both ‘history’ and ‘story’, the saga itself is a mixture of both. It is a work of hybridityand the author draws from a diverse array of material to meet his literary agenda. For Robert Kellog the text is like an epic in that it synthesises “history, myth, ethicalvalues and descriptions of actual life ”
while for Robert Kook “it is impossible todisentangle the four components in the saga; authentic history, the inventions of oraltradition, written sources and the contribution of the thirteenth-century author”.
Lawas this essay will illustrate, formed the backbone of Icelandic society and was an idealcomponent to this literary endeavour, Henry Ordower noting how “the legal systemand judicial process form part of the stock material from which the family sagas areconstructed”.
The literary function of the legal system is two fold. Firstly, the law definesand enriches characters, Ordower arguing that the reader “learns more about these personalities through their legal interactions than through direct authorial descriptionsof them”
. Consequently all major characters are involved in legal matters at one pointor another. For example of the four greatest lawyers in the Saga, Njal and Thorhallemerge heroic due to their intellect and noble use of the law while Mord Valgardssonand Eyjolf Bolverksson are villainous as a result of their reliance on legal trickery
.Gunnar meanwhile is characterised both by his ignorance of the law and the lawsinability to contain him a feature best seen in chapter 24 when after failing to producethe witness statements necessary, he resorts to violence
. Gunnar is heroic in that hestands in defiance of law.
Robert Kellog, Introduction to
The Sagas of the Icelanders,
edited by Ornolfur Thotsson. (London,2001), xviii.
Robert Kook, Introduction to
edited by Robert Kook. (London, 2001), xiv.
Henry Ordower, “Exploring the Literary Function of Law and Litigation in Njal’s Saga”,
CardozaStudies in Law and Literature
, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring- Summer, 1991), 41.
(Ordower, 1991, 45)
Robert Kook, trans.
(Kook 2001, 41)