sagas,280 it is clear that especially his affairs with women – and his unwillingness to conform to social norms by getting married – are disruptive to those affected. Thus, although Þormóðr’s erotic adventures arguably “function thematically to illustrate Þormóðr’s psychological aimlessness before his association with Óláfr,”281 they also function to introduce Þormóðr’s own streak of antisocial behavior. Whereas he was once economically disruptive when roaming the district with Þorgeirr, he now turns into a threat of his own in his socially abnormal relationships with women, which get him into trouble, physically harm him, and which in no way “enhance his reputation.”282 These relationships are symptomatic of his disruptiveness, especially in the case of Þórdís, whom Þormóðr refuses to marry, stating that “‘eigi er skaplyndi mitt til þess at kvángast’” (“marriage doesn’t suit my temperament”).283 This causes Þórdís and her mother economic and social harm by ruining her reputation and preventing her from being wooed by someone else.284 In this context, Gríma calls Þormóðr a “‘troll . . . fyrir durum’” (“troll . . . before the doors”),285 revealing what impact his behavior has on her and her daughter.

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Up to the point of Þorgeirr’s death, one might get the impression that Þormóðr is a less violent character than his sworn brother, and that the problematic side of his personality only extends to his relationships with women – an issue easily resolved once he enters the service of King Óláfr. Uwe Ebel notes, however, [d]ass Þormóðr weniger brutal sei als Þorgeirr, ist keine Deutung, die der Text vorgibt. Im Gegenteil wird ausdrücklich auf die Unmäßigkeit der Rache hingewiesen, die Þormóðr auf Grönland verübt, und der Text hat Schwierigkeiten, die Þormóðr zugeschriebenen Todschläge zu rechtfertigen.286 (that Þormóðr is less brutal than Þorgeirr cannot be directly inferred from the text. Instead, it talks about the disproportionality of his vengeance in Greenland, only justifying the number of his killings with difficulty.)

Although the vengeance is sanctioned by Óláfr, Þormóðr seems to have overdone it by killing five men to avenge one. Óláfr explicitly asks, “‘hví draptu svá marga menn?’” (“why did you kill so many?”).287 In the end, he approves of Þormóðr’s actions, but the brief moment of doubt draws attention to the question of why such excessive violence was necessary to avenge an already excessively violent man. Þormóðr may not kill for pleasure in the same way that Þorgeirr does, but there is an element of the same antisocial, excessive, and ultimately monstrous violence in his character as well. In the end, both of the sworn brothers foreshadow some of the characteristics of the berserkir discussed in the next chapter: Þorgeirr, in the way he is compared to predatory animals and in his antisocial nature, is close to the subhuman and the animalistic, whereas Þormóðr’s disruptiveness largely results from his problematic sexual encounters. What distinguishes the sworn brothers from other outlaws is the fact that they are both “cured” of their monstrosity – at least for a while – and become less disruptive towards the end of their lives. I will return to these means of reintegrating the potentially monstrous figure in chapter six.

Cursed and Broken: The Outlaw’s Death Ultimately, economic considerations often lead to the outlaw’s death. The economic impact Grettir and Hörðr have on the local communities is the main reason why farmers team up to remove the monstrous predators from their sheep and pastures. In Grettir’s case, Þorbjǫrn’s greed also plays a role, as he wants to hold onto the land that he acquired so cheaply. For this purpose, all means are justified in his opinion, and in the end, he uses his fjǫlkunnig288 foster mother to help

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him dispose of the outlaw. Þuríðr uses Grettir’s bad temper against him, causing Grettir to injure himself fatally. In this, the breaking of physical integrity observed with revenants recurs. Ásdís warns Grettir not only against magic,289 but also says, “‘eigi veit ek, hverja heill þit sœkið þangat í Drangey’” (“I do not know what kind of luck you are seeking out there in Drangey”).290 This idea of heill is taken up in the context of Þuríðr’s magic: she wants to find out “‘hversu heilladrjúgir’” (“how fortunate”) Grettir and Illugi are,291 and pronounces the curse that Grettir should be “‘heillum horfinn’” (“forsaken by luck”),292 noting to Þorbjǫrn that “‘[þ]etta mun upphaf óheilla þeirra’” (“this will be the beginning of their bad luck”).293 Finally, she creates the óheillatré (tree of bad luck)294 that causes Grettir’s injury – and the breaking of his physical integrity. It therefore seems as if this recurring use of heill/óheill is a play on the meanings of the word, “luck” and “wholeness,” and in the end, Grettir has neither. When Þorbjǫrn ǫngull and his men attack, Grettir’s body is already decomposing as the infection from his wound has spread into his small intestine – his body is broken and open to attack.295 Thus, he is killed and then both dismembered and beheaded with his own sword. Richard Harris argues that this act of beheading someone with their own weapon is reminiscent of the deaths of trolls and giants.296 Dismembering also occurs in the context of potentially monstrous figures like revenants and berserkir, showing how close Grettir has come in death to the creatures he fought during his life – at least in the eyes of Þorbjǫrn.297 It thus seems that “Grettir’s death is that of a monster and outlaw, while he has spent his life killing monsters and outlaws.”298 However, there is something excessive about the way Þorbjǫrn kills his opponent when he combines beheading, dismembering, and the use of the enemy’s own weapon. Þorbjǫrn seems to have realized that the way he went about defeating Grettir by using magic has gone too far. Because of this realization, he employs the threefold means of disposing of his dead opponent, not only to “know for certain that Grettir is dead” (“‘Nú veit ek víst, at Grettir er dauðr’”),299 as he puts it, but also to declare Grettir the ultimate monster in death. His attempt, however, fails. Instead of glory and remuneration, he receives a sentence of outlawry; being infected with his former enemy’s monstrosity, he is cast out by society. In this context of monstrous contagion, one could argue that Illugi is similarly infected because of his association with his brother, and this fully emerges only in death. Like Grettir, Illugi is beheaded: “Leiddu þeir hann þá . . . austr á eyna, ok hjuggu hann þar” (Then they led him . . . to the east of the island and beheaded him there).300 Afterwards, “[þ]eir dysjuðu þá brœðr báða þar í eyjunni” (They buried both the brothers in a cairn on the island).301 This kind of burial is used for berserkir and magic-users, as shown below, and quite frequently for those people who will later rise from their graves to haunt the

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living; Glámr himself is buried in this way.302 Illugi’s manner of death and burial might therefore signal that, through his connection with his brother, he has similarly moved closer to the monstrous that Grettir was associated with. However, since Þorbjǫrn seems to stage Grettir’s death in an elaborately monstrous way, killing Illugi by beheading him and then putting him into the same cairn as his brother might be part of his agenda. While Illugi joins in Grettir’s outlawry and partakes in the economic disruption caused on Drangey, this is never blamed on him: Grettir is solely responsible for his actions. It is therefore likely that Illugi’s beheading and burial are part of Þorbjǫrn’s failed attempt at creating a perfect monster’s death. While Hörðr’s body is not broken like Grettir’s, he does not seem entirely human during his last stand. He can jump twice over a ring of men three deep, outrun a man on horseback while carrying another man on his back, and shake off herfjöturr (war fetters) three times. He is also so “reiðr ok ógurligr at sjá, at engi þeira þorði framan at honum at ganga” (furious and terrible to look at that no one of them dared to approach him from the front).303 His attackers’ fear of his eyes is reminiscent of the way the corpse of Þórólfr bægifótr is dealt with in Eyrbyggja saga: Arnkell has to approach him from behind and close his eyes before he can prepare the body for burial,304 and this connection highlights Hörðr’s monstrosity. Moreover, the only other character described as ógurligr or ógórligr in Harðar saga is Sóti,305 whom Hörðr therefore comes to resemble in death. This parallelism between the undead viking and the soon-to-be dead outlaw emphasizes the contagious nature of monstrosity, while at the same time drawing attention to Hörðr’s own ambiguous ontological state. Thus, although Hörðr’s head is not cut off, it is probably for the best that Þorsteinn kills him with a blow to the neck.306 Much like Hörðr, Þorgeirr dies in a heroic last stand against overwhelming odds, killing fourteen of his opponents in the process. Just as with Hörðr, however, the clues to Þorgeirr’s monstrosity are to be found in the circumstances of his death. Þórarinn ofsi and Þorgrímr trolli not only make sure to cut off his head and take it with them,307 as Þorbjǫrn ǫngull does with Grettir’s, but they also cut out his heart to see how small the heart of such a fearless man really is. The rest of his body is buried on the beach because “þeir nenntu eigi til kirkju at fœra líkin” (they could not be bothered to move the bodies to church).308 Þorgeirr’s body is thus fragmented, similarly to Grettir’s, but the story does not end there. Þorgeirr’s killers regularly mock the disembodied head of their fallen enemy, but one time, the head seems to them “ógurligt, augun opin ok muðrinn, en úti tungan” (horrible, eyes and mouth open, and the tongue out),309 which frightens them so much that they bury the head immediately. Þorgeirr is just as terrifying as Sóti and Hörðr, and perhaps even resembles Glámr with his

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open eyes.310 After his death, Þorgeirr turns into “a bringer of disaster,”311 an omen of death, when he and his companions appear to Kálfr and Steinólfr at Garpsdalr before the mutual killings of the foster brothers Eyjólfr and Þorgeirr.312 More than any other outlaw, Þorgeirr is marked as a monster after his death. In spite of his body being broken and his head removed, he is not allowed to rest quietly, but comes back to haunt his killers and to signal the death of two men whose relationship was much like his and Þormóðr’s. Although he is avenged and thus, one could argue, reintegrated into society, his final place is clearly denoted as lying outside the human – and Christian – community. Þormóðr, on the other hand, despite exhibiting socially disruptive tendencies similar to Þorgeirr’s, dies a martyr’s death at the battle of Stiklastaðir. Unlike Þorgeirr, Þormóðr does not leave Óláfr’s side after returning from Greenland, and “honum þótti betra at deyja með [Óláfi] en lifa eptir hann” (it seemed better to him to die with [Óláfr] than to survive him).313 Thus, he dies a fully integrated member of Christian society, serving a Christian king and future saint, and no vengeance is necessary for him. Ultimately, both of the sworn brothers are therefore judged more on the basis of their loyalty to King Óláfr than on their actions within Icelandic society.314 I noted above that the defining feature of Gísli’s character across the saga’s versions is that it is inherently ambiguous, and his death is in keeping with this observation. Like Grettir and Hörðr, Gísli is killed for economic reasons. Eyjólfr wants to hold on to the silver Bǫrkr gave him: he only resumes his attempts at killing Gísli after “Bǫrkr þrýstir at Eyjólfi fast ok þykkir eigi svá fylgt sem hann vildi ok þykkir eigi mikit koma fyrir féit, þat er hann fekk honum í hendr” (Bǫrkr pushed Eyjólfr hard, and it seemed to him that things had not been pursued the way he wanted and that he had not got much for the money that he had given Eyjólfr).315 Thus, even if an outlaw is not economically disruptive, financial matters still play a role in his downfall. Like Grettir’s and Þorgeirr’s, Gísli’s body is broken, his belly pierced and disintegrating.316 Moreover, in his last stand, Gísli is clearly depicted as paranormally connoted, killing a total of eight men and suffering so many injuries that it seems a furða, a wondrous or extraordinary thing.317 The use of this term signals that his remaining opponents perceive him as close to the paranormal or even the uncanny. Ultimately, he is overcome by the sheer number of his attackers. After his death, his surviving enemies “gǫtva hann þar” (buried him there in a cairn), similarly to Grettir,318 which again bears witness to the monstrous status he has obtained, at least in the eyes of his opponents. Ultimately, most of the monstrous outlaws discussed in this chapter are dragged to their deaths by the curse of someone more monstrous than them: it takes both Glámr’s curse and Þúríðr’s magic to overcome Grettir, whereas Sóti’s

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curse seems to cause Hörðr to act out of character when he kills Auðr, and Þorgrímr nef’s curse effectively excludes the already marginalized Gísli from social interaction. The deaths of Þorgeirr and Þormóðr are imagined differently. Þorgeirr becomes the only true monster after his death, whereas Þormóðr dies of his own free will and seems to be fully redeemed in this almost martyr-like deed; no vengeance needs to be taken for him. Thus, their paranormal association in combination with their often monstrously disruptive actions lead to the deaths of most, but not all, of these characters. With their bodies broken, they are buried in cairns like criminals, and only their family’s posthumous attempts at reintegrating them into society through vengeance assert their ambiguous position between human and monster. Each of these outlaws, then, exhibits the features of monstrosity associated with the unambiguously monstrous revenants to different degrees and in different ways. What they have in common is their disruptive effect on the people closest to them – their families and the communities they haunt. This disruptiveness is present in their character before they are declared outlaws, a feature introduced by tensions and abuse in their childhood and youth, which contributes to their social marginality later in life. They also share an association with the paranormal, which leads them further away from human society over time: they interact with trolls, berserkir, magic-users, and the undead, and come to resemble them over time. This association with forces outside of human control makes them more than mere criminals who wander on the fringes of society: it enables their transgression into monstrosity. They turn into threats to social stability, similar to the undead in their contagion and the often devastating effect they have on the local economy, and thus, just like revenants, they have to be removed for society to revert to peace and stability. Eventually, they are overcome by the forces of magic. Together with their ambiguous humanity, their continued ties with society, this places them somewhere between the human and the monstrous, in a grey zone of ontological uncertainty. It now remains to be seen how these issues play out in relation to other disruptive figures, to the berserkir and magic-users against whom the outlaws fight.

Notes 1.

The literature on outlaws is too vast for me to do it justice here. Much of it deals with individual characters and will be cited throughout this chapter. For a thorough and recent overview, see Ahola, “Outlawry.” Currently, three PhD dissertations are being, or have recently been, completed: Marion Poilvez’s work on outlaws across saga genres; Keith Ruiter’s reading of social norms; and Alex Wilson’s “Creation of Outsiders.” For a transhistorical and transcultural perspective on the outlaw as hero, see Seal, Outlaw

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Notes

2.

3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

14.

15.

16. 17.

18. 19.

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Heroes. For an overview of the terminology relating to outlawry, see Turville-Petre, “Outlawry.” Using terminology as a starting point is of limited use since only the outlaws’ opponents label them as skógarmaðr, if this term is used at all, and vargr only appears in Gr; see chapter six. The earliest representatives of this enquiry are Heusler’s Strafrecht and Maurer’s Altisländisches Strafrecht und Gerichtswesen. Amory argues that the laws in Grg and the depiction of outlaws in saga texts do not always overlap; “Medieval Icelandic Outlaw,” 192–93 and 198. For a perspective on historical change as it relates to outlawry and punishment, see Breisch, Frid och fredlöshet. For an overview of the legal perspective on outlawry, see Ahola, “Outlawry,” 77–104. In this regard, see also chapter one. See particularly Turville-Petre, “Outlawry,” Amory, “Medieval Icelandic Outlaw,” and Ahola’s chapter, “Outlawry as a Legal Sanction,” in “Outlawry,” 78–104. Hastrup, Culture and History, 147. Vikstrand has shown why the use of Útgarðr in this context is problematic; “Ásgarðr, Miðgarðr, and Útgarðr,” 354–57. Hastrup, Culture and History, 136. Ibid., 142. Ibid., 137. Ibid., 143. Miller, “Home and Homelessness,” 133. Barraclough, “Inside Outlawry,” 368. Ibid., 386. These terms are also problematic because they are very rare; útangarðs only appears in legal contexts, whereas I have not been able to find innangarðs in any of the standard dictionaries. See Kupiec and Milek, “Roles and Perceptions of Shielings.” Harriet Jean Evans made a similar point in her talk, “Animals in the Family,” at the 16th International Saga Conference, Zurich, 2015. See Preprints, 95–96. This, however, is again complicated by the fact that, in Grettir’s fight against Glámr, the outside space into which Glámr drags Grettir symbolizes the dark realm of the “Other”; see chapter two. McLennan, “Monstrosity,” 107. As noted in chapter one, minor outlaws will not be discussed as they do not tend to exhibit the features of monstrosity in the same way. This is significant, however, in that outlawry can in itself be argued to form a spectrum of sorts. A similar spectrum can be observed in the case of berserkir; see chapter four. Amory, “Medieval Icelandic Outlaw,” 193; emphasis original. For an older introduction to the study of emotions in the sagas, see Miller, “Emotions and the Sagas.” The most recent study that focuses on the depiction of emotion in literature is Sif Ríkharðsdóttir, Emotion, and Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir is currently working on a PhD on learned influences on the depiction of emotions in the Íslendingasögur. Larrington, “Psychology of Emotion,” advocates a more psychologically informed approach to the study of emotion. I will be following a similar approach. Høyersten, “Madness,” discusses depictions of various psychological pathologies, including depression (e.g., in Eg and Háv), psychoses (in reaction to encountering the undead), Asperger’s symptoms, learning disabilities as well as bipolar and dissociative disorders in Old Norse literature.

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20. 21. 22.

23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34.

35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45.

46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53.

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Høyersten, “Madness,” 330. Ibid., 329. Jelic Tuscic et al., “Consequences of Childhood Abuse,” 24 (abstract): “When compared with their non-abused counterparts, people with a history of child abuse show a larger number of psychopathological problems. . . . They also . . . tend to adopt a risky lifestyle and show higher levels of aggression, delinquency and criminal behavior.” Ármann Jakobsson, “Troublesome Children,” 21. Larrington, “Awkward Adolescents”; Poole, “Myth, Psychology and Society”; Torfi Tulinius, “Framliðnir feður.” Larrington, “Awkward Adolescents,” 155. Ibid., 165. Poole, “Myth, Psychology and Society,” 11. Gr, 36. See Cook, “Reader in Grettis saga,” 136. Hong and Park, “Impact of Attachment,” 452. Ldn, 199; Gr, 25. Gr, 35. See Ciklamini, “Grettir and Ketill Hængr.” Hollenstein et al., “Rigidity in Parent–Child Interactions,” 595: “There is a general agreement that interactions characterized as mutually hostile, harsh, permissive, or overcontrolling contribute to a wide spectrum of child psychopathologies.” Cook, “Reader in Grettis saga,” 137. Gr, 37. See Cook, “Reading for Character,” 235. Gr, 37. Ibid., 38. Ibid., 38. Cook, “Reader in Grettis saga,” 137. Norman et al., “Long-Term Consequences,” 2. Jelic Tuscic et al., “Consequences of Childhood Abuse,” 25. Norman et al., “Long-Term Consequences,” 2. While it was probably expected of children to contribute to life on the farm (see Callow, “Transitions to Adulthood,” 53), it is clear from other sagas that a complete absence of paternal affection and the relegation of children to the status of workers was not the norm. Ásmundr reduces Grettir to less than his son at this point; only later, when Grettir is an adolescent, does Ásmundr begin to trust him again, considering Grettir intelligent enough to attend the Alþing on his behalf; Gr, 45. Norman et al., “Long-Term Consequences,” 31. Gr, 38. Ármann Jakobsson, “Troublesome Children,” 17; Larrington, “Awkward Adolescents,” 165. See Hume, “Thematic Design,” 472. Gr, 43. See Donnellan et al., “Low Self-Esteem,” 328. See Jelic Tuscic et al., “Consequences of Childhood Abuse,” 30. See Hume, “Thematic Design,” 476.

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Notes

54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87.

88. 89. 90. 91. 92. 93.

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Gr, 169. Stirling and Amaya-Jackson, “Behavioral and Emotional Consequences,” 668. Gr, 39 and 41–42; in the latter instance, she also criticizes Ásmundr’s treatment of Grettir. Ibid., 49. Poole, “Myth, Psychology and Society,” 8. Gr, 155. On the importance of home, see Miller, “Home and Homelessness,” 133. Gr, 223. Ibid., 223. Ibid., 265. The idea of posthumous reintegration is explored further in chapter six. Gr, 50. Harð, 7. Ibid., 5. Ibid., 10: Signý “lét sér fátt um finnast” (was rather displeased). Ibid., 9. Ibid., 12. On the dreams in Harð, see Cochrane, “Tree Dreams.” Harð, 15. Ibid., 16. Ibid., 17. Ibid., 17. Ibid., 17. Ibid., 18. Ibid., 18. Ibid., 23. Cf. Ármann Jakobsson, “Fóstur í íslenskum míðaldasögum,” 75–76. The early theory of attachment was first formulated by John Bowlby in 1958 and 1969; for an introduction, see Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory, esp. 53–69. Jones et al., “Self-Reported Attachment Styles,” 45. Hong and Park, “Impact of Attachment,” 449. Harð, 28. On this term, see chapter four. Harð, 35. Ibid., 27–8; by stating that “‘[s]kal þetta fé eiga Hörðr, son minn’” (“my son Hörðr shall have this money”), to which Torfi responds “eigi mundu gjalda Herði þetta fé, nema hann yrði eigi verrfeðrungr” (that he would only pay Hörðr the money if he did not turn out worse than his father). Ibid., 56. Ibid., 56. For a detailed analysis and discussion of the different versions of the saga, see Lethbridge, “Narrative Variation.” Gísl, ed. Loth, 11. Ibid., 11. Ibid., 10.

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94. Ibid., 11: “‘Þá njóttu heill handa,’ sagði Þorbjǫrn, ‘ok kann þá vera, at ek eiga eigi dœtr einar barna.’” (“May your hands serve you well,” said Þorbjǫrn, “and maybe I have not only daughters among my children.”) 95. Andersson, “Some Ambiguities in Gísla saga,” 41, and Clark, “Revisiting Gísla saga,” 513. 96. Gísl, ed. Loth, 14. 97. Gísl, 114. 98. Poilvez, “Wrong Undone.” 99. Meulengracht Sørensen, “Murder in Marital Bed,” 241. 100. Holtsmark, “Studies,” 34. 101. Andersson, Partisan Muse, 178. 102. Fbr, 125. 103. Ibid., 132. 104. Ibid., 165 and 176. 105. Ibid., 169. 106. Clunies Ross, “Genealogical Structure.” 107. Larrington, “Sibling Drama,” 169. 108. Ibid., 172. 109. This could be connected with the saga’s obvious borrowings from heroic poetry; Andersson, “Some Ambiguities,” 42. See also Clark, “Revisiting Gísla saga.” 110. O’Donoghue, Skaldic Verse, 142. 111. Gísl, 22–24. 112. Keens, “Sexual Gossip and Scandal.” 113. Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 182. 114. Hermann Pálsson, “Death in Autumn,” 12. 115. Gísl, 8. 116. Ibid., 11. 117. Vésteinn Ólason, “Introduction,” xvi. 118. Gísl, 63. 119. Gísl, ed. Loth, 49 and 52. 120. Gísl, 74–75. 121. Harð, 30. 122. Ibid., 31. 123. Ibid., 32. 124. Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 93. 125. Amory, “Medieval Icelandic Outlaw,” 197. 126. Harð, 45; the text here refers to Hörðr, Hróarr, Geirr, and Helgi as fóstbræður although no mention is made of them swearing oaths of brotherhood. 127. Ibid., 48. 128. On this, see below. 129. Harð, 72. 130. Ibid., 72. 131. Ibid., 77. 132. Ibid., 80: “‘mun ek þar öngvar tengdir virða’” (“I will not honor kinship with you”). 133. Ibid., 82. 134. Ibid., 86. 135. Ibid., 15.

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Notes

136. 137. 138. 139. 140. 141. 142. 143. 144. 145. 146. 147. 148. 149.

150. 151. 152. 153. 154. 155. 156. 157.

158. 159. 160. 161. 162. 163. 164. 165. 166. 167. 168. 169. 170. 171. 172. 173.

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Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 93. Harð, 79. See Schottmann, “Harðar saga,” 252, and chapter six. Harð, 97: “þykkir hon mikill kvenskörungr verit hafa” (she was assumed to have been a great lady). Gr, 260. See Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 46. Gr, 95. Ibid., 95. Ibid., 126. Ibid., 152. Ibid., 155. Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 236. Cook, “Reader in Grettis saga,” 152. The oldest surviving manuscript that contains the saga’s beginning, Möðruvallabók, calls it “Saga Þormóðar ok Þorgeirs,” which, just as much as its modern appellation, emphasizes that its main concern lies with the relationship of the sworn brothers; for Möðruvallabók, see http://handrit.is/en/manuscript/view/is/AM02-0132. Accessed June 15, 2017. Fbr, 124. Ibid., 125. Ibid., 125–26. Ibid., 133. Arnold, Post-Classical Family Saga, 167. Fbr, 151. Gos, “Women,” 284. It has been observed that Þorgeirsdrápa gives a different account of the split between the sworn brothers, attributing it to slander; see Heller, “Fóstbrœðra saga,” 54, and Meulengracht Sørensen, “Voice of the Past,” 177. Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 213. Heller, “Fóstbrœðra saga,” 54. See Jochens, “Gender Relations,” 326. Vésteinn Ólason, “Introduction,” xx. Gísl, 101. Ibid., 112. Cf. Miller, “Home and Homelessness,” 133. Gísl, 93–94. Vésteinn Ólason, “Gísli Súrsson,” 172. Harð, 45. Ibid., 86. Ibid., 89. Ibid., 97; see Schottmann, “Harðar saga,” 252, and chapter six. This quote is taken from the song “If These Walls Could Speak” by Clouds, who have granted me permission to use it here. Turville-Petre, “Outlawry,” 770. See Hermann Pálsson, “Death in Autumn,” 19, who claims that Gísli has incestuous feelings towards his sister and that this is his main motivation for killing off Þórdís’s

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174. 175. 176.

177. 178. 179. 180. 181. 182. 183. 184. 185. 186. 187. 188. 189. 190. 191. 192. 193. 194.

195. 196. 197. 198. 199. 200.

201. 202. 203. 204.

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various lovers. While something odd may be going on in the scene in which Gísli kills Þorgrímr, I think that this reading goes too far. Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, 155–56. Gr, 130. Cf. Grímr or Þórir rauðskeggr, who try to kill Grettir; Gr, 178–83. While these are both problematic and socially disruptive men, they do not seem to have the same societal impact as major outlaws. See Guðmundr Andri Thorsson, “Grettla,” 107. He notes that “Grettir er aðeins að hálfu mennskur” (Grettir is only half-human), 100. Harð, 87. Gísl, 70. These berserkir are discussed in chapter four. Harð, 32. Regarding magic in Harð, see chapter five. Harð, 56. Gr, 121. Harð, 43. Gr, 192 and 247. See Hawes, “Monstrosity of Heroism,” 20. Gr, 123. Gísl, 104. From a legal perspective, outlawry is always contagious since whoever aids and abets the outlaw turns into one himself; see Turville-Petre, “Outlawry,” 770. Harð, 68. Ibid., 64. See Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 114; Beowulf, l. 1513. Schottmann, “Harðar saga,” 231. Harð, 65. According to Miller, “Home and Homelessness,” 133, outlawry is the ultimate state of non-belonging, and it is significant that Hörðr’s outlaw colony provides a home to óskilamenn – i.e., marginal people, people who do not belong, untrustworthy people who do not reciprocate: a community away from the society to which they do not belong. Eb, chs. 50–55. Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 251. See chapter two, where I suggest that the key lies in Glámr’s ófagnaðarkraptr (evil force). Gr., 225. Ibid., 227. Women being beaten by their husbands, e.g., in Laxd and Nj, always leads to trouble. When Auðr loses her hand in Eb, her husband is mocked and has to take thorough vengeance. In Ísls, 328–29, someone cuts the breasts off a woman called Þorbjǫrg ysja during the Sauðafell raid. The cluster of poetry that follows this event clearly reveals how traumatic and traumatizing this outburst of violence was perceived; see Grove, “Skaldic Verse-Making.” On violence against women, see also chapters four and seven. Three times; Gr, 48, 170, and 198. Ibid., 237. Hawes, “Monstrosity of Heroism,” 39. Gr, 133: “Grettir varð skapfátt mjǫk við þetta, ok gat þá eigi stǫðvat sik” (Grettir lost his temper completely at that and could not contain himself). 251: “Grettir varð skapfátt við

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Notes

205. 206. 207. 208. 209. 210. 211. 212. 213. 214. 215. 216. 217. 218. 219. 220. 221. 222. 223. 224. 225. 226. 227. 228. 229. 230. 231. 232. 233. 234. 235. 236. 237. 238. 239. 240. 241. 242. 243.

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þrælinn ok tvíhendi øxina til rótarinnar, ok eigi geymdi hann, hvat tré þat var” (Grettir lost his temper with the thrall and swung his axe at the root with both hands and did not heed which log it was). Ibid., 236. Ibid., 264. Ibid., 268: “Hann stefndi Þorbirni ǫngli annarri stefnu um galdr ok fjǫlkynngi . . . en annarri um þat, er þeir vágu at honum hálfdauðum manni.” Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 251. Gr, 285. Böldl, Eigi einhamr, 132. See the discussion of Grettir’s death below. Gr, 165. Ibid., 165. Both the farmer’s and Þorbjǫrg’s perspectives are discussed in chapter six. Gr, 172. Ibid., 173–74. Ibid., 178. Ibid., 228. Gr, 229. On the significance of this term, see Ney, “Uselt är att vara varg.” Ibid., 236. Ibid., 245: “Leitaði hann allra bragða við at stíga yfir Gretti” (He sought all sorts of schemes to overcome Grettir). See Hume, “Thematic Design,” 473. Hawes, “Monstrosity of Heroism,” 31. Gr, 167. Ibid., 229. Ibid., 228. How the monster’s action and the community’s reaction impact each other will be discussed in chapter six. Amory, “Medieval Icelandic Outlaw,” 195. Miller, “Blaming the Secret Offender,” 101; see also Andersson, “Thief in Beowulf,” 497–98. Harð, 60. Ibid., 71 and 81. See Schottmann, “Harðar saga,” 251. In their references to the criminals on the island, the Hvalfjǫrðr farmers never distinguish between individuals, but instead talk about the Hólmverjar as a collective. Harð, 80. Ibid., 76. Ibid., 80. Shortt Butler, “Narrative Structure,” 139. McLennan, “Monstrosity,” 138. Ibid., 139. Ibid., 139. Barraclough, “Inside Outlawry,” 386. Gísl, 69. Andersson, Partisan Muse, 185. Gísl, 61.

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244. 245. 246. 247. 248. 249. 250. 251. 252. 253. 254. 255. 256. 257. 258. 259. 260. 261. 262. 263.

264. 265. 266. 267. 268. 269. 270. 271. 272. 273. 274. 275. 276. 277. 278. 279.

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Gísl, ed. Loth, 40. Gísl, 99. Miller, “Home and Homelessness,” 135. The significance of this is explored below. O’Donoghue, Skaldic Verse, 142. Barraclough, “Inside Outlawry,” 379. For a close reading of the dream verses and an overview of relevant scholarship, see Crocker, “Dreams of Gísli Súrsson.” O’Donoghue, Skaldic Verse, 163. Gísl, ed. Loth, 72. Schottmann, “Gísli in der Acht,” 94. See also Foote, “Saga of Gísli,” 109. As McLennan suggests, this a transgressive trait; “Monstrosity,” 123. Vésteinn Ólason, “Introduction,” xx, therefore considers Gísli a trickster figure. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 5. See especially Jónas Kristjánsson, Um Fóstbræðrasögu. For a recent reassessment, see Andersson, “Redating Fóstbrœðra saga.” See Simek, “Saga-Anti-Held.” This was readdressed by Meulengracht Sørensen, “On Humour,” and further revised by Uwe Ebel, “Archaik oder Europa.” See especially Helga Kress, “Bróklindi Falgeirs.” See, e.g., Meulengracht Sørensen, “Voice of the Past,” and Jochens, “Gender Relations.” Ahola, “Outlawry,” 120–22, groups them under “Fortunate Outlaw-Biographies.” Möðruvallabók and Konungsbók, to be precise; ÍF VI, 121, n. 2. Gos, “Women,” 286–88. Flateyjarbók instead recounts the episode of his and the sworn brothers’ stay with Þorgils Arason that also appears in Grettla, so that the connection between these three men is preserved. For a summary of the differences of the Flateyjarbók version, see Úlfar Bragason, “Flateyjarbók Version.” Fbr, 125. Ibid., 133. Ibid., 134–35. Ibid., 142. Ibid., 142. Ibid., 126 and 151. Extratextual comments provided by the narrator whose content is mostly derived from learned tradition. On these, see also chapter six below. Beck, “Tiersignificatio,” 98–106. E.g., Fbr, 142: “váru allir við þá hræddir sem fénaðr við león, þá er hann kømr í þeira flokk” (everyone was afraid of them as cattle is of a lion, if he comes into their flock). Fbr, 208, n. 1. This only appears in Flateyjarbók. Thanks to Timothy Bourns for his insights into animal comparisons, and Sebastian Thoma for discussing níð and female animals. Ibid., 157. In this regard, see chapter four, esp. the discussion of Halli and Leiknir, and chapter six. Flat, vol 2, 91–92. Also Rowe, Development of Flateyjarbók, 56–57. See Gos, “Women,” 297–98. Fbr, 194; see also Arnold, Post-Classical Family Saga, 169.

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280. Jochens, “Gender Relations.” While Þormóðr resembles, for example, Hallfreðr in his reluctance to get married, this is where the similarities end. The love triangle and samesex rivalry that both Jochens (“Gender Relations,” 331) and Andersson (“Love Triangle Theme,” 272) consider the most central feature of the poets’ sagas is absent from Fbr, where Þormóðr has no competition. However, his sexual disruptiveness connects him both with other poets as well as with berserkir, and one might therefore consider opening up the spectrum of berserkish, i.e., sexually predatory, behavior established in chapter four to extend to some of the protagonists of the skáldasögur. 281. Arnold, Post-Classical Family Saga, 163. 282. Ibid., 168. 283. Fbr, 161. 284. The impact of this is discussed in relation to berserkir in chapter seven. 285. Fbr, 161. 286. Ebel, “Archaik oder Europa,” 26. 287. Fbr, 259. 288. On this term, see chapter five below. 289. Gr, 224. 290. Ibid., 223. 291. Ibid., 246. 292. Ibid., 247. 293. Ibid., 249. 294. Ibid., 249 and 251. See also chapter five. 295. Ibid., 261. 296. Harris, “Grettir and Grendel,” 38–39 and 47. 297. See chapters two, four, and six for various aspects of this discussion. 298. Harris, “Grettir and Grendel,” 40. 299. Gr, 262. 300. Ibid., 263. 301. Ibid., 263. 302. Gr, 113: “dysjuðu hann þar, sem þá var hann kominn” (they buried him in a cairn in the place to which he had then come). 303. Harð, 87. 304. Eb, 92. 305. Harð, 41. 306. Ibid., 87–8. 307. Fbr, 210. 308. Ibid., 212. 309. Ibid., 212. 310. Gr, 110: “opineygr” (open-eyed). 311. Meulengracht Sørensen, “On Humour,” 411. 312. In this regard, see chapter seven. 313. Fbr, 260. 314. See Meulengracht Sørensen, “On Humour,” 411–13. 315. Gísl, 73. 316. Ibid., 114. 317. Ibid., 115. 318. Ibid., 115.

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4 Nature and Nurture – Berserkir Berserkir appear in one shape or another in a variety of sources ranging from Íslendingasögur and fornaldarsögur to kings’ sagas, and from poetry to material culture in representations of animal-warriors on picture stones and bracteates.1 Therefore, they have been studied as literary stereotypes, as representatives of Odinic Männerbünde complete with initiation rites,2 and as evidence for a belief in human-animal shapeshifting. They have also been read as potentially historical figures, and arguments have been made about the origin of their battle rage in the consumption of certain mushrooms,3 physical and personality disorders,4 and combat trauma.5 While the wide range of topics that have been covered show the transhistorical and transdisciplinary appeal of these characters, my focus in the following will remain with the berserkir as they are represented in the Íslendingasögur. One of the problems of previous work on these characters is that, in many cases, scholars do not adequately differentiate between berserkir as they appear in different genres of saga literature.6 It is, however, important to distinguish between different kinds of berserkir: in the fornaldarsögur, for example, some berserkir can change shape physically, whereas this does not happen in the Íslendingasögur.7 Moreover, in a courtly context, their role changes drastically, and they lose some of their horror when they appear in massive armies,8 whereas in the Íslendingasögur, a small group of berserkir is sufficient to cause terror in the community.9 I would therefore argue that, even in discussions of the character across Norse literature and culture, it is important to examine the berserkr as he appears in any given generic and narrative context. My approach to berserkir will be different from earlier studies in two important ways. Firstly, rather than looking backward into the Viking Age and at the Germanic warriors that might have given rise to the conception of the literary characters featured in sagas of all genres, I will look forward to the period in which the sagas were composed and disseminated, considering a medieval rather than a Viking Age context. Secondly, instead of trying to tease out what berserkir were, and in keeping with the action- and interaction-based approach of this study, I will focus on what berserkir do, how they act against and interact with society. This reading is not only supported by the sagas’ focus on berserksgangr (going berserk) – action rather than being10 – but will also allow an exploration of the extent to and the ways in which berserkir exhibit features of social monstrosity in their interaction with society. My reading will focus on those characters that are referred to as berserkir or as exhibiting berserksgangr by the narrator or a character of a given saga,11 the only exception being Egill and his ancestors. It seems that Egils saga carefully https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-004

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avoids the term berserkr in relation to them, and therefore they offer an interesting comparative perspective. Some scholars have assumed that all characters who hamask (shift),12 or are eigi einhamr (not of one shape), or hamrammr (shape-strong),13 and/or who fight duels, are berserkir,14 but in my opinion, one should not make this assumption. Breen laments that the terms berserkr and berserksgangr do not provide a “reliable yardstick” for our understanding of the berserkr, since characters who are not referred to as berserkir sometimes behave like them, and because of the variability of meaning denoted by both terms.15 However, because of this lack of a precise meaning – because of the monster’s “propensity to shift”16 – one should be careful when making assumptions as to which of “these figures were intended to be identified by the contemporary audience as berserkir.”17 There are reasons for the way a character is addressed,18 and therefore it is also significant if a saga chooses not to refer to someone who hamask, is unpopular, or abducts women as a berserkr. Moreover, these shades of berserkish, trollish, and potentially monstrous behavior the sagas explore through various characters underline my reading of monstrosity as a matter of degree rather than a fixed concept. I will first test the features of social monstrosity developed in chapter two against the figure of the berserkr. Hybridity and transgression in particular emerge as important: in the berserkir’s association with the animalistic and the sub-human, arguments about shapeshifting can be made. I will take a different angle, however, and argue that no physical change is present in the berserkir of the Íslendingasögur. After the exploration of the berserkir’s expression of contagion and economic disruption, I will turn to the way in which they interact with society and individual members of the community through violence and sexual harassment. Finally, I will briefly discuss the ways in which these characters are dispatched and buried.

Going Berserk The Íslendingasögur present several types of berserkir who appear in different contexts and exhibit slightly different features; the number of berserkr types has varied across studies.19 I distinguish four basic types of berserkir in the Íslendingasögur: the elite warrior in a king’s retinue; the hall-challenger; the conversion berserkr; and the robber and rapist. Despite their differences, these types have a variety of features in common. Most notable is that they all exhibit berserksgangr. Although this may not be an inherently negative trait, most of the Íslendingasögur depict it as such. The only exceptions are the elite warrior type berserkir who appear in Vatnsdœla saga, Grettis saga, and Egils saga, since these are the only berserkir

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who fulfill a socially beneficial function,20 and outliers such as Berðlu-Kári, who is described as a berserkr without any negative attributes, and without exhibiting berserksgangr.21 Other characteristics berserkir share across types include their imperviousness to fire and iron,22 howling and shield-biting,23 and an aggressive attitude towards those who encounter them. While this latter trait might be a positive attribute in the elite warrior type, if berserkir are let loose on the general population, their aggression and violence make them unpopular. The main focus in the following will be with the robber and rapist type as it is the most frequently appearing berserkr in the Íslendingasögur, and the one who can be most clearly read as monstrous in his disruptiveness since, as Dale notes, “[h]is activities represent a threat to the order of society.”24 I will, however, occasionally draw on examples of the other types as well to discuss the potential monstrosity of berserkir across the genre.

