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Thread: Hamhleypur in Thorskfirdinga Saga: A Postclassical Ironisation of Myth?

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    Lightbulb Hamhleypur in Thorskfirdinga Saga: A Postclassical Ironisation of Myth?

    By Phil Cardew, School of Cultural Studies, King Alfred’s College, Winchester

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    The notion of the hamhleypa, an individual able to change shape at will, is common enough within Icelandic saga narrative, particularly within fantastic narratives commonly classed as fornaldarsögur. These individuals hover on the fringes between the human and the non-human, possessing abilities which are beyond the reach of individuals who operate within the sphere of the natural, but appearing (at least at times) to also share the form of their human protagonists.

    They are found in narratives such as Völsunga saga; narratives which belong to the dim-and-distant past, a world in which the laws of nature – the nature of human life within the Middle Ages – are suspended. A world
    populated by dragons and trolls; former inhabitants of an earth since taken over by human kind.

    The world in which the narrative of Thorskfirdinga saga is set is very much the world of the Middle Ages, albeit the early Middle Ages. The events narrated in Thorskfirdinga saga take place only just outside the historical period normally called the söguöld2 A.D. 930-1030. The only reference in the saga to which any form of date may be attached is the statement at the end of chapter 15 that:

    Ekki var flessi sćtt í saksóknir, flví at flessi tí›indi ur›u fyrr en Úlfljótr flutti lög til Íslands út3
    [This truce was not brought to court, because these events took place before [that time] when Úlfljótr brought the law out to Iceland.]

    Although the dating of this event is not precise, Jón Johannesson suggests that in the Konungsannáll Úlfljótr is said to have arrived in Iceland in A.D. 927.4 This is enough to give us a context for the action of Thorskfirdinga saga. It takes place before the establishment of the Alflingi, and, certainly, before Christianity reached Iceland. Yet it takes place after the semi-mythical world of pre-history in which the fornaldarsögur are set; this is the world of the fortidssagaer5 rather than that of the oldtidssagaer..6

    In one way, the setting of the saga within an historical framework earlier than that normally found within the Íslendinga sögur allows the saga more freedom with respect to those supernatural and fantastic elements that form part of its narrative. However, this freedom in no way tinges the naturalistic narrative of events taking place within Iceland. Whilst there are no law courts in which the characters may engage in legal conflict, there is a scrupulous sense of fair play in the settlements that occur after the relevant characters have engaged in battle. A sense of fair play which, moreover, operated within the same constraints as the overtly legal settlements of other, more classical, sagas. As an example, after the first conflict involving fiórir, upon his return to Iceland, when fiórir, Hallsteinn and Hallr have fought a hard battle it is said that:

    Hallr bau› flá sćttir, ok kom flví svá, at hann seldi Hallsteini sjálfdćmi fyrir víg fiórarins. En hann ger›i tvau hundru› silfrs;en menn fleir, er fellu vi› Búlká, skyldu koma fyrir tilför. En sá, er fiórir vá á Va›ilseyri, var fé bćttr, ok kom flar fyrir Uppsalaland, ok skyldi allt ógert, ef Hallr heldi eigi sćttina. Fór Hallr vi› fletta heim ok undi illa vi›.7

    [Hallr then offered terms of reconciliation, and arranged things in such a way that he granted to Hallsteinn the right of self-judgement for the killing of fiórarinn, and he fixed the compensation amount at the silver equivalent of two long-hundred ells [of wadmal]; but those men who fell by the Búlk river were to make up for the attack. But the one whom fiórir killed at Va›ilseyrr, was compensated for with wergild, and for that the land at Uppsalir served as equivalent, and everything would be null and void, if Hallr did not keep the agreement. Hallr went home at that, and was profoundly displeased.]

    This settlement, which is entirely typical of the way disputes are arbitrated in the saga, bears all the marks of one arrived at through legal proceedings. The estimation of the value of an individual’s death, the granting of sjálfdćmi to an aggrieved party, the waiving of compensation because of ambush, or unprovoked attack, and the granting of land as well as money in compensation, are all elements found frequently in other sagas. Another common feature is the dissatisfaction of one side with the settlement, providing an excuse for the disagreement to be re-kindled when the opportunity next arises.

