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Beast and Man

Realism and the Occult in E^ils saga

Armann Jakobsson
University ofIceland



HE SAGAS OF ICELANDERS are frequently referred to as realistic
narratives. ' Despite this reference, their narrative realism or indeed
any sort of textual realism is not easy to pin down, not least when it
concerns a past narrative whose vocabulary remains interpretively
obscure and often lacking a correlation with the modern language.
Opinions of what is real may vary a great deal; thus realism must boil
down to an uneasy contract between a text and its audience where the
audience chooses to believe in the reality of a narrative although they
may realize it is, in fact, fictional. Such a contract seems to have been in
place between the sagas of Icelanders and their original audience with
the added provision that they were likely regarded as history rather
than fiction. History, in this sense, signifies not a potential world but

I. This evaluation was in vogue in the 1960s when Einar Ólaflir Sveinsson wrote: "I'.s.
forhold til virkeligheden kan mâske karakteriseres som heroisk réalisme" ("íslendingasögur" 509) [the sagas' attitude towards realit)' could maybe be characterized as heroic
realism]. The evolution of the reception of the sagas from accurate sources to realistic
prose narratives is a subject too broad to be discussed here at any length, but it is safe to
say that when the sagas stopped being reality itself in the late nineteenth or early twentieth
centuries they became instead realism. And yet die champions of this supposed realism
were rationalists whose attitude toward the supernatural was highly critical. The apparent contradiction between the realism of a saga and its supernatural elements was rather
simply whisked under the carpet and the supernatural in the sagas ignored.

the sagas demand to be taken seriously as accurate accounts of the past. 3. In other words. It is necessary to keep in mind that this argument applies to fantastic fiction as well. When the legend becomes fact. A magic ring may exist. Even though their composition exhibits aesthetic elements commonly associated with fiction. one can argue that a certain degree of plausibility is required."' In a given work of realistic fiction and to some extent in all fiction. Of course. as the cynical MaxwcU Scott expresses in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "This is the West. The legend can become fact. which he regards as essential for the artistic allusion that they create: i. that they are accounts from the past. He also stresses that this is indeed an artistic illusion and that their orality is highly constructed (Fortdlin^ 63-78). Thus a saga may contain realistic elements in its depiction of the human world yet present a hero who sometimes appears more beast than man. but it is still necessary and has thus been accepted as true in lieu of a better authenticated version. print the legend.3O SCANDINAVIAN S T U D I E S the world as it existed with historical figures and situations meant to be understood as accurately portrayed by the saga narrative. . such an occurrence does not make a narrative unrealistic in and of itself—that must depend on what is regarded as real by its creator and by its audience. For those who believe in trolls. but rather through the necessity of establishing some version of the past accepted as truth without a naive failure to rcaUze the uncertainty of all knowledge of the past. 2. James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck. who worked from an original story by Dorothy M. In this scenario. The sagas of Icelanders may be classified as containing the same type of realism that occurs in modern fantastic fiction: what is now referred to as the supernatural is far from excluded from the narrative.e. moreso than other saga forms. we have the medieval audience believe in the reality of the saga not due to a lack of healthy skepticism. some of the past may be legendary. presumably one of the three is responsible for this well-known line. sir. Johnson. As Proben Meulengracht S0rensen has remarked {Fortdlinß 30-2) that the sagas of Icelanders have been cleansed of all authorial traces. The possibility of an attitude characterized by a willing suspension of disbelief thus remains in play. Two screenwriters are credited in this film.^ And yet the degree to which the medieval audience necessarily believed in the factuality of the sagas eludes us— their reaction is lost. but its guardian must still encounter the same troubles any wanderer might expect when crossing a marsh or climbing a slope.