Hybridity and Transgression Much of the earlier scholarship on berserkir focuses either on the etymology of their name, or on the nature of berserksgangr.25 These two facets of berserkr scholarship will also form the basis of my investigation into the hybridity and transgressiveness underlying their characterization – the features that enable them to behave in a way that can be perceived as monstrous. The question of the etymology of the word berserkr as either derived from berr (bare),26 or from a lost noun *beri (bear),27 provides a starting point for this discussion, since it allows berserkir to be read either as fighting bare, as Snorri envisaged them in Ynglinga saga,28 or as warriors wearing bear-skins. Since there are valid reasons for both etymologies, I agree with Dale that a multiplicity of meanings related to the term likely existed across time and space.29 However, the “bear” etymology has the advantage that it offers a parallel construction to the often connected term úlfheðinn,30 and this connection opens up readings into berserkir as cultic animal-warriors with parallels in other Indo-European societies.31 Combined with the fact that some berserkir are also said to be eigi einhamir or hamrammir in the sagas, this has led to the conjecture that berserkir change shape, or that they represent the residue of a belief in the shapeshifting abilities of animal-warriors.32 Several scholars, however, note that berserkir, at least in the Íslendingasögur, do not actually change shape.33 In the context of discussing the hybridity of berserkir, it is therefore necessary to take a closer look at those people who are said to be hamrammr, eigi einhamr, or who hamask.34 Such ham-compounds have been connected to an episode in Vǫlsunga saga in which Sigmundr and Sinfjǫtli put on úlfahamir (wolf-shapes, or wolf-hides)

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and metamorphose into wolves.35 This episode, however, occurs not only in a fornaldarsaga in which other figures also change shape, but is also an isolated instance of such physical metamorphosis through the use of an animal skin. Here, the hamr is a physical entity that can be put on and taken off, but there is little suggestion of this idea of a physical shape or skin informing the cases of hamrammir or eigi einhamir characters in the Íslendingasögur. There are sixteen men in these sagas who are connected to such ham-compounds without being called berserkir,36 and while some of them can be problematic or even disruptive,37 only two of them behave in ways that might be associated with shapeshifting: Gunnsteinn and Sveinungr in Fljótsdæla saga are said to tryllast (turn trollish, become mad) in battle, but even here there is no allusion to a physical change of shape.38 In other characters, their ham-associations are connected to great strength,39 but there is no suggestion that they physically change shape. They are not even shown to project their animal spirit into battle as Þorsteinn svǫrfuðr – who is not ham-associated – does.40 Moreover, of the twenty-one named berserkir who appear in the Íslendingasögur,41 only four are connected with ham-compounds: Halli and Leiknir in Eyrbyggja and Heiðarvíga saga, Bárekr, who appears in Brot af Þórðar sögu hreðu, and Svartr from Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls. Additionally, a passage in Egils saga connects men who are hamrammr and men who exhibit berserksgangr, but even there, it is not a direct equation. Rather, the saga carefully avoids turning Kveld-Úlfr into an outright berserkr by stating, “[s]vá er sagt, at þeim mǫnnum væri farit, er hamrammir eru, eða þeim, er berserksgangr var á, at meðan þat var framit, þá váru þeir svá sterkir, at ekki helzk við þeim” (This is said of those men who are shape-strong, or of those who exhibit berserksgangr, that while this was performed, they were so strong that nothing could withstand them).42 Moreover, while it has been assumed that Kveld-Úlfr goes berserk every night,43 the one case in which he demonstrably hamask – accessing the rage and strength necessary for his fight against Hallvarðr and his men – is so exhausting that he dies shortly afterwards.44 In many of the above-mentioned cases, ham-association seems to be connected with strength greater than that of ordinary humans, and this is made explicit when Finnboga saga states of its protagonist that “fáir eða engir muni sterkari verit hafa á Íslandi, þeira er einhamir hafa verit” (few people or none have been stronger in Iceland among those who were of one shape).45 Thus, being hamrammr or eigi einhamr denotes the ability to draw on powers that ordinary humans cannot access. It appears to be a battle boost rather than the ability to shift physical shape, thus rendering it a psychological or behavioral shift that impacts physical capacity.46 This shift can coincide with the other psychological and behavioral shift known as berserksgangr, but there is no basis for Breen’s

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assessment that “[t]hese ham-terms are so frequently applied to berserkir that they become almost synonymous with the term berserksgangr.”47 Rather, a spectrum of psychological instability is opened up through those terms, and berserksgangr only seems to be the most specific, and perhaps most extreme, case of behavioral shifting.48 For, while berserksgangr is associated with increased strength,49 it is also connected with another shift: a crossing into the animalistic. One of the most common features of berserkir is their seemingly bizarre behavior when berserksgangr comes over them. The case of Ljótr inn bleiki is symptomatic, for, when “kom á hann berserksgangr, tók hann þá at grenja illiliga ok beit í skjǫld sínn” (berserksgangr came over him, he then began to howl hideously and bit into his shield).50 Similarly, when Halli and Leiknir are introduced in Eyrbyggja saga, the saga states of them that “þeir gengu berserksgang ok váru þá eigi í mannligu eðli, er þeir váru reiðir, ok fóru galnir sem hundar ok óttuðusk hvárki eld né járn” (they went berserk and were not of human nature when they were enraged, they went around crazed like dogs and feared neither fire nor iron).51 The howling of Ljótr and the dog-like behavior of Halli and Leiknir are linked in characters like Þórir þǫmb and Ǫgmundr illi, who, when they go berserk, “grenja sem hundar” (howl like dogs).52 Thus, howling and animalistic behavior are inherent features of berserksgangr, emphasizing that, even though they may not physically shift shape, berserkir are indeed hybrid. Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir even suggests that “the berserk is a wild animal in the shape of a man.”53 Through their animalistic behavior during berserksgangr, they cross the ontological boundary between human and animal that – much like the boundary between life and death – should not be crossed.54 According to Pluskowski, such a connection with the bestial was in itself associated with monstrosity in medieval culture, and comparing someone to an animal served to dehumanize them.55 Thus, the animalistic connotations of berserksgangr establish the berserkr’s association with the monstrous by rendering him a potential hybrid who transgresses the boundary between human and animal. This animalistic behavior does not need to be conceived of as madness or frenzy, however.56 While it is associated with rage,57 there is little suggestion of a complete loss of control during berserksgangr. Not only, as Dale notes, would a loss of control be disadvantageous in battle,58 but there are also only two cases in which berserksgangr or a related rage-based shift in behavior occurs involuntarily.59 In other cases, berserkir seem to be able to call up berserksgangr at will, so that Halli and Leiknir can, for example, access their superior strength to accomplish the tasks Styrr sets them without being under the stress of battle.60 Thus, although berserksgangr may be neither physical shapeshifting nor a crossing into the irrational, it is associated with the transgression of

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ontological boundaries, rendering berserkir animalistic hybrids with a psychological ability to shift. The question arises as to what enables this crossing into the animalistic. Two sagas offer a possible explanation. In Eyrbyggja saga, Halli and Leiknir are said to be “eigi í mannligu eðli er þeir váru reiðir” (not of human nature when they were enraged),61 and in Vatnsdœla saga, this is underlined by Þorsteinn’s assessment of Þórir’s situation: “‘þú ert eigi í eðli þínu sem aðrir men’” (“you are not in your nature like other men”).62 This change in a person’s eðli (nature) is therefore what seems to facilitate berserksgangr and with it the transgression of ontological boundaries between human and animal; we are therefore literally concerned with the nature of berserksgangr. This appears to be another argument against a literal reading of berserksgangr as shapeshifting: it is a person’s nature, their character and behavior, that is at stake when a berserkr goes berserk; it is this internal aspect that shifts.63 Moreover, that berserkir seem to be different in their eðli from ordinary people also underscores their hybridity: there is something in the fabric of their beings that enables them to cross into the animalistic. This crossing is then made visible, transposed from the mental to the physical, in the signs of berserksgangr: howling and shield-biting. The crossing itself is therefore one of action rather than being: berserkir behave like animals rather than turning into them, and this is in keeping with my observations about the action-based nature of social monstrosity more generally.

Contagion The observation that berserkism is something that lies in a man’s eðli is not only closely connected to the berserkr’s inherent hybridity, but also to the way in which he affects – or infects – those around him. Due to its close connection with behavior and personality, the ability to go berserk appears to be an innate quality; the berserkr’s potential for monstrosity therefore arises from nature rather than nurture.64 However, if berserkism is innate, one can assume that it can also be passed on, and this hypothesis is supported by saga narratives. The main way through which berserkir infect others with their monstrosity is therefore through descent; berserkism, the ability to berserksgangr, seems to be a genetic condition that is passed on from father to son.65 This is highlighted, for example, in the encounters involving pairs of berserkr brothers: Halli and Leiknir66 and Þórir þǫmb and Ǫgmundr illi67 are said to be brothers as well as berserkir, and they operate together. The family of Egill Skalla-Grímsson has also been drawn on in discussions of the hereditary nature of berserkism. I have noted above that both Kveld-Úlfr and Skalla-Grímr belong to the group of men with

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ham-associations but are not called berserkir, and Egill is neither shown to hamask, nor does he exhibit berserksgangr. However, from the moment Kveld-Úlfr is introduced, ursine and lupine elements are present in both his genealogy and his behavior, and these elements reoccur in successive generations:68 Kveld-Úlfr (evening wolf) is the son of Bjálfi (animal pelt) and Hallbera (Hall-she-bear) – the sister of Hallbjǫrn hálftroll, Grettir’s ancestor. He is also said to be “mjǫk hamrammr” (very shape-strong),69 getting styggr (irritable) in the evening. SkallaGrímr not only inherits his father’s external appearance, but also his ability to shift,70 and he hamask twice in the saga.71 And Egill, although he is not associated with ham-compounds, is both compared to a troll and once uses his teeth to kill an opponent.72 Thus, although it probably goes too far to suggest that Egill betrays cannibalistic tendencies,73 one could argue that a lupine trait is still present in his personality. However, it is also important to note that, firstly, this lupine trait only appears in half of the family, and that secondly, it seems to weaken over time. Both Þórólfar seem to be unaffected by it, and they are different in both appearance and character from their darker brothers. Moreover, while Kveld-Úlfr seems to exhibit the full form of what has been compared to lycanthropy,74 Skalla-Grímr only hamask under stress – and on one occasion, the shift seems to be involuntary75 – and Egill not at all. Therefore, the lupine traits inherent in the family of KveldÚlfr appear to decline over time:76 as Ralph O’Connor notes, “[t]he family line has, as it were, become more human through the generations.”77 This weakening of potential berserkr traits is unparalleled in the Íslendingasögur, as we will see in the discussion of Svarfdæla saga below, but there is a parallel for the occurrence of ham-association and/or berserkism in only half of a group of brothers. In Vatnsdœla saga, of the four Ingimundarsynir, Þórir is a berserkr, albeit an involuntary one,78 while Jǫkull is perceived as one.79 Þorsteinn and Hǫgni, however, show no association with ham-compounds or berserkism. Thus, in families with a known capacity for the psychological and behavioral shifting associated with berserkism and ham-association, it seems that only half of a group of brothers inherits the necessary traits, the eðli enabling berserksgangr.80 While Egils saga therefore presents evidence of the potentially hereditary nature of ham-association, it does not prove conclusively that this is also the case for berserkism, since neither Skalla-Grímr nor Egill are called berserkir. Vatnsdœla saga’s evidence is also inconclusive because of the circumstances in which Jǫkull is called a berserkr, and because of the involuntary nature of Þórir’s berserksgangr. However, a clearer case of a berserkr descent line is presented in Svarfdæla saga. It is introduced in the figure of Ljótr inn bleiki, whom “bíti eigi vápn” (weapons do not bite),81 but who is not called a berserkr. Moldi, however, a

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“víkingr eðr hálfberserkr” (viking or half-berserkr),82 turns out to be Ljótr’s brother. It is therefore reasonable to assume that there is a streak of berserkism running through the family. Þorsteinn manages to overcome them both, but this does not end the berserkr problem. After the big lacuna that makes it difficult to trace the exact genealogies,83 Þorsteinn svǫrfuðr’s sister Þórarna appears, revealing that she “‘var hertekin af Snækolli Ljótssyni, ok hann á bǫrn þessi við mér’” (“was abducted by Snækollr Ljótsson, and he has these children [Klaufi and Sigríðr] with me”).84 Because of the lacuna, there is no direct link between Snækollr and Ljótr inn bleiki, but it is reasonable to assume that they are father and son.85 Berserkir are otherwise never introduced with their patronymics, and that Snækollr’s descent is mentioned establishes a connection between the viking Ljótr (and his hálfberserkr brother Moldi) and Snækollr, who, as an abductor and rapist, behaves in a berserkr-like manner. It is therefore not surprising that Klaufi also exhibits berserkr-like tendencies when he grows up: in his dealings with Yngvildr, he betrays his propensity for sexual harassment, as will be discussed below. He also shows tyrannical behavior towards those who do not comply with his will,86 and exhibits a volatile temper that leads him to kill apparently at random.87 Eventually, the saga states outright that “var þá kominn at honum berserksgangr” (berserksgangr had then come over him),88 confirming that Klaufi has inherited the berserkr traits of his father’s family. However, while these traits seem to decline in Egill’s family, they have grown stronger in Klaufi’s case: whereas both Ljótr and Moldi are presented as mostly honorable characters who do not want to fight against Þorsteinn,89 Snækollr already conforms to the role of the abductor and rapist. Klaufi then exhibits the full “clinical picture” of berserkism: his monstrosity is visible both in his physically grotesque body,90 as well as in his disruptive behavior, and finally in his actions after death. Klaufi is the most persistent revenant of the Íslendingasögur, and the only one that “survives” beheading. He therefore becomes a much more severely disruptive threat to social stability, and one that can only be removed when his beheaded corpse is finally burned at the end of the saga.91 Berserkism as an innate characteristic or ability is therefore consistently presented as a hereditary condition in the Íslendingasögur, and one with great disruptive potential. In order to “infect” others with his monstrosity, a berserkr must produce offspring, but this offspring then has the ability to fragment society from the inside. This infection through procreation, and the ensuing disruption of society, however, is not a rare occurrence: as I will discuss below, the berserkr’s primary threat is of a sexual nature, it has serious implications for both individuals as well as society as a whole.

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Economic Impact First, however, I want to briefly turn to the economic impact of berserkr robbers since, while it is perhaps not the most disruptive feature of their monstrosity, it is present in many berserkr episodes. For example, just before Þórir þǫmb and Ǫgmundr illi are introduced to Grettis saga, the reasons for Eiríkr jarl’s outlawing of duels are closely linked to the economic impact of berserkir: úthlaupsmenn eða berserkir skoruðu á hólm gǫfga menn til fjár eða kvenna. . . . Fengu margir af þessu smán ok fjármissu, en sumir líftjón með ǫllu, ok því tók Eiríkr jarl af allar hólmgǫngur í Noregi; hann gerði ok útlaga alla ránsmenn ok berserkir.92 (raiders or berserkir challenged honorable men to duels over money or women. . . . Many got shame from this, or lost their property, and some even lost their lives completely, and because of this, Eiríkr jarl banned all duelling in Norway; he also declared all robbers and berserkir outlaws.)

What is important in this passage is the focus on fjármissa (loss of property) and líftjón (loss of life), for this is a recurring feature in berserkr episodes. The men whom berserkir challenge to duels – and who are not saved by a conveniently present hero – lose their lives, and thus, their families lose their primary provider. Such loss of life also affects wider society if a sufficient number of those who contribute to its economy are killed. Moreover, if the affected farmers do not let themselves be challenged, or if they are killed in a duel, they lose not only their property – endangering their livelihood and survival – but also endanger their own and their family’s honor, as will be shown below. That the berserkir’s economic impact can be quite severe is demonstrated by the fact that some of them are considered wealthy because of the property they acquired in duels. Of Ljótr inn bleiki, for example, it is said that “[h]ann hafði fellt marga góða bœndr ok skorat áðr á þá til hólmgǫngu ok til jarða þeira ok óðala, var þá orðinn stórauðigr bæði at lǫndum ok lausum aurum” (He had killed many good farmers and had challenged them to duels before that over their land and patrimony, from this he had become very rich both in land and loose property).93 As Dale notes, “[the berserkr’s] activities are aimed at personal advancement through the acquisition of wealth,”94 and for this personal advancement, he makes use of the greater strength his eðli, his propensity for psychological shifting, provide him with. His berserkism makes it impossible for ordinary humans to overcome him, and with his ofgǫngum (excessive, overbearing behavior)95 and ofríki (tyranny),96 he can control those people and make them fulfill his desire for property and women. Thus, like Grettir – who uses his superior albeit human strength for personal gain – berserkir become monstrous in their economic disruption

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because they abuse a power that, if directed into the proper channels, can be socially beneficial.97 Therefore, while the Íslendingasögur only show a snippet of a berserkr’s life, it can be assumed that, because of the duration of their depredations, berserkir pose a significant risk to economic, and therefore to social, stability. However, while berserkir have a strong economic impact on the communities they disrupt, it is neither the main feature of their disruption, nor does it appear to be as severe as that of revenants or even some outlaws. Instead, in the majority of episodes, the focus of the berserkir’s demand is either on fé eða konur (money or women), as in the Grettis saga episode quoted above, in which case it then often shifts to women only – Þórir þǫmb and Ǫgmundr illi are above all said to take “á brott konur manna ok dœtr” (away men’s wives or daughters).98 Or the attention is on women from the very beginning, as for example in the Ljótr inn bleiki or Snækollr episodes.99 For this reason, it is important to examine this focus on women and sexuality in more detail.

Rape Culture Most of the berserkir in the Íslendingasögur conform to the type that has been termed the “berserk suitor” or “woman-challenger.”100 The significance of this, however, has never been adequately studied. Blaney states that “only as an unwelcome suitor does [the berserkr] really capture the mind of the storytellers,”101 but he misrepresents the characters. For the berserkr one encounters in most of the Íslendingasögur is not a “suitor,” as Blaney terms him, but a rapist. That the berserkir’s threat lies mainly in their harassment of women has, however, been acknowledged,102 and through this sexual threat, other dimensions of abuse and power can be explored. Rape is a culturally specific concept; therefore, our modern concept of nonconsensual sexual intercourse may not be applicable to medieval Iceland.103 However, medieval Icelandic society did have a concept of rape, as is evident from the statement in Grágás that “ef maðr kemr þar at er annar maðr brýtr konu til svefnis . . . ok hafi hinn fellda hana og látit á fallast” (if a man comes to a place where another man forces a woman to have intercourse, . . . and he has forced her down and has lowered himself onto her), if this woman is close kin, the man has the right to kill the rapist.104 Thus, a concept of sexual violence existed, and that raping a woman allowed her kinsmen to kill the rapist shows that, at least in legal discourse, sexual assault was considered a grave crime.105 For the present purpose I will therefore assume that rape, in a medieval Icelandic context, meant intercourse with a woman against her and her male kin’s will.106

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Despite this criminalization of sexual assault, as Jochens has argued, “strong undercurrents of violence and aggression can be detected” in the seemingly sexually reserved Íslendingasögur.107 While it is problematic to assume that concerns about sexual violence found their expression exclusively in the motif of what she terms the “illicit love visit”108 – as it is often unclear what the woman involved thinks of her “suitor’s” attention109 – Ljungqvist shows in a recent article that rape occurs more frequently in saga literature than has previously been acknowledged, and that rapists come from all social strata.110 Thus, while the concept of “rape culture” is a contemporary one, its application to medieval Icelandic society, in which rape and sexual violence seem to have been pervasive, is justified. Moreover, the sexual threat of a berserkr can be considered distinctly disruptive, with the berserk rapist also having a severe societal impact that allows us to understand the monstrosity of both the berserkr and his actions.111 In the Íslendingasögur, the berserkr appears in the role of the rapist in the majority of cases,112 demanding women and challenging their kinsmen to duels if they do not comply. An example of the berserk rapist type is provided by the introduction of Bjǫrn inn blakki in the S version of Gísla saga: Sá maðr er nefndr til sǫgunnar, er Bjǫrn hét, hann var kallaðr Bjǫrn inn blakki. Hann var berserkr ok hólmgǫngumaðr mikill. . . . Setisk hann í bú manna, þar er honum sýndisk, en lagði í rekkju hjá sér konur þeira ok dœtr ok hafði við hǫnd sér slíka stund sem honum sýndisk.113 (That man is introduced to the saga whose name was Bjǫrn, he was called Bjǫrn inn blakki. He was a berserkr and a great dueller. . . . He occupied people’s farms where he wanted, and took into his bed their wives and daughters and kept them with him for as long as he pleased.)

Thus, sexual threat and abuse are present in this episode from the beginning, as is the berserkr’s dominance over ordinary men, and this is a widespread pattern in berserkr episodes. Snækollr, for instance, “skoraði á Einar bónda, at hann skyldi leggja upp við hann dóttur sína” (challenged the farmer Einarr to hand over his daughter),114 while the case of Þórir þǫmb and Ǫgmundr illi highlights the way the berserkir’s sexual threat is perceived by those affected by it. The women of Háramarsey swear at Grettir for having brought “inir verstu ránsmenn ok illvirkjar” (the worst robbers and evildoers) into the house,115 and “sló á þær óhug miklum ok gráti” (they were seized with great despair and crying) at the prospect of abuse.116 Similarly, the crying of the unnamed sister of Fríðgeirr draws Egill’s attention to the impending assault by Ljótr inn bleiki.117 These episodes may give the impression that rape is depicted mostly as a matter of personal violation and abuse of a woman’s body and autonomy. However, this is not the only problem presented by the sexual threat of the berserkr. For sexual violence is as much an issue of “sexual gratification”118 as it is of control, and

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in the challenge of the berserkr, an element of male power over other men is always present; after all, the berserkr challenges the woman’s kinsmen, and they are the ones who suffer shame. For instance, in the case of Bjǫrn inn blakki cited above, as soon as Bjǫrn encounters resistance, the focus shifts from his demand of Ingibjǫrg to his challenge to Ari: “‘Ek vil skora þér á hólm, at þú berisk við mik, ef þú treystisk, á þriggja nátta fresti, ok skal þá reyna, hvárr okkar skal eiga Ingibjǫrgu’” (“I will challenge you to a duel, that you shall fight with me, if you dare, in three nights. Then we will find out who of us will possess Ingibjǫrg”).119 Similarly, Snækollr emphasizes that the farmer Einarr should defend his daughter “ef hann þœttisk maðr til” (if he considered himself man enough).120 And in the case of Þórir þǫmb and Ǫgmundr illi, while Grettir promises them access to women, they only accept his “invitation” to the farm because this provides them with an opportunity to take revenge. Þórir says that “‘væri mér þat í hug, at hefna Þorfinni, er hann hefir gǫrt oss útlaga’” (“I am thinking of taking vengeance on Þorfinnr for having us outlawed”),121 and raping the women of Þorfinnr’s household essentially constitutes a case of revenge by proxy.122 That ideas about the use of rape as a weapon in conflict were current in medieval Iceland is proven by the case of Þórunn in Guðmundar saga dýra, whom Guðmundr wants to “leggja . . . í rekkju hjá einhverjum gárungi” (put . . . into bed with every buffoon) because her lover, Björn, had supported Guðmundr’s enemy.123 Thus, through the shift from a matter of sexual assault to male dominance over other men and the women they control, the berserkr’s threat emerges as an issue of personal as well as family honor: the berserkr directly impacts not only the physical but also the social survival – through honor and status – of a woman’s guardian, proving his physical superiority over the man either by killing him, or by raping the women of his family.124 One can therefore assume that the impact of the berserkr’s sexual threat is mostly conceived of in terms of male honor and control over a man’s belongings – which, in the social context depicted in the Íslendingasögur, include women, thus linking the berserkr’s sexual impact to his economic impact – rather than female violation.125 However, while these episodes of sexual violence and violations of body and honor dominate, there are also several instances in which berserkir ask for a woman in marriage rather than abducting and raping her. These actual berserk suitors are uniformly rejected, and only after the rejection is a challenge introduced. Thus, while these berserkir can still be read as sexual predators, they also try to conform to social expectations by proposing marriage, and the question of why their request is denied needs to be addressed. The most prominent example of berserkir wanting to marry are Halli and Leiknir. According to Eyrbyggja saga, almost as soon as they arrive in Iceland, Halli asks Vermundr to find him a wife, but Vermundr “þóttisk eigi vita ván þeirar konu af góðum ættum, er sik myndi

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binda við berserk” (did not expect to find a woman of good family who would want to bind herself to a berserkr).126 Later, when Halli (or Leiknir, as in Heiðarvíga saga) falls in love with the daughter of Styrr, the problem has to be addressed: it seems unthinkable for a berserkr to marry into a prominent (Icelandic) family. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, it is necessary to go back to the idea of berserkism as something that, as Eyrbyggja saga highlights,127 is inherent in a man’s eðli, and which is therefore genetically transmitted. If Halli or Leiknir (or Ljótr inn bleiki, or Moldi) married into the society on whose margins they ordinarily move, they would produce offspring that carry the “berserk gene,” altering their eðli, making them psychologically unstable, and enabling them to fragment society from within. That this is a very real possibility – and not just for berserkir who marry into society, but also for those who are “merely rapists”128 – emerges in the figure of Klaufi who, in his monstrosity, profoundly disrupts social stability. Moreover, Klaufi exhibits sexually predatory behavior by forcing Yngvildr into a relationship that also asserts his power over Ljótólfr.129 Because of these risks, the production of berserkr offspring has to be prevented at all cost: as Phelpstead puts it, “[the berserkr’s] threat to an ontological boundary cannot be tolerated,”130 and his potential for contagious reproduction has to be curbed for the benefit of social stability. The other issue with having berserkir take control over one’s women – either through rape or marriage – is that their contagious potential might not stop at reproduction. It is mostly unclear what happens to women after the berserkr has left them; the sagas do not reveal if they continue to be affected by the abuse they suffered. However, there are valid reasons to assume that being sexually abused by a berserkr leaves a permanent mark on the women affected, and it is because of this that Vermundr cannot think of a woman who would voluntarily bind herself to a berserkr. Women are rarely seen attached to berserkir, and in the Íslendingasögur, there is not one case in which a berserkr finds a willing bride. In Hárbarðsljóð, however, Þórr boasts of having fought “brúðir berserkia” (brides of berserkir), who were “vargynior . . . enn varla konor” (she-wolves . . . and hardly women).131 While McKinnell argues that these berserk brides have to be understood as a metaphor for “stormy waves,”132 I do not think it likely that such a metaphor would work if there was no basis for the assumption that the brides of berserkir could be read as disruptive forces in their own right. Thus, in Old Norse literature, there was a view that those women who bind themselves to berserkir are infected by their mates’ monstrosity and hybridity, for they themselves turn into human-animal hybrids, crossing ontological boundaries along the way. Therefore, as Bandlien argues of sexual relations with another social “Other,” “[w]omen had to find the right man for a love relationship. If a free woman slept with a slave, she herself chose to define herself as equal to the

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unfree.”133 This also seems to be the case with berserkir: if a woman slept with a berserkr – whether voluntarily or not – she herself was defined by society as equal to the monstrous hybrid. This reading of the contaminating effect of sexual intercourse with a berserkr is supported by Svarfdæla saga, for in this saga, two women who are abused by a berserkr are depicted after the assault: both Þórarna and Yngvildr fagrkinn are forced into sexual relationships with berserkir, and both live to show what effect this abuse has on them and the way people relate to them. Þórarna does not appear for long enough to explore this issue in detail, but I find it significant that, in spite of Gríss’s invitation to accompany her children to Iceland, she says that “‘[þ]ess er ekki at leita, at ek fylgja þeim’” (“It is impossible that I accompany them”).134 It therefore seems that, because of her involvement with – or maybe contamination by – Snækollr, there is no going back to family and society for her. The torture of Yngvildr fagrkinn constitutes what is perhaps the most severe case of violence against women depicted in the Íslendingasögur. However, it is noteworthy that her “crime” is probably not only that she “challenges her society’s concepts of masculinity and femininity,”135 but also that she has a sexual relationship with the berserkr Klaufi. She seems to be contaminated with his monstrosity, giving a perspective on the assumed fate of a berserkr’s rape victim. For even though she was, in a sense, married to Klaufi, it was done against her will and without the establishment of ties of affinity through property exchange, and resulted in her involvement in her berserkr husband’s death.136 Thus, as there was no consent given, her “relationship” with Klaufi is equal to those of other berserkir and their victims. This in itself, however, does not explain why Karl ómáli chooses to take vengeance on her rather than on the men involved in his father’s death. In other sagas, the women who instigate feuds are not punished in this extreme way: neither Hildigunnr nor Guðrún are abused, sold into slavery, or raped for causing the deaths of men for vengeance. I would argue that Yngvildr’s contamination through sexual association with a berserkr pushes her away from society and towards monstrosity, and this enables Karl ómáli to abuse her: his behavior is, in the saga’s logic, justified because he is not dealing with an ordinary woman, but with one who was infected by a berserkr. If, however, sexual violence could be used to maintain patriarchal structures, as is shown in the case of the “taming” of maiden-kings in some riddarasögur,137 the question arises as to why Karl did not rape her himself to reinstate his family’s honor and his own control over this deviant woman. Again, the issue of monstrous contagion could offer an explanation: if Karl had himself engaged in sexual intercourse with her, he would have risked

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contamination as well. In the end, the rumors about Yngvildr having “tortímt sér af óyndi” (killed herself out of unhappiness) provide the only plausible ending to the life of a woman who has become monstrous in the eyes of the men around her.138 Thus, while in many cases the sexual threat of the berserkr is a menace to male honor, it can also severely impact the women who are subject to the sexual violence of the monstrously contagious berserkr. In many ways, Yngvildr is emblematic not only “of the way men in the sagas use sex to exercise power over each other”139 – subjected to abuse and violation from human and monstrous men alike, drawn into feuds between Klaufi and Ljótólfr, and Karl and Skíði – but also of the way berserkir affect those they interact with. More than any other woman in the Íslendingasögur, she embodies the disruptive consequences of sexual interaction with a berserkr whose infectiousness brings her closer to the monstrous, and therefore exposes her to violation a free woman cannot normally be subjected to. That this happens despite the fact that she never consented to this association with Klaufi not only heightens her personal tragedy and underlines the extreme consequences of monstrous contagion, but also reveals the deep-seated misogyny of medieval Icelandic rape culture. It has emerged from this discussion that the berserkr is monstrous especially because of his sexual threat, and that all other features of his monstrosity – his hybrid eðli, his contagiousness, and to some extent his economic impact – are part of this aspect of his monstrosity. If the berserkr does not appear as a sexual predator – with the potential for disruption to men’s honor, women’s integrity, and social stability through monstrous offspring removed – he does not seem to elicit the same response of fear: thus, for example, in Njáls saga, Ótryggr only impresses “heiðnir men” (pagan people),140 and the hall-challenger Bjǫrn járnhauss seems to be a mere nuisance.141 The berserk rapist’s sexual threat therefore constitutes the primary dimension of his disruptiveness and therefore also of his monstrosity. One of the features of rape culture, it has been argued, is that it tries to distance itself from rapists, excusing them as social anomalies that have no relation to ordinary men.142 This is essentially what happens in the Íslendingasögur: by constructing the monstrous berserkr as rapist, nonmonstrous men – even if they themselves are sexually violent – have a figure to point to and claim, “This is the monster; I am not like it.” Miller’s assessment is symptomatic: for him, “[r]apists . . . lived mostly in Norway or Sweden and were berserks besides.”143 Icelandic society apparently tried to externalize the sexual violence inherent in it, moving it to its margins by embodying it in the figure of the berserkr. Through his monstrosity, issues surrounding sexual violence and a lack of consent could then be explored, as I argue in chapter seven.

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Fire and Iron: Killing Berserkir Because of the monstrous threat they pose, berserkir have to be removed so that the communities they disrupt can go back to a peaceful and stable existence. However, it can be difficult to achieve this in the case of a monstrous figure that is often impervious to iron and/or fire, or who can blunt weapons in battle. Therefore, in most cases, a way has to be found to penetrate the berserkr’s paranormal protection, either by finding a weapon that has special properties, as is the case with Bjǫrn inn blakki,144 by using a weapon the berserkr has not seen before, as for example with Þórormr,145 or by fragmenting his bodily integrity in another way. In most cases, this is achieved by dismembering the berserkr: in his fight with Surtr járnhauss, Þorgils first cuts off Surtr’s leg before he can behead the berserkr,146 and this pattern also occurs in Gísli’s duel with Bjǫrn inn blakki,147 and in the episode in JS 33 4to that fills the lacuna interrupting Þorsteinn’s fight with Moldi.148 Sometimes, dismembering is enough: Ljótr inn bleiki, for example, is þegar ørendr (dead immediately) when Egill cuts off his leg.149 In a subversion of this pattern, Grettir breaks the integrity of Snækollr’s body by using the berserkr’s posturing to kick his shield into his mouth. This leaves Snækollr vulnerable, opening up an opportunity for Grettir to finish him off by beheading him.150 Another option to break through the berserkr’s paranormal strength and shielding is the use of heat. Víga-Glúmr takes an eldstokki (piece of burning wood), and beats Bjǫrn járnhauss with it until he runs off. The next day, Bjǫrn is reported dead, showing that Glúmr’s attack was effective.151 Even clearer is the use of heat in the overpowering of Halli and Leiknir: in Heiðarvíga saga, when they are in the overly hot bath-house, the berserkir feel “at eigi er allt heilt við þá” (that they were not entirely whole).152 Thus, they note that their bodily integrity is being penetrated by the excessive heat. Even the fact that they hamask in the bath-house cannot save them now that their bodies are already open to attack, and Styrr and his men can easily overpower them. Thus, once the berserkr’s body is made vulnerable by penetration through heat or dismemberment, he can easily be dispatched. This resembles the pattern already observed with outlaws and revenants, whose bodily integrity also has to be disrupted in order for them to be overcome. The burial of berserkir is recorded in only two cases. These are significant, however: Halli and Leiknir are “kasaðir í dal þeim, er þar er í hrauninu, er svá er djúpr, at engan hlut sér ór nema himin yfir sik” (buried in a cairn in that valley that was there in the lava field, which is so deep that nothing can be seen from inside it except for the sky above).153 This is a very secluded spot, chosen, it seems, to ensure that the berserkir do not trouble society again. Similarly, Þórir þǫmb, Ǫgmundr illi, and their companions are “fœrðir í flœðarurð eina ok dysjaðir þar” (transported to a pile of rocks that the water floods at high tide, and they were

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buried in a cairn there).154 This spot is just as remote, and just as liminal. In both cases, the berserkir are buried in places where the elements meet: fire and earth become one in the lava field, and water and earth collide on the flœðarurð. The choice of burial site is the same as has been observed with outlaws and revenants, and it will be seen again with magic-users: like these other monsters, berserkir are buried in cairns in places removed from society and controlled by environmental forces to preclude their return and renewed harassment. Thus, while we cannot track berserkir over the same span of time and space as we can follow the outlaws discussed in the previous chapter, they still emerge as socially disruptive hybrids. Their transgression of human-animal boundaries, their infractions against economic and reproductive stability, their contamination of women, and the potential for fragmentation of society from the inside through their creation of berserkr offspring, render them monstrous. They severely disrupt society, represented by the men killed and the women raped by berserkir, and in this disruption, they – much like revenants – become a threat that has to be removed. Thus, while berserkir are to some extent a challenge for a hero to overcome, they also pose a very real threat to the communities who encounter them, and this threatening impact of the monster will be further explored in chapter six. Dale notes that the features of berserksgangr, howling and shield-biting, may be pre-battle posturing rather than constituting aberrant behavior.155 While these behavioral patterns may in themselves not be aberrant, they signal that there is something aberrant underlying them: the berserkir’s monstrous eðli, which enables them to use their greater strength for purposes that then become perceived as socially aberrant and disruptive when they force men to fight them or hand over their women and possessions. This abuse of superior strength is something that has been observed with outlaws, and especially Grettir, as well, and it will appear again in the discussion of magic-users in the following chapter. An abuse of power, therefore, seems to be a recurring feature of social monstrosity.

Notes 1.

2.

There are three recent surveys of the appearances of berserkir in Old Norse culture, all in the form of doctoral dissertations: Dale, “Berserkir,” traces their transhistorical representations from Norse literature and Viking Age material culture to modern popular culture. An earlier thesis by Breen, “Berserkr,” examines motifs related to berserkir mostly across the literary canon. Samson’s Les Berserkir also mostly discusses literary history, but devotes a chapter to the material record. For summaries of the arguments, see Schjødt, Initiation, 49–57; Breen, “Berserkr,” 113–16; and Dale, “Berserkir,” 98–110. Kershaw, One-Eyed God, even argues that

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3. 4.

5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.

20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28.

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berserkir are “consecrated warriors, and so their madness, too, is religious ecstasy,” 71. Concerning the madness of berserkir, see below. See Fabing, “On Going Berserk”; for a summary of the argument, see Breen, “Berserkr,” 87–93, and Dale, “Berserkir,” 73–79. Breen discusses epilepsy, rabies, and psychosis; “Berserkr,” 94–96 and 99–101. Høyersten considers the possibility of psychosis and other dissociative conditions; “Berserkene,” 3249, and “Madness,” 328–31. Grøn, Berserksgangens vesen, 52; Dale, “Berserkir,” 92–95; Geraty, “Berserk for berserkir,” 43–51. An exception is Zitzelsberger, “Berserkir in the fornaldarsögur.” See Breen, “Berserkr,” 26; this is discussed in the following section. Breen, “Berserkr,” 113. For the societal reaction to berserkir, see chapter six. See Dale, “Berserkir,” 72. Breen, “Berserkr,” 1. I will use hamask throughout. I fully recognize that it might be jarring in the context of an English sentence. However, due to the problematic nature of the term, I prefer not to translate it, and the form remains grammatically appropriate in the contexts used. See below for a discussion of these terms. See Breen, “Berserkr,” 19; Dale, “Berserkir,” 134; and Beard, “Berserkir,” 100. Breen, “Berserkr,” 1. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 5. Dale, “Berserkir,” 134. On the importance of calling monsters by their names, see chapter six. Beard, “Berserkir,” 102, identifies seven types; Dale, “Berserkir,” 163, notes five; Samson, Les Berserkir, 198–226, identifies four types that are not identical to mine; Breen, “Berserkr,” 103, even distinguishes ten different types by including blámenn, trolls, and haugbúar. While there is a certain amount of overlap between these, I consider trǫll to be a superordinate concept. Blámenn, whom Samson also includes, are ethnic as well as social monsters and therefore belong to the “Strange” rather than to the “Other.” On these issues, see chapter one. Some haugbúar start out as berserkir in life, and being one seems to predispose one to becoming the other after death, but they are still to be considered a separate monstrous entity. On the significance of this, see chapter six. Eg, 3; he is also “gǫfugr maðr ok inn mesti afreksmaðr” (a noble and most accomplished man). See Beard, “Concept of Invulnerability.” For a thorough discussion of these features, see Dale, “Berserkir,” 147–60. Dale, “Berserkir,” 177. Dale shares this observation; “Berserkir,” 127. See Noreen, “Ordet bärsärk,” 253, and Kuhn, “Kämpen und Berserker,” 222. See von See, “Berserker,” 133. Yng, 17: “[Óðins] menn fóru brynjulausir ok váru galnir sem hundar eða vargar, bitu í skjǫldu sína, váru sterkir sem birnir eða griðungar. Þeir drápu mannfólkit, en hvártki eldr né járn orti á þá. Þat er kallaðr berserksgangr” ([Óðinn’s] men went without armor and were as crazed as dogs or wolves; they bit into their shields and were as strong as

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Notes

29.

30.

31. 32. 33.

34. 35. 36.

37. 38. 39. 40. 41.

42. 43. 44. 45. 46.

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bears or bulls. They killed everyone, but neither fire nor iron could hurt them. That is called going berserk). Dale, “Berserkir,” 109. He summarizes the arguments for both etymologies on p. 57–71. For Breen’s view, see “Berserkr,” 10–21. Samson discusses the possible etymologies in detail; Les Berserkir, 61–91. Dale, Breen, and Samson all conclude that the bearetymology is the most likely. This connection first appears in what is probably the oldest recorded instance of the word berserkr in Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s Haraldskvæði, st. 8: “Grenjuðu berserkir . . . / emjuðu úlfheðnar” (Berserks bellowed . . . / wolf-skins howled); Whaley, Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas I, 102. Gr, 5, and Vatn, 24, also make the connection. See Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir, “Werewolf,” 281, and Samson, Les Berserkir, 139–46. See McKone, “Hund, Wolf und Krieger”; van Zanten, “Going Berserk”; Speidel, “Mad Warriors”; and most recently, O’Connor, “Monsters of the Tribe.” Breen, “Berserkr,” 48. Beard, “Berserkir,” 100; Grundy, “Shapeshifting,” 104, who also believes that hamassociated men and berserkir could access a metaphysical animal hide to hamask or go into berserksgangr; 117; Ármann Jakobsson, “Beast and Man,” 34. On these terms and related concepts, see Böldl, Eigi einhamr, 109–14. Vǫls, 15. See Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir, “Werewolf,” 280 and 284–85; Pluskowski, Wolves and the Wilderness, 181; and Ellis Davidson, “Shape-Changing,” 135. Þrándr, Eb, 165; Þorkell, Bárð, 118; Skeljungr, Bárð, 130; Þorkell silfri, Vatn, 110–12; Vígi, Korm, 226–27; Þórir Oddsson, GullÞ, 220; Galti, GullÞ, 220; Gunnsteinn and Sveinungr, Flj, 279–80; Þorvaldr, Finnb, 299–300; Þormóðr, Háv, 293; Torfi, Harð, 28; Úlfhamr, Harð, 46; Óláfr tvennumbrúni, Flóam, 265; Kveld-Úlfr, Eg, 4 and 69–70; Skalla-Grímr, Eg, 69 and 101. E.g., Þorvaldr in Finnb, who kills Finnbogi’s sons; 299–300. Flj, 279–80. E.g., the fight of the two hamrammir men Þórir Oddsson and Galti is said to be “inn harðasti” (the hardest); GullÞ, 221. Svarfd, 181–82. A similar episode occurs in Ldn, 355–56, with the fight of the spirit animals of Dufþakr and Stórolfr. Moldi, Svarfd, 142–47; Klaufi, Svarfd, passim; Ljótr inn bleiki, Eg, 200–6; the Haukar, Vatn, 124–25; Þórir Ingimundarson, Vatn, 83 and 97–98; Þórir þǫmb and Ǫgmundr illi, Gr, 61–70; Snækollr, Gr, 135–6; Gautr, GullÞ, 191; Surtr járnhauss, Flóam, 259–61; Ótryggr, Nj, 267–68; Ásgautr, Glúm, 10–12; Bjǫrn járnhauss, Glúm, 17–19; Bjǫrn inn bleiki, Gísl, 4–5 (Gísl, ed. Loth, 4–6); Þórormr, Gunnl, 71–73; Halli and Leiknir, Eb, 61–64 and 70–75 (Heið, 217–24); Bárekr, Þórð, 234–35; Svartr, GunnK, 369–72; Þorsteinn, Reykd, 211–12. I have excluded Jǫkull Ingimundarson and Helgi Harðbeinsson from this number; in this regard, see chapter six. Eg, 70; emphasis mine. Note again the focus on strength. On this distancing, see also O’Connor, “Monsters of the Tribe,” 196. Grundy, “Shapeshifting,” 113. Eg, 71. Finnb, 318. Marie Novotná argued along similar lines at the 16th International Saga Conference, Zurich 2015, that hamr can relate to both a physical as well as a psychological “shape”; Preprints, 223. This of course does not exclude the possibility that beliefs in physical

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47. 48.