    However, the narrative of the saga, whilst dealing in the main part with a fairly natural dispute revolving around land, family loyalty and the control of temple tolls, contains elements which might, at the very least, be considered unusual within a naturalistic setting. Characters travel abroad and meet mounddwellers and dragons and, within Iceland itself, there are occasional moments of magic and the supernatural, involving shape changing and sorcery. It is the differentiation between these two settings – Iceland and abroad – and the representation of the fantastic within those two settings that is of central interest to this paper.

    The main útanfer› episode within Thorskfirdinga saga occurs in chapters three to six, where fiórir Oddsson and his fóstbrć›ra travel abroad in search of fame and fortune. Events narrated within these chapters provide, for many scholars, the most important features of the saga, providing, as they do, links with the ‘Bear’s son’ type of the folktale and thence with the Old English poem Beowulf.

    Such features as can be shown to be held in common between Thorskfirdinga saga and the ‘Bear’s son’ type of the folktale are associated more with Beowulf‘s descent into the mere8 to fight Grendel’s mother (Beowulf, ll.1492-1643)9 than with his fight with the dragon at the end of the poem (Beowulf, ll. 2460-2751),10 despite the nature of the adversaries in Thorskfirdinga saga.

    The útanfer› narrative of Thorskfirdinga saga differs significantly from characteristic representations of the ‘Bear’s son’ tale, particularly as identified by Friedrich Panzer.11 fiórir is not alone in his quest, and is not chasing after a monster that he has already wounded, as the classic ‘Bear’s son’ scenario would demand. The ‘demons’ he encounters are, in this case, dragons, who have done little harm to humanity, and are content to sit guarding their hoard in a remote place, away from human habitation.12 fiórir is guided in his quest by a third party, in the form of Agnarr, the mound-dweller who claims to be his paternal uncle, and it is through Agnarr’s agency that he is able to gain the treasure that the dragons are guarding.

    Agnarr is responsible for the light which enables the companions to find their way through the cave, and which puts the dragons to sleep when it shines upon them, at the same time making the swords apparent tofiórir and his companions. fiórir’s companions do not abandon him; those who are with him stay in the cave as long as he does, while those who await him above engage the dragon that flies out of the cave, wounding it with a spear. One of them receives a mortal wound from the blood that gushes from that wound, and the other is severely incapacitated in his foot, so that he is unable to give any assistance to his companions below. fiórir restores him to health with the gloves Agnarr gave him, on his return.

    All the changes made in Thorskfirdinga saga to Panzer‘s model tend to have an effect of making the expedition more practical and believable. fiórir and his companions do not dive into a lake or engage their adversaries at its bottom, but climb through a waterfall into a cave behind it. They make elaborate plans in order to accomplish this endeavour which are scrupulous in their practicality in taking account of how the difficult terrain to be overcome.

    We do not witness a venture in which there is one superhuman hero with loyal followers who allow him to take all the risks and accomplish all the heroic feats. It is true that fiórir is more accomplished than his companions; however, many of them accompany him, and all join him in stabbing the dragons; this is a joint venture with a leader, not the act of a single hero. fiórir’s prowess is particularly evident, for he is the only one athletic enough to make the return journey unaided. However, he makes this journey lightly-clad, and drags the treasure and his companions up after him, having left people below who can tie the treasure onto the rope for him.

    Thorskfirdinga saga seems to have attached great importance to making an unlikely tale plausible and believable. In this respect the narrative follows the path suggested by Vladimir Propp, in his comparison of the treatment of reality in folklore and literature.13

    In literature, the unusual is depicted as something possible and arouses emotions of horror, rapture, and amazement; we are ready to believe in the events described. In folk prose, the unusual acquires dimensions impossible in life.14 Admittedly, the dragons that fiórir and his companions encounter are not part of the everyday, realistic, world. However, everything has been done to provide a logical train of events despite the fantastic nature of the monsters encountered.