All translations in this article are my own.* And yet there are also saga heroes who may. that is. However. men and women who in various ways dominate their surroundings. extraordinary rather tlian ordinary people. a somewhat comic figure who is allowed to punctuate the tension of the narrative by registering a lazy disinterest in Egill and his troubles.REALISM AKD THE OCCULT IN EGILS SAGA 31 the appearance of a troll hardly makes a narrative less realistic and the idea that the demarcation between the natural and the supernatural can be clearly defined does not seem applicable to a medieval text such as a saga (see Ármann Jakobsson. the ruler of York.1 am currendy writing a book on the marginal or ordinary people in the sagas—people who are really the ordinary people of every society but who are marginal characters in the sagas since these narratives tend to focus on people on the highest social level. and there is a strong element of ordinariness in the sagas: some of the issues that arise are mundane and most likely easily recognizable from the everyday existence of their intended audience. not be entirely human. Nowhere is this more evident than in E¿iils saja. they are superhuman. Egill then dispatches this man to seek his friend Arinbjçrn. 5. Saga heroes are generally considered to be what Northrop Frye would have called "high mimetic" (33-5). There are even some remarkably ordinary people in the sagas although mosdy in supporting roles. Eßils sa¿a presents a narrative concerning a family of magnates who arefirmlyrooted in the human world: they live at well-known farmsteads and eventually become the ancestors of many well-known thirteenth-century historical figures. . instead it highlights the possibility of their otherness. The courtier goes and informs the latter that a man has arrived "mikiU sem troll" (178) [big as a troll].^ By invoking this troll imagery in connection with Egill. King Eirikr (whose daunting nickname is Blood-axe). in fact. "Histor)^" 54-56). the saga fails to determine whether its heroes are actually fully human. It is this dubious humanity upon which I will focus in connection to E¿¡ils saja. And yet saga characters are rarely perfect. the courtier not only disrupts die narrative intensity thus allowing the audience to relax in spite of 4. Egill encounters an anonymous courtier in the king's courtyard. This ambiguity is expressed when Egill Skalla-Gn'msson has lost his ship at the mouth of the Humber and is forced to seek an audience with his sworn enemy.

. 7.* but also foregrounds an ambiguity regarding Egill's nature: he is a man but he is like a troll. possess. Most notably we see the term used in reference to the practitioners of magic. Since the situation is very tense at this point. a practitioner of magic. ugly. The troll is strange and foreign: it is a different species or a different race whose very strangeness defines it. though. and the brunnmigi. it has the habits of beasts.32 SCANDINAVIAN STUDIES the gravity underlying the situation. see Sorensen. There may be another point to his lack of familiarity with Egill: it demonstrates to the audience that the saga they are immersed in can be ignored by others.'' This description creates confusion: can any man who resembles a man also resemble a troll. While anthropoid in appearance. "Identifying" 191-2). one might interpret this anonymous supporting character as "comic relieP' (on this effect in the sagas. It must be noted. for example. "Humour" 401).'' Is there perhaps no clear distinction between man and troll. that Egill still stands out—even to the uninterested stranger he is not ordinary. Let us consider the following five connotations of the term: 1. A troll is a witch. or imbue with their sorcery. The troll is in some way bestial. The word troll is thus utilized in medieval sagas in connection with an undead warrior in his mound. this word was not used solely in connection with the large. but also held a variety of other meanings as well. 2. a black warrior (or bldmaèr) who is defined as an ogre rather than a human. a heathen deity aiding the pagans in a battle with the Christians.> There is an intriguing complexity surrounding the Old Norse concept of the troll. Thus it may be a cannibal (see Ármann Jakobsson. Several of these consistencies are of particular interest with regard to the strange case of Egill Skalla-Grimsson. 6. a crazed boar believed to have been conjured up by a sorcerer. The rich and overlapping nuances found in the word troll present not only variety but also an unexpected congruity. an anti-social being of an unspecified lineage who urinates into fountains and wells (Ármann Jakobsson. In the Middle Ages. 3. someone who can control the environment through a knowledge of dark arts that do not originate with the power of God. along with any creature they might awaken. "Identifying"). and still fully remain a troll. and shaggy creatures of the wilderness who would later usurp the name for themselves (see Ármarm Jakobsson. "I>orgrimr" 40-52).

