*Síðu Halls Saga ok sona hans

  • Dr. Jamie Cochrane Independent Scholar
Keywords: Sagas of Icelanders, guardian spirits, conversion of Iceland


This article traces the life of the 10th-century Icelandic chieftain Síðu-Hallr Þorsteinsson and that of his ancestors and descendants, through numerous mentions in extant sources particularly Íslendinga sögur and þættir. Hallr is descended from significant Landnámsmenn on both his mother and father’s sides. Most significant of these is Hrollaugr Rǫgnvaldsson who settles Iceland on the advice of a mysterious prophecy which seems to relate his female guardian spirits (fylgjur) to Iceland. A relatively consistent family tree of Hallr’s ancestors and descendants can be ascertained from disparate sources, with only a few discrepancies, particularly around the number and names of Hallr’s sons. Hallr himself is portrayed consistently as honourable, magnanimous and a noble heathen before becoming an early convert to Christianity. There is however also a suggestion that Hallr had some degree of cunning and shrewdness. The most important single event in his life story is his role in the conversion of Iceland to Christianity in the year 999 or 1000. His actions at the Alþingi underline the picture of him both as generous peacemaker, but also shrewd political realist. If we turn to his sons Þorsteinn, Þiðrandi and Egill, we find many of the same characteristics, though without the same degree of patience as their father. Hallr are his sons are ancestors of many of the notable bishops, literary figures and chieftains of the saga-writing age. Having assembled the material for this *Síðu-Halls saga ok sona hans the article then argues that the story forms a relatively coherent whole. Although there are some inconsistencies of detail, there is a consistency in the portrayal of the central characters and the themes addressed in the texts. For example the theme of supernatural female guardianship runs throughout, as does the theme of Christianity and conversion. The notion of this saga actually having existed in medieval times is rejected primarily on the grounds that throughout the assembled material no such saga is ever mentioned as a source. The conclusion is therefore that the story of Síðu-Hallr and his sons developed orally. It had, no doubt, some kernel of truth, but as such stories were told and retold they developed an ever increasing organisation. Whenever new material was added it needed to agree in terms of characterisation and theme with that which existed. Having reached such a point as to be an immanent saga, it would have taken a saga author only comparatively light touches to change the oral material into an artistic whole. In the case of Síðu-Hallr, this final development never took place, but this may have been the creative process by which other sagas came into existence.