    The dragons must be overcome in order for fiórir and his companions to get hold of the treasure; the existence of the treasure has been revealed to fiórir by a third party, Agnarr, who is thus protecting his own hoard of wealth; fiórir has become aware of that hoard of wealth through seeing a strange light in the sky following a fishing trip; fiórir and his companions are engaging in fishing in order to gain some wealth during their trip abroad; fiórir and his companions travelled abroad in search of wealth and adventure. Despite the improbability of the actions undertaken, the logical cause and effect that moves the companions from one scenario to another is ordinary and practical. They react to the circumstances that confront them as the story advances, and behave as we would expect them so to do.

    This sense of logicality within the narrative of even the most improbable event within the saga may well have to do with the nature of the characters involved. If we were to use the theory of modes as adapted from Northrop Frye by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards,15 it would be possible to state that the fundamental difference between the heroic characters of Völsunga saga and fiórir is that they function somewhere between the ‘romance’and ‘myth’ modes of narrative whereas fiórir is placed firmly within the ‘high mimetic’ mode during the útanfer› episode, slipping back into the ‘low mimetic’ mode only after he returns to Iceland.16 fiórir is completely human, and therefore requires the assistance of a non-human agency (in the form of Agnarr) in order to confront and overcome the fantastic monsters which he encounters in the cave of Valr the viking.

    fiórir‘s basic humanity is important as he is, in the words of R.W. Chambers,17 ‘a historical character; he was one of the early settlers of Iceland‘. Chambers’ only authority for this statement is Landnámabók, which includes fiórir Oddsson amongst those settlers whose land claims it lists. In terms of the current discussion, it might be less problematic to say that fiórir is presented to us as an historical person by his inclusion within Landnámabók.

    The útanfer› incident is also of importance to us, here, because of the nature of the dragons from whom fiórir and his companions take the treasure. These, as the narrative of Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar makes clear, were once humans - the viking, Valr and his sons, Köttr and Kisi who, in order to escape capture, fled to the cave with their treasure and turned themselves into dragons.

    Valr var í fer› me› fleim. Hann greip upp gullkistur tvćr. fićr váru svá flungar, at tveir menn höf›u nóg at bera flćr. Oddr hljóp eftir honum, en er fleir kómu at fossinum, steypti Valr sér ofan í hann, ok skildi svá me› fleim.

    fiá komu fleir at Köttr ok Kisi, Gaukr ok Haukr, ok sem fleir kómu at fossinum, fla greip Köttr Hauk, en Kisi Gauk, ok steyptust me› flá ofan í fossinn ok drápu flá bá›a. Hellir stórr var undir fossinum, ok köfu›u fleir fe›gar flangat ok lög›ust á gullit ok ur›u at flugdrekum ok höf›u hjálma á höf›um, en sver› undir bćgslum, ok lágu fleir flar, til fless at Gull-fiórir vann fossinn.18

    [Valr was travelling with them (Köttr and Kisi). He took up two gold-chests. They were so heavy that two men would have had enough (to do) to carry them. Oddr ran after him, and when they came to the waterfall Valr threw himself down into it, and so they parted.

    Then Köttr and Kisi, Gaukr and Haukr approached, and when they came to the waterfall, Köttr grabbed Haukr, and Kisi Gaukr, and fell down with them into the waterfall and killed them both (Gaukr and Haukr). There was a large cave was behind the waterfall and father and sons swam thither and laid themselves on the gold and became flying dragons and had helmets on their heads and swords under their wing-pits, and they lay there until that time when Gull-fiórir overcame the waterfall.]

    This form of shape-changing is quite in keeping with our perception of the presentation of the fantastic within a mythic environment. It is very much not in keeping with our perception of fiórir as a landnámsma›ur. Indeed, the narrative of Thorskfirdinga saga displays a similar ambivalence of attitude in its portrayal of similar events within the portion of the saga set in Iceland.

