Clark, George. Beowulf and Njáls saga

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  • Author: Clark, George
  • Title: Beowulf and Njálssaga
  • Published in: Proceedings of the First International Saga Conference, University of Edinburgh, 1971
  • Place, Publisher: London: Viking Society for Northern Research
  • Year: 1973
  • Pages: 66–87
  • E-text:
  • Reference: Clark, George. "Beowulf and Njálssaga". Proceedings of the First International Saga Conference, University of Edinburgh, 1971., pp. 66–87. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 1973.

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The description of Þorkell hákr’s overseas exploits from the end of chapter 119 forms the basis for Clark’s argument. He sees this passage as an ‘immediate connection’ (p. 66) between Njáls saga and Beowulf, drawn intentionally from shared oral tradition to set up Þorkell as a hero of the archetypal bear’s son narrative. Parallels are noted between the three fights of Þorkell and Beowulf, along with comparisons to other characters of this model. The effect of this allusion, however, is most relevant to the character of Skarpheðinn (himself contrastingly monstrous). By besting Þorkell, who has been introduced as a recognisably heroic character, Skarpheðinn is elevated in stature and gains sympathy from the audience. Clark notes that the presentation of a Beowulfian warrior who is immediately shown up by another character is an ironic, almost parodic, inversion of this motif.


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Chapter 119: hásæti sínu: "The saga’s allusive and indeed ironic development of the Beowulf tale-type controls and modifies the audience’s attitudes towards Skarpheðinn at the assembly following Höskuldr Hvítanessgoði’s death." (p. 66)

Chapter 120: föður: "Skarpheðinn’s accusations […] clarify Skarpheðinn’s motives for the killing of Höskuldr and his disruption of the agreement reached with Flosi. Though slow to believe Mörðr’s lies, Skarpheðinn found their inner logic inescapable: no good son forgets his father’s killing, nor could a good son hear his father’s manliness slandered and be silent." (p. 86)

Chapter 120: síðan: "Matched against Skarpheðinn, Þorkell collapses as though he were a fraud, but he is not, and the narrator’s careful delineation of Þorkell’s prowess and his failure makes Skarpheðinn’s appalling and almost inhuman power startlingly vivid." (p. 79)


  • Written by: Harriet Allen
  • Icelandic/English translation:
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