(What follows are some introductory comments to Tattúínárdǿla saga, whose text can be read in its entirety on this page.)
A long time ago, in a North Atlantic far far away…
Earlier this week I was drawn into an enlightening discussion with my colleague Ben Frey about the complicated textual tradition that lies behind George Lucas’s “Star Wars,” which few outside the scholarly community realize is a modern rendition of an old Germanic legend of a fatal conflict between a father and his treacherous son. Below I present some remarks on the Old Icelandic version of the legend, with some spare comparative notes on the cognate traditions in other old Germanic languages.
The story as presented in George Lucas’s films represents only one manuscript tradition, and a rather late and corrupt one at that – the Middle High German epic called Himelgengærelied (Song of the Skywalkers). There is also an Old High German palimpsest known to scholars, later overwritten by a Latin choral and only partly legible to us today, which contains fragments of a version wherein “Veitare” survives to old age after slaying “Lûc” out of loyalty to the emperor, but is naturally still conflicted about the deed when the son of his daughter Leia avenges the killing on him.
This is also the ending that we infer for the Icelandic Tattúínárdœla saga (the Saga of the People of the Tattooine River Valley), though unfortunately the ending of that saga is lost and has to be reconstructed from the scant remains of the Old High German poem and from references in other sagas (it should be noted that the later chivalric Lúks saga Anakinssonar is derived from another tradition and may well be a translation of a continental epic, probably one closely related to the extant Middle High German Himelgengærelied, from which Lucas’s narrative is drawn). The author of the Old English poem Déor also knows an “Anacan, haten heofongangende” (“Anacen, named the sky-walker”), who later in the poem is referred to by an alternative byname, “sunubana” (“son-killer”), suggesting that the more tragic version of the tale was current among the Anglo-Saxons too. Hammershaimb seems to know a Faroese ballad on the two Himingangarar, but there is no trace of the text of this ballad in any known collection, and it was not known to the last exponents of the Faroese oral tradition in the early twentieth century.
Tattúínárdœla saga tells of the youth of Anakinn himingangari, beginning with his childhood as a slave in Tattúínárdalr, notably lacking the prolonged racing scene of the MHG version, and referring to the character of “Jarjari inn heimski” only as a local fool slain by Anakinn in a childhood berserker rage (whereas in the MHG version, “Jarjare” is one of “Anacen’s” marshals and his constant companion; Cochrane 2010 suggests that this may be because the MHG text is Frankish in origin, and “Jarjare” was identified with a Frankish culture hero with a similar name). After this killing, for which Anakinn’s owner (and implied father) refuses to pay compensation, Anakinn’s mother, an enslaved Irish princess, foresees a great future for Anakinn as a “jeði” (the exact provenance of this word is unknown but perhaps represents an intentionally humorous Irish mispronunciation of “goði”). This compels Anakinn to recite his first verse:
Þat mælti mín móðir,
at mér skyldi kaupa
fley ok fagrar árar
fara á brott með jeðum,
standa upp í stafni,
stýra dýrum xwingi,
halda svá til hafnar,
hǫggva mann ok annan. (1)
The etymology of “xwingi” (nom. *xwingr?) is unknown; numerous editors have proposed emendations, but none is considered particularly plausible. It is likely to be another humorous Irish mispronunciation of a Norse word.
As a teenager, Anakinn purchases his freedom from his owner, and arranges for passage to Kóruskantborg with the notorious Viking Víga-Óbívan, with whom he is sworn into the service of the King of Kóruskantborg after a series of adventures that prove his mettle and initiative in battle.
Over the next several years, we follow the career of Anakinn as he falls in love with Irish princess Paðéma after killing her father at the Battle of Confey, and his mentor Víga-Óbívan continues to encourage him to betray Falfaðinn, the King of Kóruskantborg. Eventually Falfaðinn learns of Víga-Óbívan’s duplicity and exiles him. Víga-Óbívan returns to Tattúínárdalr, and Anakinn is conflicted when he learns that Paðéma has been in league with Víga-Óbívan and sails to Tattúínárdalr with him. However, Anakinn is loyal to his oaths to King Falfaðinn and remains with him in Kóruskantborg, where he rises to great honor in the service of the king and is the recipient of many good gifts. He also begins the planning of the construction of the great ship Dauðastjarna, which when completed will be the crown jewel of Falfaðinn’s fleet, and will hold a crew large enough to sack a city single-handedly. Because of his great skill in hunting, Anakinn is now known to most as Veiðari-Anakinn, “hunter-Anakinn,” or often simply Veiðari.
