“Should she tell a story …”

In Quest of Eiríkur Laxdal’s Poetics

  • Jón Karl Helgason


This paper analyses the narration in Eiríkur Laxdal’s Saga Ólafs Þórhallasonar. Scholars placing Eiríkur’s writing within the context of literary history have generally taken one of three viewpoints. Some who encountered Ólafssaga in the nineteenth century and even later seem to have regarded it as a rather poor collection of Icelandic folk tales. Since the mid-twentieth century, however, the text has generally been considered to mark the advent of the novel in Iceland. The third approach views Ólafssaga as a product of an ancient narrative tradition that falls somewhere between traditional folk tales and novels. While not fully rejecting the first two views, the article compares Eiríkur’s work to three elaborate classical works of narrative fiction: Homer’s Odyssey, the Arabic story-cycle The Thousand and One Nights, and the French medieval narrative The Quest of the Holy Grail. The analysis, inspired by Tzvetan Todorov’s The Poetics of Prose, reveals that Ólafssaga can be seen as part of a centuries-long literary tradition of layered narratives that focus on storytelling.