It exists against the natural order of the world and thus it can never be a positive force. There has never been any scholarly consensus as to the meaning of the concept of the berserkr {ste the brief but nuanced summary by Liberman). the figure of the troll is far more nuanced and complex. like many others.'" seems to suggest that egoism is a fundamental trait of the troll. "I>orgrimr" 48-9). later on in chapter nine. Before that. They are certainly significant for the case of Egill and his family. he is also somewhat in tune with the medieval understanding of the troll. Whereas some have been conjured up by the tourist industry and rebellious authors in the last thirty to forty years. A troll is hard to pin down. In addition to the noun "troll. another possibility is that their exceptional abilities 8. "torgn'mr" 49-50)." we have the verbal forms "trylla" and "tryllask" (Ármann Jakobsson. Some regard them as warriors so confident in their own invulnerability that they fought without armor (thus "bare in their serks"). the text mentions the twelve royal berserkir and their ability to withstand all weapons (22-3). but they do encapsulate the essence of die medieval conception of a troll. In Ibsen's Peer Gynt (1867). There are no good trolls in the Middle Ages. These texts ofben refer to the same creature as both a loathsome troll and as a bewitched berserkr (Ármann Jakobsson. 4. . The troll is hostile and disruptive. a creature.REALISM AND THE OCCULT IN EGILS SAGA 33 A human who turns to cannibalism is generally understood as having lost some portion of his humanity. referred to as a troll in Old Norse texts. It is uncertain whether these five characteristics apply to every troll individually. One could thus argue that people are "troUable"—especially in the case of those who have become uncontrollable.* 5. Eßils saga initially introduces the concept of the berserkr at the beginning of the text (3). The answer to the question: "What is the difference between troll and man. which shows that. any notion that a troll could have positive characteristics would have been foreign to Icelanders. Thus a troll does not seem to be a permanent state of being but rather one of becoming and change. whom some regard as trolls. although Ibsen's troll are probably mostly inspired by die trolls of post-medieval folklore. GOING BERSERK The bestiality and the mobile state of the troll are both characteristics common to the berserkr.

others might have believed them to be shape shifters who metamorphosed into beasts in the midst of battle. It refers to elements that are vague. bestial. 9. but rather metaphorically denote a change of temperament into a half-crazed state. This bearskin might simply be a piece of clothing (as Vatnsdœla saga indicates) rather than an entirely new hide. or perhaps both?' These questions concern the essence of humanity: it is difficiilt to explain how a man might change into a beast without first knowing what a man is and whether his humanity is defined by his mind or his body. . difficult to pinpoint. Unfortunately. Einar Ólafur Sveinsson. and perhaps even as shape shifters. At times berserkir are also referred to as úlfloebnar (Guôni Jónsson. The occult is. The lack of scholarly consensus on the nature of the berserkir might also reflect a lack of consensus in the Middle Ages as to what these somewhat frightening creatures actually were. or even a specific medieval meaning. On the other end of the interpretive spectrum. the mind. Does a human literally change into a bear? What does it mean for a human literally to be transformed into an animal 1' To what degree does this transformation involve the separation of mind and body. Perhaps scholars ask too much in seeking the original meaning of the term. This has been a preoccupation of those interested in shape shifting and magic for a long time. Grettis saga 5. eerie. unknown. which recalls the possible interpretation of the Old Norse word ber-serkr as "in the skin of a bear" (thus bear. we also must remain uncertain in our understanding of the process of shape shifting. The ambiguity surrounding shape shifting. Vatnsdœla saga 24).-' And what becomes bestial. We should not exclude the possibility that there may have been some in Egils saga's original audience who believed the berserkir were ordinary humans enraged in battle to the point of madness. Most sources do not indicate an actual metamorphosis from man to beast. tbe body. see Strömbäck 160-90. is certainly significant for any interpretation of the specific nature of Egill and his family. by definition. not bare). Defining and understanding an occult object in any comprehensive manner lessens its power to evoke both fear and the unknown and thus detracts from its primary signifying function to represent the strange and the terrifying. and dangerous.34 SCANDINAVIAJsr STUDIES marked them as exotic. whether as a berserkr or as something else.

