Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Saga-Steads Documentary!

I am pleased to announce that Patrick Chadwick's documentary about my project, "Memories of Old Awake", was released by the University of Cambridge yesterday as part of their 'Cambridge Ideas' series. It was filmed in May in the West Fjords, and focuses on Gísla saga Súrssonar.

A short press release accompanies a link to the film on the University website here http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/video-and-audio/cambridge-ideas-memories-of-old-awake/

Or you can go straight to Vimeo to watch it here http://www.vimeo.com/29594820


Autumn colours and mosses on Hallmundarhraun

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Romeo and Juliet of The North: Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu

View towards Grímsstaðamúli (and Ytri Hraundalur), Borgarfjörður

'Þat var helzt gaman Helgu, at hon rekði skikkjuna Gunnlaugsnaut ok horfði þar á löngum. Ok eitt sinn kom þar sótt mikil á bæ þeirra Þorkels ok Helgu, ok krömðusk margir lengi. Helga tók þá ok þyngð ok lá þó eigi. Ok einn laugaraptan sat Helga í eldaskála ok hneigði höfuð í kné Þorkatli, bónda sínum, ok lét senda eptir skikkjunni Gunnlaugsnaut. Ok er skikkjan kom til hennar, þá settisk hon upp ok rakði skikkjuna fyrir sér ok horfði á um stund. Ok síðan hná hon aptr í fang bónda sínum ok var þá örend' ('Helga's greatest joy was to spread out the cloak 'Gunnlaugr's gift' and gaze on it for a long time. At one time, a great sickness came to Þorkell's and Helga's farm, and many succumbed to this wasting disease for a long time. Helga became ill but couldn't stay in bed. One evening Helga sat in the hall and her head sunk onto her husband Þorkell's lap, and she had the cloak 'Gunnlaugr's gift' sent for. And when the cloak was brought to her, she sat up and spread out the cloak in front of her and gazed on it for a while. And then she sunk back again into her husband's arms and breathed her last'; Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, ed. Sigurður Nordal and Guðni Jónsson, in Íslenzk fornrit 3 (Reykjavík, 1938), ch. 13, pp. 106-107).  

Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu ('The Saga of Gunnlaugr Serpent-tongue')-- is one of the most romantic and tragic of the Íslendingasögur. It was one of the most popular and well-known sagas in Britain in the 19th century on account of its subject-matter, comparatively short and simple plot, and small cast of characters; William Morris's 1875 translation of the saga into English made it widely available to the British and American public. The story is, in essence, one of doomed love: Gunnlaugr ormstunga Illugason falls in love with Helga in fagra ('the beautiful') Þorsteinsdóttir and she is promised to Gunnlaugr for three years while he travels abroad to acquire honour and wealth. Another Icelander, Hrafn Önundarson, also loves Helga and asks her father for her hand. When Gunnlaugr doesn't return, Helga is -- unwillingly -- betrothed to Hrafn; Gunnlaugr finally arrives back in Iceland on the night of Helga's and Hrafn's wedding, too late. Gunnlaugr and Hrafn fight a public duel at the National Assembly (the Alþingi) the following summer; the result is disputed and duelling is subsequently banned in Iceland.