49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57.

58. 59.

60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75.

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shapeshifting once existed. However, by the time the sagas were composed and transmitted, few remains of such beliefs were to be found in the Íslendingasögur. The only exception is potentially the association of some people, especially Hebrideans, with sea mammals; examples of this are Hrappr in Laxd, 41, Þórveig in Korm, 265–66, and possibly Þórgunna in Eb, 147. See also chapter two. Breen, “Berserkr,” 33. This spectrum can perhaps be extended to include those people who, like Hrolleifr in Vatn, 50–70 (who is disruptive and a sexual predator), behave like berserkir without being referred to as such. In its final consequence it would include other sexually violent male characters, like some of the protagonists of the poets’ sagas, as mentioned in chapter three. Cf. Þórir þǫmb and Ǫgmundr illi, who are “meiri ok sterkari enn aðrir men” (bigger and stronger than other men); Gr, 62; the same is said of Halli and Leiknir, Eb, 61. Eg, 202. Eb, 61. Gr, 67–68. See also the Haukar in Vatn, 124. Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir, “Werewolf,” 282. In this regard, see also the crossing of specific boundaries in chapter two, and the animalistic associations of Þorgeirr in chapter three. Pluskowski, Wolves and the Wilderness, 172. Cf. Speidel, “Mad Warriors.” See also Bragg, Œdipus Borealis, 143. Breen, “Berserkr,” 66, states that “the essence of berserksgangr lies in rage.” See also Eb, 61 (n. 51 above); Snækollr also refers to his berserksgangr as “ek reiðumk” (I get angry); Gr, 136. Dale, “Berserkir,” 118. Skalla-Grímr, when he almost kills his son; Eg, 101. Þórir Ingimundarson, who states that “‘á mik kemr berserksgangr jafnan, þá er ek vilda sízt’” (“berserksgangr overcomes me always when I least want it to”); Vatn, 97. Heið, 222, states that, while they are working, “var þá á þeim inn mesti berserksgangr” (the greatest berserksgangr was on them). Eb, 61. Vatn, 97; emphasis mine. Høyersten, “Berserkene,” 3249. The latter is the case with outlaws, whose dysfunctional upbringing facilitates their movement away from society, as I argue in chapter three. See Breen, “Berserkr,” 31–32; Samson, Les Berserkir, 151. Eb, 61. Gr, 62. Breen, “Berserkr,” 23, and esp. Samson, Les Berserkir, 151–56. Eg, 3–4. Ibid., 5: “Grímr var . . . líkr feðr sínum, bæði yfirlits ok at skaplyndi” (Grímr was like his father, both in looks and temperament). Eg, 69 and 101. Ibid., 178 and 210, respectively. Ármann Jakobsson, “Best and Man,” 42. Holtsmark, “Werewolf-Motif,” 7–9, and esp. Samson, Les Berserkir, 165–78. See n. 59 above.

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Notes

76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83.

84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90. 91. 92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102. 103. 104. 105. 106.

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Breen, Berserkr, 40; Ármann Jakobsson, “Beast and Man,” 41. O’Connor, “Monsters of the Tribe,” 203. See n. 59 above. Vatn, 89. Breen considers this a positive use of berserkr, which I think is unlikely; see chapter six. This is also supported by Flóam, where Surtr járnhauss is a berserkr, but his brother Auðun is not; 259–60. Svarfd, 135. Ibid., 142. It is unclear whether Þorsteinn Þorgnýsson is Þorsteinn svǫrfuðr himself, or his grandfather; different versions of the saga give different genealogies (esp. the early 19th-century Rask 37; Svarfd, 210–11), and the version in Ldn deviates from these as well. Jónas Kristjánsson argues that Þorsteinn Þorgnýsson is Þorsteinn svǫrfuðr’s ancestor, which is in agreement with the text introducing Þórarna as Þorsteinn svǫrfuðr’s sister (Svarfd, 154) rather than, as the writer of Rask 37 suggests, his daughter. See Formáli in ÍF 9, lxxv–lxxvii. Svarfd, 154. Rask 37 supplies the episode in which Þórarna is abducted by Snækollr and refers to him as Ljótr inn bleiki’s son. Svarfd, 210–11. See his interaction with Gríss; Svarfd, 160. Examples are Svarfd, 158–59 and 164. Ibid., 171. Ibid., 137 and 147, respectively. Ibid., 162. Ibid., 206. Gr, 61. Eg, 206. Dale, “Berserkir,” 177. Gísl, ed. Loth, 5. Gr, 135. See chapter six. Gr, 62. Eg, 201, and Gr, 135. For the former, see Blaney, “Berserk Suitor”; for the latter, see Breen, “Berserkr.” Blaney, “Berserk Suitor,” 279. See Price, Viking Way, 368; Ciklamini, “Hólmgǫngumaðr,” 119; Kuhn, “Kämpen und Berserker,” 222; and Meulengracht Sørensen, Unmanly Man, 46. See Saunders, Rape and Ravishment, 3–4. She also discusses scholarship on contemporary and past attitudes to rape in detail, 5–19. Grg, §90, 164; emphasis mine. This is true of medieval societies more widely; see Classen, Sexual Violence and Rape, 5. The approval of male kin is essential; see Bandlien, Strategies of Passion, 90–91. This is supported by all types of unlawful sexual intercourse warranting outlawry, meaning that “a woman’s bodily integrity was insignificant from a criminal law point of view. It was a woman’s male guardians, rather than the woman herself, who were the aggrieved parties”; Ljungqvist, “Rape in the Icelandic Sagas,” 433.

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107. Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society, 34. The reticence of Íslendingasögur on sexual subjects has been noted repeatedly; see Jochens, “Illicit Love Visit,” 361, and Karras, “Servitude and Sexuality,” 302. 108. Jochens, “Illicit Love Visit,” esp. 364–75. 109. Indeed, there are cases in which the couple shows mutual love; see Sävborg, Sagan om kärleken, 118–19. 110. Ljungqvist, “Rape in the Icelandic Sagas.” 111. Ljungqvist thinks that berserk rapists are “conspicuously absent” from the Íslendingasögur, which probably caused him to overlook them in his discussion; “Rape in the Icelandic Sagas,” 440. 112. Of the twenty-one berserkir listed in n. 41 above, only five cannot be considered sexual predators: Þórir Ingimundarson, Ótryggr, Þórormr, Bjǫrn járnhauss, and Svartr. 113. Gísl, ed. Loth, 4. 114. Gr, 135. 115. Ibid., 64. 116. Ibid., 65. 117. Eg, 201. 118. Dale, “Berserkir,” 177. 119. Gísl, ed. Loth, 4; emphasis mine. 120. Gr, 135. 121. Ibid., 64. 122. See Ljungqvist, “Rape in the Icelandic Sagas,” 439. 123. GDýr, 201. 124. See Jochens, “Illicit Love Visit,” 366. 125. Ljungqvist, “Rape in the Icelandic Sagas,” 437. 126. Eb, 63. 127. Eb, 61. 128. Breen, “Berserkr,” 121. 129. Svarfd, 166–69. 130. Phelpstead, “Ecocriticism,” 14. 131. Neckel, ed., rev. Kuhn, Hárbarðsljóð, 84, sts. 37 and 39. 132. McKinnell, Meeting the Other, 110. 133. Bandlien, Strategies of Passion, 89. 134. Svarfd, 154. 135. Waugh, “Yngvildr fagrkinn,” 152. 136. Svarfd, 173–74. The sexual element in her soothing of Klaufi’s rage is probably significant as well. 137. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women, 122–24. 138. Svarfd, 206. On perception in the construction of monstrosity, see chapter six. 139. Karras, “Servitude and Sexuality,” 300, n. 13. 140. Nj, 267. 141. Glúm, 17. 142. While Saunders, Rape and Ravishment, 6, argues that the notion of rapists as deviant has been questioned, Valenti, “America’s Rape Problem,” observed that this distancing still occurs in cultural mainstream. 143. Miller, “Enormities,” 763. 144. Gísl, ed. Loth, 6.

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Notes

145. 146. 147. 148. 149. 150. 151. 152. 153. 154. 155.

Gunnl, 73. Flóam, 261. Gísl, ed. Loth, 6. Svarfd, 209. Eg, 205. Gr, 136. Glúm, 19. Heið, 224; emphasis mine. Eb, 74–75. Gr, 79. Dale, “Berserkir,” 97.

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5 Walkers Between Worlds – Practitioners of Magic Price notes that “the corpus of [Old Icelandic literature] is saturated with references to sorcery,”1 and with figures who use magical knowledge, prophecy, the sending out of their spirit, and related skills.2 These characters – both in the sagas and in other narrative genres – have been studied not only by scholars of literature, but especially by anthropologists and historians of religion.3 In the latter context, they have been read through comparative perspectives on shamanism,4 and the magic worked by practitioners across the corpus has been referred to as seiðr in order to highlight the connection to mythological practices and the gendered aspect of this kind of magic. Such approaches, however, are of limited use for the study of practitioners in the Íslendingasögur as literary characters, since most of the magic performed in the Íslendingasögur is not referred to as the kind of seiðr found in mythological texts.5 Thus, as Stephen Mitchell suggests, what the Íslendingasögur depict is “something much closer to perceived pagan practice,”6 and, as such, is a cultural creation of the time of writing. This has not, however, deterred previous scholars from using the depiction of magic in the medieval literary texts to illuminate Viking Age pagan religious and magical practice. The focus, therefore, has largely been on what magic is – a shamanistic practice, a part of Norse paganism, and so on – and on how it is performed – through the use of chants, drums, staffs, platforms – and in this exploration, all genres of Old Norse-Icelandic literature have been drawn on indiscriminately, which, just as in the study of berserkir, is problematic. Again, since my interest lies with the actions of monstrously disruptive figures, and with their interactions with society, the focus in the following will be on who practices magic, and to what purpose – on the action and direction of magical practice rather than on its nature and being. This approach is supported by the fact that, in the literary sources, magic is conceived of as action: words like gerningar (magical doings) or fordæða (from dáð, “deed”) highlight the performative action of magical practice;7 thus, “the sagas focus on concrete deeds, . . . not on abstract discussions.”8 In those cases where medieval Icelandic magic-users have been studied, female practitioners have been privileged by scholars, probably to account for a possible development from the positive image of female magic-users to a more negative, Christian image that was accompanied by a displacement of female practitioners by males.9 Heller, who discusses the Zauberin (sorceress) in the context of his work on women,10 established a tradition of considering the practice of magic a possible role for women in the Íslendingasögur. Accordingly, male magic-users have been relegated to the sidelines of scholarship, their female https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-005

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counterparts assumed to dominate both in number and importance.11 Helga Kress, for example, argues that there are a large number of female magic-users who practice their craft so secretly that “þeir eru faldir í textanum” (they are hidden in the text),12 thus increasing the potential number of female practitioners, and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir only briefly acknowledges the existence of the large number of male practitioners.13 Therefore, while it is possible that female practitioners were used to explore issues of female agency, as Jóhanna Katrín suggests, the exclusive focus on women precludes a more comprehensive analysis of the role magic-users play in the Íslendingasögur.14 This is particularly true since several scholars have stressed the almost equal number of male and female magic-users depicted in the Íslendingasögur – notwithstanding Helga Kress’s hidden cases.15 Even though some magical practices – and especially divinatory magic – are more frequently performed by female practitioners, one should not discount the male ones entirely; with Þorgrímr nef and Kotkell and his sons, they include some of the most disruptive magic-users of the Íslendingasögur. Moreover, since the magic men and women practice is often not as clearly gendered as has been argued,16 I will discuss female and male practitioners equally in order to establish whether one can read them in the context of social monstrosity or not. Another impulse of modern scholars has been to rationalize magic as a social mechanism for attributing causation to misfortunes, or for assigning blame to marginalized individuals.17 While this is an important aspect of the study of magic in an anthropological, real-world context,18 it is of limited use to the study of magic as it is depicted in literature. For within a literary text, accusations of magic-use are not merely utilized to attribute blame and explain misfortune – they are real. The way the sagas narrate magic episodes leaves no doubt that what we are witnessing is considered a real scenario within the story-world of the saga. People are shown practicing magic, protecting others against weapons, and pronouncing curses before the consequences of their practice become visible. Thus, no accusation is necessary, since both the people affected by magic within a saga and the audience of the text already know who is to blame. In the following discussion, I will first establish what kind of magic the Íslendingasögur depict, and what terminology is used to describe it, before again testing the features of social monstrosity established in chapter two against the people who practice this magic. In this, the transgressiveness of these characters as they walk between worlds will be of particular significance, as will the contagious aspect of magic-use as a skill that can be taught and learned. After discussing the economic aspects of magic-use, I will turn to the way practitioners use their craft to affect both the human and the natural world by impacting one through the other, before briefly discussing executions and burials.

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Black Magic The practice of magic has been divided into subcategories of black, or harmful, and white, or beneficial, magic,19 and I will adopt a similar taxonomy in my discussion. Price, on the other hand, distinguishes between domestic and violent magic,20 a division I find less useful for the study of the Íslendingasögur, since their setting in what is depicted as the daily lives of saga-age Icelanders entails that even violent magic is performed in a domestic context.21 I will therefore follow Tolley’s approach of differentiating between divinatory and efficatory magic.22 Accordingly, my discussion will focus on the latter category since, even though the spoken word can have a constitutive and performative effect on reality,23 changes to the state of nature or its perception are mostly performed by efficatory magic. This kind of magic has more profound consequences for those affected by it, altering the nature of reality – most frequently by affecting the natural world, as discussed below. Efficatory magic can then be subdivided into beneficial and malevolent categories, and most of the magic performed in the Íslendingasögur belongs to the latter kind. There is no fertility or love magic; instead, storms and landslides are triggered, love is destroyed,24 and battles are influenced by magic.25 Thus, the practice of magic is very much a disruptive act, and as such, is open to interpretation in the context of a study of social monstrosity.26 This argument is more difficult to make in the case of divination, as the question arises as to whether a diviner can be held responsible for their prophecy, whether they had agency over it, or whether they were just voicing an inevitable fate. For this reason, some celebrated performances of magic like the Þorbjǫrg lítilvǫlva episode in Eiríks saga rauða will not be discussed in detail, although I will refer to these characters for comparative purposes. The practice of magic has generally been connected with a desire for power and the ability to control and manipulate the nature or perception of reality.27 This aspect of power and control is so fundamental to the practice of magic that Valerie Flint opens her study with the statement that “[m]agic may be said to be the exercise of a preternatural control over nature by human beings.”28 In medieval Iceland, this aspect was intimately linked to knowledge, as can be seen in the terminology most frequently used for magic and its practitioners in the Íslendingasögur. The characters are described as fjǫlkunnig/r and/or margkunnig/r, with fjǫlkynngi used for the practice itself. These terms are compounds based on the verb kunna (to know, understand), and literally mean “very knowledgeable,” or “knowing many things.” Other terms are also knowledge-based: (forn)fróð/r (wise, specifically in ancient matters), frœði (learning), and vísindi (knowledge) are among the designations used for magical practice and practitioners.29

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As noted above, this kind of knowledge was not inherently problematic, and some socially high-ranking and well-respected characters like Geirríðr in Eyrbyggja saga and Þórdís spákona in Vatnsdœla and Kormáks saga possess it. The use of magic, therefore, “was only condemned and punished when used to injure others or to protect those doing harm.”30 However, since magical knowledge can be used for either beneficial or harmful purposes, the attitude towards its practitioners is characterized by a great deal of ambivalence.31 This is shown clearly in Fóstbrœðra saga: as Jóhanna Katrín notes, Þormóðr is “first a victim and later a beneficiary of magic, revealing its relative nature.”32 The purpose to which magic is put, as well as the “social evaluation of its outcome,”33 therefore determine whether its practitioners can be argued to be monstrous or not. Generally, however, magic-users are rarely perceived as “truly benign” figures.34 This can be seen, for example, in the case of Geirríðr, a practitioner of high social status who is never said to cause harm. Nevertheless, it is easy for Oddr to spread malicious rumors about her, and because of her magical skills, these rumors are believed by the public.35 The ambivalence in the depiction of these characters, the ease with which the narrative can shift from a neutral to a negative evaluation of their actions, and the fact that they come from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds, make magic-users the most fluid type of potentially monstrous characters under discussion. Unlike berserkir, who are almost always problematic, they can work to society’s benefit, and unlike outlaws, who – although they retain some ties to society – are heavily marginalized figures, practitioners of magic are mostly depicted as socially integrated and sometimes even high-ranking members of the local community.36 Their monstrous potential therefore seems to be constructed in a more complex way compared to more obviously disruptive potential monsters. Untangling the strands of magical disruptiveness is therefore the aim of the following sections.

Hybridity and Transgression Magic is not conceived of as pure power, but is in most cases related to an ability to control the paranormal. As Price notes, “[m]agic seems to have been used by human beings as a means of actively steering the actions of supernatural beings for their own ends.”37 Practitioners of magic are therefore perceived as “potential transgressor[s] of the boundary between this world and the supernatural realm.”38 While it is unclear to what extent a belief in spirits or other paranormal beings is involved in the conceptualization of magic in the Íslendingasögur,39 magic-users certainly have a connection to forces inaccessible to ordinary people.40 Through their knowledge of magic, they are able to access the realms of the paranormal

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that exceed ordinary human experience. They live in what Boyer has termed “un monde double” (a double world),41 constantly traversing the boundary between the material, physical world and the paranormal world invisible to those who lack magical knowledge, ultimately partaking of both.42 Through their access to both the material and the paranormal realms, they are able to utilize the latter to control, manipulate, and influence the former, operating in both worlds equally. The knowledge of magic, fjǫlkynngi, itself is therefore what renders magic-users hybrid and transgressive: it is what connects them to the paranormal, making them more than ordinary humans. In addition to traversing the boundary between the visible and the invisible, practitioners of magic in the Íslendingasögur also seem to be transgressive in another respect. For, if one looks closely at the saga accounts, it emerges that they also transgress the boundary between, on the one hand, the domestic, cultured sphere of human life, and the sphere of the non-human, natural world on the other. This transgressiveness is visible both in illusion magic as well as the magic ritual itself. Part of their abilities is that magic-users can work illusion magic, sjónhverfingar,43 to affect the appearance of humans and, more rarely, the environment.44 This occurs most frequently when harboring wanted criminals,45 or when they themselves are trying to escape.46 While Gríma makes Þormóðr invisible, Katla and Skroppa alter the appearance of those in their care and, in the latter case, also their own, and in this, a pattern can be observed. Katla first makes Oddr appear as a rokkr (distaff), then as a hafr (billy goat), and finally as a túngǫltr (boar).47 Skroppa on the other hand changes her own appearance and that of the farmer’s daughters first into a set of three wooden boxes, “eski þrjú,” and then into a sow and piglets, “gyltr ein . . . með tveimr grísum.”48 In both cases, a progression from domestic object to animal can be noted, and thus a progression from culture to nature. However, the categories are not clear-cut: the boxes are notably made of wood, and the boar is a tún-gǫltr, a home-field boar, and therefore an animal that inhabits a space between the domestic, human sphere and the natural world. The practitioners’ craft can therefore also be situated in this intermediary space between the domestic and the natural. These boundaries are further blurred in the magical rituals themselves. In many instances of weather magic, the practitioner waves a cloth or animal skin over their head or wraps their head in it. Þorbjörg katla, for example, uses her sveipa (hood, kerchief) to cause darkness;49 Svanr wraps a goat-skin around his head and fog descends;50 and Bárðr stirfinn waves a gizka (kerchief) towards a mountain to disperse the gørningaveðr (performative weather)51 caused by another practitioner.52 In all of these cases,53 the practitioner utilizes a humanmade and therefore domestic (or domesticated in the case of Svanr’s goat-skin)

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item in a ritual that aims at effecting a change in the natural world. One could therefore argue that magic-users use the tools of culture to manipulate nature, which would again situate them in a mediatory position between the two, belonging to both realms and being able to control both, but without fully being part of either. Thus, magic-users are ultimately conceived of as hybrid transgressors of the boundaries between the ordinary, domestic world of medieval Icelanders, and the natural and paranormal realm that ordinary people cannot access. Their hybrid status not only further blurs the boundaries between nature and culture, the social and the wild, which have already been noted to be highly transgressible in chapter three, but will also assume great significance in the contexts in which magic-users interact with and impact on society through their connection with the natural world, as discussed below. The transgression of boundaries between nature and culture, and between the material and the paranormal, therefore endows magic-users with a potential for disruption: depending on what they use their knowledge and power for, and depending on their interaction with the community of ordinary people, they can be perceived as beneficial, neutral, or monstrously harmful. However, even if they use their access to the realms outside ordinary human experience for societally beneficial purposes, the mere fact that they possess knowledge that ordinary people lack renders them “Other” and moves them closer to the monstrous. Whether they fulfill this potential then depends on their actions towards and interactions with members of society. Before I turn to a discussion of these actions, however, I want to briefly consider another potentially transgressive aspect, especially of male practitioners. In Ynglinga saga, it is said of seiðr that “þessi fjǫlkynngi . . . fylgir svá mikil ergi, at eigi þótti karlmǫnnum skammlaust við at fara” (this kind of magic . . . is accompanied by so much sexual deviancy that men cannot practice it without shame),54 and because of this, scholars have considered the practice of magic a transgressive act for men.55 Male practitioners become associated with the feminine due to their use of seiðr, and its practice is therefore perceived as a kind of perversion.56 However, as noted above, most of the magic practiced in the Íslendingasögur is not referred to as seiðr and therefore should not be assumed to be seiðr. Moreover, it is only explicitly linked to ergi (queerness, sexual deviancy)57 in one instance in the Íslendingasögur: in the M version of Gísla saga, it is said of Þorgrímr nef’s seiðr that “fremr hann þetta fjǫlkynngiliga með allri ergi ok skelmiskap” (he performed this [seiðr] in a magical way with all kinds of queerness/deviancy and devilry)58 at Bǫrkr’s request. Importantly, this is not mentioned in the S version, which gives a more neutral account of Þorgrímr’s performance: the magic is still called seiðr, but no mention of ergi is made.59 Moreover, Kotkell and his sons, who also practice seiðr,60 are neither connected to ergi, nor is their manhood called into question:

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Kotkell has fathered two sons, and Stígandi enters a sexual relationship with a servant-woman. Thus, in the Íslendingasögur, the practice of seiðr does not seem to be perceived as sexually deviant in the way it is presented elsewhere in medieval Icelandic literature,61 and practicing magic apparently does not contribute to the perception of male magic-users as transgressive. What renders them problematic is therefore not the fact that they are men practicing feminine magic, but that they practice magic for socially disruptive purposes.

Contagion If men and women use magic in the same way, and sometimes together, one might assume that, just as with berserkir and their ability to shift psychologically, being skilled at magic is a genetic condition. There are indeed cases that would support this argument: Kotkell, his wife Gríma, and their sons Hallbjǫrn and Stígandi are all “mjǫk fjǫlkunnig ok inir mestu seiðmenn” (very knowledgeable about magic and the greatest magic-users),62 while the seiðskratti Þorgrímr nef has a sister,63 Auðbjǫrg, whose magic causes the death of twelve people,64 and Gróa’s sister Þórey, although never explicitly implicated in her sister’s harmful act, is driven out of the district after Gróa’s suicide.65 However, while familial associations among magic-users exist, other accounts as well as the terminology used to denote magic suggest otherwise. For, as noted above, magic is conceived of as based on knowledge rather than innate talent. Knowledge, however, is something that can be acquired from an external source, and this is how the acquisition of magical skill is depicted in the Íslendingasögur. The most prominent example of magic being taught and learned is that of Geirríðr, Katla, and Gunnlaugr in Eyrbyggja saga.66 Gunnlaugr is said to be námgjarn (eager for knowledge),67 and because of this he studies kunnátta (magical knowledge) with the margkunnig Geirríðr.68 Katla, who identifies herself as a magic-user by stating that “‘fleiri konur kunnu sér enn nǫkkut’” (“more women still know something”),69 would like to teach Gunnlaugr herself, and trouble ensues, drawing in the two women as well as their families. In other cases, no conflict follows from the study of magic: Bárðr learns “galdra ok forneskju” (magic and old lore) from his foster father Dofri,70 and both Gríma and Guðríðr chant songs they learned in childhood,71 while Gísli states that his dream woman interdicted the study of magic.72 Therefore, it seems likely that those families whose members share magical knowledge have passed this knowledge on between them.73 Some people seem to have a talent for magic: Guðríðr, for example, sings the Varðlokur “svá fagrt ok vel” (so beautifully and well) that a large number of

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spirits attend the ritual.74 In theory, however, anyone could study magic, and, as Hastrup notes, “this meant that it was within the reach of every Icelander to become a magician.”75 But if one considers magic-users as inherently destabilizing in their transgressiveness, this means in turn that every Icelander could be “the enemy within,” as Briggs terms it;76 every Icelander had the potential for monstrous disruptiveness. Thus, unlike berserkism and revenancy, practicing magic is not conceived of as involuntarily contagious. Instead, there is a voluntary element to both the acquisition and the practice itself,77 and because of this element of choice, the practitioner is also free to decide whether they want to put their skill to beneficial or harmful use. The most disturbing aspect of magic, however, is its essentially hidden nature: transgressiveness and hybridity are completely internalized in this case, and unless someone chooses to perform magic, one never knows for certain what power a person might wield. In a society as public as that of medieval Iceland,78 such secrecy must have been considered highly disruptive to social stability.

Economic Impact Once magic is out in the open, the destructive use to which it is most frequently put has serious consequences for the people affected by it. Since magic is linked to issues of power and control, it can be used for the personal gain of either the practitioners themselves or a person who uses their services. This kind of personal economic gain, while not a frequent feature of magic-user episodes, tends to take one of three forms: either practitioners or their relatives abuse their power in order to tyrannize and steal from ordinary farmers, or they aim for less directly material advantage, or they affect the community’s prosperity through other means. The first form is also the most obvious one, and it is present, for example, in the story of Kotkell and his family in Laxdœla saga, as well as the Ljót and Hrolleifr episode in Vatnsdœla saga. From the beginning, Kotkell, Gríma, and their sons combine magic and a negative economic impact: they “gera [Ingunni] óvært í fjárránum ok fjǫlkynngi” (harass [Ingunn] with raiding and magic),79 and Þórðr summons them for “þjófnað ok fjǫlkynngi” (stealing and magic).80 Later, Þorleikr is convinced to take them in because he covets their beautiful horses, and when Hrútr interferes, Þorleikr asks Kotkell and his family to “gera nǫkkurn hlut, þann er Hrúti væri svívirðing at” (do something to cause Hrútr dishonor).81 Helga Kress states that “þjófnaður og galdrar tengjast mjög . . . þar sem þeir tilheyra sama sviði, enda fer hvort tveggja fram með leynd” (stealing and sorcery are closely connected . . . since they belong to the same field, as both are done in secret),82 but as discussed in chapter three, stealing is a serious charge that is to

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be avoided at all costs. It is this issue of secrecy that, as noted above, makes magic problematic, and this is confirmed by the use to which it is put in this episode. The problem seems to be that, unlike ordinary thieves, the magic-user family cannot easily be removed; because of their superior power, they can do as they please until a large enough force finally overcomes them. Ljót and Hrolleifr are not called thieves, but their economic impact is nonetheless harmful. Of Hrolleifr it is said that “hann fór illa með afli sínu” (he abused his strength),83 and the combination of his strength and his mother’s magical powers ensures that they can tyrannize the entire area. Much like Kotkell and his family, they do what they like – including Hrolleifr abducting the daughter of Uni. Throughout the episode, the strained relationships of Ljót and Hrolleifr with their neighbors are stressed. During their first settlement with Sæmundr, “[þ]au vinguðusk lítt við menn, kómu þar fram hót eða heitan, ok sýndu búum sínum óþokkasvip í ǫllum búsifjum” (they made few friends among the people; they were threatening and showed hostility to their neighbors in all interactions),84 and after they are resettled, Hrolleifr continues this behavior: “váru þat illar búsifjar við alla þá, er í nánd váru” (they had bad relationships with all those who lived nearby).85 Þorsteinn Ingimundarson asks Hrolleifr to end his disruptive behavior because “‘dugir ok ekki, at þú gangir yfir menn með rangendum’” (“it won’t do that you tyrannize people with injustice”),86 thus explicitly commenting on the tyrannical behavior of Hrolleifr, whose mother’s magical support makes him invulnerable. Together, mother and son therefore have a severely disruptive impact on whatever area they live in, and their disruption is reminiscent of both revenants who make normal interaction impossible, and of berserkir who raid farms and abduct women. The second and rather different form of the use of magic for personal and economic gain at the expense of others is presented in the case of Þorkell silfri. Although he is “vellauðigr at fé” (exceedingly wealthy),87 he is greedy for more and uses his powers to influence the choosing of the new goði of Vatnsdalr: “leggja þeir hluti í skaut, ok kom jafnan upp hlutr Silfra, því at hann var margkyndugr” (they put their lots into a piece of cloth, but Silfri’s lot always came up because he was skilled in magic).88 The goðorð is less a matter of financial wealth than of prestige and influence, and the rich but foolish Þorkell craves this kind of recognition. However, as his wife Signý predicts, this is not meant to be: Þorkell krafla – who himself later becomes the Vatnsdœlir chieftain – kills Silfri and thereby restores social balance. The final form of economically disruptive magic works through other means, only indirectly impacting the community. An example of this form occurs when Stígandi Kotkelsson is caught, and no element of personal gain – except perhaps vengeance – is present in this episode: as he is about to die, Stígandi casts his

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evil eye on a fertile slope,89 “en því var líkast, sem hvirfilvindr komi at; sneri um jǫrðunni, svá at aldregi síðan kom þar gras upp. Þar heitir nú á Brennu” (it was as if a whirlwind had come up; the earth turned so that grass never grew there again. This place is now called Brenna).90 Stígandi utilizes the landscape to avenge his impending death, turning the earth against those who depend on its fertility. This use of the natural world in magic, both to effect a change in the world as well as to impact humans, is a recurrent feature of magic episodes in the Íslendingasögur and will be discussed in the next section. At this point, it suffices to note that the practitioner’s economic impact does not benefit him directly, and it is not worked on the community directly, but through the natural world, which here plays an intermediary role. This relates back to the notion of the mediatory position of the practitioners themselves between nature and culture, and links it directly to their impact on the society on whose margins many of these figures move. Interestingly, however, not all magic-users abuse their powers for personal gain; in some cases, they put them at the service of the community. While this only occurs in outlaw sagas, it again underlines the fluidity of magic and its practitioners, especially since the public perception of their actions can fluctuate significantly.91 In these sagas, practitioners work against the outlaw and thus for the wider community that is affected by his depredations. In Harðar saga, Þorbjörg katla and Þorgríma smíðkona both oppose Hörðr and his companions, thereby ultimately defending both their own property and society’s stability and prosperity. Þuríðr in Grettis saga can also be said to work her magic for societal benefit, since she enables Þorbjǫrn ǫngull to overcome and remove an economically harmful criminal. These women are presented as “insurmountable obstacles for otherwise undefeatable saga heroes,”92 and as such, they embody the overwhelming power of magic. However, even though they operate to society’s advantage, they are not depicted as unproblematic figures. Þuríðr’s magic is perceived as disruptive and harmful by both Grettir and, after his death, by Grettir’s family, but since she is considered to practice magic on Þorbjǫrn’s behalf, he is blamed for the unfair circumstances of Grettir’s death.93 Thus, responsibility is shifted from the practitioner to the one who commissioned the magic. Þorbjörg and Þorgríma, on the other hand, show their own monstrous potential later when they fight and kill each other over the ring Hörðr took from Sóti, haunting the area after death.94 Thus, even if magic-users are not themselves economically disruptive, they always betray their monstrous potential in some way. It needs to be noted, however, that there are magic-users in the Íslendingasögur who never show any economically disruptive potential: Geirríðr and Þórdís spákona are of high status and therefore do not need to steal, the two Grímur in Fóstbrœðra saga, although not wealthy, have their own farms, and

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Katla has various women working in her house.95 Thus, there are instances in which the element of economic disruption is not present in the way it has been observed in relation to other social monsters. If, however, practitioners are economically disruptive, their negative impact is profound. This has been shown especially in the case of the family of Kotkell, who not only steal, but also kill, and turn the landscape against the community. It is this last aspect in particular that defines the disruptiveness of the magic-user: their impact on the natural world and the impact this, in turn, has on the humans who live in it.

Enchanting the Land The connection between magic-users and the natural world has emerged as an inherent feature of their disruption in both their transgressiveness and their economic impact. Since it connects the two features, the practitioners’ association with the natural world constitutes an important aspect of their interaction with society. Even when practitioners act against a person, in most cases, the natural world is involved in these actions, with its laws being subverted, or a feature of the natural world being used against an individual or the community as a whole, as was shown in the case of Stígandi’s destruction of the field. Scholars have debated the significance of this impact on the natural world, with some highlighting the particular importance of weather magic in the agricultural society of medieval Iceland,96 while others have claimed that such phenomena “play a very minor role in the written descriptions.”97 It will be shown that nature magic as a whole – not just the specific case of weather magic – in fact constitutes the primary means by which magic-users interact with, and act against, society. Since weather magic is the most common, and most commonly analyzed, type of nature magic, it provides a useful starting point for this discussion. A particularly interesting, albeit somewhat atypical, instance of weather magic is worked by the family of Kotkell: the four practitioners perform harðsnúin frœði (formidable lore) and galdrar (magic) in order to cause a storm and turn it against Þórðr, who is threatening to have them outlawed.98 Þórðr almost escapes their power, but when he is about to reach land, “reis boði skammt frá landi, sá er engi maðr munði, at fyrr hefði uppi verit” (a breaker rose not far from the land, in a place where no one remembered that there had been one before).99 Þórðr’s ship is destroyed, and everyone on it drowns. The magic-users show that they control not just the air – they raise a storm – but also the sea: they create a breaker where none has ever occurred. This control over the elements allows them to defeat their enemy and escape justice, showing that magical control over the environment can be used as a weapon, and a lethal one at that.

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A more typical case of weather magic is that of Auðbjǫrg in Gísla saga. In order to avenge her son’s injury, Auðbjǫrg causes a change in the weather that ultimately leads to an avalanche: “þá tók veðrit at skipask, ok gerir á fjúk mikit ok eptir þat þey, ok brestr flóð í hlíðinni, ok hleypr snæskriða á bœ Bergs” (then the weather changed, and a great snowstorm came down and afterwards it thawed. A flood burst out on the slope, and an avalanche fell over Bergr’s farm).100 The avalanche not only kills twelve people, but also leaves a lasting impression on the landscape, thus altering both the social fabric and the natural environment. Moreover, this use of weather magic for destructive purposes seems to be an attribute Auðbjǫrg shares with her brother Þorgrímr nef. In the S version of Gísla saga, he is credited with causing the storm that takes the roof off Gísli’s farm at Hóll, providing an opportunity for Vésteinn’s killer to attack: “Svá er sagt, at illviðri því hinu mikla hefir valdit Þorgrímr nef með gǫldrum sínum ok gerningum” (It is said that the great storm was caused by Þorgrímr nef with his magic and witchcraft).101 Here, the natural world is not used to kill directly, but to cause a diversion so that a human perpetrator can attack. Weather magic can also be used to escape an attacker rather than to attack, as can be seen in Njáls saga: here, Svanr causes a fog so dense and dark that Ósvífr’s men are lost in it. The saga refers to this as an undr (marvel), highlighting the paranormal origins of the fog, which recurs three times.102 This use of weather magic to hinder or confuse occurs frequently: Helga causes the snowstorm and frost that keep Bergr from attending a duel with Jǫkull;103 and Þorgríma smíðkona arguably generates “snæfall mikit ok gerningaveðr” (a great snowfall and “weather acts”) against the Hólmverjar when they are trying to steal her son Indriði’s sheep.104 Weather magic is therefore a versatile tool that can be used as an impediment, a diversion, or a weapon, benefiting the few – the practitioners, their relatives, or their customers – and harming the many. Other magic-users choose to work on the landscape directly. Such landscape magic can be similar in form to weather magic: Gróa, for instance, works a ritual commonly associated with weather magic, complete with waving a “gizka eða dúki” (kerchief or piece of cloth),105 but rather than causing a storm, a landslide breaks loose and covers her farm, killing Gróa and everyone inside. Similarly, Galdra-Heðinn – who, during the conversion period, is commissioned by pagans to kill Þangbrandr – works a blót (sacrifice) so that “brast í sundr jǫrðin undir hesti [Þangbrands]” (the earth burst open under [Þangbrandr’s] horse), swallowing the horse.106 In both cases, the targets of the magic – Gróa’s household, Þangbrandr’s horse, and almost Þangbrandr himself – are quite literally incorporated into the land. The landscape is therefore used to annihilate specific human beings; it is made to turn against them, devouring them whole.

