Shippen’s account of the life of Eriksson may only loosely be defined as biography. Her only source, the Karlsefni Saga, is not a historical document. It was written down at least three hundred years after the events that it records, and its author drew from folktales that had been handed down by word of mouth for many generations. Although most modern scholars would agree that the sagas are based on real events and real people, they would also point out that much distortion and invention crept into the sagas during the years when they were recited by wandering bards and passed from parents to children. Although Eriksson is mentioned in four other Icelandic sagas, Shippen did not use them in her account of his life.
Shippen is obviously anxious that her readers accept Eriksson as she sees him: as a hero, an intrepid explorer, and a compassionate man who loved his family. Her dearth of sources relating to Eriksson’s life, however, prevents his personality from ever forming clearly in her pages. Shippen is also determined that her readers accept the proposition that Eriksson was the first European explorer to set foot on the continent of North America. Her book was written before the extensive archaeological excavations at Lancy’s Meadows in Newfoundland (begun in 1963) uncovered evidence that relegate Eriksson to the status of latecomer to America. Those excavations uncovered an entire Norse village of more than eighty dwellings that dates...
(The entire section is 454 words.)