Helga dies in Þorkell's lap; from a Danish
translation of the saga (1900)
So Gunnlaugr and Hrafn agree to meet in Norway to fight again. The two men rendezvous at the agreed place: "Þat er nú vel, er vit höfum fundizk" ("It's good that we have met now"; Gunnlaugs saga ch. 12, p. 101) Gunnlaugr states. The two men fight; Gunnlaugr chops off Hrafn's leg but Hrafn uses a tree-stump to prop himself up. Hrafn asks Gunnlaugr to fetch him some water and promises not to betray Gunnlaugr by attacking him if he uses his helmet as a vessel; Gunnlaugr removes his helmet and fills it with water for Hrafn. Hrafn reaches out with his left hand to take the helmet, and strikes Gunnlaugr a terrible blow on his head with his right hand. "You have betrayed me evilly now, and ignobly, when I trusted you" says Gunnlaugr ("Illa sveiktu mik nú, ok ódrengiliga fór þér, þar sem ég trúða þér", Gunnlaugs saga ch. 12, p. 102); "That's true," answered Hrafn, "but this forced me to it, that I will not grant you the embrace of Helga the fair" ("Satt er þat ... en þat gekk mér til þess, at ek ann þér eigi faðmlagsins Helgu innar fögru", Gunnlaugs saga ch. 12, p. 102). The fight continues and Hrafn dies; Gunnlaugr dies three days later from wounds he sustained. Back in Iceland, the fathers of both men are visited in their dreams by their blood-drenched sons; later, confirmation of the outcome of the fight is brought to Iceland. Helga is married to a man called Þorkell Hallkelsson and bears many children by him but she never stops loving Gunnlaugr. She holds on to him and his memory by gazing at the cloak Gunnlaugr gave to her -- a cloak that Gunnlaugr received when at the court of King Aðalráðr (Æthelred) of England as a reward for a praise-poem composed in Aðalráðr's honour.  

Gilsbakki today
"The story of the tragic fate of the lovers is a northern counterpart to Romeo and Juliet", wrote William Gershom Collingwood in his 1899 book A Pilgrimage to the Saga-Steads of Iceland (at p. 48). Collingwood -- and William Morris, ahead of Collingwood in the 1870s -- visited Gilsbakki in Hvítársíða/Borgarfjörður where Gunnlaugr was born: "The present church and parsonage lie among rich meadows on a height overlooking the valley with its lava field and thick copsewoods, and beyond, a fine panorama of glacier-clothed mountains. On both sides of the site deep gills entrench it -- whence the name, and perhaps in ancient times added some strength and security to the position. They are at any rate richly picturesque -- a fit setting for the love story whose memories haunt the place", wrote Collingwood (A Pilgrimage, p. 48). It seems that the farm buildings at Gilsbakki have always been more-or-less on the same site (the site was dug by archaeologists from Brown University in the USA a couple of years ago; photos of the excavation can be seen here); the spot where according to the saga Gunnlaugr, aged 12 and longing to travel abroad, laid out goods he took from his father's storehouse only to be denied them and permission to travel by his father, must have been somewhere up behind the present farm-house. 

The 'gil' or gully at Gilsbakki, looking south
Today, the turf-roofed-farmhouse that Collingwood and Morris would have found, and that Collingwood painted (a b/w image of Collingwood's picture can be found here, bottom left), has been replaced by modern stone buildThe ings; the fine views across the lava-and birch-carpeted valley below the farm (and the sides of the gil or gully on which account the farm is named Gilsbakki, 'bank of the gully') have not changed much, though the glacier Langsjökull is said to have diminished, and the glacier on the mountain Ok has all but disappeared. Mild September sun was lighting up the valley when I visited Gilsbakki and the colours now are stunning: rich oranges and deep reds contrasting with the greyish-green mosses that enfold the flattish outcrops of lava. Inside the farmhouse, a copy of Collingwood's painting of the old farm hangs on the wall, and a copy of the small watercolour portrait Collingwood produced of the then farmer's three-year-old daughter is in a photo-frame on a bookshelf. When the Icelandic photographer Einar Falur Ingólfsson visited Gilsbakki to photograph the place as part of his project following in Collingwood's footsteps, he photographed the current farmer's then six-year-old daughter as well as the farm from the same spot chosen by Collingwood to paint his picture: this continuity regarding the significance of the place as a 'saga-stead' or site, from the 'Saga-Age' when the events in the saga are said to have happened (the late 10th and early 11th centuries) to the 19th century, and over into the 21st century, delighted me.