    The setting of the saga in a pre-Christian society allows for a relative degree of freedom in the practice of what might be considered witchcraft in the saga. Its use is not frowned upon in the same way as it is, say, in Laxdćla saga, and its practitioners are not instantly executed. Indeed, there are individuals on both sides who use supernatural forces for their own ends, and for the most part it is only those not on fiórir‘s side who suffer for it.

    Indeed, those instances of the use of some special, supernatural, skill form the only instances of fantastic events occurring within the Icelandic part of the saga. These events are interesting in their mixture of supernatural and naturalistic settings, and in their indication of the possession of strange powers by seemingly ordinary people.

    In chapter 10, after the murder of Már Hallvar›sson, the first member of the fóstbrć›ralag to die within Iceland, fiórir and some of his föstbrć›r trap one of the murderers in his house, setting a fire against the door.

    ... ok er fallin váru flest húsin ok menn gengu út, fleir er gri› váru gefin, sá fleir fiórir, at svín tvau hlupu eins vegar frá húsunum, gyltr ok gríss. fiórir flreif einn rapt ór eldinum ok skaut logbrandinum á lćr galtanum, ok brotnu›u bá›ir lćrleggirnir, ok fell hann flegar; ener fiórir kom at, sá hann at flar var Askma›r. Gekk fiórir af honum dau›um, en gyltrin hljóp í skóg, ok var flat Katla. 19

    [... and when most of the buildings had collapsed, and those who had been given quarter came out, fiórir and his companions saw two pigs running from the buildings on one side, a young sow and a hog. fiórir caught up one rafter from the fire, and threw the lighted brand at the thigh of the hog, and both the thigh bones broke, and he fell immediately; and when fiórir came there he saw that it was Askma›r. fiórir left him dead, but the sow ran into a wood, and it was Katla.]

    This is not the only occurrence of shape-changing in the saga. In chapter 14, fiórir comes across two women playing a game of hnettafl;20 one is said to be the daughter of Var›i from Vör›ufell, an ogress, and the other Kerling, the daughter of Styrkárr in Barmr, a hamhleypa, or shape-changing witch. Furthermore, in chapter 17, an incident occurs when Stykárr and Kerling are attacking fiórir at his home which, if not explicitly an act of shape-changing, certainly contains echoes of the incident quoted above.

    fiau gengu frá skipi ofanver›a nótt, ok gekk Kerling fyrst í virkit, flví at flegar spratt lássinn fyrir henni, er hon kom at; ok er hon kom í virkit, hljóp at henni gyltr mikil ok svá hart í fang henni, at hon fór öfug út af virkinu, ok í flví hljóp upp fiurí›r drikkinn ok ba› fióri vápnast, segir, at ófri›r var kominn at bćnum.21

    [They went from the ship towards the end of the night and Kerling went into the stronghold first because the lock sprang open at once before her, as she approached; and when she came into the stronghold, a huge young sow rushed at her, and so hard into her arms that she went backwards out of the stronghold, and then fiurí›r drikkin ran up and asked fiórir to get armed, saying that war had come to the farm.]

    Even if one does not connect the young sow with fiurí›r drikkin, a connection which has been thought to have some validity,22 the image of a young sow running out of a besieged house clearly reminds the reader/listener of the earlierincident. That the reference is made obliquely is interesting, suggesting a certain amount of caution in the narrative when dealing with unusual or potentially supernatural events; a caution which might seem somewhat out of place within the fantastic world of the fornaldarsögur, but which is very apt within the realistic world of the Íslendinga sögur.

    Most striking about both these references to shape-changing is that the people who transform themselves do so into domestic animals, which seem to have little in the way of heroic connections. H.E. Ellis Davidson,23 in a study which deals chiefly with the transformation of individuals into bears and wolves, comments on such incidents that:

    Sometimes men and women take the shape of pigs, but such episodes are of a different nature from those concerned with wolves and bears. [...] In the saga stories, the change into a boar or pig is generally used as a means of disguise to avoid attack by enemies [...].

