The Saga of Grettir the Strong Analysis

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Iceland. Northern Atlantic island nation, populated mainly by farmers and ruled by chieftains, that is Grettir’s homeland. Much of the saga’s actions occur in its farmsteads built from turf, timber, and stone or in its icy wastes, sparse woods, rugged mountains, and remote smaller islands. Amid these settings, the saga writer pits the world of community, social interaction, and protection under the law against the harshness of the wilds. Grettir, as an outlaw, must continually navigate the threats and dangers of both. Often enough, these places are under the control of powerful, malevolent, fantastic beings and creatures, as the hero finds himself battling trolls, revenants (people who have returned from the dead), and evil spells.


*Biarg (by-AHRG). Icelandic birthplace of Grettir. It is here that the hero’s stubbornness, strength, and irascible attitude first manifests itself in his interactions with his father, Asmund Longhair. After his father’s death, Grettir’s mother remains there to bear the loss of her husband and the outlawry and deaths of her children. Grettir’s occasional secretive visits are constant reminders of his alienation from his kinsmen.


*Drangey (DRANG-ay). Remote island in a fjord along the northern coast of Iceland. After years, of outlawry, Grettir, his younger brother Illugi, and a servant withdraw here and are able to defend...

(The entire section is 535 words.)


(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Andersson, Theodore M. The Icelandic Family Saga: An Analytic Reading. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. Unlike the many saga studies which focus on history and origin, this book examines the sagas as narrative. Chapters on structure, rhetoric, and heroic legacy are followed by insightful commentary.

Arent, A. Margaret. “The Heroic Pattern: Old Germanic Helmets, Beowulf, and Grettis Saga.” In Old Norse Literature and Mythology, edited by Edgar C. Polomé. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969. Discussion of the pictorial ornamentations found on Germanic helmets, and how the cultural and religious themes depicted on typical helmets shed light on the literature. Twenty-seven illustrations.

Hastrup, Kirsten. “Tracing Tradition: An Anthropological Perspective on Grettis Saga Ásmundarsonar.” In Structure and Meaning in Old Norse Literature, edited by John Lindow et al. Odense, Denmark: Odense University Press, 1986. Traces the perception of Grettir the Strong by Icelanders over the past seven hundred years, showing how the meaning of the outcast-hero has changed.

Hume, Kathryn. “The Thematic Design of Grettis Saga.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 73, no. 4 (October, 1974): 469-486. Explains the puzzling contrasts in Grettir’s character and the narrative tone between different episodes. The theme of the unacceptability of the heroic in a modern society accounts, Hume demonstrates, for the differences.

Schach, Paul. Icelandic Sagas. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Contains a brief but excellent introduction to this saga, including a discussion of its authorship, structure, and themes of intergenerational conflict and tragic isolation. Other sections provide historical and literary contexts, a chronology, and a bibliography.