Christmas Book Flood | Recommending reading

The Saga of the Volsungs

Legend; Volsungs; PCLegendary Saga

This book is included in The Icelanders Cometh crowdfunding campaign run by the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign to raise money for UK libraries to spend on titles translated into English by Icelandic authors to mark World Book Night and UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day.


Based on Viking Age poems, The Saga of the Volsungs combines mythology, legend and sheer human drama.

At its heart are the heroic deeds of Sigurd the dragon slayer who acquires magical knowledge from one of Odin’s Valkyries. Yet it is also set in a very human world, incorporating strands from the oral narratives of the fourth and fifth centuries, when Attila the Hun and other warriors fought on the northern frontiers of the Roman Empire.

One of the great books of world literature, the saga is an unforgettable tale of princely jealousy, unrequited love, greed and vengeance.

With its cursed treasure of the Rhine, sword reforged and magic ring of power, it was a major influence for writers including William Morris and J R R Tolkein and for Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (Ring Cycle)


‘This is a book of the highest importance. No one should attempt to teach about Viking society or claim to understand it without being familiar with this chilling and enduring myth. Eleanor Searle

‘Byock extends the background to the saga beyond the interest of “Wagnerites” to the complex relationship between history and legend in the Middle Ages and the social context of the myths and heroes of the saga … [Byock is] very successful in his adept renderings of Eddic rhythm … The translation of prose is equally fine.’ Dr Judy Quinn, Parergon

‘Byock’s translation is excellent, but his thorough introduction is of equal scholarly importance … His section on Richard Wagner’s use of the Volsung material in writing his “Ring” will expand the topic toward modern Wagnerians.’ L Michael Bell, Professor Emeritus of English at University of Colorado

The Saga of the Volsungs is one of the most important texts of Old Icelandic literature, with its treatment of Old Scandinavian heroic traditions … The most difficult part of the text to translate is, of course, the poetry, but also here the translator has been successful.’ Dr Vésteinn Ólason