Thursday, 27 January 2011

And we're rolling!

So -- happy news from Iceland. First, I'm delighted to announce that the Embulance has come out of surgery (the op. involved replacing the clutch plate...) and she has made a very successful recovery, running sweet as a Land-Rover-shaped nut. Outside, further modifications include the installation of four very smart and very grippy tyres courtesy of one of my sponsors, the Icelandic petrol company N1. Inside the back of the van, I´ve been doing some interior decorating: the fold-down table has been plastered over with a large map of Iceland and I have curtains! It's feeling very homely in there, and thanks to the new tyres I feel much more secure on the road and ready to face whatever terrain I encounter.

Secondly and most importantly, the real saga-steads work has begun too. I'm revisiting Víga-Glúms saga ('The Saga of Killer-Glúmr') which is largely set around the part of Eyjafjarðarsveit (south of Iceland´s second town and the capital of the north, Akureyri, population circa 17,000) that I´m staying and working in for the next couple of weeks, while I plot a route for the next few months and organise myself generally. The subject of Víga-Glúms saga is the life of the titular Glúmr Eyjólfsson, who established himself as a powerful chieftain in the 10th century in the Eyjafjörður valley. The narrative describes various local feuds over land, personal honour, and family reputation in which Glúmr is involved over the course of his long life -- he is thought to have been born around 928 C.E., and to have died around 1003-1004 C.E..

Early on in the saga, we hear how the difficult Glúmr (more on him in the next post) -- fresh from rite-of-passage triumphs in Norway, such as overcoming a dangerous berserkr -- has a remarkable dream, in which he is standing outside his farm at Þverá looking north towards the fjord (passage in Old Norse below). He sees a woman walking in through the district: she turns directly to face Þverá and she is so huge that her shoulders touch the mountains on both sides of the valley. Glúmr goes out of the farmyard to meet her with the intention of inviting her to stay but he wakes from the dream before this is achieved. On waking, Glúmr describes the dream to his household and interprets it as foretelling the death of his powerful Norwegian grandfather, Vigfúss. The woman is his grandfather´s hamingja, or guardian spirit. When ships reach Iceland from Norway later on in the summer, the news of Glúmr´s grandfather´s death is announced, and the dream is proved to have been a prophetic one.

Looking south down the Eyjafjörður valley from Akureyri
 Þverá -- now known as Munkaþverá, on account of the Benedictine monastery founded on the site in 1155 and dissolved with the Reformation in 1550 -- is only a few minutes' drive north from the farm I´m staying on, Fellshlíð, halfway down the Eyjafjörður valley on the eastern side. Fellshlíð used to be called Öxnafellskot and was a hjáleiga (a leased smallholding) of the large (and in the past, very wealthy) neighbouring farm to the north, which is called Öxnafell -- hence the literal translation of Öxnafellskot, 'the Öxnafell farm-cottage'. Öxnafell is named in Víga-Glúms saga, along with numerous other farms in the broad valley that I can see from Fellshlíð: Grund and Espihóll, to name but two examples. It has been suggested that Víga-Glúms saga was put together as a written narrative in the 13th century by someone attached to the monastery at Munkaþverá.

Thermos to hand and back up against a hay bale, wrapped up snug in outdoor kit (thank you 66 Norður, Rab, and Les at the Salvation Army shop in Cambridge) and with Fellshlíð horses peering at me curiously in the mane-whipping wind, there I was: sitting and reading about Glúmr's dream-woman and mapping out her path for myself, glancing across the valley, and north and south up and down it. The passage is a striking one wherever one is reading it; the immensity of the dream vision, and the significance of the event are further highlighted when one is actually in the landscape of the dream. This kind of experience is at the heart of what this project is about and the first glimmerings of the idea came to me while I was working on the farm here for the first time in 2008... reading Víga-Glúms saga then, I realised for the first time how remarkable it is to be able to locate this literature so precisely in the landscape as it is today. In the next instalment, more about Killer-Glúmr...and more about some of the specific places named in the saga and the people who live in these places now.

Víga-Glúms saga, ch. 9, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson in Eyfirðinga sǫgur, Íslenzk fornrit vol 9 (Reykjavík, 1956), pp. 30-31; my translation into English

Þat er sagt, at Glúm dreymði eina nótt: hann þóttisk vera úti staddr á bœ sínum ok sjá út til fjarðarins. Hann þóttisk sjá konu eina ganga útan eptir heraðinu, ok stefndi þangat til Þverár; en hon var svá mikil, at axlarnar tóku út fjǫllin tveggja vegn. Enn hann þóttisk ganga ór garði á mót henni ok bauð henni til sín; ok síðan vaknaði hann. Ǫllum þótti undarligt, en hann segir svá: "Draumr er mikill ok merkiligr, en svá mun ek hann ráða, at Vigfúss, móðurfaðir minn, mun nú vera andaðr, ok myndi kona sjá hans hamingja vera, er fjǫllum hæra gekk. Ok var hann um aðra menn fram um flesta hluti at virðingu, ok hans hamingja mun leita sér þangat staðfestu, sem ek em." En um sumarit, er skip kómú út, spurðisk andlát Vigfúss.

"It is said that Glúmr dreamed one night: he thought he was standing outside on his farm, looking out to the fjord. He seemed to see a certain woman walking from the sea through the district, and she headed thither, to Þverá; and she was so huge that her shoulders touched the mountains on both sides. And he seemed to walk from the yard out towards her and he invited her to his house; and afterwards, he woke. This seemed extraordinary to everyone, and he says then: 'It is a great dream and a significant one, and I interpret it thus, that Vigfúss, my maternal grandfather, is now dead, and that woman must be his guardian spirit, who walked taller than the mountains. And he [Vigfúss] was superior to other men in most matters of honour, and his guardian spirit must have been searching thither where I am for a resting place.' And during the summer, when ships came out [to Iceland], news of the death of Vigfúss became known."


  1. Reading along with you! Congratulations on getting the Embulence going again!

  2. Did you meet any Víga-Glúmr-look-alikes at the Þorrablót?
    Fun to follow your trip

  3. great that you have curtains - i trust they are floral design :)