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A different form of the land turning against humans – against the whole community rather than particular individuals – has been discussed in the case of Stígandi’s turning of the slope. Another example of this type of turning the land is the final piece of magic Ljót attempts to work: she walks backwards with her head between her legs until the Ingimundarsynir interrupt her ritual. When they ask what she was doing, “[h]on kvazk hafa ætlat at snúa þar um landslagi ǫllu, – ‘en þér œrðizk allir ok yrðið at gjalti eptir á vegum úti með villidýrum’” (She said that she had planned to turn around the entire landscape, – “but you would have gone mad and turned crazy with terror out among the wild animals”),107 and it seems that the two – the turning of the landscape and the maddening of the Ingimundarsynir – would have gone hand in hand. The turning of the environment on which human prosperity depends therefore seems to be connected to the turning of the mental faculties vital for human survival. Thus, in order to impact the mental and economic stability of the Ingimundarsynir, Ljót works her magic to disrupt the coherence and stability of the natural world. In some cases, this kind of magic stretches further than a nearby slope, or even the local area. In fact, Þorgrímr nef seems to be able to turn the entire country against Gísli. The saga’s S version states that Bǫrkr commissions Þorgrímr, “at hann magni seið, svá at þeim manni verði ekki at bjǫrg, er Þorgrím hefir vegit, ok hann megi sér hvergi ró eiga á landi” (that he should perform seiðr, so that the man who killed Þorgrímr would never find shelter, and that he would never be at rest in Iceland).108 During the first years of his outlawry, Gísli spends time wandering Iceland, whereas his final years are characterized by a different restlessness, caused by his dreams, and on his last day, this restlessness makes him leave Auðr’s farm.109 This could simply be attributed to Gísli being the direct target of the curse rather than it working through the land, and this argument would be supported by the fact that the phrase, “hann megi sér hvergi ró eiga á landi,” is missing in M. However, both versions confirm that Þorgrímr nef’s seiðr specifically stipulated that any support Gísli receives on the mainland of Iceland would be useless, but “þat kom honum eigi í hug at skilja til um úteyjar” (it did not occur to him to include the outlying islands),110 and they are therefore exempt. This confirms that Þorgrímr’s curse is spatially bounded, and it thus seems to work its destructive influence on Gísli’s fate through the land to which it is confined.111 In addition to performing magic through the weather or the land itself, some practitioners operate through individual aspects of the natural world – flora and fauna. The most prominent example is probably Þuríðr’s magic, which is strong enough to overcome even the strongest man in Iceland. Þuríðr is the only magicuser who is said to be both “fjǫlkunnig mjǫk ok margkunnig mjǫk,”112 and thus, apparently, her magic is twice as strong as that of other practitioners. Þuríðr is

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therefore able not only to curse Grettir;113 she also sends out a tool through which her magic is worked against him: a piece of wood. With runes, blood, and words – galdra (magic) and rǫmm ummæli (powerful utterances)114 – she transforms this rótartré (tree root) into an óheillatré (tree of bad luck).115 In this transformation, just as in the rituals discussed above, the tools of culture – weapons, language, writing, and the fire that has touched the root before116 – work on an element of the natural world, turning and enhancing it so it can become the vehicle of Grettir’s destruction. Þuríðr then uses her power on another aspect of the environment, the sea, to make sure this vehicle reaches its target, and despite Grettir throwing it back out to sea, it is washed ashore three times. This óheillatré then facilitates the breaking of Grettir’s body: once no longer heill because of his injury, Grettir is fragmented, opened up to attack, and his body broken.117 Finally, there are some magic-users who have a particular connection to animals that goes beyond the illusion magic discussed above. Þórveig, for example, is capable of projecting herself into a hrosshvalr,118 and people are able to recognize her eyes in those of the animal. Moreover, Kormákr’s attack on the animal leads not only to the hrosshvalr’s death, but also to Þórveig’s.119 As Raudvere notes, “[t]he link between the two bodies . . . is so strong that the human body cannot ward off the injuries inflicted upon the walrus.”120 From the fear invoked by the hrosshvalr’s appearance, and because of the analogous episode in Laxdœla saga, in which Víga-Hrappr appears in the form of a seal, it seems likely that Þórveig’s intention was to harm, probably even drown, Kormákr and his companions. A similar projection, albeit with a less destructive purpose, occurs in Harðar saga. When Hörðr and his companions want to steal Þorgríma smíðkona’s oxen, one of the animals starts behaving strangely: “Einn var apalgrár uxinn; hann viðraði mjök; hann hljóp aptr í hendr þeim, ok svá hverr at öðrum, ok út á vatnit, . . . ok gengu síðan heim í Hvamm” (One ox was dapple-grey; he sniffed a lot; he ran back at them, and each of them in turn, and out into the water, . . . and then they went home to Hvammr).121 Hörðr, with his ability to see through magic, states that “‘[m]ikit er um kynngi Þorgrímu, er fénaðr skal eigi sjálfr mega ráða sér’” (“Þorgríma’s knowledge must be great if the cattle cannot control itself”),122 implying that Þorgríma is indeed controlling the dapple-grey ox, leading her cattle back home.123 A different animal connection is depicted in the case of Þórólfr sleggja and his twenty black cats, who are said to be “mjǫk trylldir” (very enchanted).124 While Þórólfr is not called marg- or fjǫlkunnigr, he is a thief, and also capable of magically enhancing, magna, the cats, who then become agents of his malevolence. Much like the óheillatré, which is also said to be magnat,125 they are a means for Þórólfr to extend his control over the area, and they are also used as

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a weapon of defense against his enemies.126 It is unclear to what extent they are involved in his stealing, but they probably make it more difficult for him to be attacked and overcome. Their exact power is also unknown. The saga only tells of their size, their howling, and glances, and Þorsteinn warns his men against them: “‘Varizk þér kǫttuna, at þeir hremmsi yðr eigi’” (“Beware the cats, that they do not grab you”).127 These cats are therefore an extension of Þórólfr’s malevolence and power, and they endure long after his death. This analysis has provided an overview of the kinds of nature magic practitioners use in the Íslendingasögur, and it has emerged as the primary form of efficatory magic through which practitioners interact with the world. The impact of this interaction on the communities on whose margins magic-users move, however, still remains to be discussed. Morris notes that “[t]he ability of an individual or a group to control the weather would be seen as very dangerous to an agrarian society” like that of medieval Iceland,128 and it therefore has severely disruptive potential. The weather magic of Kotkell and his family, as well as of Auðbjǫrg and Þorgrímr nef, is used as a weapon and kills a large number of people. This in itself obviously constitutes a disruption of the local community, but it also involves economic impact due to the loss of life and therefore loss of workforce. While magically produced weather events are relatively short-lived, their effect is long-lasting, enduring after the magic-users themselves have been removed. Interestingly, while “weather magic . . . was an activity that affected the whole community,”129 other kinds of nature magic have been shown to be more frequently directed against individuals or small groups rather than society as a whole. This, however, does not mean that this form of more specifically directed magical interaction is less disruptive: if Ljót had succeeded, the leading family of the valley, the Ingimundarsynir, would essentially have been annihilated, and the Vatnsdalr area might have been plunged into political chaos. Similarly, the magic of Þuríðr and Þorgrímr nef is condemned rather than celebrated, even though they seem to perform it for societal benefit, and the consequences of their actions affect not only Grettir and Gísli, against whom the magic is directed, but also their kinsmen and, to some extent, their enemies: Þorbjǫrn ǫngull is outlawed for his use of unfair methods, while Bǫrkr is divorced by his wife and Eyjólfr wounded and dishonored. The main disruption caused by magical interaction, apart from its immediate impact on people’s lives, lies in its duration. I noted above that the consequences of weather magic outlast the events themselves, and sometimes, they outlast the practitioners as well. Whereas illusion magic ends with the death of the magic-user, as can be seen in Skroppa’s case, the curses of Þórveig and Hallbjǫrn, and the nature magic of Stígandi and Þorgrímr nef outlive their performers, while the cats of Þórólfr sleggja continue to harass the area long after

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he has sunk into a bog. In other cases, the practitioners themselves refuse to give up the land that enabled their disruption, and Gróa, Hallbjǫrn, and Þorgríma smíðkona and Þorbjörg katla continue to haunt the places of their deaths. Thus, while the magic-users themselves can be killed, their malign influence on the natural world and therefore on the humans that live in it is not easily removed, and affects generations to come. All this shows just how closely connected magic-users are to the natural world through which they operate. They not only walk between the material and the immaterial, the domestic and the natural worlds, using one to affect the other, but also utilize features of the environment in their interaction with humans, and do so specifically to harm individuals or the larger community. Through this interaction, their disruption leaves a mark both on the communities and on the land itself: Brenna, the formerly fertile slope, never grows grass again, and remnants of Auðbjǫrg’s landslide are said to still be visible at the time Gísla saga was written. However, magic-users leave their mark on social memory not only through the construction of new topographical features: as Helga Kress notes, “svo mjög tengjast galdrarnir landinu að þeir skilja eftir sig viðvarandi merki í örnefnum” (magic is so closely connected to the land that it leaves behind lasting place names),130 and this is a particularly prominent feature in Laxdœla saga, where Brenna and Skrattavarði become visible, tangible features of both the landscape and social memory, attesting to the lasting, disruptive impact of such monstrous magic-users as Kotkell and his family. The potential for monstrosity established in the magic-users’ hybridity and transgressiveness that links them to the natural world, is thus fulfilled in their interaction with society. Through their disruption of the natural world and its processes, through the power they have over it, they harmfully impact society in a way very similar to the hauntings of revenants and the depredations of outlaws: they kill, steal, and disrupt interactions between ordinary humans through their presence. Thus, they turn into what Sayers terms “a threat to normative Icelandic society.”131 They are a force of chaos, uncontrollable in their superior power and knowledge. This force eventually has to be removed for order to be restored, in the hope that the natural world, too, will revert to normality. This was a growing concern in an increasingly variable climate, an issue I will explore in chapter seven.

Sticks and Stones: Executing Magic-Users Briggs states that “[w]itches were people you lived with, however unhappily, until they goaded someone past endurance.”132 In the Íslendingasögur, this goading does not occur in every case of magic-user activity: there are many

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practitioners whose deaths are not related in the sagas, and who therefore go on to live their lives even after their magical interaction has been narrated. This highlights again the fluidity of the potential monstrosity of magic-users: revenants, outlaws, and berserkir always have to be removed somehow,133 in order for stability to be restored. This fluidity in death is connected to the importance of the purpose for which magic is used, and it is also linked to the significance of public perception, which will be the topic of the following chapter. When magic-users do work malevolent, disruptive magic that renders them monstrous, they have to be dispatched so that the community can resume normal functioning. In the majority of cases in which their death is related, however, they do not die in battle like berserkir or outlaws; instead, they are executed.134 In these executions, some of the patterns observed in the cases of other social monsters recur. The breaking of physical integrity is not as prominent a feature with magic-users as it was with these other characters, but there are still instances of it. The most notable of these occurs outside of an execution, in the fight between Þorgríma smíðkona and Þorbjörg katla: when they are found dead, they are “allar rifnar ok skornar í sundr í stykki” (completely torn up and cut into pieces),135 their bodies thus completely broken. This physical fragmentation, however, does not prevent them from haunting the area afterwards. Fragmentation of the body is more usual for the sons of magic-users: Oddr is hanged136 and Hrolleifr beheaded.137 Moreover, one could perhaps argue that Ljót’s death, “í móð sínum ok trolldómi” (in her wrath and trollishness), is a kind of internal fragmentation:138 much like Þórólfr bægifótr, she seems to implode, ripping herself apart mentally just as she wanted to disrupt the mental stability of the Ingimundarsynir. In those cases where an execution is carried out, stoning seems to be the method of choice:139 Auðbjǫrg and Þorgrímr nef, Katla, and Kotkell, Gríma and Stígandi are all stoned to death and kasaðr140 or put in a dys.141 Thus, the incorporation of the monster’s body into the natural world – a feature noted for its recurrence with other social monsters – is present in the case of magic-users as well. Other methods are employed too: Hallbjǫrn is drowned, for example, but this does not end his depredations, as he continues to haunt the area as a revenant before sinking into the earth. Þórólfr sleggja, too, finds his final resting place in the ground: he “hljóp í fenit, ok sukku svá at hvárrgi kom upp” (jumped into the bog, and they [Þórólfr and the Norwegian] sank so that neither of them came back up).142 The bodies of magic-users in and after death therefore confirm the association with the natural world these characters had in life: they are firmly embedded in the environment, their bodies contained within the landscape. Like berserkir, however, they are buried in liminal places: “Þau eru kösuð á jaðri, á mörkum byggða, í einhvers konar einskismannslandi, utan

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samfélags” (They are buried on the edge, on the boundaries of the settlement, in some kind of no-man’s-land, outside of society).143 Thus, Auðbjǫrg and Þorgrímr as well as Kotkell and Gríma are buried on ridges between two valleys, while Þórólfr’s boggy grave is in itself a liminal, even hybrid place – neither water nor land. Far away from settled areas, contained by the land itself, they – like the other monsters with whom they share the manner of their death and burial – can no longer cause harm to society. Thus, while magic-users are perhaps the most fluid characters discussed, overall they still emerge as socially disruptive figures who have to be removed in order for society to go back to a stable existence. In their transgression of boundaries between the worlds of the material and the paranormal, and their association with the natural world that gives them power to control forces ordinary humans cannot contain, these characters emerge as potentially monstrous. This potential is only fulfilled if they use their paranormal powers against society – if their actions are directed against the community or its members, causing harm and disrupting the peace. Since magic is used in many cases to gain an advantage over other people, more often than not it does cause disruption, and therefore, its users can indeed be argued to be monstrous in their abuse of their superior power at the expense of ordinary people’s lives and prosperity. In all this, however, the perception of a magic-user’s actions, and their evaluation as beneficial, neutral, or malevolent, has been shown to play a significant role in the conception of the monstrosity exhibited by these characters. Throughout the previous chapters, perception has been mentioned again and again as a defining feature in the construction, and ultimately in the assessment, of social monstrosity in the Íslendingasögur. I will therefore now turn to the final dimension in the conceptualization of social monstrosity: the perception of the monster, as it is voiced by society and its members.

Notes 1. 2.

3.

4.

Price, Viking Way, 69. The most detailed discussion of magic and the people who practice it in the Íslendingasögur is Dillmann, Les magiciens; he lists all identifiable magic-users of the Íslendingasögur and -þættir and Lnd on p. 145–55. For an introduction to the anthropological view of the study of magic, see Yalman, “Magic.” A detailed overview of scholarship up to the early 2000s is in Price, Viking Way, 76–89. For a summary of both recent scholarship and general medieval as well as Nordic attitudes to magic, see Mitchell, Witchcraft and Magic, 1–15. See Strömbäck, Sejd, esp. 192–206; Price, Viking Way, esp. 324–28; and Buchholz, “Shamanism.” Dillmann, on the other hand, rejects the idea of seiðr being a

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Notes

5.

6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

18. 19.

20. 21. 22. 23.

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shamanistic practice because there is no element of trance present in the saga accounts; “Seiður og shamanismi,” esp. 32. For a concise summary of the debate around shamanism in Norse culture, see von Schnurbein, “Shamanism.” See Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, “Women’s Weapons,” 417–19, for criticism of calling all magic seiðr. Price, Viking Way, 126–27, lists a number of designations used for magic-users. Since there is no single term applied to all practitioners in the Íslendingasögur, I have refrained from choosing one of the “native” terms, referring to them instead as “practitioners (of magic)” or “magic-users.” I also choose to refer to their actions as “magic,” firstly, because the sagas do not use one specific noun for the practices (fjǫlkynngi, galdr, forneskja, seiðr, gerningar, and trollskapr are mentioned most frequently), and secondly, because it is a more neutral term than “sorcery” or “witchcraft,” both of which come with a host of connotations in both mainstream and academic culture; on these connotations, see Mitchell, “Magic as Acquired Art,” 132. Raudvere, “Trolldómr,” 80, uses an “emic” term to denote magical practice, but this is problematic since the term she chooses is relatively rare. She argues that trolldómr is more frequently attested than, e.g., trollskapr, 88, but the ONP lists nineteen instances of the former and thirty-one of the latter. On terminology, see also below. Mitchell, “Magic as Acquired Art,” 146; emphasis original. Mitchell, Witchcraft and Magic, 15; Dillmann, Les magiciens, 215–16. Raudvere, “Trolldómr,” 88. This is similar to my terminological focus on the actions of revenants rather than their being. Jochens, Images of Women, 129–31, and esp. Morris, Sorceress or Witch?, who takes this development as the premise of her study. Heller, Darstellung der Frau, esp. 127–36. Jochens, Images of Women, 123–24, argues that female magic-users are both more “impressive” and more numerous, and that their appearances are narrated in more detail. The impressiveness of magic seems to be a very subjective criterion, however, and since Jochens adjusts the numbers of magic-users according to it, her argument about numbers is also tenuous. Helga Kress, “Óþarfar unnustur áttu,” 22. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, “Women’s Weapons,” 410, n. 1. Raudvere, “Trolldómr,” 81. Gísli Pálsson, “Name of the Witch,” 159, and Dillmann, Les magiciens, 157. See Mitchell, “Gender and Nordic Witchcraft,” 10, and Jochens, Images of Women, 122. Miller, “Blaming the Secret Offender,” 111. Elsewhere, Miller argues that witchcraft accusations were one of the mechanisms for legitimately killing women, ignoring the fact that male practitioners are also executed for their harmful use of magic; “Enormities,” 765. Yalman, “Magic,” 524. See Strömbäck, Sejd, 142; for Strömbäck, white magic is divinatory. See also Raudvere, “Trolldómr,” 80, who points out that it is not the magic itself that is “black” or “white,” but that the purpose for which it is used defines whether magic is beneficial or malevolent. Price, Viking Way, 329. See Raudvere, “Trolldómr,” 108. Tolley, “Helping Spirits,” 58. This idea is taken up again in chapter six.

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24. 25. 26. 27.

28. 29.

30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39.

40. 41. 42. 43.

44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52.

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E.g., in Korm, 221–22. Price, Viking Way, 354–66. Because practitioners of harmful magic are condemned by the public; see Asmark, “Magikyndige kvinder,” 114. This has been stressed by many scholars. See Briggs, Witches and Neighbours, 4; Kieckhefer, Magic, 9; Torfi Tulinius, “Galdrar,” 10; and Mitchell, Witchcraft and Magic, 14. Flint, Rise of Magic, 3. Dillmann, Les magiciens, 194–204, discusses these terms in great detail. He also shows that the specific connotation of magical power and knowledge in the -kunnig/r compounds is old, potentially even pre-Christian; 206–8. Ellis Davidson, “Hostile Magic,” 37. Morris, Sorceress or Witch?, 17; Gísli Pálsson, “Name of the Witch,” 165. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, “Women’s Weapons,” 412. Ibid., 412. Gos, “Women,” 292. Eb, 29. Dillmann, Les magiciens, 329–51. Price, Viking Way, 66; emphasis original. Hastrup, “Sorcerers and Paganism,” 391. Most magic episodes do not mention paranormal beings but only depict the actions of the magic-user and their results, so that one might get the impression that magic-users work directly on material reality without intermediary spirits. The exception is the Þorbjǫrg lítilvǫlva episode in Eir, 208: Þorbjǫrg comments on the náttúrur (spirits, powers), who appear because of Guðríðr’s singing of the Varðlokur. Since this is divinatory rather than efficatory magic, however, it is unclear if one can extrapolate a general belief in the involvement of spirits in magical performances from this episode. Raudvere, “Trolldómr,” 87. Boyer, Le monde du double, 14. Apps and Gow, Male Witches, 130. That this is not shapeshifting but illusion magic is clear on the one hand from the terminology used (sjónhverfingar are, literally, “sight turnings,” something that affects appearance and perception), and on the other from Hörðr’s reaction to it: as noted in chapter three, Hörðr cannot be deceived by sjónhverfingar, “því at hann sá allt eptir því sem var” (because he saw everything as it was); Harð, 32. This confirms that sjónhverfingar affect the appearance of something or someone, not their true shape or being. If one can call it that; I refer to Skroppa’s illusion of an armed crowd moving against Hörðr and his men; Harð, 68. Fbr, 245–48; Eb, 51–53. Harð, 67–68. Eb, 51–53. Harð, 67. Ibid., 66. Nj, 37–38. Ogilvie and Gísli Pálsson, “Weather and Climate,” 266. Vatn, 127–28.

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Notes

53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90.

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For further examples, see Harð, 66, n. 1. Yng, 19. See Sayers, “Sexual Identity,” 133. Sayers, “Sexual Identity,” 140. I follow Ármann Jakobsson’s suggested meaning of the term ergi; “Trollish Acts,” 63. See also Gunnar Karlsson, “Karlmennska,” 377–80. Gísl, 56–57. Gísl, ed. Loth, 37. Laxd, 95 and 105. According to Mitchell, there are also suggestions of sexual deviancy in some legal texts; “Gender and Nordic Witchcraft,” 16. Laxd, 95. This term is difficult to translate, but means something along the lines of “wizard” with very negative connotations. Gísl, 37 and 57–60. Vatn, 95–96. For a detailed discussion of this scene, see Ármann Jakobsson, “Two Wise Women.” Eb, 28. Ibid., 28. Ibid., 28. Bárð, 103. Fbr, 169; Eir, 208. Gísl, 70. Further examples in other genres are in Mitchell, “Magic as Acquired Art,” 140–43. Mitchell, “Magic as Acquired Art,” 144, suggests that Kotkell and his family are “a nest of witches born to the trade,” but I find no firm support for this reading in the episode. Eir, 208. Hastrup, “Sorcerers and Paganism,” 388. Briggs, Witches and Neighbours, 4. Yalman, “Magic,” 526. Meulengracht Sørensen, Fortælling og ære, 208. Laxd, 98. Ibid., 99. Ibid., 105. Helga Kress, “Óþarfar unnustur áttu,” 36. Another person who combines magic and stealing is Þórólfr sleggja; Vatn, 72–75. Vatn, 50. This is similar to Grettir using his superior strength for socially disruptive purposes. Ibid., 51. Ibid., 58. Ibid., 60. Ibid., 110. Ibid., 112. On the evil eye, see Dillmann, Les magiciens, 182–87, and Lassen, Øjet og blindheden, 31–39. Laxd, 109. On the use of “turning” in magical performance, see Mitchell, Witchcraft and Magic, 69.

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91. 92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102. 103. 104. 105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110. 111. 112. 113.

114. 115. 116. 117. 118.

119. 120. 121. 122. 123. 124. 125.

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See chapter six. Mitchell, “Gender and Witchcraft,” 11. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, “Women’s Weapons,” 425; Kieckhefer, Magic, 50. Harð, 95. Dillmann, “Katla and Her Distaff,” 117. Mitchell, Witchcraft and Magic, 65; Ellis Davidson, “Hostile Magic,” 35; Raudvere, “Trolldómr,” 108. Price, Viking Way, 232. See also Simek, “Magic,” 199. Laxd, 99. Ibid., 100. Gísl, 59–60. Gísl, ed. Loth, 32. Nj, 37–38. Vatn, 33; Jǫkull attributes this gørningaveðr to her. Harð, 74. Vatn, 96. Nj, 259. Vatn, 70. Gísl, ed. Loth, 37. Gísl, 109. Ibid., 84. Gunnhildr works a similar kind of magic against Egill, so that he “skyldi aldri ró bíða á Íslandi” (should never find rest in Iceland); Eg, 176. See Strömbäck, Sejd, 150–51. Gr, 245. Ibid., 247–48. Curses worked directly against humans are relatively rare, and in most cases, an environmental component presents itself later, as is argued here with the tree root Þuríðr enchants. Other instances are Hallbjǫrn’s curse, Laxd, 107; he comes back to haunt and then sinks into the earth; Þórveig’s curse, Korm, 221–22; she later appears in the shape of a whale, see below; and Katla’s curse, Eb, 54; for her association with the natural world, see above. Gr, 250. Ibid, 249 and 251. Ibid., 249: “þar var sem sviðit ok gniðat ǫðrum megin” (it was singed and scraped on the other side). See chapter three. Korm, 265. Dillmann argues that the hrosshvalr is not a walrus but a paranormally connoted animal, which the saga writer chose for its exceptional eyes; Les magiciens, 247–58. Korm, 266. Raudvere, “Trolldómr,” 105. Harð, 76. Ibid., 76. This is confirmed by Þorgríma being asleep during this episode, suggesting that she sent out her spirit; see Strömbäck, Sejd, 152–59. Vatn, 73. See also Ármann Jakobsson, “Big Black Cats,” who discusses this scene in the context of shapeshifting. Gr, 250.

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Notes

126. 127. 128. 129. 130. 131. 132. 133. 134. 135. 136. 137. 138. 139. 140. 141. 142. 143.

Vatn, 74. Ibid., 74–75. Morris, Sorceress or Witch?, 87. Pócs, Living and Dead, 67. Helga Kress, “Óþarfar unnustur áttu,” 24. Sayers, “Sexual Identity,” 136. Briggs, Witches and Neighbours, 398. Usually through death; in rare cases, curing is possible. With the notable exception of Gróa, who kills herself. Harð, 95. Eb, 54. Vatn, 70. Ibid., 70. Sayers, “Sexual Identity,” 138. Gísl, 60. Laxd, 107 and 109. Vatn, 75. Helga Kress, “Óþarfar unnustur áttu,” 23.

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6 The Social Perception of Monstrosity The preceding chapters have shown that all the characters discussed exhibit the features of social monstrosity: they are transgressive hybrids who cross into, are associated with, or have knowledge of the paranormal; they are contagious, passing on their potential to become monstrous to those who encounter them, their offspring, or those willing to learn; and they disrupt social and economic stability through their stealing, raiding, raping, and malign use of magic on the landscape. Thus, the actions of major outlaws as well as of most berserkir and magic-users manifest the features of social monstrosity theorized in chapter one and identified in chapter two in relation to revenants: these actions are disruptive to such an extent that they render the characters who perform them potentially monstrous. However, as discussed in the introduction, one cannot assess monstrosity through action alone, for according to Mittman, “a monster is not really known through observation; how could it be? How could the viewer distinguish between ‘normally’ terrifying phenomena and abnormally terrifying monstrosity? Rather, I submit, the monster is known through its effect, its impact.”1 In order to establish whether these characters are in fact monstrous, one therefore has to consider the assessment of the people who encounter the characters I have argued to possess monstrous potential – the perception of the communities and individuals who are affected by those characters’ disruptive actions and interactions – in the same way as demonstrated in relation to revenants in chapter two. Through the reactions of those people, and thus ultimately of society, one is able to judge what was considered “abnormally terrifying monstrosity” in saga society. Perception and reaction thus emerge as an evaluative tool that will enable me to determine if a character fulfills the potential for monstrosity their actions have given them.

Levels of Perspective: Intra- and Extratextual Perception A variety of voices in dialogue with potential monsters have emerged from the previous chapters. An example is the voices of the outlaws’ families who are in constant, disruptive communication with their kinsmen. Even more prominent are the voices of those who are affected by and/or oppose those who disrupt their communities. These voices and the perceptions they utter are what I will discuss in the following: how they are expressed, how they relate to the monstrous actions of the characters they talk about, and, ultimately, in what way the monsters’ actions and interactions, and the reactions of those affected by them, influence one another. What will emerge are different, interrelating levels of https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-006

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perception, a complex web of communication that needs to be untangled before I can discuss its individual strands. Most prose texts consist of two dimensions of diegesis, and thus two levels of perspective: the voice of the narrator, and the voices of individual characters.2 The Íslendingasögur, however, add a third voice: that of the people, expressed through public opinion.3 Despite public opinion being a pervasive feature of the genre, not much work has been done on its role in the narratives themselves. Instead, Lönnroth suggests that the narrative voice and the voice of the people are essentially synonymous: he assumes that, during the development of a saga’s conflict, the narrator tends to “provide a running commentary on his own story.”4 This commentary is not “made by the narrator directly but mostly through his spokesmen within the narrative . . . . Often the spokesmen are anonymous representatives of the community at large: ‘the people.’”5 Understanding the voices of the narrator and public opinion as one and the same, however, is problematic. Not only does their rhetorical effect differ, as Shortt Butler points out;6 they are also used for different purposes, in different contexts, and operate on different levels of narrative discourse. The clearest example of this is Fostbrœðra saga, which not only consists of the story of the sworn brothers Þorgeirr and Þormóðr, but some of whose versions also feature extratextual comments, the so-called klausur. Their content focuses mostly on the bravery of Þorgeirr and is derived from learned tradition, commenting, for example, on the size of his heart or his similarity to a lion.7 However, the saga also contains the following passage concerning the actions of the sworn brothers: “fara þeir víða um heruð ok váru eigi vinsælir, tǫldu margir þá ekki vera jafnaðarmenn. Hǫfðu þeir hald ok traust hjá feðrum sínum, sem ván var at; virðu margir menn sem þeir heldi þá til rangs” (they roamed widely in the district and were not popular, many said that they were not equitable men. They had the support and trust of their fathers, as was to be expected; many people assumed that they were encouraging them to do wrong).8 The use of phrases like tǫldu/virðu margir (menn) highlights that this is the voice of a public majority. Because of the subject and tone of the passage, this voice cannot be equated with the narrative voice of the klausur: in those, the narrator provides extratextual commentary on the character of Þorgeirr, while the voice of public opinion is used to comment intratextually on the problematic behavior of the sworn brothers. Thus, two levels of perception, two voices, emerge: one – the voice of the narrator – that operates outside the narrative, and another – the voice of public opinion – that evaluates actions and events within it, and these two voices therefore have to be distinguished. This does not mean, however, that the narrator never provides value judgements. One such instance has already been highlighted in chapter five when I

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discussed the narrator of the M version of Gísla saga intervening in the narrative to comment on Þorgrímr nef’s seiðr and ergi. This is a case in which a particular narrator chooses to comment on a character’s actions, but it is an individual choice, since the narrator of the S version does not find it necessary to include this comment. Moreover, it operates on an extratextual level and can be assumed to be directly aimed at the audience rather than addressing the characters within the saga. A similar argument can be made about this comment in the introduction of Halli and Leiknir: Þeir gengu berserksgang ok váru þá eigi í mannligu eðli, er þeir váru reiðir, ok fóru galnir sem hundar ok óttuðusk hvárki eld né járn, en hversdagliga váru þeir eigi illir viðreignar, ef eigi var í móti þeim gǫrt, en þegar inir mestu ørskiptamenn, er þeim tók við at horfa.9 (They went berserk and were then not of human nature, when they were angry, they went around crazed like dogs and feared neither fire nor iron, but on a daily basis they were not difficult to deal with, if nothing was done against them, but became the most overbearing men when they were opposed.)

This comment regarding the relatively amicable disposition of the berserkir when not opposed deviates strongly from the opinion of Vermundr and Styrr, and it has no (intratextual) effect on their perception by the people who encounter them in Iceland, as will be discussed below. Therefore, just as the klausur of Fóstbrœðra saga or the comment on Þorgrímr nef’s magic in the M version of Gísla saga, this comment is made by the voice of the narrator, conveying his extratextual perspective. While the narrative voice is therefore an important feature of saga narration, what is particularly significant in the present context are the voices of those who are directly subjected to the potential monster’s depredations: the communities they haunt and the individuals they trouble. Since, as Neville observes, “monsters do not threaten individuals only, but society as a whole,”10 in the intratextual evaluation of socially monstrous figures, especially the reaction of the community to a potential monster’s actions needs to be considered. I will therefore first discuss how this reaction, this “community discourse,” as Miller terms it,11 operates and is expressed in the Íslendingasögur, and in what way it can be considered performative. I will then apply these insights to the context in which monstrously disruptive characters appear, to investigate how society reacts to their actions. The voices of individual members of society who interact with the monster should not be forgotten, however, and they will therefore be discussed next, before I turn to the way in which these voices can use the mechanisms of community discourse for their own agenda. Finally, in the synthesis, I will summarize the main findings that have emerged from the discussion so far in order to fully contextualize social monstrosity within the

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narratives before moving beyond the sagas and into the society that created them – the society of medieval Iceland that brought forth these monsters and used them in its cultural discourse.

Public Opinion: Expressing and Performing Perception Public opinion, as noted above, cannot be equated entirely with the narrative voice within which it is embedded, and should therefore not be reduced only to its narrative function. Rather, according to Meulengracht Sørensen, it has a social function in saga society as a tool for assessing a person’s actions and assigning them social status on the basis of those actions.12 Saga society is built on the notion that everything has to be public: laws are recited and sentences declared publicly, and acts like the performance of magic and stealing are shameful because they are conducted in secret. This results from the lack of an (executive) institution with the power to regulate behavior.13 Therefore, regulation is placed in the hands of the collective, and public opinion, the voice of the collective, becomes the “arbiter [which can] ratify or condemn a decision and action taken by an individual.”14 Public opinion is therefore an important institution in the society depicted by the Íslendingasögur – a society based on honor and reputation.15 The most common expression of public opinion is found in connection with forms of the verb þykkja. Especially in phrases such as ǫllum, mǫnnum or þeim þótti (everyone/people/they considered or thought), it is used to convey the community’s perception of certain people or events, and to utter evaluation both in the form of condemnation and praise. Of this there are numerous examples in the sagas, appearing in a variety of contexts. In Njáls saga, for instance, the community expresses its anxiety about a potential societal division during the religious conversion: “þótti ǫllum horfa til inna mestu óefna” (everyone thought that things looked difficult).16 In Laxdœla saga, and elsewhere, public opinion conveys mourning and admiration for a recently deceased person, stating of Unnr djúpúðga that “þótti mǫnnum mikils um vert, hversu Unnr hafði haldit virðingu sinni til dauðadags” (people considered it remarkable how Unnr had kept her dignity until her dying day).17 Yet other characters are evaluated at the beginning of their lives, as for example Þorleikr Hǫskuldsson, of whom it is said that “þótti mǫnnum sá svipr á um hans skaplyndi, sem hann myndi verða engi jafnaðarmaðr” (regarding his character, people had the impression that he would not become an equitable man).18 These are only a few of the circumstances in which public perception is used to assess an event or character, and several more will be discussed in the following.

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Particularly when it is cast as a comment on or evaluation of events, public opinion tends to operate in two ways. Firstly, it can be expressed after an event, in which case it affects the status of the people involved. Since status depends on evaluation and thus perception, public perception directly impacts a person’s standing in society. Some particularly striking examples of this type can be found in the outlaw sagas, since, in these texts, public opinion not only appears to evaluate the behavior of the outlaw himself, but also of his opponents. In Gísla saga, for example, Eyjólfr’s failed attempt at bribing Auðr is evaluated by the community: “þótti mǫnnum þessi ferð in hæðiligasta” (this journey seemed to people to be most disgraceful).19 Similarly, several of Þorbjǫrn ǫngull’s failed attempts at removing Grettir from Drangey are assessed by public opinion, which states not only that “[þ]ótti þessi ferð verri en in fyrri” (this journey was considered worse than the one before),20 but which also erupts in derision and remarks that “þótti nú opt áleikr í viðskiptum þeira Grettis” (they thought that Þorbjǫrn had often been tricked in his dealings with Grettir).21 In these cases, Eyjólfr and Þorbjǫrn lose their honor in the eyes of society. Public opinion, however, affects not only their social status, but also forces them to redouble their efforts in order to regain their reputation, and therefore causes them to act. Secondly, public opinion can appear while events are still unfolding. Gísla saga presents a prime example of this type of situation when it tells of the reaction to the interaction between Bárðr and Þórdís: “Þat tǫluðu sumir menn, at Bárðr fífldi Þórdísi” (Some people said that Bárðr was seducing Þórdís),22 and because of this talk, Gísli kills Bárðr soon after. Here, public perception first leads to gossip, and this impacts the world and brings about a change: because of people’s talk, the suitor is killed so that the family’s reputation can be restored. In this case, the verb tala has the same impact on the world as þykkja in the examples above, so that verbs of speaking (tala, segja, kalla) can be added to verbs of perception (þykkja, also ætla) as a way of expression public opinion: people perceive and express their perception in talk. This expression of perception then leads to a change in the world as it directly causes Gísli’s killing of Bárðr, in the same way that the assessment of Eyjólfr and Þorbjǫrn’s failed trips affects their social status and forces them to act. Therefore, because public opinion can be used to effect a change in the state of reality, I would argue that its expression can be of a performative nature. The performative use of language pervades the Íslendingasögur and the society they describe. In this society – one exceedingly concerned with reputation and status – declaring someone, for example, to be argr or sorðinn (sexually deviant, in the broadest sense of the word) is seen not only as a severe insult; it also directly impacts the social status of the insulted man,23 and the only way to remedy the situation is to kill or outlaw the one who uttered the insult.24 Similarly,

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Gísli is afraid of telling his dreams regarding Vésteinn’s death to anyone for fear that they might come true, which shows that the word, once spoken, was thought to have a constitutive effect on the nature of reality.25 Thus, the sagas can be said to be about “language and its power: the power to make the world rather than mirror it, to bring about states of affairs rather than report them.”26 The sagas, therefore, are a literature that is uniquely preoccupied with the shaping of reality through language, and as such, they lend themselves to being read from the perspective of speech act theory.27 Such readings have been proposed regarding magic and ritual,28 as well as in the context of violence29 and the formation of kinship bonds.30 I propose to add another performative voice to the canon: the voice of public opinion. As has been shown in the examples discussed above, public opinion is not only a way of commenting on events and characters. At the same time, it also brings about a change in the state of reality within the story-world of the Íslendingasögur. Its effect is therefore entirely intratextual: by evaluating the enemies of outlaws as shameful, the voice of public opinion reduces their value and their honor. Moreover, it makes them act more decisively against the men they are sent to pursue, in Þorbjǫrn’s case leading to his use of magic against Grettir. Similarly, gossiping about Þórdís’s alleged affair, the voice of public opinion also impacts the honor of her family and directly causes the death of Bárðr at Gísli’s hands. This does not mean that Þorbjǫrn, Eyjólfr, or Gísli’s father are depicted as overhearing people talking about them.31 Due to the public nature of community discourse, it is implied that they are aware of the rumors and gossip people are spreading about them, and it is through this public discourse that they are spurred into action. Public opinion is therefore more than just a means of evaluating someone’s honor and social status: it is a way for the community to intervene, utter its perception of a person’s behavior, and by doing so, it causes them to act whenever its perception is not favorable. Moreover, by perceiving behavior and evaluating it, public opinion ascribes status to the objects of its perception: “Enkelmennesket, dets optræden og handlemåde, blev iagttaget og bedømt af de andre i offentlighed, og det var i denne proces, at menneskets værd, dets ære og agtelse, blev fastslået” (The individual, and their behavior and actions, were observed and evaluated by others in the public, and in this process, the person’s worth, their honor and esteem, were declared).32 Thus, Þorbjǫrn and Eyjólfr become dishonorable characters in the eyes of society, and Þórdís’s affair achieves factuality because society perceives it as fact. Public opinion therefore has an effect both on actions as well as people; it is performative and constitutive of the nature of reality. In the following section, I will therefore not only discuss society’s perception of the actions potentially monstrous characters perform against it, but also take

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into consideration the observations made regarding the voice that utters this perception. Accordingly, the question will not only be whether society’s perception confirms severely disruptive actions as monstrous, but also if, and in what way, it is involved in assigning monstrous status to ambiguously monstrous individuals, by using the performative power of public opinion to constitute a reality society will ultimately benefit from – a reality in which the monster can be removed. As mentioned above, the voices of individuals who are caught between society and the monster also have to be discussed to arrive at an understanding of the interplay between different levels of action and reaction, of perception, and the voices uttering it.

Changing Opinion and Its Effect on the Social Monster If, as David Williams states, “[t]he association of monster with language is a profound, longstanding one that reveals something of our historical conception of monstrosity,”33 it is of vital importance that one considers the way monstrous status is ascribed to potentially monstrous humans. To illustrate the significance of noting who perceives before exploring individual levels of perception, I will briefly consider the family of Egill. As noted in chapter four, Egils saga makes an effort not to call the members of this family berserkir, ascribing various other terms of hybridity and potential disruptiveness to them. It is important to consider, however, who does the ascribing. In Kveld-Úlfr’s case, one can see public opinion at work: “Þat var mál manna, at hann væri mjǫk hamrammr” (People said that he was very shape-strong).34 It is therefore not the narrator’s assessment within the character’s introduction, but public opinion that judges Kveld-Úlfr to have shifting abilities, probably on the basis of his irritability and sleepiness, since those are mentioned directly before the public’s assessment is stated. Thus, public opinion is based on behavior, as was noted above, and this will again assume significance in the following section. Similarly, when Kveld-Úlfr and Skalla-Grímr hamask in battle, this is introduced by the phrase “svá er sagt” (it is said),35 which, according to Meulengracht Sørensen, fulfills a similar function as the invocation of public opinion.36 When Skalla-Grímr and Egill are perceived as a þurs and a troll, respectively,37 however, this perception is not expressed by the voice of public opinion, but by the voices of individuals, and their assessment seems to be based on the men’s appearance – a subjective impression uttered by low-ranking servants. In these episodes, therefore, a number of issues arise that will recur in the perception of monsters and their actions: Firstly, behavior is more commonly assessed than appearance, but appearance does matter. Secondly, it matters

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who assesses monstrosity, whether it is public opinion or an individual, and if it is the latter, their social status as well as their relationship to the potential monster makes a difference. Finally, the names a monster is called matter, too: as noted in chapter four, it is important what a character is called, and by whom. It will emerge that, while stones are frequently used to break the bodies of social monsters, words are what ensures their death in the first place: if public opinion can be argued to be performative, it is not just an indicator of monstrosity, a voice that assesses interaction, but it can also assign monstrous status.