There are no place-names on the Gilsbakki land that commemorate Gunnlaugr; the one place-name there that is associated with Gunnlaugr and his story rather commemorates his brother Hermundr, who according to tradition -- not the saga -- was buried in the so-called Hermundarhóll ('Hermundr's hill'). Directly to the west of Gilsbakki, however, in Hraundalur in Borgarfjörður, there is a striking hill called Helguhóll ('Helga's hill'). This place is not named in Gunnlaugs saga -- but it is not far from the farm to which Helga moved (Hraun(s)dalr, now Ytri-Hraundalur, a summer-house rather than a working farm) after marrying Þorkell, and on which she died. Local tradition there, at some point in time, for some reason, connected Helga with this hill...a short article by Bjarni V. Guðjónsson about the hill that I was pointed towards suggests that perhaps it was a place where Helga found refuge, where she sat on summer evenings looking out over the plains below and over to Borg (where she was born -- being the daughter of Egill Skalla-Grímsson's son Þorsteinn; see posts of 20th March25th March, 2nd April on Egill, Egils saga, and Borg), where she might have found some peace from the trials of love she suffered in her life...

A slightly lighter-relief rendering of the saga (Gunnlaugr's and Hrafn's final duel) can be found here...you've got to love these saga re-enactments on YouTube... 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Grettir´s Head...and his Family´s Strandir Origins

Rune at work photographing Eiríksjökull

My pursuit of the outlaw Grettir Ásmundarson and his trails across and around Iceland has been continuing over the past week. I remember first reading Grettis saga as a BA student at Cambridge -- parts of his saga and a good number of the many verses in it were then set-texts for the Old Norse-Icelandic language and literature paper -- and I remember enjoying the saga especially then. It's an endlessly rich and entertaining read: Grettir is a magnetic figure, a giant amongst saga-protagonists, not just for his troll-wrestling and swimming feats and prodigious verse-composition and the frequent recourse he makes to pithy proverbs, but for his weaknesses too (his fear of the dark despite his superlative physical strength is poignant) and for the way that he is, simply, unlucky, in the way that events seem to conspire against him.
In the last post (September 11th) I wrote about Drangey and how Grettir met his death there in the 19th year of his outlawry. There are probably more place-names around Iceland -- rocks, caves, other landscape features -- with his name in them than any other character in the sagas. Many of these commemorate moments or episodes during his long period as an outlaw: places where he is said to have hidden out, where he tested or showed off his strength by heaving huge boulders around... One place I wanted to explore was Arnarvatn, north of Eiríksjökull and in the north-western part of the Highlands: Grettis saga states that 'Grettir went up onto Arnarvatnsheiði and built a hut there, the remains of which can still be seen, and lived there because he wanted do something other than rob, and got himself a net and a boat and caught fish to feed himself. He thought it very dreary on the mountains because he was so afraid of the dark' ('Grettir fór upp á Arnarvatnsheiði ok gerði sér þar skála, sem enn sér merki, ok bjósk þar um, því at hann vildi nú hvatvetna annat en ræna, fekk sér net ok bát ok veiddi fiska til matar sér. Honum þótti daufligt mjök á fjallinu, því at hann var mjök myrkfælinn', Grettis saga ed. Guðni Jónsson (Reykjavík 1936), ch. 54, p. 178). In the notes of the edition of the saga I've been using, I read that the outlines of this hut beside the lake can still be seen -- over 700 years or so after the saga was written down -- and the place-names Grettistangi (a long spit that protrudes into the lake) and Grettishöfði (cliffs which loom over the lake) testify to the tradition that Grettir dwelt there for a time. 