where the emphasis o n their otherness is relatively light. many of his conclusions are quite intriguing and useful. hostile. In the Nordic region. the possibility remains that this otherness may have already been present in Ulfr himself and his ancestors. "Identifying" 194). Given the ambiguity surrounding the word troll. who—to the Norsemen— represented the exotic. See Hermann Pálsson (14-27) who tends in this study to regard all giants and trolls as representations of the Sámi (cf. CREATURE OE THE NIGHT Kveld-Ulfr Bjálfason is thefirstcharacter mentioned in Egils saga. in fact.REALISM AND THE OCCULT IN EGILS SAGA 35 The first berserkr mentioned in the saga is Berôlu-Kari. However. foreign. Sverrir Jakobsson 246-76). However. the berserkir are separated from ordinary humans cvcrï m Egils saga (23). O f course. The identification of other races and ethnicities with the animal kingdom is a well-known phenomenon. not unlike the giants of the Old Norse mythological narratives. T h e berserkr nature enters decisively into the family of Kveld-Ulfr with his marriage t o Salbjçrg Káradóttir.'" Thus Hallbjçrn might have been half-Finnish with its troll-like connotations of the strange. . seem less bestial than their in-law Úlfr and nephew Skalla-Gri'mr. whether he is subsequentiy regarded as super-human 10. although one of them does have an animal nick-name ("lamb"). In this social context. Thus the troll element is linked to the family from the outset of the saga. Ármann Jakobsson. he retains a degree of otherness—he is not quite human. sister of Hallbjçrn the half-troll (3). and bestial. it is not easy to determine the extent of HaUbjçrn's troll-like nature. disruptive. Eyvindr Iambi and Qlvir hniifa. Although his single-mindedness in pursuing this idea sometimes leads him to neglect other possible solutions. His parents are also introduced: Bjálfi and Hallbera. The Ketils saga hangs indicates that Hallbjçrn and his family are of a different race. H i s sons. Skalla-Grímr's maternal grandfather. perhaps closer to the bestial than the human (see Ciklamini. w h o may have been even less h u m a n than the family of Kári. both magic and bestiality were easily transferred to the Sámi inhabitants. H e is said t o be "inn mcsti afreksmaôr at afii ok arîEÔi" (3) [excelling in strength and courage] as well as a berserkr but there are n o further references t o his berserkr nature. magical. in spite of the apparcntiy normal physicality of Kári and his sons.

The first thing we learn about our protagonist Ulfr is that he is "svá mikill ok sterkr. he retired early to sleep. .'^ His name is not just a name: 11. Kveld-Úlfr likes to retire early. the wolf has again entered into the discussion of the saga. It is on the other hand uncertain how the men of Hrafnista and Egill's ancestors fit into this hierarchy. "Identifying" 184-5). However. "I>orgrimr" 41-5). something that seems somewhat conflicted given his own half-troll state (Rafn II123). but rather of his wolfish tendencies. In the last few years. at harm va:ri mjgk hamrammr. a magician is a troll (Ármann Jakobsson. the giants are clearly established as inferior to the gods (Clunies Ross 48-56). er at kveldi leiô." That he himself regards trolls as sub-human is clearly suggested in Ketils saja hanjs. svá at fair menn máttu orôum vio harm koma. a short while later we learn that he was "forvitri" (4) [had the gift of prophecy] and thus holds a privileged relationship with the unknown and the occult. which was in no way an egalitarian society even though it had no ultimate ruler. Big and strong does not necessarily indicate superhuman abilities. Next we are introduced to Kveld-Úlfr's most notable troll-like behavior. according to Old Norse texts. when night approached. perhaps in spite of their bestiality. In much the same way. which only occurs in the evening: "En dag hvern. the giants and trolls of the Old Norse legendary sagas are palpably subhuman rather than superhuman (Ärmann Jakobsson. although only in the wings—Hallbjçrn never makes an actual appearance—and only partially as he is a half-troll. The wolfish nature of the main family oiEßiksaßa was somewhat neglected by scholars for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries perhaps because their interpretations were framed by the notion that the sagas are realistic which lead to their magical elements being largely ignored. he was called KveldÚlfr (Night-Wolf)]. but in his case this habit is not an indication of a peaceful and thoughtful nature. much like Proust.36 SCANDINAVIAN STUDIES or sub-human is by no means certain. Kristjánsdóttir (76-81) but also Torfi H. Tulinius (103-6). The prescience ofUlfr might well identify him as a practitioner of magic and. |)á gerôisk harm styggr. Thus the troll is present in Ejils saja from its inception. and in Iceland Skalla-Grimr establishes himself as a major aristocrat within the framework of the commonwealth. harm var kallaôr Kveld-Úlfr" (4) [But every day. he became so hostile tliat few men could speak to him. People said that he was a shape shifter. The troll-like characteristics are not specified at this stage. 12. In Margaret Clunies Ross's analysis of the social world of the Old Norse myths. where he uses the word troll as an insult. I>at var mal manna. In Norway they are clearly regarded as nobility. var harm kveldsvxfr. at eigi váru hans jafningjar" (3) [so big and strong that none was his equal]. mainly in the work of Bergljót S.