The Voice of the People In chapter two, I noted that, in depictions of hauntings, the narrative’s focus shifts to the community’s perception: people become aware of the revenant’s activities, and we see the outcome of these hauntings through their eyes. In this context, we also first encountered the expression of public opinion in phrases like “[þ]ótti mǫnnum til þess horfask, at eyðask myndi allr Vatnsdalr” (people thought that all of Vatnsdalr would be emptied).38 A similar shift of perspective can be observed in the cases of other monstrous figures. That this shift occurs underlines the sagas’ interest in the social dimension of monstrous disruption, highlighting that society’s reaction is just as significant as the monster’s actions. In the case of revenants, however, society’s perception and its expression in public opinion are always present because revenants are always monstrous. This is not the case with other characters: as noted in chapter three, Gísli is not perceived as disruptive by wider society, only by his family. Within this narrow context, he therefore emerges as monstrous. Whether he can be argued to be socially monstrous in the same way as other characters, however, is questionable. Grettir and Hörðr, on the other hand, are clearly perceived as disruptive to a monstrous extent by those they trouble. In Hörðr’s case, this is mostly expressed through the contrasting of the Hólmverjar and the landsmenn. However, due to the episodic nature of the Hólmverjar’s disruption, raiding one farm after the other, the perception of the wider community is rarely related. The most prominent example occurs when the farmers of Hvalfjǫrðr form an alliance against the Hólmverjar, their motivation being “at eigi færi svá lengr fram, at þeim Hólmverjum þyldist öll illvirki, þau er þeir gerði” (that things wouldn’t continue in this way, that all the crimes the Hólmverjar committed were tolerated).39 Communal perception is therefore present, but in the following discussion among the farmers, individual voices reemerge. Interestingly, however, the Hólmverjar themselves have a communal voice and utter their perception of the actions of magic-users who direct their

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powers against them. Regarding the reaction to Þorbjörg katla’s magic, for example, it is said that “[ó]tti var mönnum í Hólmi at þessu” (the people of Hólmr were afraid at this).40 It therefore seems that the Hólmverjar have reached the “critical mass” needed to form public opinion, confirming their status as a parallel society. The duration of Grettir’s outlawry not only impacts the level of his disruption, but also causes him to interact more extensively and more frequently with society. This in itself probably makes him more monstrous than Hörðr, whose interactions are more limited, as the quantity of a monster’s interaction is just as important as the quality. As noted above, Grettir’s economic impact leads the local farmers to call him a dólgr, vargr, and vágestr, and I will now discuss how this assessment comes about. Since such assessments are pronounced especially during Grettir’s depredations in Ísafjǫrðr and his stay on Drangey, the focus will be on these episodes. While in Ísafjǫrðr, Grettir takes from each farmer “þat, er hann vildi” (whatever he wanted), and in doing so, he “gerði mǫrgum harðleikit” (caused many people trouble).41 After this, the perspective changes: the saga now relates that “þótti flestum þungt undir at búa” (to many it seemed difficult to have to put up with this),42 and the farmers “sǫgðu, at sá dólgr væri kominn í byggðina” (said that this monster had come into the settlement).43 Thus, with the shift in perspective, a shift in narration occurs as well: instead of telling of events, the saga now narrates the community’s perception, which is uttered by public opinion (þótti flestum and sǫgðu). This depiction is similar to the events in Skagafjǫrðr after Grettir settles on Drangey. When the farmers learn that he will release neither the island nor the sheep grazing on it to their owners, the same shift of perspective and narration occurs and the farmers’ perception is related: “þótti mikill vágestr kominn í Drangey” (they thought that a very dangerous/terrible guest had come to Drangey),44 and “[s]ǫgðu þeir heraðsmǫnnum, hverr vargr kominn var í eyna” (they told the people of the district, what a wolf/criminal had come to the island).45 The local farmers’ perception, expressed through public opinion, therefore confirms that stealing or occupying other people’s property is not a minor nuisance, but severely disruptive. Moreover, it affects not only individuals, but also the wider community. Taken together, it emerges that Grettir’s actions exhibit “abnormally terrifying monstrosity,” causing him to be perceived as a monster. To the farmers, he becomes a dólgr and vargr: like a wolf among sheep, Grettir takes what he wants and there is no way of getting rid of him. This is mirrored in the way the sworn brothers are portrayed in their saga: Þorgeirr turns into the predatory lion he is compared to, an andvaragestr (unwelcome guest), whereas Grettir is a vágestr.46 Through association – contagion? – and their joint actions against the local farmers, Þormóðr, too, is perceived as monstrous, as the fear the sworn brothers inspire in the community confirms.47 However, this perception is not stable: as

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noted above, during their time in the West Fjords, “tǫldu margir þá ekki vera jafnaðarmenn” (many said that they were not equitable men),48 but this perception later changes when they are members of King Óláfr’s retinue – they are effectively cured of their monstrosity, as will be shown below. What emerges from these episodes, therefore, is that public opinion can be used to confirm the actions of a disruptive character as monstrous. At the same time, it can also be used to assign monstrous status. This is an important observation that I will return to below. First, however, it is necessary to consider berserkir and magic-users and the way they interact with society. Of the former, Bjǫrn inn blakki is a prime example. He is introduced as being óþokkasæll við alþýðu. Setisk hann í bú manna, þar er honum sýndisk, en lagði í rekkju hjá sér konur þeira ok dœtr ok hafði við hönd sér slíka stund sem honum sýndisk. Kviddu allir við kvámu hans, en fögnuðu, er hann fór í brott.49 (unpopular with everyone. He occupied people’s farms where he wanted, and took into his bed their wives and daughters and kept them with him for as long as he pleased. Everyone feared his arrival but rejoiced when he left.)

Bjǫrn’s unpopularity and the fear he induces in allir are therefore directly connected to his sexual threat, his status as a berserk rapist. A broader focus of public perception is offered by Grettis saga, where the berserkir’s sexual and economic threats are connected: “Þótti mǫnnum þat mikill ósiðr í landinu, at úthlaupsmenn eða berserkir skoruðu á hólm gǫfga menn til fjár eða kvenna” (People thought it a great enormity in the land that raiders or berserkir challenged honorable men to duels over money or women).50 These episodes confirm my argument that the sexual nature of the berserkr’s threat is the main feature of his monstrosity, as this is what the troubled community perceives as disruptive. They also show that other elements – the economic disruption caused by duelling and raiding – support the assessment of monstrosity by severely impacting society, and this impact is reflected in public opinion. What is significant, however, is that even if a berserkr has no known negative impact on society, he is still perceived negatively by the community, as can be seen in the case of Þórir Ingimundarson. Of him it is said that “[á] Þóri kom stundum berserksgangr; þótti þat þá með stórum meinum um þvílíkan mann, þvi at honum varð þat at engum frama” (sometimes, berserksgangr came over Þórir; people considered it a great damage in such a man, because it did nothing for his reputation).51 Thus, the ability to go berserk is disruptive enough in itself to warrant its perception as harmful and monstrous, which connects it more closely to the unambiguous monstrosity exhibited by revenants than is the case with any other character type. This is quite different from the perception of practitioners of magic. I have stressed that these characters emerge as fluid in their potential to become

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monstrous since not all of them work their magic for disruptive purposes. It is therefore the “social evaluation of magic’s outcome,” as Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir terms it,52 that assesses whether a magic-user is monstrous or not. This is exemplified by the reaction to the magic worked by Kotkell and his family. Similar to hauntings, public perception is a feature in this episode from the beginning, and much of the magic and its effects are seen through the eyes of the public. Thus, when the storm rises against Þórðr, it is said that “[þ]at sá þeir menn, er á landi váru” (the people who were on land saw this), and they væntu (expected) that Þórðr would reach land.53 The breaker that capsizes Þórðr’s ship also rises in a place where “engi maðr mundi, at fyrr hefði uppi verit” (no one remembered that there had been one before),54 so that the entire episode is firmly embedded in communal perception. This is confirmed when the news of Þórðr’s death “spyrjask víða ok mælask illa fyrir; þótti þat ólífismenn, er slíka fjǫlkynngi frǫmðu” (was reported widely and spoken ill of. Those who performed such magic were thought to deserve death).55 In spite of this damning assessment, however, these monsters are not removed until Óláfr, an individual, steps up to the task – just as with revenants, a hero has to dispatch the monster. In the case of other magic-users, the lack of perception confirms that what is condemned as monstrous is not the use of magic itself, but its use for purposes that harm society. Therefore, no public perception of the magic of Geirríðr or Þórdís spákona is expressed, and even some harmful magic like that of Auðbjǫrg or Gróa is not widely condemned: it is directed against individuals, and individuals react to it by removing these disruptive elements. Other magic-users are even welcomed, and this is particularly the case with performers of divinatory magic: Þorbjǫrg lítilvǫlva, for example, is only perceived as problematic by Christians, but otherwise “er henni þar vel fagnat” (she was well received there).56 This confirms that the monstrous potential of magic-users is more complex than that of berserkir, and even that of outlaws. The performance of magic, as a form of monstrous action that is directed against particular members or parts of society, is rarely as disruptive as the raiding and raping of outlaws and berserkir, which tend to affect wider society. Many magic-users, therefore, do not fulfill their monstrous potential, or, like Gísli, only fulfill it to a certain extent, requiring a nuanced understanding of the nature of monstrosity. To close this section on public opinion, I want to return to the notion that, when a character’s monstrous behavior is assessed, society can ascribe monstrous status to this character. This is the case with Þórir, whose berserkish eðli (nature) is sufficient for him to be perceived as monstrous. This performative aspect of public opinion is even more prominent in Grettir’s case: the farmers of Ísafjǫrðr and Skagafjǫrðr call him a dólgr and vargr. In their eyes, he therefore

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becomes a fiend and wolfish criminal, losing his humanity. The clearest example of ascribing monstrous status, and thereby constituting reality, through the use of public opinion occurs during the scene that leads to Grettir’s outlawry, and in this instance, perception is based on appearance as much as on behavior. When Grettir reaches the house in which the sons of Þórir í Garði are staying, he resembles Grendel rather than Beowulf:57 attracted by light and human voices, he ræðr (bursts) into the house.58 Due to his frozen cloak and his enormous size, however, “var hann furðu mikill tilsýndar, sem troll væri. Þeim, sem fyrir váru, brá mjǫk við þetta, ok hugðu, at óvættr myndi vera” (he looked terribly huge, as if he were a troll. The people inside were very startled and thought it was an evil creature).59 In their fear, the inhabitants therefore think that he is a malevolent, paranormal creature rather than a human being. However, rather than just perceiving him as a monster, they also react to his appearance as they might to that of an actual troll or óvættr: they attack him. Because of his looks and behavior, Grettir is no longer human. It therefore seems that, in the eyes of those in the house, Grettir has turned into a monster, and he is treated accordingly. Tragically, in the end, Grettir is confirmed in his antisocial, destructive behavior: the house, the symbol of society, is destroyed, and its inhabitants killed. Grettir becomes the monster people saw in him. Public opinion can therefore do more than just confirm a character’s disruptive actions as monstrous; it can also assign monstrous status to someone who is perceived to be monstrous, whether this is objectively the case or not. Because the people who encounter him, and the farmers who suffer from his disruption, call Grettir a troll and dólgr, he becomes a monster, and society’s reaction – the attempts at his life – conform to this perception: a monster can never be “left alone,”60 it always has to be removed for society to resume normal functioning. Two observations emerge from this: Firstly, public opinion can indeed be considered performative and constitutive of reality, as it makes the world – the monster – fit the word – public opinion.61 And secondly, the interaction between the monster and society is not one-sided. Just as much as the monster impacts society, society – through public opinion – can also impact someone it perceives as monstrous. Thus, a dialogue of action and reaction emerges between the two, with severe consequences for both sides.

Individual Voices As has been noted above, the voice of public opinion is not the only voice that interacts with the monster and responds to their actions – certain individuals, and especially high-ranking members of society, do the same. This has already

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been noted in the context of Harðar saga, where the voices of individual farmers are more prominent in assessing the Hólmverjar’s monstrosity. Torfi’s perception is the most prominent, as he is the one who calls Hörðr’s killing an ódæmaverk and also declares that “‘þetta er öllum it mesta nauðsynjaverk’” (“it is the most necessary action for everyone”) to remove the Hólmverjar from the island,62 with his voice thus fulfilling the role normally played by the voice of the community. Another voice is, for example, that of Þorbjörn, who calls the Hólmverjar þjófar (thieves).63 This emergence of individual voices from wider society and their influence on the monster can be seen in several other cases. A prominent example of the importance of individual voices is the Halli and Leiknir episode, especially in Eyrbyggja saga. As noted above, the narrator introduces the two berserkir as moderately disruptive if left alone, but when Vermundr opposes their wish to marry, they start causing trouble, and Vermundr starts “at iðrask, at hann hafði berserkina á hendr tekizk” (to regret that he had taken in the berserkir).64 Things go better for Styrr for a while, until the same issue arises. Halli’s wish to marry Ásdís is, for Styrr, a vandamál (problem),65 since a berserkr must under no circumstances gain access to an Icelandic woman. If Halli married Ásdís, his disruptiveness would spread to his wife and children, and this must be prevented. Therefore, even though these berserkir only move within a small circle and do not disrupt wider society, their removal is warranted. The voices of Vermundr and Styrr are therefore sufficient in assessing the berserkir’s monstrosity, and their perception leads to an appropriate reaction – the death of the potential monsters. Other ways in which individuals perceive monsters are presented in Grettis saga, and since numerous examples exist, I will only discuss two representative ones: Þórir í Garði and Þorbjǫrg digra. Both depict ways in which a powerful individual can become the leader of community discourse in order to overrule public opinion. Þórir is instrumental in Grettir’s outlawry: despite Skapti’s insistence that “‘jafnan er halfsǫgð saga, ef einn segir’” (“a story is always half-told, if only one tells it”),66 Þórir – a “maðr heraðsríkr ok hǫfðingi mikill, en vinsæll af mǫrgu stórmenni” (influential man in the district and a great chieftain, and popular among many great men)67 – manages to use his influence and superior power to overrule Skapti and have Grettir declared an outlaw. Public opinion, which notes that “[m]argir mæltu, at þetta væri meir gǫrt af kappi en eptir lǫgum” (many said that this was done more out of zeal than according to the laws),68 cannot change this outcome. Even other influential chieftains like Snorri goði – who, at a later assembly, “kvað þetta óvitrligt, at bekkjast til at hafa þann mann í sekðum, er svá miklu illu mætti orka” (said it was unwise to be so eager to have a man outlawed who could cause so much trouble)69 – are powerless against Þórir’s voice. Thus, a high-ranking individual’s perception can overrule those of all others. The

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strength of one’s perception, and the fervor with which its consequences are pursued, also seem to influence what happens to a potentially monstrous character. This is true both in cases in which an individual’s perception results in harm to the monstrous figure, as well as in those circumstances in which it can protect them. Þorbjǫrg digra, for example, appears at the right time when the farmers of Ísafjǫrðr are about to hang Grettir for his disruptive actions. She acknowledges that “‘[v]era má, at Grettir hafi sakar til þess’” (“Grettir may well deserve this”),70 but also notes that “‘ofráð mun þat verða yðr Ísfirðingum, at taka Gretti af lifi, því at hann er maðr frægr ok stórættaðr’” (“it will turn out to be too great a task for you Ísfirðingar to kill Grettir, because he is a famous man of good family”).71 In her opinion, Grettir is superior to the local farmers and therefore not for them to kill; he is part of her own social class, and only she can decide what to do with this famous but dangerous outlaw. Thus, despite the farmer’s perception of Grettir as a dólgr, Þorbjǫrg is able to save his life. According to Heslop, “[t]he unease of the Ísafjörður episode lies in its conflict over what standards should be applied to his behavior: those of the farmers, to whom he is a thief, or those of his rescuer, to whom he is a remarkable man of good family.”72 The monster therefore emerges as shaped by the often conflicting voices of society and the individual. Grettir the hero needs Þorbjǫrg’s perception to survive, but Grettir the monster can simultaneously be a source of severe disruption to those who are below him in social standing. The saga’s sympathies can lie with both the monstrous figure and the society he arguably troubles, as this episode reveals.73 The unease Heslop notes remains, however, both for the audience as well as for the scholar analyzing the saga, and one finds oneself caught in the tension between reading Grettir, or Gísli, or Hörðr, as hero or monster. As Ármann Jakobsson notes, my approach to the major outlaws as monsters who disrupt the communities on whose margins they move, means that I read their sagas “against their narrative voices.”74 In these cases, the narrator stresses the individual’s heroism while their actions reveal them to be monstrous, highlighting once more the ontological ambiguity inherent in the human, social, monsters of the Íslendingasögur. This also supports my finding that the voice of the narrator and the voice of public opinion are not to be equated. The individuals who perceive the monster separately from public opinion are often the monster’s opponents, and this should not be surprising: they are, after all, the ones who interact most frequently with the disruptive figure, and who gain the most by their destruction. This raises the issue, however, of whether perception can be trusted: the individual’s perception is an especially subjective source of information. One must therefore consider whether perception and opinion can be influenced.

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Influencing Opinion: Curing and Killing the Monster Miller stresses the importance of “community support,” which, according to him, “was necessary for success in virtually all Icelandic claims.”75 In order to enlist this support, however, one had to be able to direct “the flow of community discourse,”76 for “the control and manipulation of the channels of public opinion [is] a key element of social control.”77 Such control and manipulation were already observed in the case of high-ranking individuals overruling the perception of others, but there are other, more subtle means of influencing opinion. Some of these seem to be so subtle that scholars have not seen them for what they are. Breen, for example, takes Guðrún and Helga referring to Helgi and Jǫkull, respectively, as berserkir, as a positive use of the term.78 In Jǫkull’s case, this argument could perhaps be made, since Helga is trying to keep Bergr from fighting Jǫkull, although her statement that “‘engi berserkr [er] slíkr í ǫllum Norðlendingafjórðungi sem hann’” (“there is no berserkr like him in the entire northern quarter”)79 seems ambiguous at best. Guðrún’s declaring Helgi a berserkr, however, occurs in the context of vengeance when she is trying to enlist support for her sons: “‘þeir sveinarnir ætla at stefna at Helga Harðbeinssyni, berserkinum’” (“the boys intend to attack Helgi Harðbeinsson, the berserkr”).80 With this statement, she aims to convince Þorgils Hǫlluson of the necessity of Helgi’s death. For Guðrún, Helgi becomes more than the murderer of her husband: he turns into a monstrous berserkr whose survival would have consequences for wider society. While Helgi is not a pleasant person, he never exhibits features of berserkism. Thus, it is Guðrún’s personal perception that declares him a monster in order to manipulate public discourse for her own agenda. Similarly, both Oddr and Katla try to influence the perception of Geirríðr, but they are less successful than Guðrún. Oddr claims that Geirríðr was the kveldriða (literally “evening-rider”) responsible for Gunnlaugr’s injuries, “ok þat hugðu flestir menn, at svá væri” (and most people thought that it was true).81 Geirríðr can easily clear her name in court, however. Later, Katla refers to her as “‘Geirríðr trollit’” (“Geirríðr the troll”),82 but it is too late to manipulate perception, and Katla is the one who dies. Opinion can therefore be influenced in such a way as to lead to the death of a supposedly monstrous figure. The death of a potential monster, however, can conversely be used to influence perception. This was already hinted at in the case of Þorbjǫrn’s staging of Grettir’s death as a monster’s death through the use of Grettir’s sword combined with beheading, dismemberment, and burial in a cairn – Þorbjǫrn tries to sway the perception of Grettir and the necessity of the extreme means he employs to overcome him by declaring Grettir a

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true monster through the manner in which he dies. This connects to Miller’s point regarding Gísli’s killing and burying of Þorgrímr “as a sorcerer rather than as a ‘normal’ victim”83 in order to manipulate the community’s reaction to the killing.84 Þorgrímr is of course a magic-user, but he is not disruptive to wider society, and there is therefore no reason for Gísli to execute him apart from taking vengeance for Bǫrkr’s killing of Auðbjǫrg. Gísli therefore arguably stages Þorgrímr’s death and burial in a way reminiscent of Þorbjǫrn’s treatment of Grettir. Similarly, Styrr and Snorri devise an elaborate plan to remove the threat of the berserkir Halli and Leiknir, building the bath-house, steaming them to the brink of death, and then burying them in a particularly marginal place close to one of their own accomplishments. Like Þorgrímr, Halli and Leiknir are not disruptive to wider society in life, although they have the potential for it and would have fulfilled it by marrying into Icelandic society. By staging their deaths in such a manner, Styrr and Snorri kill them “as” berserkir, not only justifying their action, but also claiming that they protected society from a dangerous enemy. Monstrous status in life, however, can be counteracted by vengeance after death, at least in the case of major outlaws. This, I would argue, is achieved by affecting public perception of the monster: if his family ensures vengeance is taken, they proclaim that this person was worth fighting for, not a monster that could be left unavenged. Similarly to killing someone “as” a monster, Grettir and Hörðr are therefore avenged “as” heroes, reaffirming their ambiguity in life as suspended between the monstrous and the human. By declaring them members of society worthy of vengeance, their kinsmen try to tip the scales towards the human side, thereby affirming those as human after death who were monstrous in life. Particularly significant in this context is the role the family plays in the process of posthumous reintegration – the same family that was instrumental in initiating and reinforcing the outlaw’s marginalization process. As noted in chapter three, women often provide ties to society for the outlaw, and thus it is not surprising that Ásdís, Helga, and Þorbjörg are involved in the vengeance for Grettir and Hörðr, respectively. In Grettir’s case, it is interesting that the saga notes after his death that “[f]rændum þeira Grettis ok Illuga líkaði stórilla, er þeir fréttu vígin” (the kinsmen of Grettir and Illugi were very displeased when they heard of the killings),85 even though some of these kinsmen seem to have provided little assistance while Grettir was alive. Still, they take on the case against Þorbjǫrn ǫngull and succeed in having him outlawed, providing an opportunity for Þorsteinn drómundr to complete the vengeance process. Similarly, it is only because of Þorbjörg’s actions that her husband Indriði, who was instrumental in having Hörðr killed, initiates the vengeance process, and both Þorbjörg and Helga later orchestrate other killings, sacrificing Hörðr’s older son Grímkell

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in the process. However, the younger Björn completes the process, and the saga notes that “[f]jórir menn ok tuttugu váru drepnir í hefnd eptir Hörð” (twenty-four men were killed in vengeance for Hörðr).86 The excessive number of people killed in vengeance is also noted in Fóstbrœðra saga when King Óláfr asks Þormóðr why it was necessary to kill so many.87 It seems that this excessive vengeance is necessary in both cases to make sure that the outlaws are rehabilitated fully, with the stain of monsterhood removed. The number of men killed is especially significant in Hörðr’s case as it becomes one of the reasons why, according to the saga, Styrmir considers Hörðr the greatest Icelandic outlaw.88 This is mirrored by the epitaph in Grettis saga that has Sturla declare Grettir the greatest outlaw because he alone was avenged in Constantinople.89 The lengths to which Þorsteinn drómundr goes to avenge his brother are clearly important as they give rise to an entire þáttr that completes the saga, leading it into a new era of Christianity and romance. Ultimately, however, the marginalization process started by the family, and which leads the outlaw towards monstrosity, comes full circle when the vengeance process is concluded by the same family with the aim of reintegrating the outlaw into human society.90 This implies, however, that, if the right strategies are employed, a monster can be reintegrated into society during life as well; the monstrous “Other” can be overcome and reincorporated into the “Self.” It therefore emerges that not all monsters have to be killed: some can be cured. This is especially the case when they do not actively disrupt society, as in the case of Þórir Ingimundarson. His berserkism is an ótími (affliction),91 according to his brother, and it needs to be removed. Thus, Þorsteinn calls on “‘þann, er sólina hefir skapat’” (“the one who has created the sun”),92 and, additionally, he gives Þórir the task of fostering Þorkell krafla. Combining religious and socially beneficial means – Þorkell is from a good family and grows up to become a renowned goði – seems to be sufficient, for “berserksgangr kom aldri síðan á Þóri” (Þórir was never again overcome by berserksgangr).93 This combination of societal and religious strategies in the removal of monstrous threats has been observed in the case of the Fróðá revenants, and it is visible in Þórir’s curing as well. Even when a level of disruption has been exhibited, some monstrous figures can be reincorporated into society, especially by joining a king’s retinue. This is what keeps some berserkir from turning monstrous, and it seems to be what Grettir hopes for on his second journey to Norway. This type of “monster cure” is explored in detail in Fóstbrœðra saga: Þorgeirr and Þormóðr both join King Óláfr’s retinue and, while they are with the king, neither of them seems to be problematic. Instead, they each use their unique talents in the king’s service. Thus, Þorgeirr is recognized as “í ǫllum mannraunum inn rǫskvasti maðr ok góðr drengr” (the bravest man in all trials, and a good fellow),94 and he becomes a

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renowned merchant by using the strategy he also employed during his raids in the Westfjords: “hann hafði þat af hverjum, sem hann vildi” (he took from everyone what he wanted).95 His more violent streak is also utilized by the king when he sends Þorgeirr to assassinate one of his enemies.96 Similarly, Þormóðr soon becomes a poet at the king’s court when Óláfr realizes that “‘[g]aman má vera at skáldskap þínum’” (“your poetry will be entertaining”),97 and Þormóðr resumes that role once he returns from Greenland, providing his services until the very end when he entertains Óláfr’s army with a rendition of Bjarkamál on the eve of battle. The king therefore manages to direct those character traits that caused the sworn brothers trouble in Iceland – violent inclinations, poetic skills, and disregard for other people’s lives and property – into channels that benefit him and the people he governs. Moreover, the sworn brothers’ outlawry in Iceland and Greenland, respectively, does not seem to play a role once they have been taken in by the king, and instead they are held in great honor. It is as if they are cured of their monstrosity by being given tasks that serve the king and his country. In this context, it is significant that the king they serve is also the future saint of Norway, so that the combination of religious and societal means of curing the monster is present here as well. Being part of a retinue thus provides potentially monstrous men with an outlet for their superior strength and directs their transgressive tendencies into societally beneficial channels, and this in turn influences how they are perceived. For if they cannot fulfill the disruptive potential present in their characters because of their transgressive hybridity, if they do not actively turn against society, they do not emerge as monstrous. Therefore, if a monster can be made to act for society’s benefit, this might also reduce their monstrosity. Thus, monsters “indizieren eine Bedrohung von weiteren Dimensionen, der die Gemeinschaft nur durch die Mobilisierung ihrer ordnungsstiftenden . . . Energien begegnen kann” (indicate a threat of broader dimensions, which society can only counteract by mobilizing its stabilizing forces).98 These energies are religious and especially societal means that affect the perception expressed of monsters, and thus help to (re-)integrate them into human society. This, however, implies that monstrosity is not in itself fixed: the assumption I made in the theoretical discussion of monstrosity in chapter one can now be confirmed, and I will return to it below. From the discussion of the role of public opinion in the construction of social monstrosity, it emerges that, as Ármann Jakobsson notes, “[b]eing a troll is not a self-constructed identity.”99 Rather, it is an identity that is imposed on individuals who, due to their transgressiveness and their disruptive behavior, come to be perceived as threats to society – they turn into monsters in the eyes of those whose lives they disrupt. Thus, in order for the conditions of social

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monstrosity to be fulfilled, monstrous action is not sufficient. Instead, the monster’s actions against and interactions with society, and society’s reaction to the monster, must both be present to form the dialogue from which social monstrosity is constituted within the reality of the Íslendingasögur. The monsters of this literature are therefore firmly embedded in the social fabric even though they move along its margins: without a society to perceive its disruption, there would be no monster.

Synthesis: The Fluid Continuum of Social Monstrosity At the end of this chapter on the construction of social monstrosity, there are several thematic strands that need to be drawn together to create a synthesis of the argument so far. These strands are, firstly, the monster’s death and burial, secondly, the idea of a fluid continuum of monstrosity raised in chapter one, and finally, the connection of the monster to the past that would open it up to being used in the reimagining of that past for the purposes of the present. These strands need to be drawn together to conclude the (larger) part of this study, which was devoted to situating disruptive characters in their narrative contexts and evaluating if and how these characters are constructed as monstrous. I have noted that the breaking of physical integrity, through beheading, piercing and/or dismembering, and the burial in cairns – many of which are situated in liminal places on islands, headlands, and ridges – is a recurring pattern that can be observed across the monstrous characters discussed. This seems to be the only way in which these characters can be fully put to rest: by incorporating their bodies into the landscape, their antisociality, uncontrollable by social mechanisms, can finally be contained. This connects back to a point made in chapter two regarding the anti-cultural and anti-human nature of revenants, which, I would argue, can be extended to other monstrous characters. They are all associated with the non-human – with the wild spaces outside human habitation, with the animalistic, with the undomesticated natural world – and while this does not define their monstrosity, this association contains their transgressive potential, which facilitates the disruptive actions with which they then turn against human culture and society. By disrupting kinship and marital structures, the means of production, and the natural world on which such production is based, by infecting others so their numbers swell, they annihilate social stability. By destroying the structures on which human civilization is built, they turn against culture – they become anti-cultural. It is thus perhaps not surprising that the only way of containing them after death is by incorporating their bodies, the vehicles of their disruptiveness, into the natural world to which they are so closely tied. This

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seems to serve as a ritual to purify both the monsters themselves and the area of their depredations from the contamination of monstrosity100 – a landhreinsun that is both a cleansing of the land and through the land. Thus, the monster that society could not contain is finally laid to rest in the natural world. While I have shown that these monsters have much in common in the way they act against and interact with society, and that society ultimately deals with them in similar ways, the discussion above has also confirmed the argument I made in the beginning: not all monsters are created equal. The fact that the outlaw Grettir fights berserkir to society’s benefit, or that magic-users “defend” society from the outlaws’ depredations, bears witness to this idea. At the same time, the dynamic fluidity of monstrosity is also revealed in the amount of overlap between characters: there are fjǫlkunnigir berserkir,101 and some berserkir are also outlaws,102 whereas Grettir’s volatile temper and excessive strength might place him on the continuum of berserkish behavior mentioned in chapter four, and this is also the case with the animalistic associations and sexual transgressions of the sworn brothers. Legally, one could be outlawed for both berserksgangr and the practice of magic.103 Finally, both berserkir and magic-users occasionally turn into revenants,104 and in the case of the monstrously infected outlaws Grettir and Hörðr, this seems to be at least a possibility. There is therefore a significant degree of fluidity in the depiction of these characters, and boundaries between character types are unstable and transgressible, merging into one larger concept of social monstrosity, which is in itself not fixed but fluid. Moreover, this fluidity between character types, and within the same character over the course of his monstrous career, can also be detected in society’s varying perceptions. While revenants are always perceived as troubling, some of the almost equally monstrous – because always negatively perceived – berserkir can be reintegrated into society by changing public perception, and this also applies to certain outlaws. The status of magic-users is very fluid both in their actions and in the reactions they evoke from society, resulting in some of them being perceived as monstrous, while others are considered harmless or even beneficial. Finally, Gísli is an outlaw who is only monstrous within the context of a small subgroup of society, whereas Grettir and Hörðr disrupt social stability severely. In this last group, and because their sagas follow them throughout their lives, there is also an example of a character who oscillates between the monstrous and the social throughout his life: Grettir. He is not only a troll, dólgr, and vargr when he harms society; he can also act for society’s benefit when he fights against creatures more monstrous than him, and this affects the way he is perceived. Thus, when Grettir defends society against more unambiguously monstrous creatures – by fighting revenants, berserkir, and especially the trolls at

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Sandhaugar – he is perceived as a hero rather than a monster, and public opinion praises him by stating that, for example, “þótti þessi atburðr bæði vera af hvatleik ok harðfengi unninn” (this attack was considered to have been accomplished by both alacrity and valor),105 or “þótti Grettir þar gǫrt hafa mikla landhreinsun” (Grettir was thought to have performed a great land-cleansing).106 In these moments, he moves closer to human society and is taken in by the community; his actions are perceived as beneficial and he turns into a defender of society rather than being its disrupter. Thus, depending on his actions, Grettir constantly moves along the continuum, coming sometimes closer to the social and sometimes closer to the monstrous. He therefore emerges as the epitome of the fluid monstrosity depicted in the Íslendingasögur. Monstrosity is contingent not only on action but also on reaction; it is conceived of as created through a dialogue of interaction between the monstrous individual and the society they trouble. Both the monster’s behavior, however, and the opinion of the public, are volatile and subject to change, and therefore it emerges that monstrosity itself is not a fixed and stable concept, but fluidly operates along a spectrum. Such a nuanced approach is needed to read the shades of trollish and disruptive behavior exhibited by various kinds of monsters across the Íslendingasögur. Through its application, we can come to a fuller understanding of what it means to be monstrous, to act monstrously, and this understanding can perhaps be carried beyond the limits of saga narrative, and into other genres of (medieval Icelandic) literature. Finally, I will briefly discuss an observation important for the larger understanding of the Íslendingasögur as a literature that re-imagines and interprets the past for the needs of the present: the notion of the monster’s situation in Iceland’s past. For while the action of the Íslendingasögur is removed in time from the era in which they were composed and disseminated, the monstrous figures populating these narratives are even more temporally distant. This is most obvious in the case of magic-users: in several instances, these figures are introduced with reference to their connection to the pagan past. In Þuríðr’s introduction, for instance, it is mentioned that “þó at kristni væri á landinu, þá váru þó margir gneistar heiðninnar eptir” (although the country had been converted to Christianity, many sparks of paganism were left).107 Thus, invoking magic was a way of emphasizing the pastness of saga action: it was used to highlight, consciously or unconsciously, “the very essence of what [the] world was like before the introduction of Christianity.”108 A similar “relationship of the past to the present” can also be established for other monsters:109 berserkir almost uniformly appear before the conversion,110 where they are strongly connected to paganism111 – with the notable exception of those who come to embody the forces of paganism in conversion narratives.112 Outlaws, too, can be

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situated in the past, not only because two of them live in pre-Christian times: Grettir’s genealogical connections to giants and the legendary past; Grettir’s and Hörðr’s interaction with revenants who, in their undead status and connection to paganism, are always associated with the past – a past that haunts;113 and the association of the actions of all outlaws with a past heroic code connect them more closely with the pre-Christian, heroic past than with the Christian, pastoral present.114 All monstrous characters are therefore rooted in a past of which they become emblematic: their appearance is a signal to the audience that a story of pre-conversion disruption is to follow. The monster’s pastness not only lets it appear remote, as an embodiment of violence, magic, and pre-Christian practices that medieval Icelanders wanted to distance themselves from. It also situates the monster in a space distant enough from the reality of medieval Icelanders to constitute a safe space for the covert exploration of contemporary issues. Viewed through the breaking point of the conversion, these characters are sufficiently distant to allow such an exploration, but because of their appearance around this pivotal moment in Icelandic history, and because of their closeness to the Icelanders of the time of saga writing – through genealogies and the continued importance of Christianity – these monstrous figures become a haunting, uncanny presence in the cultural discourse of medieval Iceland. As such, they could then be utilized not only to explore contemporary concerns and anxieties, but also to communicate this exploration. For this is the monster’s primary function: it is a figure that demands to be read, a creature that communicates across the boundaries of text, space, and time. In the final chapter, I will therefore propose a way of reading the social monsters of the Íslendingasögur, of allowing them to communicate the concerns and anxieties they were used to address in medieval Iceland.

Notes 1. 2. 3.

4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Mittman, “Impact of Monsters,” 6; emphasis original. Czennia, “Erzählweisen,” 995. See Shortt Butler, “Narrative Structure,” 25. On the legitimacy of using the term “public opinion” in a medieval context, see Schubert, “Erscheinungsformen der öffentlichen Meinung,” and Dumolyn, “Political Communication.” Lönnroth, “Rhetorical Persuasion,” 170. Ibid., 170. Shortt Butler, “Narrative Structure,” 118. On the klausur, see Simek, “Saga-Anti-Held.” On their sources, see Jónas Kristjánsson, “Elements of Learning.” See also chapter three. Fbr, 125. Eb, 61.

Notes

10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

28. 29. 30. 31.

32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50.

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Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 112. Miller, “Blaming the Secret Offender,” 115. Meulengracht Sørensen, Fortælling og ære, 208. Ibid., 207–8. Foote, “Audience and Vogue,” 51. Meulengracht Sørensen, Fortælling og ære, 208. Nj, 271. Laxd, 13. Grettir’s father Ásmundr is similarly evaluated after his death; Gr, 139. Laxd, 18. Gísl, 101. Gr, 243. Ibid., 249. Gísl, 7. Higley, “Dirty Magic,” 139. See Meulengracht Sørensen, Unmanly Man, 15–20, and Evans, Men and Masculinities, 18–19. See Miller, “Blaming the Secret Offender,” 105–6. Fish, “Speech Act Theory,” 1024. For an introduction to speech act theory in a saga context, see Bredsdorff, “Speech Act Theory.” On the study of speech acts in fictional texts generally, see Onea, “Fiktionalität und Sprechakte.” Raudvere, “Mellan liv och text,” 55–56; Gísli Pálsson, “Name of the Witch,” 168. Amory, “Speech Acts and Violence.” Larrington, “Sibling Drama,” 181. Only in rare cases is a character’s direct response to public opinion mentioned. One of these cases is Snorri goði, who “lét þetta mál eigi til sín taka ok lét hér rœða um hvern þat er vildi” (did not let this talk get to him and allowed the discussion to be about whatever people wanted); Eb, 98. Meulengracht Sørensen, Fortælling og ære, 210. Williams, Deformed Discourse, 61. Eg, 4. Ibid., 69. Meulengracht Sørensen, Fortælling og ære, 210. Eg, 63 and 179. Gr, 116; emphasis mine. Harð, 78. Ibid., 66. Gr, 166. Ibid., 166. Ibid., 167. Ibid., 228. Ibid., 229. On the term vargr, see Ney, “Uselt är att vara varg.” Fbr, 151. Ibid., 142 and 149. Ibid., 125. Gísl, ed. Loth, 4. Gr, 61.

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51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90.

91. 92. 93. 94. 95.

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Vatn, 83. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, “Women’s Weapons,” 412. Laxd, 100. Ibid., 100. Ibid., 100. Eir, 206. See Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, 157–58. Gr, 130. Ibid., 130; emphasis mine. See Neville, “Monsters and Criminals,” 112. See Fish, “Speech Act Theory,” 996. Harð, 80; emphasis mine. Ibid., 70. Eb, 63. Ibid., 71. Gr, 146. Ibid., 147. Ibid., 147. Ibid., 165. Ibid., 169. Ibid., 169. Heslop, “Grettir in Ísafjörður,” 234. See Hume, “Thematic Design,” 485. Personal communication. Miller, “Blaming the Secret Offender,” 115. Ibid., 115. Ibid., 106. Breen, “Berserkr,” 150. Vatn, 89. Laxd, 180. Eb, 29. Ibid., 53. Miller, “Blaming the Secret Offender,” 114. Ibid., 113. Gr, 265. Harð, 97. Fbr, 259; see also chapter three. Harð, 97. Gr, 290. That Gísli is not avenged is perhaps significant as well: he did not have to be reintegrated into a society his saga was never interested in, while Þórdís’s failed attempt at vengeance shows again how conflicted and torn this family is. Vatn, 98. Ibid., 97. Ibid., 98. Fbr, 159. Ibid., 159.

Notes

96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102. 103. 104. 105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110. 111. 112. 113. 114.

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Ibid., 183–85. Ibid., 214. Böldl, Eigi einhamr, 132. Ármann Jakobsson, “Trollish Acts,” 51. Cf. Ortner, “Female to Male,” 11. Bjǫrn inn blakki, Gísl, ed. Loth, 4; Bárekr, Þórð, 234. Particularly the ones in Gr, Þórir þǫmb, Ǫgmundr illi, and Snækollr. See chapter one. Berserkir: Sóti and, especially, Klaufi; magic-users: Þorgríma smiðkona and Þorbjörg katla, but also Gróa. Gr, 136. Ibid., 218. Gr, 245. Mitchell, Witchcraft and Magic, 103. Ibid., 83. With the exception of those in Gr. See Dale, “Berserkir,” 180. See Grønlie, Íslendingabók, 59, n. 14. See Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 258, and Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 294. See Hume, “Thematic Design,” 477; Clark, Gender, Violence and the Past, 114; Vésteinn Ólason, “Gísli Súrsson,” 167; and Schottmann, “Harðar saga,” 251. The one exception may be Þormóðr, who ultimately becomes part of the new Christian world-order by dying with Óláfr helgi. However, both sworn brothers start out as being associated with the same problematic, and probably outdated, honor code as the other outlaws.

