Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The word "saga" is Norse for "tale", and sagas were essentially retellings of Scandinavian history and Folktales in a narrative form. In giving them structure and continuity the sagamen, the Nordic equivalent of Homer or Scheherazade, turned history into Story, and made Heroes out of their ancestors. Most of the sagas are adventure tales, and are not fantastic. However, those derived from the Eddas (> Nordic Fantasy) drew more heavily on Myths and Legends. The original sagas were Nordic and Icelandic, and were written in the 11th-14th centuries. Most famous is Burnt Njál's Saga (11th century), about one of Iceland's most beloved and law-abiding countrymen. More in the realm of the supernatural is Grettir's Saga (11th century), an early form of Heroic Fantasy. Grettir, a young hothead, is banished after killing someone in a quarrel. In exile he undergoes many adventures, mostly supernatural, including the episode often reprinted in the version best known as "The Sword of Glam" or "The Ghost of Glam" adapted by Andrew Lang in The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (coll 1897). Grettir's Saga was translated in verse by William Morris and as a story by S Baring-Gould. Also famous is Volsunga Saga (final form 13th century). Poul Anderson retold another famous saga in Hrolf Kraki's Saga (1973). The best-known sagaman is Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), who wrote the Heimskringla ["Orb of the World"], telling the history of the Norwegian kings.

The word "saga" is often used for any extended Story Cycle or mythos, most notably the stories about Arthur, Charlemagne and Dietrich of Bern, but these are more properly treated as medieval Romances. It is also used commercially to describe multi-volume Genre Fantasies. [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.