something moreover indicated by the word hamrammr. We are not told. they attack the ship of the king's minions Hallvarôr and Sigtryggr. too. the narrator seems to want to distance himself from this paranormal event. The . "Svá er sagt" is an interesting phrase. but rather the text opens these various possibilities to the interpretive judgment of its readers. er |)á hçmuôusk" (69) [and it is said that he changed shape and more of his followers then changed shape]. okfleiri varujseir fçrunautar hans. who are escorting the king's young cousins. can behave in a wolfish way. In the case of berserkir. as so often is the case with such occult phenomena. Kveld-Ulfr is carrying a weapon called "bryntrçll" (68) [an armed troll]. the specifics are not explained. But what happened? Did Hallvarôr meet an actual wolf in batde. at{)áhamaoiskhann. and when he attacks the ship. but in the folklore surrounding the werewolf the relationship between shape shifting and moonlight is fairly well established (Summers). the hammremmi take the shape of a bear unless they are ulßjeönar.^ Was tbe troll in Kveld-Úlfr's hands itself carried by a troll > . The saga does not provide us with the answer. Is this change literal or metaphorical > . Later the text refers to this shape changing as both "hamrammir" and "berserksgangr" (70)—the audience is given two options from which to choose. at which point Kveld-Ulfr and Skalla-Grimr are forced to flee Norway to escape the wrath of King Haraldr. something occurs: "oksváersagt. his name seems to be a clear indication in combination with his tendency to retire early of a transformation into a wolf The moon here is not mentioned. the wolfish nature ofKveld-Ulfr does not figure prominendy in the story until after the death of his son Pórólfr. As a final gesture of defiance.R E A L I S M A N D T H E O C C U L T I N EGILS SAGA 37 Ulfr means "wolf" and the word hamrammr indicates shape shifting although. The consequences of this shifting are so strong that Kveld-Ulfr retires to his bed and eventually dies. in which case die term indicates that they adopt the shape of a wolf In Kveld-Úlfr's case. in this case by proving unsociable and growling at anyone who tries to approach him. behavior that temporarily removes him from the normalized circles of human society. Man. Thus the reason why Kveld-Ulfr is styggr might be that he changes into a wolf at full moon. In spite of this introduction. Those who believe in werewolves hardly need more evidence to establish that Kveld-Ulfr is literally transformed into a wolf Those who do not may interpret his wolfish behavior in terms of a human transformation of temper or character.

'' The word is prominent in the Prose Edda where jgtnar andpursar (usually hrtmpursar or "frost giants") are more or less synonymous (Ármann Jakobsson. "The Good" 3-4). znà Barbar saga. twelve of them. . and the (yet again nameless) person who meets them in the king's yard and tells Qlvir hnúfa of their arrival stresses their ambiguous humanity by calling thcmpursar and doubting their humanity: "Menn eru her komnir úti. Thus Skalla-Grímr.38 SCANDINAVIAN STUDIES saga simply states that Kveld-Úlfr "hamaôisk" and leaves it to its audience to interpret the significance of "hamremmi. Armann Jakobsson. much like his father. en likari eru fieir Jjursum at vexti ok at syn en mennskum mçnnum" (63) [Men have arrived here outside. ok allir inir sterkustu menn ok margir hamrammir" (62) [they were twelve to go and all of them very strong men and many shape shifters]. if you can call them men." Thus the audience is free to choose their own version of what happened in accordance with their own attitude toward the occult. tólf saman. "Identifying" 187). We can refer to him as a man. Ármann Jakobsson. The nature oixhcpurs is by no means certain. the legendary sagas. "The Good". This is no common entourage. As Schulz has shown (39). Purs is essentially a negative word: a^wry is a magical being who is anthropoid and yet bestial. is not quite human in the eyes of the anonymous courtier in the yard. they are more likepursar in build and appearance than humans]. but 2Lpurs can be safely categorized as a type of troll given the connotative overlap between the two terms. This group is described in terms significant to our discussion: "Tólf váru J^eir til fararinnar. These are the very same men who are on the ship with Kveld-Úlfr and Skalla-Grímr in the battle with Hallvarôr and Sigtryggr. and in some way subhuman (Schulz 43. ef menn skal kalla. hostile. 13. WOLF MOOD Apart from Kveld-Úlfr. the word is rare outside Snmra-Edda. but his human nature is problematic as he more closely resembles zpurs. Skalla-Grímr has various farmhands and neighbors who form his entourage when he goes to see the king after his brother's death.

