Book Series The North Atlantic World, vol. 3

Margins, Monsters, Deviants

Alterities in Old Norse Literature and Culture

Rebecca Merkelbach, Gwendolyne Knight (eds)

  • Pages: 248 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:11 b/w, 3 tables b/w., 1 maps b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2020

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58586-4
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58587-1
  • E-book
  • Available

This anthology explores depictions of alterity, monstrosity and deviation in medieval Icelandic literature, Scandinavian history, and beyond. The authors explore issues of identity, genre, character and text and the interplay between them, challenging long-held perceptions about the lack of ambiguity in Old Norse literature and culture.


“This book is a well-written and well-edited, fresh, and inspiring contribution to the debates on “otherness” and alterity that are gaining popularity in various literary and cultural disciplines (…) The book as a whole has an exceptional potential and many strengths that turn it into an important and inspiring contribution to the general debate about “otherness.” (…) The book certainly inspires at least my interest in the marginal creatures and social spaces, the texts “in between,” in the past and the present, in order to achieve a better understanding of ourselves, our own culture and time.” (Stefka G. Eriksen, in The Medieval Review, 22.01.03)

This book is a welcome resource for the concepts of “Otherness” and alterity as applied to Old Norse Studies for graduate students and early career scholars. Especially valuable is the partial bibliography included at the end of the introduction, which includes general theory works and specific Old Norse studies (pp. 17–23). (Lauren Poyer, in Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 122/4, 2023, p. 565)


Rebecca Merkelbach is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Tübingen. Her monograph on social monstrosity in the Sagas of Icelanders has recently been published with Medieval Institute Publications

Gwendolyne Knight received her PhD from Stockholm University. Her dissertation focused on anthropological interpretations of shapeshifting in Northern European contexts.


Medieval Icelandic literature has often been reduced to the supposedly realist Íslendingasögur and their main protagonists at the expense of other genres and characters. Indeed, such a focus obscures and erases the importance of those beings and narratives that move on the margins of mainstream culture — whether socially, ethnically, ontologically, or textually. This volume aims to offer a new perspective on a variety of theoretical and comparative approaches to explore depictions of alterity, monstrosity, and deviation. Engaging with the interplay of genre, character, text, and culture, and exploring questions of behavioural, socio-cultural, and textual alterity, these contributions examine subjects ranging from the study of fragmented and ‘Othered’ saga narratives, to attitudes towards foreign people and lands, and alterities in mythological and legendary texts. Together the papers effectively challenge long-held perceptions about the lack of ambiguity in medieval Icelandic literature, and offer a far more nuanced understanding of the importance of the ‘Other’ in that society.


List of Illustrations

Introduction: Old Norse Alterities in Contemporary Context — REBECCA MERKELBACH AND GWENDOLYNE KNIGHT

Categorizing the Werewolf; or, the Peopleness of Shapeshifters — GWENDOLYNE KNIGHT

Taming the Wolf: Reading Bisclaret in Light of Old Norse Kennings — MINJIE SU

Between Myths and Legends: The Guises of Goðmundr of Glæsisvellir — TOM GRANT AND JONATHAN Y. H. HUI

‘The coarsest and worst of the Íslendinga Sagas’: Approaching the Alterity of the ‘Post-Classical’ Sagas of Icelanders — REBECCA MERKELBACH

Considering Otherness on the Page: How Do Lacunae Affect the Way We Interact with Saga Narrative? — JOANNE SHORTT BUTLER

Surface, Rupture and Contextualities: Conflicting Voices of the Iberian ‘Other/s’ in Old Norse Literature — RODERICK W. MCDONALD

Otherness Along the Austrvegr: Cultural Interaction Between the Rus’ and the Turkic Nomads of the Steppe — CSETE KATONA

The Man Who Seemed Like a Troll: Racism in Old Norse Literature — ARNGRÍMUR VÍDALÍN

Afterword: Otherness, Monstrosity and Deviation: The Perpetual Making of Identities — ÁRMANN JAKOBSSON