Here’s another tool to help you follow along with reading Njal’s Saga, the longest and most famous of the Icelandic sagas (previously I brought you a visualization of the main killings as performed by hummingbirds). The main action of the saga is reduced to a list of short sentences that will fit on one page. Here, I use the anglicized forms of the characters’ names used in the best available translation of the saga.
- Brothers Hrut & Hoskuld; Hrut says Hoskuld’s daughter Hallgerd has “thief’s eyes.”
- Hrut cursed by Norwegian queen; marries Unn but she divorces him because of curse.
- Hallgerd marries twice & each time her husband is killed by her foster-father Thjostolf.
- Unn’s cousin Gunnar successfully challenges Hrut for Unn’s property from the divorce.
- Gunnar marries Hallgerd; his relative Thrain marries Hallgerd’s daughter Thorgerd.
- Hallgerd insulted by Bergthora, wife of Gunnar’s wise beardless friend Njal.
- Hallgerd & Bergthora each kill 3 slaves or employees of the other in successive years.
- Gunnar & Njal pay each other for the slaves or employees they lose to the other’s wife.
- The last one killed by Hallgerd is Thord, the Njalssons’ foster-father. He is avenged.
- Gunnar asks Otkel to sell him food. Otkel refuses, but sells him a slave, Melkolf.
- Hallgerd sends Melkolf to steal cheese from Otkel; Gunnar finds out & slaps her.
- Gunnar offers compensation; Otkel refuses; they go to court & Gunnar is absolved.
- Otkel’s spur scratches Gunnar. Otkel & many men attack Gunnar; Gunnar kills all.
- Gunnar attacked by Starkad & son with many men after a horsefight; he kills many.
- Thorgeir Starkadsson & Thorgeir Otkelsson assail Gunnar; he kills Thorgeir Otkelsson.
- Gunnar is prosecuted for the killing, & sentenced to 3 years of outlawry.
- Gunnar leaves home, but falls off his horse & decides to return. Kolskegg leaves.
- A team led by Gizur and Mord assembles to attack Gunnar at home.
- Gunnar defends himself a long time but his bow breaks; Hallgerd refuses aid; he dies.
- Hogni Gunnarsson & Skarphedin kill many of Gunnar’s killers; make peace with Mord.
- Thrain, & Grim & Helgi Njalsson, go to Scotland, are attacked. Rescued by Kari.
- They go to Norway. Thrain hides the outlaw Hrapp from Norwegian ruler Hakon Jarl.
- Hakon Jarl attacks Thrain’s allies the Njalssons. They are saved by Kari & go to Iceland.
- Kari marries Njal’s daughter, has a son. Thrain still shelters Hrapp, insults Njalssons.
- Skarphedin kills Thrain. Njal & Thrain’s brother Ketil make a peaceful settlement.
- Njal adopts Hoskuld Thrainsson, & gets a wife & the authority of a godi for him.
- Thrain’s brother-in-law Lyting kills Hoskuld Njalsson; a peaceful settlement is agreed.
- (long digression about the missionary Thangbrand & Iceland’s conversion to Christianity)
- Amundi, blind son of Hoskuld Njalsson, briefly regains sight & kills Lyting.
- Mord loses power to Hoskuld Thrainsson; he goads the Njalssons into killing Hoskuld.
- Mord and Flosi (Hoskuld Thrainsson’s wife’s uncle) prosecute the Njalssons for murder
- Njal & Flosi agree to a settlement, but Skarphedin insults Flosi & the deal is called off.
- Flosi leads about 100 men to burn the Njalssons & Kari to death in their house.
- Women, children, slaves, Njal allowed to leave; Flosi only wants to burn the Njalssons.
- Njal, Bergthora, & Kari’s son refuse to leave; they burn. Of the men, only Kari escapes.
- The burners are prosecuted. A long court case finally breaks down into open battle.
- After much killing at the Thing, Snorri Godi forces a settlement. Kari refuses to settle.
- Kari seeks the burners, kills all of them he can find. Helped by Njal’s nephew Thorgeir.
- Thorgeir quits; Kari meets goofy sidekick Bjorn; Kari spares only brother-in-law Ketil.
- Flosi & the surviving burners flee to Scotland. Kari follows them, busts into their feast.
- Kari kills most of burners, goes back to Iceland. Forgives Flosi & marries his daughter.
This will probably be most helpful if accompanied by this guide to the characters and their relationships:
What else can I read on this blog?
Star Wars, reimagined as an Icelandic Saga. You can read the whole saga in English here, and the introduction 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.
More info on the author here.