Book Series Making the Middle Ages, vol. 5

Translating the Sagas

Two Hundred Years of Challenge and Response

John Kennedy

  • Pages: 221 p.
  • Size:165 x 245 mm
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2007

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-50772-9
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-57242-0
  • E-book
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"Its speculation on translation is intriguing, the work is both very readable and has a rich store of information to impart to the reader who has perhaps only a limited knowledge or experience of the world of saga translation. For those who have devoted even a fair amount of thought to the subject, there are still plenty of new insights to be gained here."

(K. Kunz, in Journal of English and Germanic Philology, October 2008, p. 550)


Few speakers of English have ever been able to read the Icelandic sagas in the original language, and published saga translations have played a major role in shaping attitudes towards Viking Age Scandinavia and the great literary achievements of medieval Iceland in the English-speaking world. This book is the first publication to provide an extended examination of the history and development of Icelandic saga translations into English from their beginnings in the eighteenth century to today. It explores reasons for undertaking saga translation, and the challenges confronting translators. Chapters are devoted to the pioneering saga translations, the later Victorian and Edwardian eras, the often-neglected period of the two World Wars and their aftermath, and the upsurge of saga translation in the second half of the twentieth century. The contributions of individual translators and teams are reviewed, from James Johnstone in the 1780s through major Victorians such as Samuel Laing, George Webbe Dasent, and William Morris, distinguished twentieth century figures such as Lee M. Hollander, Gwyn Jones, Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson, and George Johnston, and the great co-operative project which produced The Complete Sagas of Icelanders at the century’s end. The book concludes with saga translation facing interesting new possibilities and challenges, not least those generated by information technology.