Book Series Borders, Boundaries, Landscapes, vol. 1

Supernatural Encounters in Old Norse Literature and Tradition

Daniel Sävborg, Karen Bek - Pedersen (eds)

  • Pages: viii + 266 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:6 b/w, 2 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2018

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-57531-5
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-57532-2
  • E-book
  • Available


“This provocative book will surely be generative of further study (...) It addresses many interesting questions and raises as many again--it makes one wish that the contributors could be reconvened for a Q&A session.” (Martin Chase, in The Medieval Review, 03/08/2019)

“Overall, the volume is a boundary-breaking endeavour. Both provocative and inspiring, it draws attention to hitherto understudied or little-known texts and calls into re-examination established views. This, and the fact that each article is furnished with detailed literature review, will prove particularly valuable for students and early career researchers in the field; further research will be surely generated from the volume.” (Minjie Su, in Ceræ: An Australasian Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 6, 2019, p. 91)

“There is much here of interest, both to folklorists and to scholars of Old Norse literature. This book does not just demonstrate fruitful collaboration between historical, literary, and folklore research, but argues for just such collaboration to be ongoing, in the process opening new avenues for research.” (Matthew Firth, in Parergon, 37/1, 2020, p. 288)


The Icelandic sagas have long been famous for their alleged realism, and within this conventional view, references to the supernatural have often been treated as anomalies. Yet, as this volume demonstrates, such elements were in fact an important part of Old Norse literature and tradition, and their study can provide new and intriguing insights into the world-view of the medieval Icelanders.

By providing an extensive and interdisciplinary treatment of the supernatural within sagas, the eleven chapters presented here seek to explore the literary and folkloric interface between the natural and the supernatural through a study of previously neglected texts (such as Bergbúa þáttr, Selkollu þáttr, and Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra), as well as examining genres that are sometimes overlooked (including fornaldarsögur and byskupa sögur), law codes, and learned translations. Contributors including Ármann Jakobsson, Margaret Cormack, Jan Ragnar Hagland, and Bengt af Klintberg explore how the supernatural was depicted within saga literature and how it should be understood, as well as questioning the origins of such material and investigating the parallels between saga motifs and broader folkloric beliefs. In doing so, this volume also raises important questions about the established boundaries between different saga genres and challenges the way these texts have traditionally been approached.


The Supernatural in Old Norse Literature and Research: An Introduction — DANIEL SÄVBORG AND KAREN BEK-PEDERSEN

Bergbúa þáttr, the Story of a Paranormal Encounter — ÁRMANN JAKOBSSON

The Pre-Christian Jól: Not a Cult of the Dead, but the Norse New Year Festival — BETTINA SOMMER

Scandinavian Folklore Parallels to the Narrative about Selkolla in Guðmundar saga biskups — BENGT AF KLINTBERG

Saints, Seals and Demons: The Stories of Selkolla — MARGARET CORMACK

The People, the Bishop and the Beast: Remediation and Reconciliation in Einarr Gilsson's Selkolluvísur — MART KULDKEPP

Grettir the Strong and Guðmundr the Good — MARTEINN SIGURÐSSON

Chronicles, Genealogies and Monsters: The Makings of an Icelandic World-View — ARNGRÍMUR VÍDALÍN

The Troll and Old Norwegian-Icelandic Law — JAN RAGNAR HAGLAND

Between a Rock and a Soft Place: The Materiality of Old Norse Dwarfs and Paranormal Ecologies in Fornaldarsögur — MIRIAM MAYBURD

The Literary Re-Use of Myths in Þorsteins þáttr bǿjarmagns: A Key Elf Queen Legend and Another Twist on the Twist — ELDAR HEIDE

‘Flagð undir fögru skinni’: The Tricky Transmission of Trollwives in Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra — PHILIP LAVENDER