7 Reading Monstrosity What has been observed so far is that the monstrosity of the Íslendingasögur is of an essentially social nature, confirming the theory of social monstrosity set out in the introduction. Not only do the characters I have argued to be monstrous haunt society, infecting some of its members, and disrupting the social and economic stability of others; they also elicit a response from society, and through this response, the level of their monstrosity can be gauged. Identifying the expression of the monstrous, however, can only be a first step. The analysis of monstrosity, and of the role it plays both within a narrative and within a larger cultural discourse, has to go deeper. Meulengracht Sørensen states that “[m]edieval narrative deals invariably with individuals and only through them with society.”1 The monstrous individuals I have discussed in the previous chapters push society to its limits: to the point where normal life becomes difficult, or even, in the most extreme cases, to the point of collapse. At this point, through society’s interaction with the monster, issues become visible that otherwise remain hidden. For it is important to remember that the monster always communicates, always points towards and allows the exploration of something beyond its own being.2 From the moment at which it arises, the monster exists to be read by the time that receives it:3 the time that created the sagas, the time that transmitted them, and the present day in which they are analyzed and interpreted in scholarly discourse. From this, two questions arise, and they concern how we can read the social monsters of the Íslendingasögur, and what it is they communicate. I will argue that social monsters communicate the social concerns and anxieties haunting the culture that produced the literature in which they appear. This is, firstly, due to the social nature of their monstrous impact – their hauntings and depredations are a threat to social stability, directly impacting social (re-)production – and secondly, to the way society is involved in the perception of the impact of the monstrous, allowing us to “distinguish between ‘normally’ terrifying phenomena and abnormally terrifying monstrosity.”4 These anxieties, it emerges, are of a fundamental nature and therefore – like the monster itself – they are transhistorical: they are not bound to one period in (Icelandic) history, and while I will focus mostly on parallels within the culture that gave rise to the Íslendingasögur, the genre’s transmission over centuries, and its continued appeal to the present day, make it possible to consider its monsters on a broader scale. In the previous chapters, I have shown that each of the monstrous characters under discussion appears in a context that is particular to them, and has a special relationship to a certain aspect of human existence that defines both https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-007

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the extent of their monstrosity and their own relations to society. This context, and these aspects, are the family in the case of major outlaws; women, sexuality, and marriage in the case of berserkir; greed and not wanting to let go of their property in the case of revenants; and the natural world in the case of practitioners of magic. I argue that it is in these special circumstances in which the monstrous characters of the Íslendingasögur are embedded that we find clues regarding the sociocultural concerns they might have been used to explore. In the following, I will therefore address in turn each of these issues – family ties, sexual and marital relationships, issues of inheritance and property transmission, and the experience of the natural world – in order to investigate what anxieties may have surrounded these foundational structures of human and social experience in medieval Iceland, and to then explore how these anxieties may have found an expression in the social monsters produced by medieval Icelandic society. Since this is a first foray into a reading of social monstrosity and the social concerns explored through it in medieval Iceland, and due to the essentially transhistorical nature of both monsters and the sagas, I will raise the most salient points concerning these foundational structures. In each case, I will give a brief overview of the issues underlying my considerations before turning to a short discussion of how these are expressed by the characters discussed so far. The brevity of this discussion, necessary in the present context, entails that some matters – and above all structures of kinship and allegiance – will have to be presented in a simplified manner. A discussion of other types of alliance will therefore have to be excluded from the picture painted of Icelandic society, even though they played a prominent role, especially in the lives of members of the elite.5

Familiar Monsters, Monstrous Families: Kinship Tensions in the Outlaw Sagas In chapter three, I showed that the relationship and interaction between the outlaw and his family is very much at the heart of the outlaw sagas. Family ties and tensions are of course a recurrent topic in a genre that is deservedly referred to as “family sagas,” but it was also shown that, in outlaw narratives, these relationships and the strains placed on them assume a particular significance. The family was shown to exert a dramatic, and often fatal, influence on the outlaw’s life, with abusive fathers, distant or absent mothers, and unhelpful siblings initiating or accelerating the outlaw’s movement away from society. The outlaw, too, was seen to be systematically disrupting his family’s integrity, through his presence and through the demands his extra-social, often antisocial, situation makes

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on those supposed to be closest to him. In order to take these observations further, however, it is necessary to situate them in their historical context, and to look at the significance of the family in medieval Icelandic society. As Lévi-Strauss observes, the family is a prerequisite for the existence of society: “As a social institution with a biological foundation, the family must be a universal presence, whatever the type of society.”6 This seems especially true for the society of medieval Iceland. From what can be observed in both the Íslendingasögur as well as the samtíðarsögur, family ties and obligations played an integral part in every person’s life. Clunies Ross states that “[f]undamental . . . to the medieval literary and historiographic tradition . . . is a conception of history as family-generated and family-linked.”7 Of all social structures at work in Iceland, Miller argues, “for the great majority the household had the most immediate significance.”8 Thus, within Icelandic society, families and the households they form are “the spine . . . of articulation of many kinds of social relationships.”9 Family and household are not synonymous terms, since the household is a larger economic unit that also encapsulates any slaves, servants, or dependents associated with the family.10 However, since the larger household plays only a subordinate role in the outlaw sagas, I will focus on the family as the core unit that constitutes the household, which makes it, by extension, “the building block of larger social structures.”11 The household, the farm, or bú, “was a microcosm, reflecting the larger order of . . . society,”12 and this remained constant throughout the history of pre-industrial Iceland. On neither the microcosmic nor the macrocosmic level could division be tolerated, as is clear from the way the conversion to Christianity is handled: both Íslendingabók and Njáls saga put great emphasis on the fact that, without a unified law, society too would be split, and thus an opportunity for divisive forces would arise.13 Unity has to be preserved both on the larger social level as well as the smaller, personal scale of the household and the family. As Björn Björnsson notes, “[t]he family system of any society is but a part of the wider social structure, intertwined with other social systems,”14 but it is the most fundamental system within a society. On it, all other social structures are based. Therefore, if there was division on the microcosmic level, divisions on the macrocosmic were feared to follow. The Icelandic kinship system has been described as mostly bilateral, which means that kinship bonds were traced through both the male and the female line.15 There were also aspects of a patrilineal system within Icelandic kinship structure,16 mostly visible in inheritance law and a preference for male links in genealogies that will become important below. The family structure was ego-centered – i.e., each person defined their kin group or family with themselves at the center – with the ties of kinship extending outward from this center up to a certain degree.17 This ego-centered nature of kin grouping as well as the coexistence of the two contrasting and often conflicting approaches to kinship structure – the bilateral and

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the patrilineal – and therefore to issues such as inheritance, descent, and marriage regulations, led to the potential for conflict within the system as a whole. The ambiguous requirements of family allegiance to various parties – who, due to the nature of the ego-centered system, might not bear each other any allegiance and might therefore oppose one another – involved in a legal dispute or feud resulted in conflicting loyalties. Or, as Miller puts it, An important feature of bilateral kinship reckoning is that your kin will not entirely coincide with your cousin’s kin; or, from another perspective, you are by virtue of kinship eligible for membership in several different kin groups with different overlap. One consequence of this is the possibility and likelihood of greatly divided loyalties.18

The tensions resulting from these conflicting pressures the kinship system put on the individual can be observed in the literary sources. Gísla saga is a clear example of the web of conflicting loyalties in which a person can find themself, with marital ties conflicting with the ties of blood relation, whereas Laxdœla saga witnesses the strain of conflict within two closely related families, culminating in the breakdown of the bond between first cousins and foster brothers. While the Íslendingasögur therefore depict the fracturing of kinship bonds within the microcosm of individual families, Íslendinga saga explores the disintegration of family solidarity on a wider scale. The breakdown of ties among the Sturlungar themselves becomes symptomatic of the extent to which feuds and power struggles operate during the thirteenth century, and thus of the disintegration of other social structures.19 The divisions within this family express the ongoing strain that the conflicts of loyalty, kinship, and personal ambition placed on the individual, and these microcosmic divisions on the familiar level reflect the larger social divisions taking place in the struggle for domination over Iceland.20 In spite of the pressures and conflicts the Icelandic kinship system was prone to, several scholars have noted that major hostilities between close kin do not occur in the family or contemporary sagas: there are no instances of patricide, matricide, or fratricide.21 However, the killing of close kin would have constituted an enormity beyond belief, as is reflected in mythological texts.22 In Vǫluspá, fratricide is one of the signs of the impending ragnarǫk: “Brœðr muno beriaz oc at bǫnom verðaz / muno systrungar sifiom spilla” (Brother will fight brother and be his slayer / sisters’ sons will violate the kinship bond).23 That fratricide inhabits in Norse myth a conceptual space of social breakdown associated with the end of the known world highlights that it “would be a sign of ultimate corruption and chaos.”24 In the imagination of the Íslendingasögur, too, killing close kin would have been regarded as an act beyond the capabilities of any living social monster – even though Hörðr comes close to committing sororicide. Only revenants, in their hauntings, cause the deaths of close

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kin, with Þórólfr killing his wife and Hrappr driving his son to madness and death. It is therefore not true that such killings do not occur at all, but they only occur in circumstances when the ties of kinship have already been fully severed by undeath.25 This seems to be the only complete separation from one’s family possible in the Íslendingasögur; even outlawry does not sever kinship bonds so thoroughly. An absence of the most extreme forms of intrafamilial violence, however, does not equal an absence of concern about it; it only means that it was explored in forms less psychologically disturbing – but no less tragic for those involved. Miller notes that kinship norms were “capable of giving rise to some anxiety and regret for egregious breaches.”26 On the basis of the above discussion, however, I would argue that there existed more than “some anxiety” around breaches of kinship ties in medieval Iceland, and that this anxiety finds its reflection especially in the outlaw sagas. The presence of the outlaw protagonist in these narratives, through his monstrosity, lends itself particularly aptly to such an exploration. Outlawry, as I discussed in chapter three, was supposed to cut a man loose from all social ties, including the ties of friendship and kinship.27 However, as can be seen from the sagas themselves, this was not regularly put into practice: an outlaw did not cease to be a kinsman. Yet his family members were not legally allowed to interact with him, and his presence was therefore dangerous and disruptive as well as potentially contagious: if caught, his kinsmen would have had to join him in his outlawry. This constant danger therefore heightens the pressure that kinship ties were already subjected to. The conflicts presented in these sagas, because of the way they involve the outlaw’s closest kin, become completely irresolvable.28 Thus, while the outlaw is shaped by the disruptive dynamics of his family, the outlaw’s presence later shapes the family, making it impossible for its members to escape the monster they have created. Because of the contagious nature of monstrosity in general, and in a legal sense of outlawry in particular, the entire family is under threat if its members show solidarity with their kinsman, but if they do not – and this is demonstrated by Þorkell in Gísla saga – they violate the ties of kinship so fundamental to Icelandic society. Due to the outlawry of a family member, the conflicting loyalties present in all of Norse literature are therefore raised to a new level, and already strained kinship bonds are subjected to a more extreme amount of pressure. This highlights that this is no longer just a matter of familial allegiance, but of society, the law, and their integrity on a more profound level. This is especially true in Gísla saga and Harðar saga. Of the former, Meulengracht Sørensen notes, “[w]ith [its] constellation of siblings, spouses and in-laws, the saga has made the innermost circle of the Icelandic kinship system into the subject of its narrative.”29 The narrative then explores the

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complete fragmentation of this system, to the point where all ties have been severed, and most of the family killed. Symptomatic of this is the relationship between Þorkell and Gísli: according to Miller, “[a]sking favors and granting favors on the ground of kinship and affinity was not small change; it was what made the Icelandic social world go round.”30 In Gísla saga, there is no more exchange of favors, no reciprocity between siblings: Þorkell denies Gísli his support, only giving him the most basic tools for survival. Gísli, as an outlaw, cannot reciprocate. Thus, a fundamental part of sibling bonds and bonding is lost. While the saga never descends into active hostilities between the brothers, this breakdown in communication and reciprocation gives expression to the deep rift separating Þorkell and Gísli – a rift that should never come between brothers. This rift is further explored in the conflicting loyalties of all parties involved, struggling between their alliance with blood and affinal kin.31 The rift therefore ultimately runs through the entire family. The conflict in Harðar saga is similarly all-encompassing and already welldeveloped by the time Hörðr enters the saga. Harðar saga’s tales of unwanted, unwelcome children show how deeply this family has already become disrupted during Hörðr and Þorbjörg’s childhood, and this disruption has a lasting effect on Hörðr. He learns to distrust kinship ties early on in his life, but although he later treats his brothers-in-law Indriði and Illugi with suspicion, he shows more trust in the brothers of his own choosing, especially Geirr. These brothers, however, lead him into disaster, for it is their rash actions and lack of foresight that cause both Hörðr’s outlawry and the downfall of the band of criminals that assemble around him. The only stable sibling bond in this saga is that between Hörðr and his sister Þorbjörg, and even here, Hörðr does his utmost to ruin their relationship. Moreover, it is important to note that Þorbjörg seems to be a creation of the saga’s writer. The Hauksbók version of Landnámabók mentions only a brother, named Gnúpr, whereas Sturlubók gives Hörðr no siblings.32 The saga therefore creates a sibling bond, and with a sister no less, which enables the introduction of additional affinal bonds. This allows an exploration of kinship bonds that would not have been possible within the context of the family in either version of Landnámabók. Through these strategies, Harðar saga places particular emphasis on the bond between cross-siblings as well as between affines, and explores the systematic disintegration of these structures in great detail. Thus, what can be observed in the outlaw sagas – with their focus on disrupted and disruptive families and the fragility of kinship ties – is a disintegration of the family around, and because of, the monstrous outlaw figure, and therefore a dissolution of the most important and most fundamentally stabilizing part of society, the part on which all other social structures are based. In investigating this disintegration, each of the sagas explores a different aspect of

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the fragmentation of family ties. Thus, Grettis saga focuses on the difficult relationship between Grettir and his father Ásmundr, whose abusive treatment of his son has a disruptive impact on Grettir’s development and socialization. Just like Hörðr, Grettir has a different genealogy in his saga from that which appears in Landnámabók, shifting his connection to the Vatnsdœlir and his descent from the Hrafnistumenn entirely to his mother’s side.33 This highlights the opposition between the different parts of Grettir’s personality, and the very different relationships he has with his parents. Gísla saga, on the other hand, while depicting a fair share of paternal issues at least in the S version, shifts the focus in the main part of the saga to sibling relationships, and explores blood and affinal bonds in great detail. That these are at the center of the saga is already introduced in the Norwegian prelude and the generation of Gísli’s father, and from then on, it forms the narrative’s leitmotiv until the end. Harðar saga, while also investigating parental and, as mentioned above, sibling bonds – and especially Hörðr’s difficult relationships with his brothers-in-law – again explores a different aspect of family relations by introducing the conflict between Hörðr and his maternal uncle Torfi. Together with Hörðr’s affinal and fictive brothers, Torfi is instrumental in Hörðr’s downfall. Fóstbrœðra saga, finally, while again depicting a harmful paternal influence on the future outlaws, focuses exclusively on fictive brotherhood and the problems that arise from it. Concerns about the breakdown of family structures therefore run particularly deep in the outlaw sagas, and this can be seen not only from the entangledness of the outlaw’s fate in family matters, but also from the fact that these are not the only glimpses one gets into the underlying anxiety about tense and fragile family ties. In this, the observations regarding intrafamiliar violence made above become relevant again. Miller argues that “in the entire saga corpus there is no patricide, nor for that matter is there matricide or fratricide,”34 but there are some stories in the outlaw sagas that come close to depicting filicide, fratricide, and matricide. In the S version of Gísla saga, the story of the sacrificial filicide by a man named Hallsteinn is mentioned in a passage preceding Þorkell’s killing by the sons of Vésteinn.35 The two events – the most extreme failure of a father-son bond, and its fulfilment in vengeance – form a stark contrast. At the same time, they further underline the saga’s focus on the fracturing of kinship ties and the disruptive effect this has on the family – which, again, was supposed to be the core stabilizing unit within society. Filicide therefore is not mentioned directly; it is hidden within the story of a sacrifice and located in the saga’s past.36 Similarly, matricide itself may not occur within the Íslendingasögur, but its closest approximation is the episode in which Þorbjǫrn ǫngull kills his pregnant stepmother.37 In both cases, bonds are broken, but the breaking is either indirect or mentioned as an aside so that the necessity of a direct confrontation is averted.

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The fictive bond of sworn brotherhood is meant to create a bond between two men who are not necessarily related, or to strengthen the bond of male relatives. However, in all cases within the outlaw sagas, this bond is subjected to immense strain, and it breaks more often than not. The clearest example of this is the failed oath in Gísla saga, which eventually leads to the complete fragmentation of the family of Gísli and Þorkell and their in-laws, with one fictive brother killing the other. In Fóstbrœðra saga, we also encounter two difficult cases of sworn brotherhood, although the central bond between Þorgeirr and Þormóðr seems to be repaired through Þormóðr’s loyalty after Þorgeirr’s death. An alternative vision is offered by the story of Eyjólfr and Þorgeirr hófleysa, which frames the story of Þorgeirr Hávarsson’s death and Þormóðr’s journey to King Óláfr.38 Starting out as close friends, they are soon divided by disagreements and eventually – after an apparition of Þorgeirr Hávarsson himself foreshadows the tragic events – they kill each other.39 The way this story is interwoven with Þorgeirr’s death and brief reappearance, and the start of Þormóðr’s vengeance, shows that it is a direct commentary on the way things could have gone between the sworn brothers after Þorgeirr’s challenge. Thus, while there is no direct fratricide in the Íslendingasögur, they do depict the breakdown of similar relationships on the affinal and fictive level. The absence of fratricide may, according to Larrington, “suggest a compensating interest in the rivalrous tensions of the foster-brother bond.”40 Anxieties concerning the breakdown of fraternal relationships still had to be played out, but they were transposed from blood to fictive brothers. Thus, in these instances, the most extreme violations of close kinship bonds are explored through proxy narratives. The horrors of filicide, fratricide, or matricide could not be addressed directly, and therefore they had to be transposed onto bonds that were not quite as close, or onto situations in which pagan overtones might attribute a suitable cause for these horrifying acts. I do not think it is coincidental that these proxy narratives are embedded in the outlaw sagas, where they form a perfect addition to the fragmentation of family ties within the outlaws’ own families, thus allowing a fuller exploration of the breakdown of kinship structures. In all of the outlaw sagas, the exploration of family ties is therefore centered around the closest relatives: fathers, mothers, and sons, blood, affinal, and fictive siblings, and uncles and nephews. When relating this exploration to the social anxieties underlying the sagas, it is interesting to note that, as Guðrún Nordal observes, these are the bonds that are not disrupted in the contemporary sagas: “The bonds between kinsmen within the immediate family (between father and son, between brothers, and between uncle and nephew) are strong,”41 and it is exactly these bonds that the outlaw sagas feature most prominently as susceptible to conflict. Although the fracturing of close kinship bonds may therefore not have formed a part of historical reality, there was still a need to explore

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what happens if these most fundamental family bonds fracture, and such an exploration could only take place in the literary context of the Íslendingasögur – and potentially, as John Lindow has argued, in myth. There, the stories about fratricide and the “unraveling world of the Æsir” similarly highlight the pressures of the Icelandic kinship system,42 and this must have seemed fitting at a time when intrafamiliar violence seemed to become increasingly likely. Guðrún also draws attention to the fact that, especially within the Sturlung family, kinship ties were not as firm as they are generally represented in Íslendinga saga.43 In this family, the ties between brothers disintegrate, uncle and nephew fight each other, and at least in Snorri’s case, a father’s relationships with his children are also depicted as being fraught with problems. The Sturlungar therefore constitute a direct reflection of the struggles depicted in the Íslendingasögur in historical reality, and a direct link between the literature and the time of its emergence. Thus, while I do not want to tie the issues explored through social monstrosity in the Íslendingasögur to one specific historical moment or even period, one can find in this family a precedent for the weakening and fracturing of family bonds represented in the literature that finds its origin during this period of Icelandic history. There existed therefore an anxiety about what happens to society as a whole if individual family structures break down, and this anxiety, I would argue, was expressed in the literature that emerged during this time. That this was an ongoing concern and not tied to one period in Icelandic history is shown by the fact that it found reflection in sagas like Grettis saga or Harðar saga, whose extant versions are dated to the fourteenth century. Moreover, the continued dissemination of these texts across the centuries betrays their ongoing relevance for their audiences, which shows that the anxieties surrounding the disintegration of family structures appear to be an issue that retained its currency throughout Icelandic history. Thus, the outlaw sagas, with their exploration of families turned inward, and turning on each other, because of the presence of the monstrous outlaw – whom they have helped to create – allow an exploration of the breakdown of family structures. The heightened tensions of the outlaw sagas and the presence of the disruptive outlaw within his equally dysfunctional family allowed a focus on the monstrous, and through that an exploration of the dissolution of the most fundamental social bond that would not be possible in other contexts.

Who Would Marry a Berserk?: Women, Marriage, and Monstrous Offspring In the case of outlaws, the family struggles they experience both in their childhood and as adults are part of the reason why they turn into criminals and

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thus, because of the extent of their disruption, into monsters. For berserkir, however, their special circumstances – their interactions with women, their status as rapists – not only form part of their expression of monstrosity; the fact that they rape women and kill the men in their families is the main feature of their monstrosity. Through their sexual aggression, berserkir directly impact a woman and her family, disrupting the ordinary processes of sexual relationships, marriage, and thus social (re-)production, and that this impact is overwhelmingly negative can be seen from the universally horrified reaction to a berserkr’s intrusion. In this section, I will therefore look into the dynamics of sexual relationships, and by extension marriage, in Icelandic society. Some of the ties generated through marriage, namely those of affinal kinship and especially siblinghood, were already discussed in the previous section. The focus will therefore lie on the disruption of the establishment of such ties, as well as on matters of consent, intrusion, and procreation. As I have argued above, the family and the household are the core structures of medieval Icelandic society, the basis of all other social structures. To some extent, this seems to presuppose the existence of fixed kinship groups, which, in the ego-centered kinship system of medieval Iceland, did not exist.44 Families had to be generated and established, and this was done through the establishment of ties through marriage, which was “above all a social contract.”45 In the bilateral system of medieval Iceland, women were not subsumed into the husband’s kin but remained members of their parental family when they married.46 Thus, each couple formed a new, ego-centered family unit so that each marriage produced and re-produced society by forming a new family core on which other social structures could be founded.47 Marriage, therefore, is not simply the union between two individuals. Rather, it connects two existing families, or kin groups:48 “It reunites human society,”49 by forming ties of affinal kinship, and thus alliances and obligations, between these two groups. Since support networks were of prime importance in medieval Iceland, and in order to make the most of the members one’s support group acquired through the addition of in-laws and descendants,50 one had to marry well rather than just marry.51 As Miller notes, “[t]he art of marrying well was much of what politics was about.”52 Therefore, marriage forms the intersection between a man’s personal and political bonds:53 for marriage was always a personal matter as well, a bond between two people of equal social standing (jafnræði) that is sometimes described with great intimacy in the sagas.54 With the growing influence of the church in medieval Iceland, another dimension was then added to this already complex picture.55 Due to the foundational and intersectional nature of the marriage dynamic, disrupting the formation of marriage ties would have been a destabilizing act with wide repercussions for the social fabric. However, this is essentially what the

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berserkr does: his intrusion into a family and his violent penetration of that family’s integrity through rape have a disruptive effect both on the family’s as well as the woman’s honor,56 and both affect her social status and therefore, in the case of an unmarried woman, her value on the “marriage market.”57 It would be difficult for a woman who had been assaulted by a berserkr to find a husband, for, as I showed, these women were thought to have been contaminated by their contact with the monster, becoming themselves associated with monstrosity. In the case of a berserkr attacking an unmarried woman, therefore, this sexual assault would severely impact not only her future prospects, but also her male kin’s ability to form ties with other kin groups through their kinswoman’s marriage. Moreover, the berserkr’s rape could also disrupt social reproduction more directly if it resulted in a berserkr child. The spread of berserkism through one’s offspring holds serious potential for social disruption, as these children could fragment society from the inside when they grow up, as we saw in the case of Klaufi. Berserkir therefore not only disrupt the reproduction of society through marriage before it can take place; they also target social production directly, causing a breakdown of the structures of group formation essential to Icelandic society. These ideas underlying the berserkir’s sexual threat and the effect it had on those affected are arguably – just like the family struggles discussed above – to some extent based in the historical reality of the time that gave rise to the sagas. While the Íslendingasögur themselves do not depict much extramarital sexual activity,58 the thirteenth century has been described as a time of sexual permissiveness,59 with a large number of extra-marital relationships and therefore also much illegitimacy, both of which found their reflection in the contemporary sagas.60 Since many of the women who engage in extramarital relationships, especially with high-ranking men, are later married without difficulty, Agnes Arnórsdóttir argues that “[e]kki er að sjá að það hafi skipt hér máli hvort meyja væri óspjölluð fyrir gifting” (It does not seem as if it made a difference in Iceland whether a girl was unspoiled before marriage).61 Auður Magnúsdóttir, however, states that it did matter, but only in some cases. What mattered most was not whether a woman had pre- or extramarital intercourse or not, but with whom: “spjölluð hafi stúlka verið álitin lakari kvenkostur, eða ekki jafn góð ‘fjárfesting’ og áður. En sennilega var ekki sama hver olli spjöllunum” (a spoiled girl was considered a worse match, or not as good an “investment” as before. But it probably was not without importance who did the spoiling).62 According to the examples she discusses, a woman in an extra-marital relationship with a high-ranking man could easily be married off after the end of that relationship, even if it resulted in offspring. A woman who was not the fixed concubine of a man of high social status, but instead had relationships with low-ranking strangers, however, was

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in a much more precarious situation. Thus, women had to be careful whom they had sex with – whether voluntarily or not63 – and this is probably even more true of a time at which concubinage was used for political as much as for personal gain.64 The presence of the monstrous berserkr in the context of sexual violence and assault therefore enabled the exploration of a variety of pivotal issues within thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Icelandic society. One of these is certainly the contemporary situation itself: concubinage and illegitimacy were problems for the church, which, from the late twelfth century onwards, was fighting “a holy war against immorality in sexual affairs,”65 which eventually resulted in the acceptance of monogamy among chieftains and a degree of celibacy among the clergy.66 Towards the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth century, the influence of the church on marital issues increased, which, according to Agnes, resulted in a change in attitudes to gender. From then on, marriage was regarded as a sacrament, and this placed greater emphasis on a woman’s virginity and, over time, led to the assumption that adultery was not just a sin but also a crime.67 This change in religious attitudes also led to social change: as Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir notes, “fathers needed to make certain that their daughters retained their value, and husbands needed to make sure that they were the only men who had sexual and thus reproductive access to their wives’ bodies.”68 These attitudes are, I would argue, reflected in the contamination of Yngvildr in Svarfdæla saga, and the prominence of the berserkir’s sexual threat in Grettis saga shows that this was an issue that provoked significant anxiety. Both of these sagas have been dated to the fourteenth century, reflecting the growing importance of virginity and consent around this time.69 It can therefore be argued that the Íslendingasögur arose around a time at which the social and religious conceptualization of marriage and sexuality was changing, and this may initially have led to conflict. Such conflict, and the change in attitudes itself, gave rise to anxieties that could be explored through the figure of the monstrous berserkr. Another important issue worth considering in this context is the influence of canon law on Icelandic marital legislation, especially regarding the concept of consent. This idea was introduced to Icelandic ecclesiastical and legal discourse from the late twelfth century onwards, but was only firmly established by the end of the thirteenth century with the introduction of Jónsbók and the New Christian Law of Bishop Árni Þorláksson.70 This marked the beginning of a gradual shift in marriage as a concept, from a purely socioeconomical alliance to a personal and religious bond in which the woman had to give her verbal consent.71 The idea of consent in marriage as well as its violation is arguably explored within the Íslendingasögur, and most notably in the often violent

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breakdown of marriages in which consent was not sought.72 A famous example is Hallgerðr’s first marriage to Þorvaldr: Njáls saga states explicitly that “spurði Hǫskuldr dóttur sína ekki eptir” (Hǫskuldr did not ask his daughter),73 and the marriage ends with Þorvaldr’s death. Consent breaks down at other times as well: as discussed above, there are several instances in the Íslendingasögur in which rape is hinted at, but it is rarely explored. Berserkr episodes are the exception to the rule of this “repression” of sexual violence.74 In these episodes, the berserkr’s sexual threat assumes paramount importance, and they occasionally depict not only the male family members’ but also the woman’s own horror at the prospect of sexual violation. Rape obviously constitutes the antithesis of consent; contemporary debates around rape legislation and the shifting focus towards consensual sex bear witness to this fact, and they too have left their mark on culture.75 A similar argument can be made for medieval Iceland: at a time when marriage legislation was shifting and therefore at times in conflict,76 and when female extra-marital sexual activity was quickly becoming unthinkable,77 significant anxiety seems to have existed around non-consensual extra-marital sex, and this anxiety could be explored through the figure of the berserk rapist. By embodying the complete contradiction of marital consent, berserkir enabled the exploration of sexual violence and its consequences in the safe space of the literary past, and in a more overt – and more overtly troubling – way than in the treatment of either the non-consensual marriages or the occasional hint at rape possible in other, nonmonstrous circumstances. A further issue that, I would argue, could be explored through the monstrous intrusion of the berserkr was a fear of foreigners seducing or violating Icelandic women. While not all berserkir are said to be foreigners, there are some significant cases in which their sexual aggression coincides with a Swedish background.78 One of these is the Ljótr inn bleiki episode in Egils saga.79 This episode is interesting not only because of its focus on property rights and duelling rules, but also because it presents one of the few instances in which the emotional response of the berserkr’s future victim is related, and her crying evokes a strong response in Egill. Throughout the episode, the berserkr’s disruption and foreignness are stressed when he is referred to as óþokkasæll (disliked), and útlendr maðr (foreigner), culminating in the statement that “hann var sœnskr at ætt” (he was of Swedish origin).80 Another significant intrusion of Swedish berserkir into in this case Icelandic society is made by Halli and Leiknir. Whether or not there was prejudice against Swedes particularly in Norwegian and Icelandic society,81 it is the berserkir’s foreignness that matters in these cases. It underlines their already significant alterity, removing them even further from ordinary Icelandic experience. Thus, their

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intrusion into the society whose experience the sagas narrate becomes even more frightening, and even though three Swedish berserkir ask for the girl rather than immediately taking her by force,82 there is only one possible response to their proposal. Regarding the position of foreigners in Icelandic society, Sverrir Jakobsson has argued that, generally, a man “of wealth and good standing was not a bad prospect as a son-in-law,” but that “farmers found themselves in a dilemma if undesirable strangers turned out to have serious intentions.”83 Berserkir epitomize the “undesirable stranger.” Their demand for Icelandic and Norwegian women is a threat, and potentially not only a case of sexual but also of martial aggression. The rape of foreign women during raiding expeditions was a tool of “demonstrat[ing] superiority over one’s opponent,”84 as Ljungqvist has shown, and since rape and raiding often coincide in berserkr episodes, they could be argued to constitute a case of martial aggression against the woman’s kinsmen. This is especially clear in the case of Þórir þǫmb and Ǫgmundr illi in Grettis saga, whose threat against the women of Þorfinnr’s household seems to be mostly an act of vengeance for Þorfinnr’s prosecution of their crimes.85 These episodes, I would argue, therefore seem to express a general concern about the intrusion of foreigners into Icelandic society. Even if the berserkr appears in Norway, the sagas arguably represent Icelandic attitudes in this case rather than Norwegian ones, as they are written from an Icelandic perspective. This concern could, according to Sverrir, potentially be related to the fact that prominent Norwegians married into Icelandic elite families during the thirteenth century, and that Icelandic chieftains were increasingly dependent on the Norwegian court.86 These issues retained their currency when, in 1302, Icelanders demanded that “royal officials should be Icelandic and from the old chieftain families” in an attempt at securing the old aristocracy’s position.87 Such demands were repeated throughout the following centuries, indicating that “Icelandic farmers were generally of the opinion that it was better to live under Icelandic officials than foreigners.”88 Later legislation in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries marked the continued importance of limiting foreign influence in the demand that foreigners should not be allowed to stay in Iceland over the winter,89 which Hastrup has linked to prejudice against foreigners.90 It could, however, also be related to the ongoing struggle of the Icelandic aristocracy for control over the country through the constant reaffirmation of farming as the only viable occupation.91 This is then as much an issue of sexuality and foreign intrusion as it is of control and agency, and the two can in fact be linked: with the growing importance of pre-marital virginity, the need for fathers to control their daughters’ bodies also increased, giving rise to anxieties about women’s compliance with religious and social regulation

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and ultimately raising issues concerning male domination over female bodies more widely.92 The foreignness of some of the berserkir – while not a universal feature – in addition to their monstrosity makes them irredeemably “Strange,” underlining the threat inherent in all of these characters. This enabled the exploration of issues of control and dominance as well as of foreign intrusion that seem to have been a prominent feature of the concerns of the Icelandic elite. In this context of sexuality and marriage, it is worth mentioning that almost none of the characters I discuss – and especially almost none of the male ones – leave any surviving offspring. Such offspring would probably have been considered problematic, and in the berserkr’s case outright dangerous. Therefore, there seems to have existed a concern about the offspring of social outcasts and undesirables – foreigners, criminals, the lower classes – and their potentially corrosive effect: the descendants of a berserkr would have inherited their father’s monstrous eðli, and an outlaw’s son – a vargdropi (wolf’s drop)93 – was, by association with his father, a social outcast himself and not entitled to inheritance. Some magicusers have children, especially when they appear as single mothers of low social status, but their lines mostly appear to end with those children, thereby disallowing the continuation of the family into future generations. I regard this representation as in keeping with the general attitude of the Icelandic elite towards these people: foreigners and the lower class were not supposed to procreate,94 but, despite marriage and permanent settlement being banned, it can be assumed that they still produced offspring. The threat of the monster combined with his – for again, it is mostly male characters who die without descendants – lack of offspring might therefore have provided a stage on which to play out these concerns. Socially marginal offspring were therefore a pervasive concern that could be addressed through all socially monstrous characters. The berserkr, however, because of his aggressive, violent sexuality, and because his monstrosity is ultimately based on it, is particularly suited to this exploration. Through his sexual threat, he disrupts both the honor and integrity of the family affected by his depredations as well as social stability through the monstrous offspring resulting from them. Thus, just as was the case with the outlaws and their connection to family tensions, through the berserkr figure a poignant exploration of sexuality and marital issues is made possible, and especially of the darker side of these issues: intrusion, rape, and the penetration of society through its women.

Never Let Go: Revenants, Inheritance, and a Haunting Past So far, I have shown that family is the most fundamental structure on which society is built, and that this structure – and thus, ultimately, society – is reproduced

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through marriage. Another mechanism of societal (re-)production that intersects with these two aspects is that of inheritance: not only do humans inherit certain biological or character traits from their ancestors, as was shown in the case of berserkir and their offspring, but the older generation is also supposed to pass on material possessions to their descendants. As di Renzo Villata notes, “[t]he family is revealed as inextricably connected to succession law as the parameter to be referred to in determining the validity of certain provisions.”95 It is for this reason that I have chosen not to begin this chapter with a discussion of revenants and the sociocultural concerns that could be explored through them – even though I began my study with them in chapter two – but to put them at the end of the sections on societal interrelations, before turning to the relationship between humans and the natural world in the next section. This way, the central mechanisms of societal (re-)production and stabilization – the structures of family, marriage, and inheritance – can be explored as building on one another. Just like the structures of family and marriage they are based on, inheritance and the transmission of property are major concerns in society: where marriage serves the biological reproduction of society, inheritance and the transmission of property present the economic counterpart. This is true as much of the present day, where inheritance increasingly contributes to social stratification by reinforcing wealth inequality,96 as it was of medieval Iceland. As Barriero notes, “[n]arratively speaking, inheritance plays a very significant role which (most likely) mirrors its social and ideological importance.”97 Thus, inheritance disputes are one of the many forms conflict takes in the Íslendingasögur, and they are explored in a variety of ways. For example, several cases of such disputes dominate the narrative of Egils saga, contributing significantly to the central conflicts. Þórólfr Kveld-Úlfsson’s issues with King Haraldr are first initiated in the context of his quarrel over the inheritance of the sons of Hildiríðr, while Egill’s conflict with King Eiríkr and Queen Gunnhildr escalates due to his fight with Berg-Ǫnundr over the inheritance of Egill’s wife Ásgerðr. In other sagas, while they are not quite as significant as in Egils saga, inheritance disputes also feature prominently, as the quarrel between Hǫskuldr and Hrútr in Laxdœla saga or the entire conflict revolving around the dowry of Unnr in Njáls saga bear witness to. Additionally, clever strategies to acquire other people’s property are depicted in various sagas as well, and in these contexts, paranormal elements make an appearance. This is something I observed in chapter four in the case of Þórir, whose brother Þorsteinn helps him get rid of his berserk affliction not only out of the kindness of his heart but explicitly to acquire the family goðorð.98 Similarly, Jesse Byock has explored the wider context in which Þórólfr bægifótr’s death and haunting is staged, drawing attention to the way in which matters of inheritance and property transfer are discussed in this episode even before the revenant’s appearance.99

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Philadelphia Ricketts notes that “the sagas, so rich in other material of interest to the social historian, are not primarily concerned with property or its transmission,”100 but while this may be true of the contemporary sagas she discusses, we have seen that this is not the case in the Íslendingasögur: here, inheritance disputes trigger conflict and thus action in a variety of contexts, and this wide range of literary representations hints at the fact that they were a central concern in Icelandic society as well. This centrality in itself would be sufficient reason to warrant the exploration of the many tensions and uncertainties around this foundational societal mechanism. However, inheritance strategies can and do change, and this change can uncover new anxieties that in turn need to be addressed. Such change also happened in medieval Iceland, and even though it may not have led to the kind of drastic consequences the introduction of primogeniture had for the French nobility of the eleventh and twelfth centuries,101 it would nonetheless have contributed to the need for an exploration of the fault lines running through the system – the main one being that the older generation needs to let go of their property and pass it on to the next. As noted above, the Icelandic kinship system was organized bilaterally, albeit with slight patrilineal tendencies, and both of these strategies of kinship organization had direct consequences for the laws governing inheritance.102 This organization finds its reflection in the Arfaþáttr section of Grágás:103 sons inherited before daughters,104 but there were no stipulations concerning the amount that was to be inherited by members of either gender. Moreover, while there were restrictions on the way women could use their property, including land and goðorð, Grágás does not specify that they could not inherit land or certain farms or be given them as dowry.105 Concerning the division of land and property, the laws do not provide guidance beyond stating that all sons should inherit equally.106 Additionally, the practice as reflected in the Íslendingasögur either “has one brother take his share in livestock, the other his share in land, with the ancestral farmstead thus passing on undivided,”107 or depicts them as managing the farm together. That this is a preferred option for siblings is confirmed in Gísla saga, which has Gísli state that “‘[s]aman er brœðra eign bezt at líta ok at sjá’” (“the property of brothers is best seen together”).108 Thus, the inheritance strategy practiced during the early and high Middle Ages seems to have been neither one of partible inheritance,109 nor of primogeniture,110 but one that suited the Icelandic kinship structure with its double focus of bilateral and patrilineal organization. With the introduction of consent legislation and the laws of Jónsbók, this situation changed to some extent: the latter reflect a greater interest in patrilineal inheritance, and therefore also kinship, structures, while the former affected the importance of legitimacy. The first section of Erfðatal in Jónsbók specifies that only bǫrn skilgetin (legitimate children) of a móður skilfengna

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(lawfully wedded mother) are allowed to inherit,111 and this focus on legitimacy is retained throughout. Since, therefore, “[r]ightful inheritance was dependent on legitimate birth at marriage,”112 knowing whose marriage was legitimate, and who the offspring of such a marriage was, became increasingly important. Inheritance legislation was therefore both a consequence and reinforcement of the new marriage and gender ideology discussed in the previous section: women who had sex outside marriage reduced both their own and their children’s chances of economic stability. However, according to Agnes Arnórsdóttir, in the early years after the introduction of the new legislation, matters were often still unclear, and various réttarbætr were issued by the kings of Norway “to define what constituted a legal marriage.”113 Thus, there must have been some uncertainty around matters not only of marriage, as was shown above, but as a consequence, also of inheritance in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century. Inheritance was also used as a mechanism to give parents control over their daughters’ marriages, so that it was not just the women’s own consent that was needed for a legal marriage: daughters who married without the consent of their guardians forfeited their inheritance.114 This system constituted a compromise between the consent-based ideology promoted by the church, and the earlier socioeconomic idea of marriage as a contract between families: both the partners’ as well as the bride’s father’s consent were required for a marriage to be legal – and therefore for its offspring to be able to inherit. That such parental control was apparently deemed necessary has led to the question of whether this regulation was part of the stronger focus on patrilineal descent and inheritance expressed in Jónsbók. This increased interest in patrilineality can be seen, for example, from the fact that Jónsbók clearly prefers sons over daughters: while Grágás does not clarify in what way property should be divided between offspring of either gender, Jónsbók states that, if both a son and a daughter are set to inherit, he should get two-thirds and she one-third of the property. Moreover, a grandson in the male line should inherit as much as a daughter,115 further confirming this strengthened patrilineal tendency. The most significant innovation, however, was the separation of land and chattel, and the new focus on the main farm, höfuðból, as opposed to útjarðir (outlying lands). Grágás describes a related concept, aðalból, but it does not seem to have held the same significance: höfuðból can only be inherited by the oldest son, and daughters cannot inherit it at all and are instead given útjarðir or chattel. If no son existed to inherit the main farm, a daughter could theoretically inherit it, but it could then be reclaimed by the male line of descent.116 This stronger focus on the patrilineal transmission of landed property seems to have been a response to the instability of the bilateral system. As

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Agnes Arnórsdóttir notes, “[a]brupt change could take place in every generation, where property could be dispersed via both the male and the female line. . . . Bilateral land transactions between families in Iceland could lead to the erosion of the family estate.”117 That this was not a new concern can be seen from the fact that thirteenth-century chieftains already tended to select principal heirs to reduce the danger of their property being dispersed.118 However, since the bilateral system continued to be used at the same time as the patrilineal one, the division of familial landed property was not prevented completely. While Jónsbók therefore showed a stronger inclination towards and interest in patrilineality, there was no complete, evolutionary change from bilateral to lineal inheritance patterns. Agnes Arnórsdóttir describes instead “waves of change provoked by internal as well as external factors,”119 among which she counts the social organization of the family, and demographic change and church influence, respectively, but which still retained the original bilateral focus of the Icelandic kinship system. However, another issue surrounding property and related to inheritance unfolded at the same time, as Sverrir Jakobsson has shown. He investigates how landed property in Iceland became increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few powerful families over the course of the medieval period. Sverrir identifies two turning points in this development: the introduction of the tithe in 1097,120 and a later development that coincided with the introduction of Jónsbók, as well as with “a change in the reproductive strategies among the elite, which now concentrated in keeping property intact by limiting the number of inheritors.”121 Both of these factors contributed to the development of a manorial system reliant on tenant labor, leading to a more stratified society: as Sverrir notes, “differences in status between men in the fourteenth century increasingly revolved around land ownership.”122 There is therefore, as one may expect, a direct connection between inheritance patterns and larger questions of the transmission and ownership of property, and one that had severe consequences for Icelandic society, creating class divisions that “remained, for the most part, unchanged until the eighteenth century.”123 Finally, it is significant to note that, while no practice of strict primogeniture seems to have existed in medieval Iceland, reflexes of this practice – and the anxieties that seem to have accompanied it – found their reflection in the fornaldarsögur. In this context, Carolyne Larrington discusses the relationship of the three sons of Bjǫrn in Hrólfs saga kraka. She states that the youngest of the brothers achieving the most fame compensates for his “lack of advantage under normal primogeniture rules,” which underlines “a folkloric inversion of normal inheritance expectations.”124 Similarly, Torfi Tulinius discusses the importance of inheritance for the narrative of Hervarar saga, noting that the different

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inheritance strategies depicted in it reflect “þá spennu sem hlýst af þeim breytingum sem eru að eiga sér stað í íslensku þjóðfélagi” (the tension caused by the changes that were taking place in Icelandic society).125 Torfi ties this reflection to the thirteenth century, but as we have seen, it would still have been relevant in the fourteenth, and probably even later, as Agnes Arnórsdóttir has shown. Therefore, there was no complete change towards primogeniture, and thus no complete break with the past, but instead, two complex and often opposing strategies existed that needed to be accommodated at the same time, and this may have led to the same issues we have observed with kinship structures as well – issues that had to be explored. Larrington notes that, in farming communities like medieval Iceland, inheritance patterns were “striving to balance sibling interests with the preservation of the core estate,”126 and it was precisely this balancing act that needed exploration. Wider questions about the transmission and ownership of property also had to be addressed, since both inheritance strategies and property had consequences for the stratification of late medieval Icelandic society. I argue that it is not surprising that these issues needed to be played out not just in the fornaldarsögur, and that this exploration had to go beyond the mere depiction of inheritance disputes in the Íslendingasögur, in the same way that the mere depiction of family quarrels or marriages to which the bride did not consent were not enough either. Instead, a monster had to be introduced to heighten the tensions around these issues, and to therefore offer a clearer representation and exploration of the societal anxieties attached to them. The undead lend themselves particularly well to the exploration of these questions, as is evident in the selfish greed almost all of them exhibit both in life and undeath. As Miller notes, The Norse dead cared about the homes they once owned, and if they were just household members and not homeowners they still showed a great attachment to the personal property they left behind in the place they resided, or even to the place itself. They want to remain where they lived with what they owned. No one cares more about place and property than the dead; that is why they, along with dragons, guard hoards and cairns.127

Their corporeality is intimately tied to this attachment to property, with the heaviness the most destructive of them present after death being the physical sign of their reluctance to let go. This reluctance is especially prominent in Hrappr, whose activities after death are entirely aimed at preserving his property, and who even kills his own son to attain this goal – as Sayers states, “seemingly denying the inheritance right of his son.”128 Hrappr shares this singular focus on property with revenants of the haugbúi type: while they are generally buried with the treasure they guard, their property still ceases to be of use for the living – who gladly take it back when the chance presents itself, as

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can be seen in the case of Kárr.129 Þórólfr, on the other hand, wants to consolidate the kind of power he wished he had attained in life, and he, too, kills a close family member in the process. It bears repeating at this point that revenants are the only characters in the Íslendingasögur who commit such acts, and the fact that these killings are related to their quest for control over the property they owned in life is significant in the context of their antisociality. Greed also plays a prominent role in the Fróðá hauntings, where Þuríðr’s covetousness probably sets the paranormal activity in motion. It is, however, absent in the case of Glámr, who belongs to a different social class and therefore does not seem to own any property that he could be attached to. He still exhibits the same reluctance to let go, the same heaviness that prevents him from being given a proper burial, but – just as with the hauntings in Flóamanna saga – the reasons for this seem to be religious rather than economic. This highlights again the pastness of the undead and their association with paganism, and in this case, the past is one that does not want to let go of the present. This refusal of the undead “to let the living take their place,”130 to let go of what they owned in life, instead holding on with selfish greed, is closely related to the economic disruption they cause. In their antisociality, their unculturedness, they therefore disrupt the fundamental structures of societal reproduction. As Martyn Hudson notes, “the ‘social’ is impossible without the languages, cultures and materials inherited from the dead.”131 But this also means that, if the dead keep hold of the cultures and materials they should have passed on to the next generation, the “social” ceases to exist. The sagas show this clearly: the living can no longer interact with one another, they cannot travel and meet, and their living spaces become unusable when the undead occupy them. Revenants do not just destroy individuals, their kin, and servants; they also destroy the very fabric of society. They embody the consequences of a failure of the most fundamental economic mechanism: that the next generation takes over when the previous one dies. Because of this “congruity between ghosts and an older generation that is reluctant to allow the younger one to take over,”132 the undead are linked to the patrilineal inheritance patterns that became more dominant from the end of the thirteenth century onwards. Threatening the breakdown of these structures, they allowed an exploration of the tensions that arose out of the coexistence of conflicting kinship systems, out of the balancing act between bilateral and lineal needs. In their predations that cover vast territories, they also allow concerns about the concentration of land in the hands of the few to be played out in the safe space of a past that was haunted, and perhaps haunting – a safe space for the exploration of contemporary concerns, of something whose consequences held on to people’s lives like a revenant to his property.

