The Saga of Grettir the Strong Summary


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Grettir the strong is descended from Onund, a Viking famed for enemies killed in war and the taking of booty from towns plundered on far sea raids. In a battle at Hafrsfjord, Onund loses a leg and is thereafter known as Onund Treefoot. His wife is Aesa, the daughter of Ofeig. Thrand, a great hero, is his companion in arms. During a time of great trouble in Norway, the two heroes sail to Iceland to be free of injustice in their homeland, where the unscrupulous can rob without fear of redress. Onund lives in quiet and plenty in the new land, and his name becomes renowned, for he is valiant. At last he dies. His sons fight after his death, and his lands are divided.

Grettir of the line of Onund is born at Biarg. As a child he shows strange intelligence. He quarrels constantly with Asmund Longhair, his father, and he is very lazy, never doing anything cheerfully or without urging. When he is fourteen years old, grown big in body, he kills Skeggi in a quarrel over a provision bag that falls from his horse, and for that deed his father pays blood money to the kinsmen of Skeggi. Then the Lawman declares that he must leave Iceland for three years. In that way the long outlawry of Grettir begins.

Grettir sets sail for Norway. The ship is wrecked on rocks off the Norwegian coast, but all get safely ashore on land that belongs to Thorfinn, a wealthy landsman of the district. Grettir makes his home with him for a time. At Yuletide, Thorfinn, with most of his household, goes to a merrymaking and leaves Grettir to look after the farm. In Thorfinn’s absence, a party of berserks, or raiders, led by Thorir and Ogmund, come to rob and lay waste to the district. Grettir tricks them by locking them in a storehouse. When they break through the wooden walls, Grettir, armed with sword and spear, kills Thorir and Ogmund and puts the rest to flight. Sometime before this adventure, he entered the tomb of Karr-the-Old, father of Thorfinn, a long-dead chieftain who guarded a hidden treasure. For his brave deed in killing the berserks, Thorfinn gives him an ancient sword from the treasure hoard of Karr-the-Old.

Next Grettir kills a great bear that was carrying off the sheep. In doing so he incurs the wrath of Bjorn, who is jealous of Grettir’s strength and bravery. Then Grettir kills Bjorn and is summoned before Jarl Sveinn. Friends of Bjorn plot to take Grettir’s life. After he kills two of his enemies, his friends save him from the wrath of the jarl, who wishes to banish him. His term of outlawry ends, Grettir sails back to Iceland in the spring.

At this time in Iceland, young Thorgils Maksson, Asmund’s kinsman, is slain in a quarrel over a whale, and Asmund takes up the feud against those who killed him. The murderers are banished.

When Grettir returns, Asmund gives him the welcome that is his due because of his fame as a brave hero. Shortly after his return, Grettir battles with some men after a horse fight. The struggle is halted by a man named Thorbjorn Oxmain. The feud would be forgotten if Thorbjorn Oxmain’s kinsman, Thorbjorn Slowcoach, did not sneer at the hero.

Word comes that a fiend took possession of the corpse of Glam, a shepherd. At night Glam ravages the countryside. He can find no man with whom he can prove his strength, so Grettir goes to meet Glam. They struggle in the house of Thorhall and rip down beams and rafters in their angry might. At last Glam falls exhausted. Defeated, he predicts that Grettir will have no greater strength and less honor in arms from that day on and that he will grow afraid of the dark. Grettir cuts off Glam’s head and burns the body to destroy the evil spirit that possesses the dead shepherd.

Grettir decides to return to Norway. Among the passengers on the boat is Thorbjorn Slowcoach; they fight, and Grettir kills his foe. The travelers land on a barren shore where they are without fire to warm themselves, and Grettir swims across the cove to get burning brands at an inn where the sons of Thorir of Gard, an Icelandic chieftain, are holding a drunken feast. He has to fight to get the fire he wants; in the struggle, hot coals set fire to the straw on...

(The entire section is 1699 words.)