    Such stories are of a more conventional kind, and have not the convincing force of the tales of shape-changing [into wolves and bears].These supernatural instances might, therefore, be deemed more domestic than heroic, and actually be seen to undermine the potential symbolic force they might, otherwise, possess.

    Chapter 17 contains three other references to supernatural events, all connected with Kerling Styrkársdóttir, the hamhleypa of chapter 14. On the way over to the encounter discussed above, she hides the attackers’ ship with a huli›shjálmr [concealment-helmet] so that they cannot be seen crossing the fjord.

    Then, at the beginning of the attack, fiórir and his men have the worst of it “flví at vápn fleira bitu ekki24, until fiurí›r drikkin notices Kerling behaving strangely: ... Kerling fór um völlin at húsbaki ok haf›i klć›in á baki sér uppi, en ni›ri höfu›it, ok sá svá sk[yacute]in á milli fóta sér.25 fiurí›r hljóp fla út af virkinu ok rann á hana ok flreif í hárit ok reif af aptr hnakkafilluna. ... ok í flví tók at bíta vápn fióris, ok ur›u flá mjök skeinusamir.26

    [... Kerling was going across the field at the back of the house, and had the clothes on her back [pulled] up, and her head down, and was thus looking at the clouds between her legs.

    fiurí›r then rushed out of the stronghold and leapt upon her and seized hold of her hair and ripped it off at the nape of the neck, backwards. ... and at this [point] fiórir‘s weapon began to bite, and they [Hallr‘s men] became highly prone to being wounded.] This last account, like that of the pig knocking Kerling down, is, in a somewhat morbid sense, rather comical. Although the effect of Kerling’s actions is serious (rendering the weapons of her opponents little more than useless) the method she employs to carry out her spell (if that is what it is) exposes her to ridicule.

    The punishment she receives27 is cruel and startling, but, considered in relation to the types of death and mutilation that are common in saga narrative, not surprising. It also functions well in retaining a shocking sense of reality within the context of the chapter. These may be characters with strange powers, but they are human underneath it all.

    The last reference to shape-changing within the saga is more typical of the kind of imagery we would associate with a mythic, or heroic, tale, and draws both the Icelandic and útanfer› elements together around the gold that fiórir takes from Valr’s cave at the beginning of the saga. References have been made in earlier chapters to fiórir going into a berserk rage, which has links with the idea of shape-changing; at the end of the saga his reaction to the (mis-)reported death of his son is:

    at hann hvarf á brott frá búi sínu, ok vissi engi ma›r, hvat af honum vćri or›it e›r hann kom ni›r, en flat hafa menn fyrir satt, at hann hafi at dreka or›it ok hafi lagizt á gullkistur sínar. Helzt flat ok lengi si›an, at menn sá dreka fljúga ofan um fleim megin frá fiórisstö›um ok Gullfors er kalla›r ok yfir fjör›inn í fjall flat, er stendr yfir bćnum í Hlí›...28

    [that he disappeared from his farm, and no one knew what had become of him or [where] he ended up, but people hold it to be true that he became a dragon and lay down on his gold-filled coffers. It went on happening for a long time afterwards that people saw a dragon flying downwards on the side of fiórissta›ir that is called Gullfors, and across the fjord into the mountain which stands over the farm at Hlí›.]

    This section of the saga brings the narrative (at least as far as the gold is concerned) full circle. Yet that circle is not complete from a generic viewpoint.

    Whilst at the beginning of the saga the narrative is matter-of-fact about strange events (magical storms, dreams involving conversations with the undead, wonderful gifts, dragons and the like), at the end the style is more circumspect,leading to the suggestion that the events being related are open to question. “[fi]at hafa menn fyrir satt” that fiórir turned into a dragon, and it is only “menn” in general, rather than named individuals who see a dragon flying about the neighbourhood

    The relatively matter-of-fact use of supernatural forces within the main body of the story further illustrates the mingling of fantastic and naturalistic narrative within the saga as a whole. However, the individuals who move between the supernatural and the natural are still presented as human in aspect. fiurí›r drikkinn “var mörgu slegin ok ger›i manna mun mikinn”29, and Kerling is only “heldr margkunnig”30. Other individuals are not presented as strange in any way, until such time as they manifest themselves as pigs, for example, or are discovered to have undead uncles occupying cairns. The other world is very much a part of everyday life, and is essentially human.