he is neither bellicose nor aggressive toward his neighbors. Up to this point. . Returning to the water's surface holding a giant stone is not a feat readily accomplished with normal human strength." The word is clearly used to denote hostility: wolves are identified as hostile and the word wolf (both ulfr and vargr) itself is also used as a word for a criminal or outlaw (see Turville-Petrc 777). He is not just compared to a wolf. But its appearance cannot be explained in terms of a simple metaphor when the hostile person in question is the son of Kveld-Úlfr. The word ulßö simply means "hostility" in modern Icelandic although it is difficult to escape completely the inflection of the literal meaning of the word. which is clearly understood from its constniction. someone to avoid at night. there is no sign of his bestiality. Skalla-Grimr is not said to have hamask on the ship when Kveld-Úlfr and some of tlieir entourage go berserk. After his arrival in Iceland his supernatural powers are mentioned at only one point: when he dives into the sea to find a large stone for use in his smithy. after Skalla-Grimr leaves. but rather perhaps is—at least in part—a wolf And the "wolf mood" of his son may not be normal human hostility either: perhaps it also retains traces of the wolfish nature integral to this family. it also retains underlying traces of the original meaning. While the name is a common male name in Iceland.R E A L I S M A N D T H E O C C U L T I N EGILS SAGA 39 Skalla-Grimr's audience with the king does not end amiably. he resembles both his ancestors as well as his troll-sized son Egill. Instead. and this stone is said to be so big that four men cannot lift it (74-5). He merely appropriates a great deal of land like any selfrespecting bully of a magnate would: his setdement becomes one of the largest in Iceland. he is also a shape shifter. This Ulfr is not merely a man called Ulfr. when he arrives in Iceland. but the king himself does not refer to Skalla-Gn'mr and his companions as either trolls orpursar. In spite of his wolf mood. In this respect. The nameless person at King Haraldr's court previously suggested that Skalla-Gn'mr is more giant than man. The completion of this task hints that the normal standards for a man's strength should not be applied to Skalla-Grimr. at hann er fullr upp liifiioar" (65) [I can see on that great bald head that he is full of wolf mood]. Iceland is a peacefial country without kings and armies and the strength of Skalla-Grimr is such that he need not fear anyone. Ülf-uÖ must mean "wolf mood. he says to his men: "I>at sé ek á skalla Ipdm inum mikla.

gcrôisk Grímr J>á svá stcrkr. The setting of the sun increases Skalla-Grímr's strength considerably. SkallaGrímr starts to get weary as expected given his age. the specific mechanics regarding such a transformation are left undefined as is the question of whether the wolfish mind or the wolfish body contains the essence of the wolf. In the moonlight. at hann greip ^órd upp ok keyrôi niôr svá hart. Skalla-Grímr]. who explains what is happening: "Hamask ]pú nú. The supernatural is presented in Egils saga such that the saga remains open to a supernatural or a metaphorical interpretation. The king appears correct in his assessment that the son is just as fiill of "wolf mood" as the father. As the game continues. he is much older—almost sixty—and competing with his son and the lattcr's best friend I>óror in some type of ballgamc. Again. His frenzy is akin to that of the berserkir and is likewise never explained in the saga. siôan greip hann til Egils" (ioi) [But at night after sunset. This vagueness is likely an intentional compositional inclusion as such openness and resistance to closed definition is required when dealing with the occult. Nevertheless the incident regarding Skalla-Grímr's increased strength and frenzy during the night firmly places Skalla-Grímr in the same category as Kveld-Ulfr. By this point in the narrative. |)á tók pám Agli verr at ganga. The same uncertainty seems to arise here as well. something unknown). It has survived into modern Icelandic with the sense of "working tirelessly. the night is. but there is nothing in the scene that suggests a literal change into a wolf. night falls: "En um kvcldit eptir solarfall. Then he grasped at Egill]. Skalla-Grímr. In addition to this new strength. ok fekk hann [)egar bana. I>orgerôr brák. he also seems to lose control. But then. Egill and Porôr started to do worse.4O SCANDINAVIAN STUDIES While the wolf is not mentioned again in connection with Skalla-Grímr. Skalla-Grímr's strength comes from mctamorphozing into something strange and unknown. . Egill is saved only at the intervention of his somewhat troll-like nanny." but its only other appearance in Egils saga occurs in the aforementioned Kveld-Ulfr scene where it refers to shape shifting (although this connection is never clearly aligned with cither metaphor or reality). at hann lamôisk allr. at syni [jínum" (IOI) [YOU now savage your son. The tcrmHamask is ambiguous. and possibly even his humanity as he becomes a threat to the life of his own son (indicating a possible change into something other. Grímr then became so strong that he lifted Póror up and then hurled him to the ground with such force that he was all battered and died immediately.