Grettisskáli, with Grettistangi behind
I met up with Norwegian photographer Rune Molnes who's been travelling around Iceland taking photos -- and we headed off together south down Miðfjörður (past Grettir's home, Bjarg, about which more anon) and up onto Arnarvatnsheiði. There were stunning views of Eiríksjökull along the way, and a beautiful herd of horses grazing by a river. We got to the lake, followed the track around and -- as dusk drew on -- combed the stretch of land beside the lake where the outlines of 'Grettisskáli', Grettir's hut, was said to be. I ran from one hummock to another and to the end of Grettistangi and back, the evening-sunshine blinding me and my hopes being raised again and again as I thought I'd found the spot, only to be dashed on closer examination... finally though, we stumbled on the outlines of something that was clearly man-made. Elated, I tried to take pictures in the failing light -- credit is due to Rune here for stepping in as a human tripod when I needed to be taller than my natural 5'4". Was this 'Grettisskáli'? I wanted to believe it was -- and maybe it really was -- though as always, the question of the relationship between places such as these and their identification with mentions in the sagas reared its knotty head. Equally, the grassed-over foundations of what then turned out to be 2 huts could have been shelters built by later hunters... Whatever the 'truth', I still find the extent that, all over Iceland, there are such traditions associating saga-characters with specific places in the landscape and borne out by place-names, riveting. 

Grettisþúfa at Bjarg

Grettistak at Bjarg...the big rock, that is...
Grettir's head -- which his enemy Þorbjörn Öngull hewed off his corpse to parade in front of people as proof of his deed -- is said to be buried at Bjarg, Grettir's home, under a stone that is known as Grettisþúfa ('Grettir's tussock'). I knocked on the door at Bjarg, met the present farmer and his brother, talked about Grettis saga with them and was shown the striking memorial to Grettir's mother, Ásdís, raised on Bjarg land in 1974 and incorporating four cast-iron plaques by the artist Halldór Pétursson which depict scenes from the saga featuring Ásdís. Grettir's mother was a strong woman: the saga describes how Grettir's relationship with his father was always strained but how Ásdís was always supportive of Grettir, giving him a family heirloom, the sword Ættartangi (which comes into another saga set in the area, Vatnsdæla saga -- to be covered in a blogpost soon), when he was first outlawed and had to leave home. I walked up onto the heath above the farm at Bjarg to seek out an enormous 'Grettistak' boulder which Grettir is said to have lifted...it must be about twice my height; one of the two farmer-brothers at Bjarg told me how they used to climb up onto it for fun as kids. Some of these 'Grettistök' are more likely than others...Grettir would have had to have been a giant to have lifted this one. I took up the offer of a bit of physical exercise by helping the Bjarg farmers round up their sheep...and laughed at the collection of stones at the foot of the outdoor staircase up to the front door which they joked are their exercise stones.

It was Grettir's great-grandfather Önundr who settled first in Iceland, after emigrating from Norway following a battle against King Haraldr hárfagri in which he lost his leg and gained the nickname 'tréfót' ('peg-leg'). Önundr didn't establish the farm at Bjarg, but landed in the east on the Langanes spit, sailed west into Húnaflóa, and finally claimed land on the eastern stretch of the West Fjords known as Strandir after staying with Auðr/Unnr in djúpúðga of Laxdæla saga fame (see post of 24th April). Önundr built a farm at Kaldbak, lookng south over a small bay called Kaldbaksvík -- north of Bjarnarfjörður. Kaldbak is the name of a mountain on the southern lip of Kaldbaksvík; Grettis saga describes how Önundr looked over at this mountain, which was covered in snow, and spoke a verse lamenting how he has left behind his family, and exchanged his Norwegian land and inheritance for this cold landscape. Early chapters in the saga describe events that took place along the Strandir coast: a dispute over the rights to a beached whale that is found on a skerry called Rifssker (just off the Reykjanes peninsula north of Kaldbak), and how the bay called Trékyllisvík got its name after some merchants were wrecked and lost their ship, a broad-bottomed boat called Trékyllir. 

