The Saga and Tháttr Analysis


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The term “saga” (pl. sögur) is Old Norse in origin and means “a saw” or “saying.” After written language supplemented oral language in the North, the word “saga” was extended to include any kind of legend, story, tale, or history written in prose. As a literary term, “saga” refers more specifically to prose narratives written in medieval Iceland. The sagas are traditionally classified according to their subject matter. The main types of sagas are Konungasögur (kings’ sagas), Íslendingasögur (sagas of the Icelanders or family sagas), Sturlunga saga (saga of the Sturlungs), Byskupasögur (bishops’ sagas), Fornaldarsögur (sagas of past times), Riddarosögur (sagas of chivalry), and Lygisögur (lying sagas). In general, family sagas and kings’ sagas are of highest literary merit. Their excellence ranks them among the finest work of the European Middle Ages.

Closely associated with the saga in medieval Icelandic literature was the tháttr (pl. thættir), a shorter prose form which is related to the saga in roughly the same fashion as a short story is to a novel: The most evident difference between the two is length. Tháttr literally means “a single strand,” as of rope. The Icelanders early extended this meaning metaphorically to refer to parts of written works. Episodes of narratives, chapters of histories, or sections of law were thus known as thættir....

(The entire section is 442 words.)