When Skalla-Grfmr dies at an extremely old age. He is thus easily comprehensible provided one understands the nuances of the troll as category. cf. one type of troll is found in undead beings. Whereas Kveld-Úlfr is "mjçk hamrammr" (4) and Skalla-Grimr hamask once after sunset. Egill approaches his father's corpse from behind in an endeavor. and he is present in his mound when Egill later inters his son Bçôvarr aldiough this action could also be interpreted as an effort to appease Skalla-Grimr (243). If the text indicates this possibilit)'. Skalla-Grimr is removed through the wall of the house rather than the door. there is no mention of Egill ever assuming a new shape in either the night or day. He is foimd sitting rather than laying down and he is so stiff that he cannot be placed into a horizontal position. Arinbjçrn's immediate reaction validates the comparison—he knows instantly who the troll-like figure must be. . But.''' THE TRUTH IS Otrr THERE The gradual decline of the wolfish nature within the family is attested by Egill. his death seems uncanny. Tulinius (95) has drawn attention to the possibility that the ghost of SkallaGri'mr has caused the drowning of Bçôvarr. This connective kernel brings up the possibility that the dead Skalla-Grimr changes into an undead being. Dundes). 2. to avoid die well-known "evil eye" of magicians and troll-like beings in medieval Iceland (see Einar Olaflir Sveinsson. Its exact identity remains uncertain. without knowing whether there is a ghost there or not. And yet the anonymous courtier in York deftly compares him to a troll. however. suggesting again an undead identity. to walk again or to cause any trouble after his death. Perhaps Egill is as much in die dark as Esik saga's audience and puts his son in SkallaGrimr's mound just in case. fn. Torfi H. He is not known.REALISM AND THE OCCULT IN EGILS SAGA 41 he gains added strength and metamorphoses {hamask) into something incomprehensible. other. it does so ver)' subtly. As mentioned above. and threatening. There is an underlying hint in this scene that specific rituals connected with undead beings are observed. Laxdœla saja 107. In tliis new guise. Egill himself knows before going to see him that he 14. as is so often the case with the occult. ultimately nobody can be certain. Egill must be fetched. Additionally. perhaps. but the openness inherent to the category of troll aptly encompasses die various possibilities. Skalla-Grimr is configured as some type of troll. only he is able to move the deceased Skalla-Grimr (174-5).

