The Story of Burnt Njal Summary


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Harold Grayfell rules in Norway. Hrut Heriolfsson comes out of Iceland to claim an inheritance, and he sits on the high seat of Gunnhilda, the king’s mother. He is handsome and strong. He finds favor with the king as well, so that he claims his inheritance and gets a great store of rich goods while sea roving. Then he sails back to Iceland, but not before Gunnhilda puts a spell on him that he might never have pleasure living with the woman he sets his heart on.

Soon after, Hrut marries Unna, Fiddle Mord’s daughter. Things do not go smoothly between Hrut and Unna, and she soon leaves him. When Mord asks at the Thing for her goods to be returned, Hrut offers to fight him instead. Mord refuses and gets great shame by his suit.

Hrut’s brother Hauskuld has a fair daughter, Hallgerda, but she is hard-hearted. She marries Thorwald Oswifsson, and he is killed by Thiostolf, her foster father. Then she marries Glum, son of Olof the Hall, and he is murdered. She then sends Thiostolf to Hrut to tell of Glum’s death, and Hrut strikes him dead. Fiddle Mord dies, and Unna runs through her goods. Then she asks her kinsman Gunnar Hamondsson to get back her goods from Hrut. Gunnar is the best skilled in arms of all men. His brother’s name is Kolskegg.

Njal is Gunnar’s friend. They swear nothing should come between them. Njal is so great a lawyer that his match is not to be found. Bergthora is his wife.

Gunnar asks Njal how to get Unna’s goods, and Njal advises him to trick Hrut into summoning himself to the Thing where the suit would be tried. There Gunnar challenges Hrut to single combat, but Hauskuld makes Hrut pay the money. There is much ill feeling.

Gunnar and Kolskegg go sea roving and come back with many goods. They ride to the Thing, and there Gunnar sees Hallgerda and asks for her. Njal foretells ill from this but goes to the wedding.

At the wedding Thrain Sigfusson puts away his shrewish wife and asks for Thorgerda, Hallgerda’s daughter. So there are two weddings.

Each year Gunnar and Njal have feasts for friendship’s sake. Njal has it the year Bergthora insults Hallgerda and Hallgerda asks Gunnar to avenge her. Gunnar refuses and takes her home. Then Hallgerda has Bergthora’s thrall killed. Gunnar pays atonement to Njal. Bergthora retaliates, and Njal pays for that death. The women urge their men on until Njal’s sons are involved, but Gunnar and Njal keep their friendship.

When Otkell Skarfsson tricks Gunnar into buying a deceitful thrall, Hallgerda sends him to burn Otkell’s storehouse. Gunnar offers atonement but refuses Otkell friendship. Then Otkell hurts Gunnar, and Gunnar kills Otkell. This is the beginning of Gunnar’s slayings. Njal warns him not to kill more than one man in the same stock or he will invite his death.

Then Starkad, son of Bork the Waxy-toothed Blade, challenges Gunnar to a horse fight. Thorgeir Otkellsson is hurt and wants revenge against Gunnar. Starkad, his son Thorgeir, and Thorgeir Otkellsson try to ambush Gunnar, and Thorgeir Otkellsson is killed. This is the second man slain in the same stock. Thorgeir Starkadsson swears vengeance. At the Thing the atonement is that Gunnar and Kolskegg are to go away within three years or be slain by the kinsmen of those they killed.

They make plans to go abroad, but as they ride away, Gunnar’s horse throws him with his face turned toward home. When he decides not to go, Kolskegg goes alone. Gunnar is outlawed. Njal warns him that Geir the Priest is getting up a band to slay him, and Gunnar asks Njal to see after his son Hogni.

When Geir the Priest and his men come to Gunnar’s house, they kill his hound Sam. Sam howls loudly before he dies, so that Gunnar is prepared. Gunnar puts...

(The entire section is 1550 words.)