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As Larrington observes, “[w]hen inheritance practice is in the process of change, literary texts lay bare the emotional implications of newly emerging legal provisions as they impact on family relationships.”133 In the case of the undead of the Íslendingasögur, this impact on family relationships goes so far that dead fathers kill their sons, and dead husbands their wives. Thus, this exploration of patterns of inheritance and the consequences of their breakdown, through the bodies of the monstrous, haunting, undead, constitutes yet another way in which fundamental concerns around family structures and societal (re-)production could be explored; it ties in with both the concerns around the stability of kinship ties and the importance and changing meaning of marriage because it relates to both, offering another facet of these issues.134 At the same time, this exploration also relates to concerns about the natural world and human society’s place within it, as its primary focus is on the transmission of land and estates. An investigation of the anxieties surrounding the relationship between humans and the natural world they live in will therefore conclude this chapter.

Magic, Power, and Agency: Humans and the Natural World Just as with berserkir and their sexual threat, or revenants and their monstrous greed, the special relationship of practitioners of magic and the natural world is part and parcel of their expression of monstrosity. I have shown that, without the harmful power they have over the natural world, the economic impact of some magic-users would not exceed that of a regular thief, while others would not have an impact at all; thus, they would be potentially problematic, but not monstrous. Moreover, it is much easier to remove the threat posed by a thief than it is to face malign magicians who use their power to secure their position, as is the case in Laxdœla saga. In their effect on the natural world, these practitioners have a lasting impact on the lives of those in the area, so lasting that it leaves its mark even in the place names and the supernatural associations within the landscape: places like the cursed Brenna or those sites haunted by dead magic-users in Vatnsdœla and Harðar saga bear witness to this impact. Magic in the Íslendingasögur has been used in discussions of agency, and here – as noted at the beginning of chapter five – women’s agency has taken primacy. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir states that “[p]eople try to gain control of the world around them to further their own agenda . . .; in the Íslendingasögur, magic is commonly employed in order to influence events and people,”135 but in the context of her work, she focuses only on women’s magic. However, as I argued above, it is important not to ignore the large number of destructive male practitioners portrayed in the Íslendingasögur. Therefore, while I agree that the

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question of who works magic and for what purpose is a question of agency and power, I do not think it is exclusively one of female agency within a patriarchal society. Rather, through their involvement with and impact on the natural world, magic-users of all genders seem to have agency within and power over the natural world that ordinary people lack. They can conjure up storms, cause landslides and fog, thawing and freezing weather according to what suits their agenda, and this control over land and weather, through the monstrously disruptive purposes to which it is put, shifts the narrative’s focus to the natural world more widely. I argue, therefore, that the concerns and anxieties that could be explored through the figure of the magic-user are also related to the natural world, and especially to the human place within a world that was not always favorably disposed, and never easily controlled. Practitioners of magic, through their monstrosity, shift one’s gaze from the human settlement to the natural world in which it is situated, making one realize that the social is embedded in and part of the natural world, that the two are interconnected and dependent on one another.136 I will therefore explore this interconnectedness before turning to the implications that can be inferred from it and their relationship to magic and agency more generally. In order to do so, however, medieval Iceland first needs to be situated in its environmental context, since its climatic history during the medieval period will emerge as significant in connection with magical control over the natural world. Iceland was settled during the period that has been termed the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), or more recently Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA). This period was characterized by warmer temperatures and a more stable climate, resulting in favorable conditions for a variety of enterprises – including sea voyages, settlement, and agriculture.137 This favorable climate contributed to the level of vegetation encountered by the first settlers, and it allowed the cultivation of grains like barley and oats in northern Iceland.138 However, between the late twelfth and early fourteenth centuries, depending on location, temperatures in all of Europe gradually began to fall, the spread of glaciers resumed, vegetation periods shortened, the altitudinal and longitudinal limits up to which certain crops could be grown lowered, and precipitation increased, which has led this period to be commonly referred to as the Little Ice Age (LIA).139 This period of climatic cooling could be observed throughout Europe, but it did not occur everywhere at the same time or to the same extent. Moreover, the following centuries, up until ca. 1850, were not uniformly cold, but consisted of fluctuations between colder and milder periods.140 Therefore, the term used to refer to this period has been criticized.141 This does not mean, however, that the climate did not deteriorate in comparison to the early and high medieval period, and especially in marginal communities like Iceland, the environmental effects of a worsened climate would quickly have become noticeable.142

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In Iceland, the climatic changes of the late medieval and early modern period are well documented in annals and other documents. From these sources, Ogilvie has extrapolated that the LIA was not necessarily marked by one distinct period of cooling, but by increased variability in weather patterns from the early thirteenth century onwards.143 This transitional period between the MWP and the LIA has been described as marked not so much by intense cold, although there are a number of decades during which extremely cold conditions were recorded,144 but by variability,145 and this was particularly the case during the fourteenth century.146 During this period, for example, sea ice incidence became more frequent but varied considerably between decades, and since sea ice has a strong effect on land and sea temperatures and therefore weather patterns more widely, the weather also varied considerably between years and decades.147 Thus, cold decades were often followed by decades of favorable conditions before deterioration resumed. It has been argued, however, that this variability had a more negative impact on the Icelandic farming society than a period of stable cold weather patterns would have had. McGovern et al. have argued that “even extreme events would have been less systemically damaging than a closely spaced series of less extreme, moderately poor growing seasons,”148 which means that even one extremely bad year would have had a less severe effect on the farming society than the recurring moderately wet and cold years or decades experienced during the late thirteenth, most of the fourteenth, and the late fifteenth centuries.149 This, according to McGovern et al., is largely due to the fact that recurrent moderately poor years and the resulting increased variability in weather patterns lead to decreasing predictability of important variables such as growing seasons or availability of upland pastures. This inability to successfully predict environmental variables in turn leads to inadequate response and coping mechanisms and, therefore, the changed climatic situation has a more severe impact on the local community.150 Ethnographic data on farmers’ perceptions of climate change indicators collected by McKinzey et al. suggests that variability is a marker for a “bad season” or “bad year.”151 This could be due to the fact that variability and unpredictability of weather patterns come to be associated with uncertainty in people’s minds, and uncertainty is causally linked to anxiety.152 This anxiety about a variable and unpredictable environment had to be addressed, and fears about its consequences explored. The changing climate, however, was not the only issue that made life in medieval Iceland increasingly difficult. The human impact on the fragile Icelandic ecosystem, too, had a negative effect on farming and living conditions on the island. A part of this impact was large-scale deforestation. When the first settlers arrived in Iceland, about 30% of it was covered with scrub forests,153 and it can be

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gathered from both the remark in Íslendingabók that “[í] þann tíma vas Ísland viði vaxit” (at that time, Iceland was forested),154 as well as from pollen studies that these forests were largely gone by the twelfth century.155 Deforestation, together with the introduction of grazing animals such as sheep and cattle, led to soil erosion, which – as can be seen from tephra layers – set in around the time of human settlement.156 Some settlements in inland areas also seem to have pushed too far into the fragile ecosystem of the Icelandic highlands, leading to large-scale environmental destruction. One example of such “overshoot” sites is Sveigakot near Mývatn, whose settlement created a subarctic desert through continued soil erosion.157 Icelanders developed strategies to minimize the impact of agriculture, for example by adjusting their stock mix away from pigs and goats,158 but erosion still worsened over time; the increased precipitation and glacial expansion of the LIA especially contributed to later large-scale erosion.159 What made farming life relatively harmless in the early Commonwealth period was particularly what has been termed the “natural capital” of the previously untouched landscape, which provided a buffer against climatic extremes.160 As this natural capital was depleted, environmental changes began to be felt more drastically.161 Ultimately, the combination of human impact and climatic change produced a more severe effect on the Icelandic landscape than either could have done on its own: shortened growing seasons, for example, put increasing pressures on already overgrazed pastures if livestock were left to graze for too long,162 thereby accelerating soil erosion,163 which in turn had implications for landslides. Considered together, therefore, human impact and climatic variability had severe consequences for the Icelandic farming society. As Gunnar Karlsson notes, it is not clear when the impact of the deteriorating environmental circumstances would have been felt in Iceland, but “there are reasons to suppose it was already happening in the Commonwealth period.”164 As has been discussed, there was an awareness of the changed vegetational situation, documentary sources in the late thirteenth century reflect the increased sea-ice incidence,165 and in 1294 King Eiríkr Magnússon issued an amendment to the law code declaring that stockfish exports should be minimized if there was a famine in Iceland.166 Thus, at least from the late thirteenth century onwards, the increased climatic variability seems to have had a noticeable impact on people’s lives. This is due to both Iceland’s subarctic location as well as to the agricultural basis of Icelandic society.167 It has been shown that increases in sea ice have a rapid and devastating effect on grass and therefore hay yields, which is not only the main crop but also the basis of Iceland’s farming system more generally.168 Livestock cannot be kept outside during the winter and need to be fed on hay harvested in the summer. If, however, hay yields were low, the winter was particularly long, or wet weather resulted in

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a spoilt crop, high livestock mortality would ensue.169 This would in turn lead to famine and increased human mortality. Thus, there is a direct causal link between worsened climatic conditions and human survival, and this is evident from the documentary sources.170 Other effects of climatic change were, for example, that glacier expansion (for instance that of Breiðamerkurjökull) threatened farm buildings and in some cases led to farms being abandoned,171 and that increased precipitation in combination with soil erosion raised the risk of landslides.172 There is also documentary and palaeoenvironmental evidence regarding the storminess of the late medieval period.173 Significantly, all of these effects the changing environment had on human life in Iceland correspond to the ways in which practitioners of magic in the Íslendingasögur influence and control the powers of nature. Weather magic is frequently encountered,174 with many practitioners conjuring up storms, but landslides also occur in several sagas, and the family of Kotkell in Laxdœla saga destroy the slope later called Brenna, where “aldregi síðan kom þar gras upp” (grass never afterwards grew).175 Therefore, the way in which environmental change and magic disruption impact the landscape and livelihood of Icelanders both within the sagas and outside of them is closely – and significantly – connected. Thus, the variable climate and the human impact on the landscape led to increasingly difficult conditions under which Icelanders had to fight for survival. Their livelihood was threatened by the changing natural world in the same way that the livelihood of saga characters is threatened by the presence of a magicuser. The environmental changes of the late medieval and early modern period must have seemed to Icelanders as if nature was turning against them. The magic-users of the Íslendingasögur, through their powers and the way they use them in monstrously disruptive ways, actively make nature turn against the local communities, who stand helpless in the face of the forces of destruction, both natural and human. Ordinary humans lack the power to control both the forces of magic as well as the forces of nature, and therefore, to a certain extent, lack the agency to control the course of their own lives – an agency that practitioners of magic make use of for their benefit. Fjǫlkynngi is a way of controlling the uncontrollable, for “the natural world’s capacity for destruction renders it the ultimate model of uncontrollable power.”176 Malevolent practitioners like Kotkell and his family use their control over this power for personal gain, effectively wielding it like a shield against those who are affected by their stealing and want to punish them. Others, like Auðbjǫrg or Ljót, turn nature against humans for the purposes of vengeance, or, like Þorkell silfri, for political gain, while Þuríðr and Þorgrímr nef use their powers for the gain of others. What they all have in common, however, is that they control the forces of nature – a nature that, in itself, left ordinary

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people powerless and without control. Magic-users therefore possess agency in a space where others lack it. Thus, the episodes about monstrous magic were able to provide a stage on which concrete anxieties about the changing and volatile environment could be played out. At the same time, they also provided a means of addressing wider concerns about human agency within the hostile natural world. That this was a pervasive concern for medieval Icelanders can be seen from other episodes in which the natural world impacts human existence, and especially concerns about the environment threatening economic production, and therefore causing famine, are reflected in several texts. In mythology, it is notable that ragnarǫk is not only a time of fratricide, as discussed above, but is also preceded by the terrible fimbulvetr that lasts three years. This is described in Gylfaginning as a time of harsh frost and strong winds without sunlight to thaw,177 and according to Vafþrúðnismál, sts. 44–5, only two humans survive it.178 Thus, a dramatic climate event is closely linked to the end of the known world, and it seems to lead directly to the social devastation of fratricide and the breaking of kinship bonds. Less drastic effects of adverse climatic conditions are also occasionally mentioned in the Íslendingasögur. Famines occur in several sagas,179 and others mention wet summers or cold winters.180 Whether or not these refer to historical occurrences, they show the pervading interest of medieval Icelanders in matters related to weather patterns and their effect on farming and human existence. However, in these instances, famines and unfavorable weather conditions are not only irregular but also natural occurrences, whereas the abrupt changes caused by the variable climate of later centuries might have seemed more like the unnatural gerningaveðr caused by magic-users.181 Thus, while famines and other natural disasters certainly occurred during the earlier Commonwealth period as well,182 with the increasingly harsh conditions, the frequency of their occurrence, and the general variability in weather patterns – leading to a high level of unpredictability – also increased. The destructive impact the uncontrollable natural world had on the lives of Icelanders would have led to greater concern about these issues, and a greater need to address them in some way. I argue that this need was fulfilled through the figure of the magic-user, who, in their monstrosity, has power over the environment that ordinary humans lack. This is not the first time the connection between climatic and environmental change and witchcraft has been made: Behringer has argued for the impact deteriorating climatic conditions had on the development of the crime of witchcraft and its prosecution in the late medieval and early modern period.183 While Iceland had its fair share of witch-hunts in the seventeenth century, the connection between a changing ecosystem and magic

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powers over the natural world seems to have been made much earlier there than on the continent – at least in literature. Icelanders used characters drawn from the pagan past to address their anxieties about the changing environment, and to explore the hostile landscape through a figure more human – and therefore more accessible – than the faceless, incomprehensible, non-human natural world. As has been shown, the lack of predictability and controllability of the increasingly volatile natural world Icelanders found themselves in, and the economic consequences this volatility had for them, were a source of significant anxiety. This anxiety found its reflection in the power magic-users have over this nature, so uncontrollable to ordinary humans. Through their monstrosity, issues of power and agency could be explored, and the fear of the natural world turning against the humans inhabiting it, and ultimately becoming uninhabitable and unprofitable like Brenna, could be addressed. In the end, what can be observed in the context of these characters is that the monstrous intervenes in key relationships that keep human society together: the relationships between humans bound by blood, or tied to each other through marriage, the relationships that govern the transmission of property, as well as the relationship between humans and the natural world they live in. The monster, much like the sword that cuts through Gísli’s family, disrupts these relationships or subverts them: family ties supposed to hold society together fracture because of the presence of the outlaw, berserkir make a mockery of marriage when they take whatever woman they want without consent, revenants prohibit the normal transmission of property between generations, and magic-users control the powers of the natural world to which ordinary humans must usually surrender. The monster thus annihilates the most fundamental social structures, and because of this, it can be used to reflect on what happens if these social structures break down. While I would not argue that these characters were the only way in which such issues could be addressed, in the extremeness of their disruption and therefore of their effect on society, they allow a more overt, poignant exploration of cultural concerns and anxieties. As a transgressor of boundaries, the monster also highlights social and cultural norms: the reaffirmation of the ties of kinship, of consent within marriage and marriage between (societal, cultural) equals, of procreation only within such unions, of the need to let go of and pass on one’s property, and of acceptance of the limited power of human beings within the natural world finds reflection in the exploration of the boundaries crossed by these figures. The monster can therefore be a conservative social force, and, in the hands of the elite that shaped the sagas, it could contribute to the preservation of social institutions such as the agricultural subsistence system, the strict rules against fishing settlements, the

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wintering of foreigners in Iceland, and the gradual accumulation of property. By policing the boundaries society has set itself, the monster strengthens and upholds them. Moreover, since society or its heroes always overcome the monster, people could draw hope from a discourse that constantly reaffirms the stabilizing forces of societal bonds. As we have seen, however, these issues run deeper. On the surface level, there is the highlighting of social norms and expectations. But below that, there is a darkness, one that gives voice to societal fears and cultural anxieties concerning what happens if these norms and expectations no longer hold, if they are breached and collapse. These anxieties are transhistorical and to a certain extent probably transcultural, but in medieval Iceland they took the shape of revenants, outlaws, berserkir, and practitioners of magic.

Notes 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16.

17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.

Meulengracht Sørensen, Sagas and Society, 142. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 4. See also chapter one. Ibid., 5. Mittman, “Impact of Monsters,” 6. See Meulengracht Sørensen, Fortælling og ære, 173, and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “Changing Role of Friendship,” in which he summarizes some of his earlier work on friendship. Lévi-Strauss, “Introduction,” 5. Clunies Ross, “Myth and Society,” 676. Miller, Bloodtaking, 111. Turner, “Anthropological Approach,” 361. Miller cautions against “looking for and finding simple households inhabited by nuclear families in early Iceland”; Bloodtaking, 129. Herlihy, “Medieval Family,” 193. Hastrup, Nature and Policy in Iceland, 48. Nj, 271–72; Íslb, 17. Björn Björnsson, “Icelandic Family System,” 3. Hastrup, Culture and History, 70; Meulengracht Sørensen, Saga and Society, 26–27. Hastrup, Island of Anthropology, 49; Barlau, “Old Icelandic Kinship Terminology,” 200–1. For a summary of the discussion, see Rich, “Problems and Prospects,” esp. 66–67. Meulengracht Sørensen, Saga and Society, 21; Miller, Bloodtaking, 143–45. Miller, Bloodtaking, 155. Guðrún Nordal, Ethics and Action, 29; Torfi Tulinius, Enigma of Egill, 164. Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 109. Miller, Bloodtaking, 160; Guðrún Nordal, Ethics and Action, 45 and 67–68. See Lindow, Murder and Vengeance, 178, and Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 109. Neckel, ed., rev. Kuhn, Vǫluspá, 10, st. 45. Transl. Larrington, Poetic Edda, 9. Guðrún Nordal, Ethics and Action, 68.

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25.

26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47.

48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56.

57.

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However, see below for another instance of filicide recorded in the S version of Gísla saga. An example of fratricide can also be found in Íslb, 8: “Þorvaldr kroppinskeggi, sá es fór síðan í Austfjǫrðu ok brenndi þar inni Gunnar bróður sinn” (Þorvaldr kroppinskeggi, who later went to the Eastfjords and burned his brother Gunnar in his house). Miller, Bloodtaking, 160. See Miller, Bloodtaking, 175. See Meulengracht Sørensen, Fortælling og ære, 171. Meulengracht Sørensen, “Murder in Marital Bed,” 243. Miller, Bloodtaking, 141. On the conflicting loyalties between affinal and blood kin in Gísl, see Karras, “Marriage and the Creation of Kin.” Ldn, 57 and 72. See chapter three. Miller, Bloodtaking, 160. Gísl, ed. Loth, 60. On the importance of pastness, see chapter six. See chapter three. Fbr, 196–97 and 214–19. A similar story is found in Víga-Glúms saga and may have influenced Fbr; Glúm, 40–1 and 66–68; also see Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 211–13. Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 211. Guðrún Nordal, Ethics and Action, 29. Lindow, Murder and Vengeance, 178. Guðrún Nordal, Ethics and Action, 29. See also Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Konur og vígamenn, 70. Cf. Phillpotts, Kindred and Clan, 46. Meulengracht Sørensen, Saga and Society, 31. Miller, Bloodtaking, 128; Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 12. Karras, “Marriage,” 487. Karras also argues that marriage in medieval Iceland, at least as depicted in the literary sources, was not merely an exchange of women, as argued by Rubin in “Traffic in Women.” Instead, according to Karras, women retained some of their rights and the power of male kin over them was not absolute; “Marriage,” 488. Auður Magnúsdóttir, “Ástir og völd,” 6. Herlihy, “Medieval Family,” 200. Miller, Bloodtaking, 170. Bourdieu, “Marriage Strategies,” 122. Miller, Bloodtaking, 170. Bandlien, Strategies of Passion, 4. See Jochens, Women, 24; also Karras, “Marriage,” 479 and 486. See Bandlien, Strategies of Passion, 151–88, and Auður Magnúsdóttir, “Ástir og völd,” 4–5. There has been considerable debate regarding whether a woman’s honor was separate from her male kin’s or not. For a summary, see Bandlien, Strategies of Passion, 86–89, who concludes that they were separate to some extent but overlapped considerably. Bandlien, Strategies of Passion, 88.

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Notes

58.

59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67.

68. 69.

70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76.

77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90. 91.

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Especially not consensual activity; there are a few cases of concubinage, but some of these are non-consensual as well; see Ebel, Der Konkubinat, 30–62; also Karras, Unmarriages, 105–8. Frank, “Marriage in Iceland,” 473–84 and 480; Jochens, Women, 39; Guðrún Nordal, Ethics and Action, 144. Jochens, Women, 38. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Konur og vígamenn, 105. Auður Magnúsdóttir, “Ástir og völd,” 9. Ljungqvist, “Rape in the Icelandic Sagas,” 435. Auður Magnúsdóttir, “Ástir og völd,” 11–12. Guðrún Nordal, Ethics and Action, 29. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, 79. Ibid., 152. This final step in the development was reached with the Stóridómur of 1564–1565, after which recurrent adultery came to be punishable by death; see Gunnar Karlsson, History of Iceland, 135. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women, 124. I examine this in more detail in “Approaching Alterity,” since there are several other cases in the late Íslendingasögur in which issues of consent and its violation are prominently explored. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, 87. Ibid., 110. Jochens, Women, 48. For depictions of (non-)consensual relationships across saga genres, see Jochens, “Consent in Marriage.” Nj, 31. Miller, Bloodtaking, 208. Cf. Oliver, Hunting Girls. As shown in legal cases, see Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, 109. She argues that this conflict was only a temporary sign of the ultimate compromise reached between old marriage rules based on parental consent, and the new legislation based on personal consent. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, 152; see also Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women, 124. There is also a Russian berserkr, who appears in the company of a Swede in GullÞ, 191. Eg, 201–6; see also chapter four. Ibid., 206. As has been argued by Foote, although Sverrir Jakobsson does not think there is enough evidence for this claim; see above, and chapter two. Eg, 201; Eb, 71; GullÞ, 191. Sverrir Jakobsson, “Strangers,” 148. Ljungqvist, “Rape in the Icelandic Sagas,” 441. Ibid., 439. Sverrir Jakobsson, “Strangers,” 148. Ibid., 150. Gunnar Karlsson, History of Iceland, 92. Ibid., 124. Hastrup, Nature and Policy, 111. Gunnar Karlsson, History of Iceland, 125 and 142.

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92. 93. 94.

95. 96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102.

103.

104. 105.

106. 107. 108. 109. 110. 111. 112. 113. 114. 115. 116.

117. 118. 119. 120. 121. 122.

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Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women, 132. Grg, §118, 224. Legislation prohibiting the marriage of poor people existed in the medieval period, resulting in large numbers of unmarried people living together, as Guðrún argues; Ethics and Action, 145. While the church must have campaigned against these laws, the census of 1703 also shows a high rate of unmarried people, suggesting that rules prohibiting the marriage and procreation of poor people, and thus the creation of paupers, existed throughout much of Icelandic history; see Gísli Gunnarsson, “Fertility and Nuptiality.” di Renzo Villata, “Introduction,” xv. See Picketty, Evolution of Inheritance, 4–5 and 78, and the OECD report “The Role and Design of Net Wealth Taxes in the OECD,” 98–101. Barriero, “Generalogy, Labour and Land,” 36. Vatn, 97. Byock, “Inheritance and Ambition.” Ricketts, “Grandmothers,” 184. See Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 26–29. A patrilineal organization tends to result in the transmission of property between generations, whereas bilateral kinship structures prefer to transmit property within the same generation through marriage; see Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, 31. It is again impossible to tell to what extent these laws were actually followed, and Agnes Arnórsdóttir draws attention to the fact that the inheritance strategies depicted in Sturlunga saga are often in conflict with the laws of Grágás; Konur og vígamenn, 90–98. Grg, §118, 218–19. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Konur og vígamenn, 87; women could not sell land without approval of their guardian, and they were not allowed to actually carry the title of goði even though they owned the goðorð. Grg, §118, 221. Miller, Bloodtaking, 128. Gísl, 34. Miller, “Householding,” 334. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Konur og vígamenn, 80. Jb, V, 7, 97. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, 215. Ibid., 117. Jb, V, 1, 85. See also Bandlien, Strategies of Passion, 243. Jb, V, 7, 97. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, 410–11. The question of whether the concept of höfuðból was derived from Norwegian ideas about óðal is not directly relevant to my discussion and will therefore not be addressed at this point. On óðal and its connection to aðal- and höfuðból, see Byock, Medieval Iceland, 99–101. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, 407. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Konur og vígamenn, 81. Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, 422. Sverrir Jakobsson, “Reciprocity to Manorialism,” 278 and 286. Ibid., 285. Ibid., 284.

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Notes

123. 124. 125. 126. 127. 128. 129. 130. 131. 132. 133. 134.

135. 136. 137. 138. 139. 140. 141. 142. 143. 144. 145. 146. 147. 148. 149. 150. 151. 152. 153. 154. 155. 156. 157. 158. 159. 160. 161.

207

Ibid., 285. Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 64. Torfi Tulinius, “Þróun erfðaréttar,” 82. Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 27. Miller, “Home and Homelessness,” 128. Sayers, “Unquiet Dead,” 246. Gr, 60. Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 290. Hudson, Ghosts, Landscapes, xv. Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampires and Watchmen,” 291. Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, 133. Laqueur, with reference to the eighteenth-century philosopher Giambattista Vico, notes that taking care of the dead is one of the three universal institutions of humanity. “The other two – matrimony and religion – are bound up with the dead: marriage binds the living to generations past (the ancestors) and generations to come (the yet unborn). It is the primal lex – the law of genealogy – that creates the family or the clan as an institution and connects its progeny with the dead”; Work of the Dead, 89. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, “Women’s Weapons,” 414. Cf. Rudd, Greenery, 7. Ogilvie and McGovern, “Sagas and Science,” 392. Hoffmann, Environmental History, 334. For a summary of the developments of these periods, see Hoffmann, Environmental History, 319–28. Grove, Little Ice Age, 5. Also see Ogilvie, “Changes in the Climate of Iceland.” For a detailed discussion, see Ogilvie and Trausti Jónsson, “Little Ice Age Research.” See also Buckland et al., “Fate of Norse Farmers,” 88. See Stötter and Wilhelm, “Iceland’s Role for Investigating Environmental Change,” 1. Ogilvie, “Climatic Changes,” esp. 247–49. For a summary, see Ogilvie, “Climatic Changes,” 247–49. McKinzey et al., “Perception, History and Science,” 319. Hoffmann, Environmental History, 323. On sea ice, see Massé et al., “Abrupt Climate Changes.” See also Ogilvie, “Past Climate,” esp. 133, for a discussion of effects of sea ice incidence on the weather. McGovern et al., “Landscapes of Settlement,” 44. Ogilvie, “Past Climate,” 141; Massé et al., “Abrupt Climate Changes,” 568. McGovern et al., “Landscapes of Settlement,” 44–45. McKinzey et al., “Perception, History and Science,” 322. See Grupe and Nitschke, “Uncertainty and Anticipation in Anxiety.” Ogilvie and Gísli Pálsson, “Weather and Climate,” 258. Íslb, 5; emphasis mine. Ogilvie and McGovern, “Sagas and Science,” 388. Amorosi et al., “Raiding the Landscape,” 496. McGovern et al., “Landscapes of Settlement,” 39. Ogilvie and McGovern, “Sagas and Science,” 388. McKinzey et al., “Perception, History and Science,” 331. Amorosi et al., “Raiding the Landscape,” 509. Ogilvie and McGovern, “Sagas and Science,” 392.

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208

162. 163. 164. 165. 166. 167. 168. 169. 170. 171. 172. 173. 174. 175. 176. 177. 178. 179. 180. 181. 182. 183.

7 Reading Monstrosity

Amorosi et al., “Raiding the Landscape,” 498. McGovern et al., “Landscapes of Settlement,” 41. Gunnar Karlsson, History of Iceland, 51. Ogilvie, “Climate Change,” 240–42. Ibid., 242, and Gunnar Karlsson, Iceland’s 1100 Years, 106. Amorosi et al. note that the Icelandic “pasture plant communities were closer to their environmental limits”; “Raiding the Landscape,” 495. Ogilvie, “Sea-Ice Record,” 133; Ogilvie, “Impact of Climate,” 346. On the impact of weather on hay yield more generally, see Grove, Little Ice Age, 395–96. Ogilvie, “Climate Change,” 242–44; annals and other sources like Lárentíus saga link sea ice, severe weather, and famine throughout. Grove, Little Ice Age, 41. Ogilvie and McGovern, “Sagas and Science,” 390. Ogilvie, “Climate Change,” 242–44; Buckland et al., “Fate of Norse Farmers,” 94; McGovern et al., “Landscapes of Settlement,” 44. See Ogilvie and Gísli Pálsson, “Weather and Witchcraft.” Laxd, 109. Neville, Natural World, 56. Faulkes, ed., Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, 49. Neckel, ed., rev. Kuhn, Vafþrúðnismál, 53. Nj, 121; Gr, 28; Vápnf, 47; Ljós, 117; Eir, 206; Dpl, 149. E.g., Fbr, 143; HÞs, 11. On this connection between the unnaturalness of the natural world and monsters, see Neville, Natural World, 71. Massé et al., “Abrupt Climate Changes,” 568; Ogilvie, “Climatic Changes,” 239. Behringer, “Climatic Change and Witch-Hunting.” He dates the beginning of official recognition of weather magic to the late fourteenth century; 336.

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Conclusion: Writing a Monstrous Past Monsters, it emerges, are good to think with. Their presence allows cultures to explore issues that concern them, anxieties that plague them, and fears that haunt them. In medieval Iceland, monsters look different – are different – from the physical forms they take elsewhere, but they are just as troubling. Their disruptive influence on the communities they haunt, and the fact that they cannot be contained by anything except the land itself, are troubling. Their closeness to humanity in their own ambiguous humanness also renders them uncannier than the monstrous races, for example, could ever be: for in addition to the concerns addressed in chapter seven, they also invite an investigation of what it means to be human, of where one can draw the line that delimits humanness. The exploration of this question is particularly visible in the case of outlaws, who can act for society’s benefit as well as harm it, but even with berserkir like Halli and Leiknir this question can arise: why is speaking dróttkvætt poetry not enough to qualify one as a member of society? MacCormack posits that “we are all, and must be, monsters because none are template humans. The human is an ideal that exists only as a referent to define what deviates from it.”1 This is not true for medieval Iceland: what is human is what the majority perceives as human. What is monstrous is an aberration from this norm of collective perception, something that behaves in ways that destabilize society, giving the majority cause to perceive it as monstrous. Ultimately, therefore, my analysis also shows how easy it is to “Other” people and to strip them of their humanity: if viewed in the “right” way, if perceived as disruptive, the single mother next door turns into a dangerous witch, the farmer’s son across the valley becomes a destructive outlaw, and the excessively strong warrior emerges as a monstrous berserkr. My analysis also reveals the presence of figures in the Íslendingasögur that embody all those destructive and antisocial tendencies and desires in human nature that cannot be allowed to exist if society is to remain stable. Through externalization, these tendencies can ultimately be addressed and challenged. As observed at the end of chapter seven, monsters are conservative forces whose infectiousness warns all those who come close to their transgressive behavior of the fate that awaits them. Ultimately, the social monsters of the Íslendingasögur are therefore “monster[s] of prohibition [who] police the boundaries of the possible,” as Cohen puts it,2 ensuring that those boundaries are not transgressed. In the Íslendingasögur, therefore, the monstrousness of certain characters is indubitable. Because of their disruptive actions and their paranormal associations, revenants, outlaws, berserkir, and most magic-users are perceived as monstrous. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-008

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If humans produce society, social monsters become the anti-human, for they disrupt, destroy, and annihilate society and its processes of stabilization through their actions. When the monster no longer destroys but helps to (re-)build social structures, like Þórir does when he fosters Þorkell, it is no longer monstrous – public perception of the monster has been altered. Furthermore, characters like Grettir can move between the monstrous and the social, never fully belonging to either. Monstrosity, therefore, should be conceived of as fluidly operating along a spectrum of monstrous difference rather than as a fixed and stable concept. Moreover, I would argue that the etic concept “monster” ultimately tells us something about the emic troll: that at least the human subset of the characters referred to as troll were more than magically sustained, antisocial “Others.”3 Their paranormal connections – to the non-human “Other,” to the animalistic, and to the paranormal realm transcending the ordinary human world – are deeper and more complex than magical association alone. Human troll “prey on normal living people and infect them with their abnormal nature,”4 but in this, the crossing of both ontological boundaries and behavioral norms is vital. Berserkir only infect because they transgress the norms that regulate non-consensual intercourse, and even if they woo rather than rape, their transgression of the ontological boundary between human and animal is threat enough. Outlaws prey on normal people because they are not confined by the social mechanisms of reciprocation, and they come to be associated with the malign paranormal through the spaces – both physical and psychological – in which they move. Practitioners of magic have access to and control over both the realm of ordinary human experience as well as the paranormal and the natural worlds, and this power renders them uncontrollable and threatening. Revenants, through their mere existence, are a threat to human life because they transgress a boundary that should never be crossed, and this enables them to drain humans of their very humanity. Thus, human troll are more than the “andstæðu við rétta þekkingu, við rétta trú, við samfélagið og við lögmálið” (opposition to the right knowledge, the right faith, society and the law),5 although this opposition to and disruption of social order is an essential part of their nature. It is, however, their transgressiveness that facilitates this antisociality, and therefore, the crossing of ontological boundaries has to be considered when dealing with troll, at least those of the human variety. All these characters run through the Íslendingasögur like a thread of disruption and paranormal transgression, testifying to the pervasive interest medieval Icelanders had in them. Because of their ubiquity, they are an intrinsic part of the past depicted in the Íslendingasögur, and thus play a key role in the re-imagining and interpreting of that past. The imagination of medieval Icelanders turned that past into a “usable, . . . functionally relevant past” that could be used to address the concerns of the present.6 Both this imagined

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past, and the imagining present, as well as the monsters that are firmly situated within the past, are characterized by a certain amount of “ontological uncertainty”:7 the past is a liminal space of religious and social transition, and the present is a time of further social and climatic change, a time of crisis. The monster that arises out of this time is a transgressive hybrid that crosses the boundaries of the paranormal and the limits of time and space, demanding to communicate, to be read across the gap it inhabits “between the time of upheaval that created it and the moment into which it is received.”8 In this context of ambiguity and uncertainty, through this link between periods and characters, and against the backdrop of a past just distant enough to constitute a safe space, the sociocultural concerns of the present in which the Íslendingasögur were composed and disseminated could be explored. Thus, anxieties surrounding the fragility of kinship ties, marriage and consent, inheritance and the transmission of property, and the place of humans in the natural world could be addressed through the figures of outlaws, berserkir, revenants, and magic-users. By giving space to the monster, the creature that arises at times of crisis,9 by using it as a cultural tool, these issues could be staged in an overt fashion. Therefore, the past becomes useful for the needs of the present, a present that needs to explore fundamental concerns about the reality of life within nature as well as human culture. But the reimagined past of the Íslendingasögur never lost its usefulness; the sagas never lost their appeal – and neither did the monsters within them. There are a variety of directions in which my findings could be taken. One possibility would be to extend them to try and account for other characters who are referred to as troll, and to explore in what way their transgressions and social interactions influence their trollishness. This would productively complement studies of ethnic “Others” that are currently being conducted.10 Another area into which my work could be expanded would be by tracing the characters I have discussed across saga genres. As noted in chapter four, the berserkir of the fornaldarsögur behave very differently from those of the Íslendingasögur, and the same can be said for revenants and magic-users. Outlaws are a recurring feature of the samtíðarsögur, whose density of paranormal occurrences is generally much lower, with dreams taking over perhaps in a way similar to the internalization of the paranormal in Gísla saga. It would also be interesting to see what happens in the riddarasögur under the influence of continental romance. Moreover, the concept of social monstrosity could potentially be adapted to other (medieval) literatures, supplementing the notions of physical monstrosity that have long dominated teratology. Finally, and most productively, the triangulation of the individual, the paranormal, and society that I discussed in connection with the monstrous can be extended as an approach to the Íslendingasögur more generally, and to the so-called “post-classical” sagas in particular. This group of

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sagas has been characterized by the duality between exaggerated heroes and the paranormal opponents they fight, with little consideration for social concerns.11 My analysis of sagas like Grettis saga, Harðar saga, and Svarfdæla saga, which all fall into the category of late or “post-classical” Íslendingasögur, has shown that this view does not do these narratives justice, and such prejudices need to be revised. This revision will also allow these neglected, non-canonical texts to be integrated into the larger reading of sagas as reflecting and reimagining the past for the needs of the present.12 The monster always returns from the margins to haunt the culture that produced it, and in the same way, the revenants, outlaws, berserkir, and magicusers of the Íslendingasögur, along with other paranormal phenomena, returned incessantly throughout the sagas’ transmission history, and are still returning to haunt their audiences, to point towards the concerns they once represented and continue to represent. For questions of family ties, marriage, the intrusion of outsiders, anxieties about property, and matters of agency over both the human and the natural world are questions that seem to lie at the heart of human civilization, concerns that, at times of crisis, return with the monster that embodies them. Nowadays, questions are being asked that resemble the issues I explored in chapter seven: some people feel threatened by a changing world in which conjugal ties may not always be between a man and a woman, as they still were a few decades ago; in which migration is viewed as annihilating western hegemony on its own territory; in which the integrity of the female body seems to some to be endangered by the presence of men of color or a different faith; and in which foreigners are perceived as a threat to “native” life – all of which results in an increasing divide of the world into “Us” and “Them” based largely on a fear of the unknown; a world, finally, in which climate change imperils the continued existence of civilization as we have come to know it. Different monsters – most notably zombies, but also the “swarms of migrants” – refugees – crossing the Mediterranean are used to embody these anxieties, but the anxieties themselves have largely remained the same – even if the humans who are monstrified in our time embody fears that, with the exception of climate change, are unfounded and thus mostly represent the fear of a changed, more diverse and inclusive society. Still, the mechanisms of dehumanization are the same. Therefore, the sagas – and their monsters – continue to speak to audiences today. They speak of trauma, crisis, and death, of desire and a promise of the past left unfulfilled, of the outside and of all those spaces that are different from ordinary human experience. They speak of human beings and human fears, bridging the gap between past and present. And they, like all monsters, demand to be read across time and space, revealing their origin in an experience of life shared across the ages.

