Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492
The Borg farm, something of a refuge for anyone who needs help, is the home of rlygur the Rich, an energetic and compassionate Icelandic farmer sometimes spoken of as “the King” because of the vast number of servants he retains and the hundreds of cattle, horses, and sheep he owns. rlygur hopes that one of his sons, either Ormarr or Ketill, will become the master of Borg. Ormarr, however, is interested in playing the violin, and Ketill decides to become a priest.
The two brothers represent extremes of character. Ormarr is sensitive, intelligent, perceptive, creative, and honest, while Ketill is devious, jealous, destructive, blasphemous, and dishonest. Ormarr unselfishly marries Runa, daughter of a poor farmer. Once Ketill, who is secretly eager to seize control of the property at Borg, becomes the parish priest, he preaches a series of sermons that incrementally encourage the peasants to believe that a great sin has been committed by one of the community leaders. Finally, Ketill charges his own father with being the father of a child born to Runa, the daughter of a poor farmer, Pall à Seyru. The charge is coupled with the suggestion that rlygur also had persuaded Ormarr to marry Runa in order to hide his crime of lust. The depth of Ketill’s depravity finally becomes evident to the citizens of the community when rlygur, with convincing simplicity and wrath, reveals that the priest who is condemning his own father is himself the father of Runa’s child. The terrible accusation and its aftermath prove too much for rlygur; he dies as a result. Ketill’s wife goes mad.
Repenting his sins, Ketill leaves Borg and, having rejected the idea of suicide, becomes a wanderer, dependent for his board and lodging on the Icelandic farmers to whom he brings simple, soul-restoring messages of love and compassion. He regards himself as a guest on earth, and “Guest” becomes his name. He loses his eye in saving a child from a burning farm; hence, in the Icelandic tradition of using nicknames he becomes “Guest the One-Eyed.”
Ormarr, after throwing away an opportunity to become a world-famous concert violinist and after achieving a remarkable financial success as a shipping magnate, returns to Borg in search of a new challenge.
Later, Guest the One-Eyed returns to Borg. He carries with him the memory of the curses that everyone had put on Ketill, whom all believe dead. His reconciliation with his family is partly the result of his having destroyed the old Ketill by his life as a wanderer, but it is also a result of the readiness of the Icelanders to forgive for the sake of the family, that union that makes life in inhospitable Iceland possible. Old wounds show signs of healing in the prospective marriage of rlygur the younger, Ketill’s son, and Bagga, the beautiful illegitimate daughter of the woman of Bolli who, like Ketill, knows the fire and ice of passion and repentance.