After he grows up. 4). Soria saga sterka gives us the phrase "ef ek bit J)ik á barkann. If we view Egill in the context of characteristics associated with trolls listed above. but he does show his cannibalistic tendencies in finishing off his opponent in a troll-like manner by biting his throat. but none in Iceland until he kills two of his defaao son-in-law's slaves in his extreme old age (297). He is different enough that he cannot hide at the court of King Eirikr in York: he is "auôkenndr" (178) there and everywhere else. It is not impossible that Egill knows that he is perceived by many as a troll. sem troll gjöra" (Rafn III 450) [if I came at your throat like a troll]. depending on the audience's attitude toward the occult. He is also configured as other in that he descends from werewolves. For example. As I have drawn attention to elsewhere (Ármann Jakobsson. Egill is certainly disruptive at the court of the king of Norway. When Egill famously kills his opponent Adi the Short in a duel. "Empathy" 7 fn. and he infamously erects a m'Ô post with runes and a horse's head on top to curse the Norwegian king and his family (171). and half-troUs. He uses runes to cure a daughter of I>orfinnr in Eioaskógr who is "hamstoli" (229) [out of her wits or (literally) out of her skin]. and that he himself is not above exhibiting troll-like behavior. he displays cannibalistic and troll-like tendencies by biting Adi in the throat and finishing him off (210). Egill kills several people abroad during his adulthood. believe that Egill works powerful magic. The bestial nature of EgiU is perhaps not as pronounced as it is in his father and grandfather. it is possible to interpret the curse as successful and. Finally.42 SCANDINAVIAN STUDIES will be "auôkenndr" (178) in this region and thus acknowledges his extraordinary nature without referring to himself as a troll. "Identifying" 192). . One of the foreign behaviors of the troll in the sagas is cannibalism (Ármarm Jakobsson. Biting people in the throat is clearly associated with the troll. The troll is always the other. Egill thus does not kill anyone in Iceland whose death might result in a lawsuit or feud. berserkir.'^ Egill might also be considered a troll in that he seems to possess magical powers. that his ancestry is fairly exotic. although at 15. When the king is later exiled to York. we find that Egill possibly practices magic that does not originate with the Christian God (such arts are sometimes referred to nsfomeskja [ancient lore] in the sagas).

To the Norwegian king. 2009. "Grettir and Ketill Haengr."^w (1966): 136-55. Marlene.REALISM AND T H E O C C U L T I N EGILS SAGA 43 home he behaves much like any other Icelandic magnate. His ancestors may or may not have been shape shifters. Clunies Ross. Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society.ñ"Skdldskaparmdl4 (1997): 74-96. Egill is both troll and not troll. Ármann Jakobsson. and his presence seems far removed from any eerie or inhuman element. The occult must remain both unknown and unknowable. "Identifying the Ogre: The Legendary Saga Giants. Egill's own troll nature remains obscured by a lack of concrete evidence. Theodore M. Kristjánsdóttir. presumably highly respected for his wealth and as a descendant of Skalla-Grímr. "History of the Trolls? Bdröar saga as an Historical Narrative. • "Egils saga and Empathy: Emotions and Moral Issues in a Dysfunctional Saga Family. Egill must appear distinct from ordinary adversaries as an unruly troll-like figure from the past whose magic and potential instability should be feared. and the Ugly: BdrSarsaga and Its Giants"Medieval Scandinavia 15 (2005): 1-15. Ithaca: Cornell UP. We do not know that he ever shape shifts. die Bad. ." Scandinavian Studies 80 (2008): 1-18. Radier. but the political aspect of this narrative is but one of many contained within the saga. John frá Salisbury o. .181-200. He is never referred to as a troll apart from this one ambiguous instance in York. myter og virkelighed: studier i de oldislandske fomaldarsdgur Noröurlanda. Their struggle is indeed a political struggle as has been higlilighted by many excellent political interpretations (Andersson 102-18). "Primum caput: Um höfiiö Egils Skalla-Grímssonar. I. The Growth of the Medieval Icetatidic Sagas (1180-1280). Vol. Ultimately. Ármann Jakobsson. WORKS CITED Andersson. and Annette Lassen. The Viking Collection 7. Egill exhibits a troll potentiality that opens the text to die possibility of the occult." Fomatdarsagaeme. He does not create much disturbance in the local community. • "The Good. The troll elements underlying the nuances of the struggle between Egill and the king should not be ignored. Ciklamini. the Giant-Killers. 'The Trollish Acts of I>orgrimr the Witch: The Meanings of Troll and Ergi in Medieval Icdsnd"Saga-Book 32 (2008): 39-68. Egiksaga is deliberately ambiguous and die ultimate truth regarding its hero's troU-like nature is never completely revealed. Agneta Ney. 2006. Margaret. Odense: Odcnse UP." Saga-Book 25 (1998): 53-71. Bergljót S. Eds. 1994. Kobenhavn: Museum Tusculanum.

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