In Heroic Sagas and Ballads, Stephen A. Mitchell examines the world of the medieval Icelandic legendary sagas and their legacy in Scandinavia. Central to his argument is the view that these heroic texts should be studied in the light of the later Icelandic Middle Ages rather than that of the Viking age, although the stories, the tellers, and the audiences are clearly concerned with exactly this period of Scandinavian history.
Viewing these sagas as the products of highly diverse forms of inspiration and creation—some oral, some written—Mitchell explores their aesthetic and social dimensions, demonstrating their function both as entertainment and as a literature with a more serious purpose, one with deep roots in Nordic literary consciousness. The traditions that these sagas relate possessed an importance beyond the temporal and geographical confines of medieval Iceland, and Heroic Sagas and Ballads considers the process by which these heroic materials were subsequently recast as metrical romances in Iceland and as ballads throughout the rest of Scandinavia. It is ultimately concerned with much more than just those stories that inspired such modern writers as Richard Wagner and H. Rider Haggard; its anthropological and folkloric approach to the legendary sagas shows how the extraliterary dimensions of medieval texts can be explored.
Heroic Sagas and Ballads addresses issues of central importance to medievalists, folklorists, comparatists, Scandinavianists, and students of the ballad.
"Stephen A. Mitchell has written a well informed and informative book on an interesting subject. He shows an excellent knowledge of the texts as well as of the impressive amount of secondary literature on the question. He also is familiar with the philological problems as well as those pertaining to the transmission of texts and motifs between different areas of the North."
Journal of English and Germanic Philology
"Throughout Heroic Sagas and Ballads, the reader is well served by both Mitchell's balanced synthesis of past scholarship and his commentary and insights. His bibliography is invaluable."