Back in Tattúínárdalr, Paðéma gives birth to twins, Lúkr and Leia, before dying from her grief at having betrayed her husband. One of the most memorable lines in the saga is given to her on her deathbed:
Þá mælti Paðéma: “Þeim var ek verst er ek unna mest.” (2)
Víga-Óbívan commends Leia to the care of a local goði and Lúkr to a man whom he believes to be Anakinn’s brother, but who is probably a disguised Óðinn. Déor speaks of the son of “Anacan” as having been raised by “Owen,” which may suggest that this interpretation is correct, but if this is in fact the name of the god, it is unclear why the form should lack the initial glide of Anglo-Saxon (unless this part of the story originated in the Danelaw; for full discussion of this and other problems of the text in Deor see Nashat 2010).
Víga-Óbívan waits for Lúkr to attain manhood, and by now is himself an old man. When young Lúkr follows some lost sheep onto Víga-Óbívan’s property and is attacked by his retainers, Víga-Óbívan defends him and later tells Lúkr (who in a dream has been given his father’s byname, “himingangari,” by a dís, but is unaware that his father also bore it), that Lúkr’s father Anakinn was slain by Veiðari, the great captain of King Falfaðinn of Kóruskantborg. Lúkr swears vengeance, accepts the gift of his father’s sword Ljósamækir from Víga-Óbívan, and with the help of the mercenary Hani (if scholars are correct in emending his name in this way; the manuscript reads “Hann”) and his ship the Þúsundár Fálkinn, sails to find the great ship Dauðastjarna, which Veiðari steers as captain of Falfaðinn’s fleet. After a long series of close battles, Lúkr and a team of Hebridean Vikings (who, we learn in a long prelude to this encounter, have long quarreled with Falfaðinn over a taxation matter) finally sink the Dauðastjarna, though not before Víga-Óbívan is slain in a holmgang with Veiðari, and the Hebrideans’ base on the island now known as Mainland has been looted by Veiðari’s Vikings.
The saga spends several chapters describing the escalation of tensions between Veiðari and Lúkr over the next years. Hani returns to Tattúínárdalr and is there betrothed to Leia (whom Lúkr still does not know to be his sister); he becomes a great goði. Meanwhile Lúkr shipwrecks on an island in the Faroes called Dagóba (the name is of unknown origin but probably Celtic) where he meets and is trained by the great warrior Jóði, who was a companion of Víga-Óbívan in his youth; Jóði continues to incite Lúkr to kill Veiðari, but his remarks are confusing in the text as preserved and are probably much damaged by later redactors – the word order is considerably jumbled and many of his comments reflect anachronistic Christian sentiments.
Finally Lúkr sees the ghost of Víga-Óbívan outside the latter’s howe, and Víga-Óbívan intones a scornful skaldic stanza at Lúkr, informing Lúkr that Hani and Leia (whom he now strongly hints is Lúkr’s sister) have been abducted by Veiðari’s men, and upbraiding him for being in the Faroes “sporting with Jóði” when this occurred.
Lúkr returns to Jóði (who in a bizarre aside is revealed to live inside a giant tree trunk in the middle of a marsh), and tells him of the apparition. Jóði foresees that if Lúkr leaves, he will face his death, but in typical saga-heroic fashion Lúkr refuses the older man’s counsel and sets out to rescue his sworn brother. Their exchange is well-known to students of Old Icelandic literature as a classic example of the forecasting of which the saga authors were so fond:
“Þú munt vera maðr feigr,” segir Jóði, “Ok ver þú varr um þik.”
“Ekki mun mér þat stoða,” segir Lúkr, “Ef mér er þat ætlat.” (3)
Having infiltrated Veiðari’s court, Lúkr discovers that his sworn brother Hani has been turned to ice by Veiðari’s sorcery, and engages in a memorable holmgang with Veiðari, in which Veiðari reveals to Lúkr that he is his father:
Veiðari mælti: “Víga-Óbívan segði aldrigi þér þat, er orðit er af feðr þínum.”
“Hann sagði mér œrit,” segir Lúkr, “Hann sagði mér, at þú hann dræpir.”