Looking into Kaldbaksdalur over Kaldbaksvatn

Tréfótshaugur, in shadow left of river
When he died, Önundr was buried in a mound at the end of Kaldbaksdalur -- the mound is named Tréfótshaugur ('Peg-Leg's Mound') in Grettis saga and he has one of the funniest epitaphs in the sagas: 'he was the most bold and agile one-legged-man in Iceland' ('hann hefir fræknastr verit ok fimastr einfættr maðr á Íslandi', Grettis saga ch. 11, pp. 25-26). I drove up the Strandir coast to find Peg-Leg's grave... Autumn is very much in evidence here -- the leaves on scrub and bushes on the hillsides are turning all bright fiery shades of orange, red, pink, yellow, and sheep were being rounded up here too this weekend. Hiking in to the end of the Kaldbaksdalur valley took longer than it might have done...on account of the vast quantities of beautiful blueberries that kept presenting themselves to me (I was surprised by this, as it's been cold the past week and most berries have perished in the overnight frosts). Eventually I reached the end, and ate my sandwich in the sunshine looking over at the mound -- in fact, there seemed to be two. One was enormous, a great pointed pile of rock and rubble; the second smaller (though still not inconsiderable) and more believably man-made...again, I wondered whether the story about Önundr's burial here might have been attached to the place at some point after his 'real' or historical death and burial...

It wasn't only Grettis saga that was directing my footsteps along Strandir though -- several places along the coast come into a number of other sagas and I have been enjoying the challenge of working out the overlap between them in terms of their geography, genealogy, and the events they relate. A character called Finnbogi inn rammi ('the strong') -- another saga character renowned for his strength -- ended his life at a place called Finnbogastaðir in the Trékyllisvík bay, whence he moved after being driven from the Víðidalur valley in Húnavatnssýsla by the sons of Ingimundr inn gamli ('the old'). Finnbogi's story is told in Finnboga saga; that of Ingimundr's sons in Vatnsdæla saga; both sagas describe the feud. Much of the action in Vatnsdæla saga takes place in Vatnsdalur -- where events in two further sagas, Kormáks saga and Hallfreðar saga, also take place...but these sagas are for future posts; for the present I will sign off and enjoy the luxury of a one-off night in the cosy hotel at Djúpavík...a belated birthday present to myself, for I am now 32 and my aging bones could not resist the temptation of a night reading and writing *inside* a real house on my way back south down Strandir...

Looking over to Finnbogastaðir in Trékyllisvík

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sheep Past and Present, and Grettis saga

Sheep may safely graze...my breakfast companions this morning

Rounded-Up Sheep
Last weekend, I helped round up the sheep in one part of Eyjafjarðarsveit (in the north of Iceland) -- something I've done each autumn for the past four years. Farmers send their sheep up into the mountains early in the summer to graze, and they're rounded up and driven down in September...to fill freezers for the winter and be turned into all kinds of sausage/pate/smoked- pickled- or minced-meat goodies... The sheep-roundup is a co-operative local operation and in this and in other ways, I don't imagine the basic methods have changed for hundreds of years, though communication on the hillsides and moors is made easier now thanks to walkie-talkies, and some ride quad-bikes or motocross bikes rather than horses or walk. Those rounding up the sheep will string out over a designated area and move forward together in a line, shouting and whistling to drive the sheep down and into a herd; this herd is then driven into a sheep-fold and the individual sheep are then sorted by the farmers according to the identification tag in their ear. It's a big local community event and many people turn up to watch or get involved in the sheep-sorting part of the process, if they weren't out there rounding up the sheep to begin with. 

Sheep being sorted in Vatnsdalur
The sound of hundreds of sheep bleating away together, and the sight of them hopping along in a woolly mass, makes for a hugely entertaining spectacle: they are funny creatures. My delight at sheepish behaviour is nothing new however: the famous saga outlaw Grettir Ásmundarson seems also, at times, to have had a soft spot for sheep though more often he rustles them from local farmers for his supper. There is a rather pitiful description of a dusky-coloured wether in the remote Highland valley Þórisdalur, whose lamb Grettir takes and eats in his 8th or 9th year as an outlaw: after 'Mókolla' loses her lamb, she goes up to Grettir's hut every night and bleats, so that Grettir cannot sleep; Grettir regrets killing the lamb on account of this disturbance ('En er Mókolla missti dilks síns, fór hon upp á skála Grettis hverja nótt ok jarmaði, svá at hann mátti enga nótt sofa; þess iðraðisk hann mest, er hann hafði dilkinn skorit, fyrir ónáðum hennar', Grettis saga, ed. Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 7 (Reykjavík 1936), ch. 61, p. 200).  

