Last year three new books and several articles about Njáls saga were published in non-Scandinavian countries, indicating that this saga is nowadays considered one of the greatest masterpieces in Western literature. In my lecture I will discuss the American law professor William Ian Miller’s Why is your Axe Bloody? A Reading of Njáls Saga, which is, in my view, a complete misreading of the text, treating it as if it were a modern naturalistic crime story and not a medieval saga with religious overtones.
Furthermore, I will discuss new books about Njála by the German professor Alois Wolf and the British scholar Andrew Hamer, both considerably more useful than Miller’s book. But I will also try to show why Einar Ólafur Sveinsson’s Icelandic works on the saga are still very much worth reading, in spite of the fact that some of his interpretations are nowadays, and for good reasons, being revised by a new generation of Icelandic scholars.
Lars Lönnroth started his career in Uppsala, Sweden. HIs doctoral dissertation, European Sources of Icelandic Saga-Writing, was published in 1965. He was a teacher of Scandinavian literature at the University of California, Berkeley, between 1965 and 1974, when he became a professor at the University of Aalborg in Denmark. In 1982 he returned to Sweden and served as a professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Gothenburg until 2000. During this period he was also for some years (1991-93) editor of the cultural section in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. His most well-known books about Icelandic literature are Njáls Saga: A Critical Introduction (1976), Skaldemjödet i berget. Essayer om fornisländsk ordkonst och dess återanvändning i nutiden (1996) and The Academy of Odin: Selected Papers on Old Norse Literature (2011). He has also published his autobiography, Dörrar till främmande rum. Minnesfragment (2009)