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Notes

Notes MacCormack, “Posthuman Teratology,” 294; emphasis original. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 13. Cf. Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampire Killers,” 310, and “Trollish Acts,” 54. Ármann Jakobsson, “Vampire Killers,” 310. Ármann Jakobsson, “Hvað er tröll?,” 110. Fentress and Wickham, Social Memory, 146. Torfi Tulinius, “Saga as Myth,” 529. Cohen, “Monster Culture,” 4. Ibid., 6. See Arngrímur Vídalín, “Racism.” Vésteinn Ólason, “Fantastic Element,” 10, 20. Sävborg, “Den ‘efterklassiska’ islänningasagan,” critiques this approach. 12. I recently began work on a project devoted to a new reading of these late Íslendingasögur; first findings are forthcoming in “Approaching Alterity.”

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

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Abbreviations Bárð Bergb Dpl Eb Eg Eir Fbr Finnb Flat Flj Flóam GDýr Gísl Glúm Gr Grg Grœn GullÞ GunnK Gunnl Harð Háv Heið HÞs Íslb Ísls Jb Korm Laxd Ldn Ljós Nj Reykd Svarfd Vatn Vápnf Vǫls Yng Þórð

– Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss – Bergbúa þáttr – Droplaugarsona saga – Eyrbyggja saga – Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar – Eiríks saga rauða – Fóstbrœðra saga – Finnboga saga ramma – Flateyjarbók – Fljótsdæla saga – Flóamanna saga – Guðmundar saga dýra – Gísla saga Súrssonar – Víga-Glúms saga – Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar – Grágás – Grœnlendinga saga – Gull-Þóris saga – Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls – Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu – Harðar saga ok Hólmverja – Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings – Heiðarvíga saga – Hœnsa-Þóris saga – Íslendingabók – Íslendinga saga – Jónsbók – Kormáks saga – Laxdœla saga – Landnámabók – Ljósvetninga saga – Njáls saga – Reykdœla saga – Svarfdæla saga – Vatnsdœla saga – Vápnfirðinga saga – Vǫlsunga saga – Ynglinga saga – Þórðar saga hreðu

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Bibliography Abbreviations ANF JEGP LSE

– Arkiv för nordisk filologi – Journal of English and Germanic Philology – Leeds Studies in English

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Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar. In Íslenzk fornrit VII, edited by Guðni Jónsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1936. Guðmundar saga dýra. In Sturlunga saga I, edited by Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn. 2 vols. Reykjavík: Sturlungaútgáfan, 1946. Gull-Þóris saga. In Íslenzk fornrit XIII, edited by Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1991. Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls. In Íslenzk fornrit XIV, edited by Jóhannes Halldórsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1959. Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu. In Íslenzk fornrit III, edited by Sigurður Nordal and Guðni Jónsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1938. Harðar saga ok Hólmverja. In Íslenzk fornrit XIII, edited by Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1991. Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings. In Íslenzk fornrit VI, edited by Björn K. Þórólfsson and Guðni Jónsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1943. Heiðarvíga saga. In Íslenzk fornrit III, edited by Sigurður Nordal and Guðni Jónsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1938. Hœnsa-Þóris saga. In Íslenzk fornrit III, edited by Sigurður Nordal and Guðni Jónsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1938. Íslendinga saga. In Sturlunga saga I, edited by Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn. 2 vols. Reykjavík: Sturlungaútgáfan, 1946. Íslendingabók, Landnámabók. In Íslenzk fornrit I, edited by Jakob Benediktsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1986. Íslendingabók, Kristni saga. Translated by Siân Grønlie. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2006. Jónsbók: The Laws of Later Iceland. Edited and translated by Jana Schulman. Saarbrücken: A-Q-Verlag, 2010. Klaeber's Beowulf: Fourth Edition. Edited by R.D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Kormáks saga. In Íslenzk fornrit VIII, edited by Einar Ól. Sveinsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1939. Larrington, Carolyne, trans. The Poetic Edda. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Laxdœla saga. In Íslenzk fornrit V, edited by Einar Ól. Sveinsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1934. Ljósvetninga saga. In Íslenzk fornrit X, edited by Björn Sigfússon. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1940. Njáls saga. In Íslenzk fornrit XII, edited by Einar Ól. Sveinsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1954. Reykdœla saga. In Íslenzk fornrit X, edited by Björn Sigfússon. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1940. Shippey, Tom, ed. Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English. Cambridge: Brewer, 1976. Snorri Sturluson. Edda. Edited by Anthony Faulkes. 2nd ed. 3 vols. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2005. Svarfdæla saga. In Íslenzk fornrit IX, edited by Jónas Kristjánsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1956. Vatnsdœla saga. In Íslenzk fornrit VIII, edited by Einar Ól. Sveinsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1939.

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Index This index includes the major themes of the study, the titles of all primary texts, the names of all monstrous characters discussed, terminology used for monstrous characters, important places, and the names of scholars whose work has significantly influenced my argument abuse 54–57, 61–62, 77, 90, 92, 110–115, 117, 132–134, 142 – child 54–57, 92 – emotional 55–56, 61, 71 – sexual 11, 74, 102, 108, 110–115, 117, 120, 121, 149, 158–159, 184–189, 210 agency 126, 127, 188, 196–197, 200–202, 212 Agnes S. Arnórsdóttir 185, 186, 192–194, 204–206 Ahola, Joonas 29, 90, 91, 98 alterity 11, 26, 27, 187 (see also: “Otherness”) ambiguity 3, 15, 29, 55, 82, 84, 162, 164, 211 Amory, Frederic 28, 53, 66, 91, 94, 97, 171 andvaragestr 84, 157 animals 1, 7, 22, 16, 25, 33, 36, 38–39, 42, 45, 54–56, 77, 84, 98, 101, 103–107, 113, 117, 119, 129, 137–39, 199, 210 – association with 83–84, 102, 105, 138–139, 167, 168, 210 anxiety 6, 10, 20, 23, 45, 152, 179, 181–183, 186–188, 191–197, 201–203, 209–212 aptrgǫngur 8, 34, 38, 40, 41 Aristotle 7 Ármann Jakobsson 8, 15, 24, 25, 43, 46–49, 54, 92, 93, 119–121, 145, 146, 162, 166, 173, 207, 213 Ásgautr 119 attachment 59, 61, 70, 194 – theory of 93 Augustine 7 Auðbjǫrg 131, 136, 139, 140, 141, 142, 159, 164, 200 Bandlien, Bjørn 113, 121, 122, 204, 206 Bárekr 104, 119, 173 Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss 22, 47, 119, 145 Bárðr stirfinn 129

behavior 8, 11, 16–19, 26, 28, 35, 39–41, 43, 48, 52, 54–56, 59, 62, 65, 69, 74, 85, 99, 102, 104–109, 113, 114, 117, 133, 150, 152–155, 159, 160, 162, 166, 168, 169, 209, 210 Beowulf (character) 72, 160 Beowulf 7, 29, 75, 96 Bergbúa þáttr 7, 25 berserkr 1, 3, 7, 9, 12, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21–23, 25, 31, 34, 45, 47, 73, 74, 84, 86, 87, 90, 91, 96, 99, 101–123, 125, 128, 131, 133, 141, 149, 151, 155, 158–159, 161, 163–165, 168–169, 173, 176, 183–189, 190, 196, 202, 203, 205, 209–212 – animalistic behavior 105–106 – contagion 102, 106–108, 113–115, 185–186 – economic impact 102, 109–110 – as foreigners 34, 47, 187–189 – as rapist 3, 74, 99, 102–103, 108, 110–115, 120, 122, 158, 184–189, 196 – terminology 102–105 – transgression 12, 16, 102–106 berserksgangr 101–108, 117, 118–120, 151, 158, 165, 168 Bjarkamál 166 Bjǫrn inn blakki 111, 112, 116, 158, 173 Bjǫrn járnhauss 115, 116, 119, 122 blámenn 9, 15, 25, 118 Blaney, Benjamin 29, 110, 121 body 2, 4, 10–11, 15, 16, 28, 38, 39, 44–45, 87–89, 108, 111, 112, 116, 138, 141, 212 boundary-crossing (see: transgression) Breiðamerkurjökull 200 Brenna 134, 140, 196, 200, 202 burial 36, 44–46, 49, 87–90, 99, 116, 117, 126, 141–142, 163–164, 167, 194–195 childhood 53, 54, 57, 59, 62, 90, 131, 180, 183 (see also: abuse)

https://doi.org/10.1515/9781501514227-011

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children 54–59, 64, 71, 74, 75, 92, 94, 108, 114, 161, 180, 183, 185, 189, 191, 192 – legitimate 191–192 – illegitimate 185–186, 189, 192 Christianity 1, 7, 36, 39, 40, 46, 48, 82, 89, 125, 144, 159, 165, 169, 170, 173, 177 – conversion to 2, 5–6, 42, 136, 152, 169–170, 177 climate change 197–201, 211–212 Clunies Ross, Margaret 2, 23, 24, 63, 94, 177, 203 Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome 2, 6, 9–13, 20, 24, 26–29, 33, 46, 98, 118, 203, 209, 213 concubinage 185–186, 205 contagion 11, 43–45, 73–76, 78, 81, 83, 87, 88, 90, 96, 102, 106–108, 113–115, 117, 126, 131–132, 149, 157, 168, 185–186 contamination (see: contagion) culture 1, 2, 4, 5, 9–15, 18, 20, 31, 33, 38, 45, 46, 51, 74, 101, 105, 110, 117, 129, 130, 134, 138, 143, 167, 175, 187, 195, 209, 211, 212 Dale, Roderick 103, 105, 109, 117–123, 173 death 11, 16, 27, 31–39, 43–45, 49, 52, 57–62, 64, 66–71, 74, 75, 80–83, 86–90, 97, 105, 108, 114, 116–117, 118, 131, 134, 138–142, 147, 154, 156, 159, 161, 163–164, 167–168, 171, 178, 179, 182, 187, 190, 194, 205, 212 – by beheading 45, 87–88, 141, 163 – by burning 45, 74 – by dismemberment 87, 116, 163 – by execution 141 – by hanging 141 – by one’s own sword 81, 87 – by stoning 141 Dillmann, François-Xavier 142–146 dólgr 77, 157, 159, 160, 162, 168 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1 dragons 7, 9, 11, 27, 194 Drangey 57, 77, 87, 88, 153, 157 draugr 8, 34, 46, 47 dreams 58, 67, 72–74, 81–82, 93, 98, 137, 154, 211 Droplaugarsona saga 208

economy 38, 71, 79, 86, 90, 109, 177, 190, 192, 201–202 – impact on 3, 18, 38, 42–45, 49, 56, 71, 74, 76–79, 83, 85, 86, 88–90, 102, 109– 110, 112, 115, 117, 126, 132–135, 137, 139, 149, 157, 158, 175, 195, 196 Egill Skalla-Grímsson 54, 101, 106–108, 111, 116, 146, 155, 187, 190 Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar 21, 24, 91, 101, 102, 104, 107, 118–123, 146, 155, 171, 187, 190, 205 Eiríks saga rauða 7, 25, 46, 127, 144, 145, 172, 208 environment 4, 55, 117, 129, 135–141, 197–202 (see also: natural world) Eyrbyggja saga 21, 22, 24, 36, 39, 40, 41, 46–49, 88, 96, 99, 104–106, 112–113, 119–123, 128, 131, 144–147, 161, 170–172, 205 eðli 105–107, 109, 113, 115, 117, 151, 159, 189 family 2, 9, 19, 21, 22, 35, 45, 47, 51–71, 72, 74, 80, 81, 83, 90, 106–109, 112–114, 131–135, 139, 140, 145, 149, 153–156, 159, 162, 164, 165, 172, 176–196, 200, 202–203, 207, 212 (see also: kinship structure) – affinal 62, 63, 67, 180–182 – blood 62, 63, 80, 180–182 – conflict in 9, 53, 57–58, 60, 68, 178, 179, 183, 194 – fictive 62, 63, 182 – fragmentation 71, 180–183, 196 – horizontal 60, 63–71 – loyalty 53, 63, 80, 81, 178–180, 204 – ties of 53, 60, 83, 176, 177, 181, 182, 202, 212 – vertical 53–63, 67, 71 famine 199, 200, 201, 208 fantastic 2, 23 father 22, 35, 47, 49, 53–63, 64, 68, 69, 75, 93, 106–108, 114, 120, 131, 150, 154, 171, 176, 181–183, 186, 188, 189, 192, 196 (see also: family) fifteenth century 1, 23, 188, 198 filicide 181, 182, 204 Finnboga saga ramma 104, 119

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Index

fjǫlkunnig/r 86, 127, 131, 137, 138, 168 fjǫlkynngi 76, 97, 127, 129, 130, 132, 143, 159, 200 Flateyjarbók 84, 98 Fljótsdæla saga 104, 119 Flóamanna saga 21, 39–41, 44, 48, 49, 119, 121, 123, 195 Foote, Peter 24, 47, 98, 171, 205 fornaldarsögur 5, 7, 28, 101, 104, 193, 194, 211 Forsæludalr 36, 75, 76 Fóstbrœðra saga 21, 22, 54, 61, 68, 69, 82, 83–86, 94, 95, 98–99, 128, 134, 144, 145, 150, 151, 165, 170–172, 181, 182, 204, 208 fourteenth century 4, 22, 183, 186, 192, 193, 194, 197, 198, 208 Frankenstein 1 fratricide 178, 181–183, 201, 204 frœði 127, 135 Fróðá 21, 39–45, 75, 165, 195 Galdra-Heðinn 136 Galti 119 Gautr 119 Geirríðr 25, 128, 131, 134, 159, 163 Geirshólmr 51, 66, 74, 75, 78, 79, 80 Geirþjófsfjǫrðr 70, 81 gender 28, 125–126, 186, 191, 192, 197 genealogy 55, 63, 107, 108, 121, 170, 177, 181, 207 gerningaveðr 129, 136, 146, 201 Gerpla 82 giants 9, 11, 13, 22, 28, 87, 170 Gísla saga Súrssonar 21, 22, 24, 25, 57, 60, 63, 66, 69, 70, 74, 79–82, 83, 93–99, 111, 119–123, 130, 136, 140, 145, 146, 151, 153, 171, 173, 178, 179–182, 191, 204, 206, 211 – versions 22, 23, 29, 60–61 Gísli Súrsson 3, 21, 22, 25, 51, 52, 54, 60–66, 68, 70, 72–74, 79–82, 89, 90, 95, 96, 98, 131, 136, 137, 139, 153, 154, 156, 159, 162, 164, 168, 172, 180–182, 191, 202 – youth 60 – death 61, 82, 89 – outlawry 61, 64, 79–80, 137

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– poetry 61, 82 Glæsir 33, 45 Glámr 21, 34–39, 43, 44, 47, 48, 49, 57, 73, 75–77, 88, 89, 91, 96, 195 Grágás 16, 17, 28, 51, 91, 110, 121, 191, 192, 206 greed 32, 35–37, 43, 59, 86, 133, 176, 194, 195, 196 Greenland 21, 39–42, 44, 86, 89, 166 Grendel 7, 17, 19, 25, 29, 72, 75, 160 Grettir Ásmundarson 3, 9, 17, 19, 21, 25, 26, 29, 35–37, 43, 44, 48, 49, 51, 52, 54–62, 64, 67, 68, 70, 72–82, 83, 85, 86–89, 91–93, 96, 97, 99, 107, 109, 111, 112, 116, 117, 134, 138, 139, 145, 153, 154, 156, 157, 159–165, 168–170, 171, 181, 210 – childhood 54–57 – death 86–88, 134, 163 – fight with Glámr 43–44, 49, 73, 91 – fluidity 168–169 – outlawry 57, 68, 72–79, 88, 157, 160, 161 Grettis saga Ásmunarsonar 21, 47–49, 54, 75, 80, 82, 90–99, 102, 109, 110, 119–123, 134, 146, 158, 161, 165, 171–173, 181, 183, 186, 188, 207, 208, 212 Gríma 85, 129, 131, 132, 141, 142 Gróa 131, 136, 140, 147, 159, 173 Grœnlendinga saga 46 Gull-Þóris saga 119, 205 Gunnar Karlsson 145, 199, 205, 208 Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls 104, 119 Gunnhildr 146, 190 Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu 119, 123 Gunnsteinn 104, 119 Guðmundar saga dýra 112, 122 Guðrún Nordal 182, 183, 203–206 Gylfaginning 201, 208 hall 17, 36, 41, 43, 48, 55, 74, 75 Hallbjǫrn 131, 139, 140, 141, 146 Halli 21, 22, 98, 104–106, 112–113, 116, 119, 120, 151, 161, 164, 187, 209 hamr 102–105, 107, 119 – compounds of 103–105, 107 – einhamr 59, 97, 102–104, 119 – hamrammr 102–104, 107, 119, 155

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Hárbarðsljóð 113, 122 Harðar saga ok Hólmverja 3, 21, 47, 57, 60, 65, 78, 80, 88, 93–99, 119, 134, 138, 144–147, 161, 171–173, 179–181, 196, 212 Hastrup, Kirsten 28, 51, 91, 132, 144, 145, 188, 203, 205 haugbúi 47, 118, 194 Haukadalr 80 Haukar 119, 120 haunting 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 15, 17, 21, 31–45, 72, 73, 75, 77, 87, 89, 90, 134, 140, 141, 146, 151, 156, 159, 170, 175, 178, 190, 195, 196, 209, 212 Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings 91, 119 Hebrides 21, 22, 34, 47, 120 Heiðarvíga saga 21, 22, 104, 113, 116, 119, 120, 123 Helgi Harðbeinsson 119, 163 hero 39, 47, 61–62, 64, 88, 90, 109, 117, 159, 162, 164, 169, 170, 203, 212 Hervarar saga 193 Hœnsa-Þóris saga 193 Hoffmann, Richard C. 207 honor 60–62, 64, 65, 78, 85, 109, 112, 114, 115, 152–154, 166, 173, 185, 189, 204 Hörðr Grímkelsson 3, 21, 25, 51, 52, 54, 57–60, 62, 64–68, 70–74, 76, 78–80, 82, 83, 86, 88–90, 93, 94, 96, 134, 138, 144, 156, 157, 161, 162, 164–165, 168, 170, 178, 180–181 – childhood 57–59, 62, 65 – death 71, 88 – fight with Sóti 73 – outlawry 21, 59, 70–74, 78–79, 180 household 35, 73, 74, 81, 112, 136, 177, 184, 188, 203 Hrafnistumenn 55, 181 Hrappsstaðir 33, 37 Hrólfs saga kraka 193 Hume, Kathryn 9, 26, 29, 92, 97, 172, 173 Hvalfjǫrðr 78, 79, 80, 97, 156 hybridity 1, 15–18, 20, 25, 27, 31–33, 37, 44–45, 72–74, 84, 102–106, 113–115, 117, 128–131, 140, 142, 149, 155, 166, 211

Iceland 1, 5, 9, 13, 16, 19, 20, 25, 27, 51, 65, 77, 84, 85, 104, 110, 112, 114, 127, 132, 135, 137, 139, 151, 152, 166, 169, 170, 176–179, 184–194, 197–201, 203, 204, 209 – elite 176, 188–189, 193, 202 – environment 4, 139–140, 197, 199–202 – kinship system 177–184, 191, 193 – settlement of 1, 2, 197–199 – society 2, 3, 4, 23, 51, 71, 89, 110, 111, 115, 135, 139, 140, 152, 164, 176–180, 184–194, 198, 199 identity 12, 13, 166 in-laws 59, 61–67, 80, 179–184, 188 (see also: family) inheritance 106–108, 176–178, 189–196, 211 (see also: property) – disputes around 190, 191, 194 – legislation 191–192 – partible 191, 193, 194 – primogeniture 191, 193, 194 interaction 4, 6, 16, 17, 19, 20, 31–47, 49, 51, 53–56, 59, 61–62, 66–69, 71–75, 79, 80, 90, 101, 102, 115, 121, 125, 130, 133, 135, 139–141, 149, 151, 153, 156–158, 160, 162, 167–170, 175, 176, 179, 184, 195 Isidore of Seville 7 isolation 39, 52, 70, 72, 74, 81, 82 Ísafjǫrðr 69, 76, 78, 83, 157, 159, 162 Íslendingabók 177, 199, 203, 204, 207 Íslendinga saga 96, 178, 183 Íslendingasögur 1–10, 12, 13, 17–24, 26, 31, 34, 39, 42–47, 51–53, 63, 72, 73, 75, 80, 91, 101–104, 107, 108, 110–115, 120, 122, 125–131, 134, 139, 140, 142, 143, 150–154, 162, 167, 169, 170, 175–179, 181–187, 190, 191, 194–196, 200, 201, 205, 209–213 Jochens, Jenny 95, 98, 99, 111, 122, 143, 204, 205 Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir 122, 126, 128, 143, 144, 146, 159, 172, 186, 196, 205, 206, 207 Jónsbók 17, 186, 191–193, 206 Jósteinn and his group 39–40 Jǫkull Ingimundarson 107, 119, 136, 146, 163

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Index

Kárr 47, 195 Katla 129, 131, 135, 141, 146, 163 kinship structure 52, 62–63, 66, 71, 167, 176–183, 191, 194–196, 201, 206, 211 (see also: family) – bilateral 177–178, 184, 191–193, 195, 206 – ego-centered 177, 184 – patrilineal 177–178, 191–193 Klaufi 108, 113–115, 119, 122, 173, 185 Kormáks saga 119, 120, 128, 144, 146 Kotkell 21, 47, 126, 130–135, 139–142, 145, 159, 200 Kveld-Úlfr 104, 106–107, 119, 155 Landnámabók 55, 92, 119, 121, 180, 181, 204 landscape 41, 45, 51, 52, 79, 82, 134–137, 140, 141, 149, 167, 196, 199, 200, 202 (see also: natural world) Larrington, Carolyne 27, 54, 63, 65, 69, 91, 92, 95, 171, 182, 193, 194, 196, 203, 204, 206, 207 Lárentíus saga 208 law 11, 16–18, 23, 43–44, 51, 72, 74, 91, 135, 152, 161, 179, 186, 190–191, 206, 210 (see also: Grágás, Jónsbók) – canon 16, 186 Laxdœla saga 21, 22, 24, 36, 46–49, 96, 120, 132, 138, 140, 145–147, 152, 171, 172, 178, 190, 196, 200, 206 Leiknir 21, 22, 98, 104–106, 112, 113, 116, 119, 120, 151, 161, 164, 187, 209 Lindow, John 8, 9, 25, 26, 46, 183, 203, 204 lion 83, 84, 98, 150, 157 Little Ice Age (LIA) 197, 198, 199 (see also: climate change) livestock 37, 38, 191, 199, 200 Ljósvetninga saga 208 Ljót 132, 133, 137, 139, 141, 200 Ljótr inn bleiki (Eg) 105, 109, 110, 111, 113, 116, 119, 187 Ljótr inn bleiki (Svarfd) 107, 108, 121 magic-user (also: practitioner of magic) 1, 3, 7–9, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21–25, 31, 45, 46, 87, 90, 117, 125–147, 149, 156, 158, 159, 164, 168, 169, 173, 176, 196, 197, 200–202, 209, 210, 211

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– association with the natural world 126, 129, 135–140, 141, 142 – contagion 131–132 – economic impact 132–135, 196 – transgression 12, 16, 90, 128–132, 142 magic 1, 3, 9, 16, 22, 23, 72, 76, 82, 87, 89, 90, 125–147, 149, 151, 152, 154, 157–159, 168–170, 176, 196–203, 210 – divinatory 126, 127, 159 – efficatory 127, 139, 144 – illusion (sjónhverfingar) 73, 129, 138, 139, 144 – nature 135, 136–140, 200–202 – rituals 129–130 – terminology 24, 127, 131, 143 – weather 129, 135–140, 200–201 marginalization 26, 52, 53, 57, 60, 63, 64, 71, 126, 164, 165 –process of 52, 53, 60, 63, 64, 71, 164, 165 margkunnig/r 127, 131, 133, 137 marriage 57, 63, 67, 80, 85, 112, 113, 176, 178, 183–190, 192, 194, 196, 202, 204–207, 211, 212 – church influence on 184, 186, 192 – consent in 58, 114–115, 184, 186–187, 191–192, 202, 205, 211 – formation of 184 – legislation 186–187, 188, 192 – virginity 186, 188 matricide 178, 181, 182 McGovern, Thomas H. 198, 207, 208 McLennan, Alistair 26, 28, 52, 79, 91, 97, 98 Medieval Climatic Anomaly (MCA) 197 Medieval Warm Period (MWP) 197, 198 Meulengracht Sørensen, Preben 8, 25, 61, 95, 98, 99, 121, 145, 152, 155, 171, 175, 179, 203, 205 Middle Ages 1, 7, 25, 101, 191, 197, 198, 200, 201, 206 – early 7, 191, 197 – high 1, 191, 197 – late 1, 23, 28, 197, 198, 200, 201 Miller, William Ian 24, 51, 81, 91, 95–98, 115, 122, 143, 151, 163, 164, 171, 172, 177–181, 184, 194, 203–207 Mitchell, Stephen 24, 125, 142–146, 173

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Mittman, Asa Simon 18, 26, 27, 29, 46, 48, 49, 149, 170, 203 Moldi 107, 108, 113, 116, 119 monster theory 2, 7, 9, 10–20, 31, 175 monstrosity 1–20, 22, 24, 25, 28, 31, 33, 36, 39, 42–45, 51–53, 63, 71–76, 79–81, 83, 86–88, 90, 91, 101–103, 105, 106, 108, 109, 111, 113–115, 117, 126, 140–142, 149, 151, 155–159, 161, 165–169, 175–176, 179, 183–185, 189, 196, 197, 201, 202, 209–212 (see also: monster theory) – as socially conservative 11–12, 202, 209 – cultural specificity 2, 7, 10–11, 20 – curing of 45, 86, 158, 165–166 – human 1, 4, 7, 9, 13, 15–17, 20–22, 28, 29, 31, 83, 155, 162, 210 – physical 4, 7, 10–11, 15, 28, 39, 108, 209, 211 – scale/continuum of 14–16, 18–19, 29, 166–169, 210 – social 2–4, 7, 8, 19, 13, 16–18, 20, 31, 34, 39, 42, 44, 51, 52, 101, 102, 106, 117, 122, 126, 127, 142, 149, 151, 166–169, 175–176, 183, 209–212 – terminology 6–10 – transhistorical nature of 5, 6, 9, 20, 23, 90, 101, 117, 175, 176, 183, 203, 211 monstrous races 1, 7, 11, 14, 24, 25, 209 mother 7, 33, 35, 53–55, 57–58, 62, 64, 68, 75, 85, 86, 133, 176, 181, 182, 189, 192, 209 (see also: family) Musharbash, Yasmine 10, 11, 26–28 natural world 3, 7, 19, 33, 38, 45, 46, 51–52, 116–117, 126, 127, 129, 130, 134–138, 140–142, 146, 167, 168, 176, 190, 196–203, 210–212 – agriculture 135, 197–199, 201, 202 – climate 140, 197–201, 211, 212 – deterioration 197–200, 208 – human impact on 198–200 – weather 136, 137, 139, 197–201, 207, 208 Neville, Jennifer 2, 7, 17, 18, 24, 27, 29, 96, 151, 171, 172, 208

Njáls saga 46, 96, 115, 119, 122, 136, 144, 146, 152, 171, 177, 187, 190, 203, 205, 208 Norway 47, 61, 65, 68, 72, 109, 115, 165, 166, 187, 188, 192, 206 offspring 70, 108, 113, 115, 117, 149, 185, 190, 192 (see also: children) – of social outcasts 189 Ogilvie, Astrid 144, 198, 207–208 Óláfr tvennumbrúni 119 Old English literature 2, 7, 17, 18 “Otherness” 12–15, 26–28, 47, 78 (see also: alterity) “Other” 9, 11–15, 17, 26–28, 35, 39, 72, 91, 113, 118, 130, 165, 209–212 – as opposed to “Self” 12–15, 26, 165 Ótryggr 115, 119, 122 outlaw sagas 16, 21, 51, 53, 54, 63, 66, 70, 81–83, 134, 153, 176, 177, 179–183, (see also: Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar; Gísla saga Súrssonar; Harðar saga ok Hólmverja; Fóstbrœðra saga) outlaw 1, 3, 7, 9, 12, 16–19, 21–23, 25, 26, 31, 43, 45, 51–99, 109, 110, 112, 116, 117, 120, 128, 134, 135, 139, 140, 141, 149, 153, 154, 157–170, 173, 176–183, 189, 202, 203, 209–212 – association with the paranormal 51–52, 72–74, 80–82, 90, 168 – contagion 74–76, 79, 81, 87–88 – economic impact 56, 74, 76–79, 83, 85, 86, 109 – transgression 16, 19, 72–74, 168 outlawry 17, 21, 43, 51, 52–53, 57, 59, 64–66, 68, 70–72, 74, 76, 79–85, 87, 91, 96, 121, 137, 157, 160, 161, 166, 179, 180 paranormal 2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 15, 19, 21–24, 26, 27, 33, 34, 41, 47, 49, 72, 73, 80–82, 89, 90, 116, 128–130, 136, 142, 144, 146, 149, 160, 190, 195, 209–212 past 3, 4–6, 9, 15, 42, 167, 169–170, 181, 187, 189, 194–195, 202, 210–212 (see also: pastness)

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Index

– as safe space 3, 5, 187, 170, 195, 211 – use of 5, 167, 169–170, 210–212 pastness 169, 170, 195, 204 patricide 178, 181 perception 6, 7, 9, 19–20, 36, 38, 42, 44–45, 48, 55, 60, 63, 72, 89, 103, 107, 111, 117, 122, 127–128, 130–131, 134, 141, 142, 144, 149–170, 175, 198, 209–210, 212 Pliny the Elder 1, 7 power 3, 16, 17, 56, 71, 104, 110, 112, 113, 115, 117, 127–128, 130, 132–135, 138–140, 142, 144, 152, 154, 155, 157, 161, 178, 195–197, 200–202, 204, 210 property 35, 37, 38, 109, 114, 134, 157, 166, 176, 187, 190–196, 202, 203, 211, 212 – transmission of 176, 190, 192–196, 202, 206, 211 psychological realism 54 public opinion 19, 128, 134, 141, 144, 150, 152–163, 164, 166, 168–171, 210 – performative nature of 153–156, 159–160 Raknarr 47 rape (see: abuse) Raudvere, Catharina 138, 143, 144, 146, 171 reimleikar 8, 34 reintegration, posthumous 57, 67, 71, 89, 90, 93, 164–165, 171 revenant 1, 3, 7–9, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 31–49, 52, 71, 75, 78, 79, 87, 90, 108, 110, 116, 117, 133, 140, 141, 143, 149, 156, 158, 159, 165, 167, 168, 170, 176, 178, 189–196, 202, 203, 209–212 (see also: undead) – groups of 34, 39–45, 75, 78, 79, 165 – transgression 16, 31–34, 44 – individual 34–39, 42–45 Reykdœla saga 119 riddarasögur 7, 25, 114, 211 samtíðarsögur 177, 211 Sandhaugar 169 Sävborg, Daniel 23, 26, 28, 122, 213 Sayers, William 32, 36, 43, 46–49, 96, 97, 140, 145, 147, 173, 194, 207 seiðr 125, 130–131, 137, 142, 143, 151

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sexuality 11, 28, 110, 176, 186, 188, 189 (see also: abuse) – extra-marital 185, 187 shamanism 125, 143 shapeshifting 101–106, 120, 144, 146 Shildrick, Margrit 15, 24, 28 siblings 57, 61–63, 67, 69–71, 75, 81, 176, 179–182, 184, 191, 194 (see also: family) Skagafjǫrðr 77, 78, 157, 159 Skalla-Grímr 106–107, 119, 120, 155 Skeljungr 119 Skrattavarði 140 Skroppa 129, 139, 144 Snækollr 110, 111, 112, 116, 119, 120, 173 Snækollr Ljótsson 108, 114, 121 society (see: culture, family, Iceland, inheritance, kinship structure, law, marriage, transgression, women) Sóti 25, 47, 73, 74, 88, 89, 134, 173 speech act theory 154, 171 stealing 17, 18, 77, 78, 83, 132, 139, 149, 152, 157, 200 Stígandi 131, 133–141, 145 story-world 2, 3, 7, 20, 34, 44, 78, 126, 154 “Strange” 11–15, 27, 28, 118, 189 – as opposed to “Own” 14, 26 Sturlungar 24, 178, 183 – age of 1, 2, 183 – family ties 178, 183 Surtr járnhauss 116, 119, 121 Svanr 129, 136 Svarfdæla saga 21, 107, 114, 119, 121–123, 186, 212 Svartr 25, 104, 119, 122 Sveigakot 199 Sveinungr 104, 119 Sverrir Jakobsson 47, 188, 193, 205, 206 Sweden 34, 47, 115, 187–188, 205 sworn brotherhood 3, 52, 61–64, 68, 69, 72, 83–86, 89, 95, 98, 150, 157, 166, 168, 173, 182, 182 (see also: family) thief 18, 29, 78, 133, 138, 161, 162, 196 (see also: stealing) thirteenth century 1, 4, 5, 20, 22, 23, 178, 185, 186, 188, 192–195, 198, 199

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244

Index

transgression 11, 12, 16–19, 20, 22, 28, 31–33, 44, 45, 46, 69, 72–74, 80, 90, 98, 102–106, 117, 126, 128–131, 132, 135, 140, 142, 149, 166–168, 202, 209–211 – ontological 31–32, 73, 105–106, 113, 210 – physical 11, 16, 32–33, 105 – social 11, 16–19, 32, 44, 69, 72–73, 130–131, 168 troll 1, 6, 8–10, 15, 18, 22, 27, 28, 33, 38, 51, 52, 72, 85, 87, 90, 104, 107, 118, 141, 143, 155, 160, 163, 166–169, 210–211 – terminology 8–10, 25 Torfi Tulinius 5, 24, 29, 47, 92, 144, 193–194, 203, 207, 213 Úlfhamr inn hamrammi 119 undead 1, 3, 8, 21, 31–46, 73, 79, 88, 90, 91, 170, 194–196 Vafþrúðnismál 201, 208 vágestr 78, 157 vampires 1, 11, 27, 31, 32, 38, 47 vargr 77, 78, 91, 118, 157, 159, 168, 171, 189 Vatnsdalr 37, 77, 133, 139, 156 Vatnsdœla saga 21, 22, 102, 106, 107, 119–121, 128, 132, 144–147, 172, 196, 206 Vápnfirðinga saga 208 vengeance 60, 64, 67–69, 71, 86, 89, 90, 96, 112, 114, 133–134, 136, 163–165, 172, 181, 182, 188, 200 Vésteinn Ólason 23, 46, 48, 64, 94, 95, 98, 173, 213 Víga-Glúms saga 21, 119, 122, 123, 204 Víga-Hrappr 21, 32–39, 43, 47, 49, 120, 138, 179, 194 Vígi inn hamrammi 119 vísindi 127 voice 19, 35, 36, 149–152, 154–156, 160– 162, 203 (see also: public opinion) – of characters 150, 160–163 – of public opinion 150, 154–160, 162

– of the narrator 150–151, 155, 161, 162 Vǫlsunga saga 103, 119 Vǫluspá 178, 203 Westfjords 83, 166 women 19, 45, 60, 70, 73–75, 81–83, 85, 86, 96, 102, 109–115, 117, 121, 125, 126, 131, 133–135, 143, 158, 161, 164, 176, 183–189, 191, 192, 196, 202, 204, 212 Wright, Alexa 12, 27–29 Ynglinga saga 103, 118, 130, 145 zombies 1, 11, 31, 212 Þorbjörg katla 129, 134, 140, 141, 157, 173 Þorbjörg lítilvölva 127, 144, 159 Þórdís spákona 128, 134, 159 Þorgeirr Hávarsson 3, 21, 51, 62, 68–70, 74, 83–86, 88–90, 120, 150, 157–158, 165–166, 182 – animalistic association 83–84, 85, 86, 120 – death 69–70, 86, 88–90 – economic impact 83–84 – outlawry 21, 69, 82–84, 166 Þorgríma smiðkona 134, 136, 138, 140, 141, 146, 173 Þorgrímr nef 22, 90, 126, 130–131, 136, 137, 139, 141–142, 151, 164, 200 Þórgunna 46, 47, 120 Þórir Ingimundarson 106–107, 119, 120, 122, 158–159, 165, 190, 210 Þórir Oddsson (Gull-Þórir) 119 Þórir þǫmb 73, 105, 106, 109–112, 116, 119, 173, 188 Þorkell silfri 119, 133, 200 Þormóðr 119 Þormóðr Bersason 3, 21, 62, 68–70, 74, 84–86, 88, 89, 99, 128, 129, 150, 157–159, 165–166, 173, 182 – death 89–90 – economic impact 83, 85

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Index

– outlawry 21, 70, 82–83, 166 – sexual disruption 83, 85–86 Þórólfr bægifótr 21, 25, 27, 32–38, 40, 43–45, 47, 49, 77, 88, 141, 179, 190, 195 Þórólfr sleggja 138, 139, 141–142, 145 Þórormr 116, 119, 122 Þorsteinn 119 Þorsteinn Eiríksson 46 Þorvaldr 119

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Þórveig 120, 138, 139, 146 Þórðar saga hreðu 104, 119, 173 Þrándr 119 Þuríðr 75, 87, 89, 134, 137–139, 146, 169, 200 Ǫgmundr illi 73, 105, 106, 109–112, 116, 119, 173, 188

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