Drangey and Kerling, looking north
Grettir spent the final three years of his life on the island of Drangey in Skagafjörður; when he arrived on the island (with his younger brother Illugi, and a thief/servant called Glaumr), Grettis saga states there were around 80 sheep grazing there, belonging to local farmers. After a couple of years, Grettir and the others have eaten their way through all of these, but they allow one ram to live -- as a source of (presumably badly-needed) entertainment. This ram was 'hösmögóttr at lit ok hyrndr mjök. At honum hendu þeir mikit gaman, því at hann var svá spakr, at hann stóð fyrir úti ok rann eptir þeim, þar sem þeir gengu. Hann gekk heim til skála á kveldin og gneri hornum sínum við hurðina' (Grettis saga ch. 73, p. 237; 'grey-bellied in colour and with big horns. They had much fun with him, for he was so tame that he stood outside and ran after them wherever they walked. He went home to the hut in the evening and rubbed his horns against the door').

Grettir survived longer as an outlaw than any one else in Iceland and there are countless places around the country where he is said to have hid out in a cave or built a shelter, or demonstrated his strength by lifting a large rock (known as a 'Grettistak' or 'Grettishaf'). According to the saga, Grettir installed himself on Drangey after his sojourn in Bárðardalur, where he fought two trolls/giants (see my previous post of 30th August). Grettir's younger brother Illugi is determined to accompany him; their mother Ásdís, on saying her farewells, knows she will never see her sons again, and that they will be overcome by treachery. Drangey is a perfect defensive stronghold: 'hon var grasi vaxin, en sjábrött, svá at hvergi mátti upp á komask, nema þar sem stigarnir váru við látnir, ok ef upp var dreginn inn efri stiginn, þá var þat einskis manns færleikr, at komask á eyna' (Grettis saga ch. 69, p. 225; 'It was grown over with grass, but with steep cliffs down to the sea, so that noone could come up onto it except where the ladders were, and if the upper ladder was pulled in, then noone had the strength to get onto the island'). The island rises up sheer in the middle of Skagafjörður, with the rock-stack Kerling to its south.

Grettir, Illugi and Glaumr built a hut on a grassy patch at the south-eastern end of the island: this part of the island is now known as Kofabrekka ('Hut-slope'). Other place-names on the island commemorate Grettir's time there: the only water source on the island is called 'Grettisbrunnur' ('Grettir's well'), a certain cliff-face is called 'Grettissteinar' ('Grettir's stones'), and another cliff-face, Hæringshlaup ('Hæringr's leap'), is said to be where a Norwegian assassin named Hæringr, who had amazingly managed to scale the cliffs, ran back and fell off the cliff down to the rocks below after Illugi approached to fight him. Grettir had an ally who lived on the farm at Reykir on the Reykjaströnd shore (the western side of Skagafjörður) and rowed him out to the island secretly: on one occasion, when the servant Glaumr carelessly lets the fire go out, Grettir swims to the mainland to get fire...and warms up after his swim in the natural hotspring at Reykir.

Reykir from the sea
Sign at the hotpot at Reykir

Today, this hotpot is known as Grettislaug ('Grettir's Bath'), and a boat departs from Reykir to the island in the summer. I stayed at Reykir last night in the Embulance: there were northern lights, after a pink and grey sunset in which I lost myself while soaking in Grettislaug, and I woke this morning to a pearly sunrise over Skagafjörður and the sound of breakers crashing on the shingle a few metres from where I'd parked the van. And most exciting of all, I joined a short tour out to the island this morning...something which I have been waiting and hoping for for days. William Gershom Collingwood describes how he 'steamed into the fjord, rolling in the swell of the open sea after rough weather, [as] the sunset died away in purple and rosy light on the hills, and gave place to a cold twilight, with a moon that silvered the snowy summits. Drangey stood grim and grey upon the water, seeming unapproachable, with bare sides and bare top, the most inhospitable of abodes' (A Pilgrimage to the Saga-Steads of Iceland, 1897, p. 169). It's an island that has exerted a great hold on the saga-saturated imagination for centuries. 