    This movement towards the naturalisation of mythic narrative elements in the section of the saga taking place on Icelandic soil, would seem to fit very well with a conceptualisation of that part of the narrative, and the characters within it, as ordinary human beings - albeit from a relatively archaic society.

    This is not the world of the fornaldarsögur, where dragons and trolls are taken as a matter of fact. This is a world where too much cannot be asked of the imagination, a world of reality.

    Why, then, the dragons of the útanfer› episode? One possibility - one accepted by the editors of the Íslenzk fornrit edition - is that an older narrative concerning fiórir Oddsson and Oddr skrauti existed prior to the relatively late transcription of the saga narrative that we now have.

    If this is the case then it would certainly explain allusions to fiórir’s marvellous adventures within Landnámabók which are evidential of the narrative being in circulation prior to transcription of AM 561 4to which is generally dated to somewhere around 1400. This older version may well have presented a narrative which only dealt with the útanfer› episode, but such a theory is, at best, speculative.

    The inclusion of narrative elements which reflect an interest in the fantastic is, of course, not uncommon in the later Íslendinga sögur, the fornaldarsögur and some riddara sögur and thus Thorskfirdinga saga reflects a general tendency criticised by Einar Ólafur Sveinsson concerning the degeneration of the saga form due, as he saw it, to its, increasingly, uncritical inclusion of material of a fabulous nature.

    ... the country was now deluged with chivalric romances, whose falsehoods were added to the wonders of the legends and native superstition. Gradually all things dulled men’s judgement. Norway became more and more Europeanized, and holy relics from the South were everywhere. ... And the closer grew the connection between Iceland and Norway, the less independent of the international way of thinking the Icelanders became.31

    However, Thorskfirdinga saga only displays this lack of judgement, as Einar Ólafur has it, in that section of the saga which takes place outside Iceland. Once the narrative returns home, as it were, the narration of shape-changing, magic events, and the like, becomes far more circumspect, a circumspection that is summed up by the second-hand reporting of fiórir‘s transformation into a dragon at the end of the saga. Furthermore those supernatural events which are narrated as taking place within Iceland are placed firmly in the hands of humans, rather than fantastic monsters or being beyond the pale of humanity.

    In some respects these events undermine the heroic atmosphere created by the útanfer› section of the saga, with the transformation of men into pigs, for example, adding a touch of domesticity to an otherwise fantastic event.

    This could indicate a sense of irony at times in the saga’s narrative; an ironic sense which refuses to take aspects of the saga’s own narrative too seriously. It is this ironic treatment of the supernatural within an Icelandic setting which is of the most interest. It shows a narrative form which, whilst wishing to develop its subject matter into the realm of the fantastic does so in such a way as to avoid the very accusations levelled at it by Einar.

    The events narrated are unbelievable, therefore they are naturalised, placed within an everyday setting and given a sense of internal logic. It is this sense of internal logic and narrative development which, more than anything, indicates a generic form which is not degenerating but experimenting, pushing at the boundaries of the traditional and becoming self-consciously literary.

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    2 Age of the sagas.
    3 Thorskfirdinga saga, p.214.
    4 Jón Jóhannesson, Íslendinga saga, translated by Haraldur Bessason as A history of the old Icelandic commonwealth (Winnipeg, 1974), p.40.
    5 In Icelandic the forti›arsögur. The phrase is coined, in Danish, by Sigur›ur Nordal in “Sagalitteraturen”, Litteratur-historie B: Norge og Island (Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, 1953) pp.180-273. See the discussion of Nordal’s generic groups in chapter 1, above.
    6 In Icelandic, forneskjusögur.
    7 Thorskfirdinga saga, p.195.