“Ekki er þat satt,” kvað Veiðari, “Ok em ek þinn faðir.” (4)
In the German version made famous by Lucas’s films, “Lûc” proceeds to deny “Veiter’s” statement, repeatedly shouting “no” and imploring the heavens to see to it that it should not be so. However, in the Icelandic version, Lúkr coolly accepts Veiðari’s statement and continues to fight:
“Eigi vil ek þat trúa,” segir Lúkr, “En ef þú ert víst minn faðir, þá færð þú skilit þat, at ek held þitt sverð Ljósamæki.”
“Já vist,” segir Veiðari, “Eða hvat segir þú til?” (5)
The conclusion of their heroic dialogue has stirred the imaginations of generations of Old Norse enthusiasts:
“Þat mun ekki gera,” segir Lúkr, “Þú munt þó drepa vilja Hana, mág minn, ok er þat skǫmm, ef ek sit hjá.” Ok lagði til Veiðara tveim hǫndum sverðinu.
“Karlmannliga er at farit,” segir Veiðari. Veiðari høggr á hǫndina Lúki, svá at af tók, en niðr fell Ljósamækir ok með honum Lúkr. (6)
Lúkr is saved from drowning by the intercession of Leia and Hani’s men in the Þúsundár Fálkinn. Following this memorable climax, there is an extended lacuna in the manuscript, and the action picks up again with an episode wherein Lúkr rescues Hani and Leia from the corrupt (and grossly obese) Danish merchant Jabbi, a rather comical figure on the whole, and this entire incident is probably to be reckoned an interpolation from a later chivalric saga. Unfortunately the saga shows its repetitive nature at this point, and we once again learn that Veiðari is building, under the auspices of Falfaðinn, a great ship to be named Dauðastjarna in meiri. At a great feast, Lúkr and Hani swear that they will kill Veiðari and Falfaðinn, burn Dauðastjarna, and conquer Kóruskantborg. Their boasts are considered binding and the sworn brothers lead several warships loaded with men to the position of the Dauðastjarna. There Hani is assisted by what the saga describes as “birnir” (literally “bears,” but in context probably to be understood as “Shetlanders” – the German version confusingly seems to understand these as actual bears) in his great assault on Falfaðinn’s fleet, but Lúkr is captured by Veiðari and brought to an audience with Falfaðinn.
Here the text of Tattúínardœla saga is regrettably lost, but is almost surely to be reconstructed as discussed above (with the aid of hints from the Old High German text): with a climactic final holmgang in which a conflicted Veiðari chooses loyalty to his lord over loyalty to his bloodline, killing his son Lúkr and in the process bereaving himself of his own heir, and a later conclusion in which the prosperous, but troubled and aged, hersir Veiðari is himself slain in vengeance for Lúkr by the son of Hani and Leia.
(1) “My mother said/ That they should buy me/ A warship and fair oars,/ That I should go abroad with Jedis,/ Stand up in the ship’s stern,/ Steer a magnificent X-Wing,/ Hold my course till the harbor,/ Kill one man after another.”
(2) Then Padmé said: “I was worst to the man that I loved most.”
“You must be a doomed man,” said Yoda, “Be watchful of yourself.”
“That will not avail me,” said Luke, “If this be my fate.”
Vader said: “Obi-Wan would never tell you, what happened to your father.”
“He told me enough,” said Luke, “He told me that you killed him.”
“That is not true,” said Vader, “I am your father.”
“I will not believe that,” said Luke. “But if you are truly my father, then you can see, that I hold your sword Lightsaber.”
“Yes I can,” said Vader, “What more do you have to say about it?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Luke, “You will still want to kill Han, my brother-in-law, and it would be shameful for me to sit idly by.” And he swung the sword at Vader with two hands.
“That is manfully done,” said Vader. He cut Luke’s hand, so that it was cut off, and Lightsaber fell down and with it Luke.
What else can I read on this blog?
You just read the introduction to Star Wars, reimagined as an Icelandic Saga. You can read the whole saga in English here. It was also posted as a .pdf with both the English and Old Norse text here. List of principal characters (and their equivalents in the Star Wars franchise) here.
The Cowboy Havamal. This is part of the classic Old Norse wisdom poem translated into dialect. You can also read about my soon-to-be-published translation of the Poetic Edda – the first time the original Norse myths will appear in plain modern English – here.
I wrote a little about the runes and Old Norse that I wrote for Disney’s Frozen here.
I have started posting lessons in the Old Norse language here.