We didn't go up onto the island -- which I will have to do next summer now -- but it was remarkable to sail around it and examine it up close. Although it looks like a solid mass from the mainland, in fact its contours and cliffs are not at all regular and, particularly on the western side, there are a number of small headlands or peninsulas that jut out into the water and form a couple of bays (one of which is known as Uppgönguvík, literally 'Climbing-Up-Bay', where one ascends the island via ladders and a small track). The colours struck me too -- warm honey-yellows, thick white crusts of birdshit, a black seam that runs on a rough horizontal through some of the cliff-faces, the green of the grassy slopes on the island's crown. The water-source, Grettisbrunnur, is visible from the sea, being on a small grassy ledge, accessed by a ladder and with a sheer drop to the sea below; one can see too the slope where Grettir's hut is said to have been...tantalising. 

The southern end of Drangey;
Kofabrekka is the higher grassy slope
Grettir died on Drangey -- but only after a witch cast a spell on a log which washed up on the island, and off which Grettir's axe glanced into his leg when chopping it up for firewood. The wound Grettir sustained caused his leg to swell up monstrously and turn black; this rather incapacitated him when his enemies finally managed to get up to the top of the island. 'Hösmagi [the grey-bellied sheep] is knocking at the door, brother', said Illugi; 'and is knocking rather hard and without mercy', said Grettir; and at that moment the door burst open' ('Þá mælti Illugi: "Knýr Hösmagi hurð, bróðir," segir hann. "Ok knýr heldr fast," sagði Grettir, "ok óþyrmiliga;" ok í því brast sundr hurðin', Grettis saga ch. 82, p. 259). Grettir is overpowered despite his brother's valiant attempt to defend him; 'there was no defence from him, because he was already near dead from the leg-wound; the thigh was suppurated all the way up to his guts; they dealt him many wounds, but little or no blood came from him  ('Varð þat engi vörn af honum, því at hann var áðr kominn at bana af fótarsárinu; var lærit allt grafit upp at smáþörmum; veittu þeir honum þá mörg sár, svá at lítt eða ekki blæddi', Grettis saga ch. 82, p. 261). Grettir's principal enemy Þorbjörn Öngull cuts off Grettir's hand to plunder his famous short-sword Kársnaut (acquired after fighting a trollish zombie in his burial mound in Norway), and then cuts off his head with the same sword. Þorbjörn later presents Grettir's mother with Grettir's head at the family farm at Bjarg (I head there tomorrow), and is eventually killed himself by the same sword by another of Grettir's brothers in Constantinople.

The closing words of the saga present the verdict on Grettir's life as formulated by Sturla lögmaðr ('lawspeaker') Þórðarson, who lived in the 13th century and was a poet and writer as well as a key political figure of his time. Grettir was the greatest of all outlaws, for three reasons, Sturla proclaimed: first, he was the wisest of all outlaws, because he survived longer than any other outlaw and was never overcome while he was healthy; second, he was the strongest man in Iceland of his time and better at dealing with the walking dead and other monsters than other men; finally, because he was avenged in Constantinople, as no other Icelander has been, and this by his brother Þorsteinn drómundr who was an exceptionally blessed/lucky man. Bedtime now for me -- with my hair stiff with sea-salt, a bright moon shining over the Embulance, and my head full of thoughts of Grettir; the story of his encounter with another revenant-troll, Glámr, will be told in the next instalment.     

Drangey and Kerling