    8 i.e. “lake”.
    9 Fr. Klaeber, ed., Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, 3rd. ed. (Boston, 1950), pp. 56-61.
    10 Beowulf, pp.92-103.
    11 Friedrich Panzer, Studien zur germanischen Sagengeschichte I. Beowulf (Munich, 1910).

    12 In this respect they are far more like the dragon in Beowulf, before it is angered by the theft of part of its hoard and turns on humanity in vengeance for this action.
    13 Propp, Vladimir, trans. Ariadna Y. Martin and Richard P. Martin, ed. Anatoly Liberman, Theory and history of folklore (Manchester, 1984), esp. pp.16-38.
    14 Vladimir Propp, op. cit., p.19.

    15 Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards, Legendary fiction in Medieval Iceland (Reykjavík, 1971).

    16 This, in itself, provides a useful contrast between the nature of the útanfer› and Icelandic section of the saga’s narrative. The shift from one to another is, in terms of the rôle of the central character, modal, and illustrates the effects of the combination of narratives from different modal perspectives (we will not, at this stage, go as far as to say genres). This may well be the cause of such explicatory lines within the útanfer› episode as: “{THORN]eir fundu, at fiórir var allr ma›r annarr en hann haf›i verit’[They found that fiórir was altogether a different person from what he had been] (Thorskfirdinga saga, p.187). That fiórir is “altogether different’is not obviously explained by the narrative that has led the audience to this point within the saga. Some explanation is therefore required as to why fiórir has moved onto a different level; the explanation for this is that the narrative has shifted modes.

    17 R.W. Chambers, Beowulf: an introduction to the study of the poem with a discussion of the stories of Offa and Finn, third edition, with a supplement by C.L. Wrenn (Cambridge, 1959, rpt. 1963), p.459.

    18 Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar, pp. 284-5.
    19 Thorskfirdinga saga, p.200 - 201.
    20 A game of strategy, not unlike chess.
    21 Thorskfirdinga saga, p.216.
    22 Notably by Inger M. Boberg, in her Motif-index of early Icelandic literature, (Copenhagen, 1966) who refers to chapter 17 of Thorskfirdinga saga under the heading of “D630: Transformation at will”.

    23 H.R. Ellis Davidson, “Shape-changing in the Old Norse sagas” in Porter, J.R. and W.M.S. Russell, Animals in folklore (Ipswich and Cambridge, 1978), pp.126-142.

    24 Because their weapons did not cut

    25 There is an interesting comparison with this ritual to be found in chapter 10 of Kormáks saga, wherein the description for the hólmganga between Kormákr and Bersi includes the following: “flat váru hólmgöngulög, at feldr skal vera fimm alna i skaut ok lykkjur í hornum; skyldi flar setja ni›r hćla flá, er höfu› var á ö›rum enda; flat hétu tjösnur; sá er um bjó, skyldi ganga at tjösnunum, svá at sći himin milli fóta sér ok heldi í eyrasnepla me› fleim formála, sem sí›an er eptir haf›r í blótr flví, at kallat er tjösnublót.” [It was the law of hólmganga, that (the) the cloak should be five ells square and (have) loops in (the) corners; therein should be driven pegs of the kind that had a head at one end; they were called tjösnur; the one who made these preparations should go towards the tjösnur, so that (he) could see the sky between his legs and hold onto (his) earlobes with the invocation, that has since been used again in the sacrifice which is called tjösnublót]. (Kormáks saga, in Einar Ól. Sveinsson, ed., Vatnsdćla saga [Reykjavík, 1939], p.237).

    26 Thorskfirdinga saga, pp. 216-7.

    27 And the revenge she metes out to fiurí›r, who loses her ears and the topmost parts of her cheeks
    28 Thorskfirdinga saga, p.226.
    29 “was touchy and had strong likes and dislikes.” Thorskfirdinga saga, p.177

    30 i.e. “rather skilled in magic.” Thorskfirdinga saga, p.176
    31 Einar Ól. Sveinsson, The age of the Sturlungs. Icelandic civilisation in the thirteenth century, trans. Jóhann S. Hannesson (Ithaca, N.Y., 1953), pp.124-125.

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