Clover, Carol J. Open composition: the Atlantic interlude in Njáls saga

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  • Author: Carol J. Clover
  • Title: Open Composition: The Atlantic Interlude in Njál’s Saga
  • Published in: Sagas of the Icelanders
  • Place, Publisher: New York & London, Garland Publishing Inc.
  • Year: 1989
  • Pages: 280-291
  • E-text:
  • Reference: Clover, Carol J. “Open Composition: The Atlantic Interlude in Njál’s Saga.” Sagas of the Icelanders. Ed. John Tucker. New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc., 1989. 280-291.

  • Key words:

structure, Atlantic interlude, character



This article is a reaction against neoclassical critiques of sagas that portray them as disunified and full of digressions from the main plot. Clover uses the Atlantic interlude in Njáls saga as a case study that demonstrates sagas’ unique sense of unity. This is achieved through a concept of ‘open composition’ where anything not directly impacting the main plot can be included as long as it serves a reflexive or anticipatory function. Furthermore, unnecessary details and overdevelopment of minor characters can be explained by a tendency to complete a character’s story, thus forming an interwoven collection of þættir rather than a single, focused narrative. The Atlantic interlude is comprised of five individual and complete stories of Icelanders (Gunnarr, Grímr, Helgi, Kolskeggr, and Þráinn) which together are aesthetically satisfying and, as Clover claims, embody the author´s intention: infinite digression for the sake of completeness.


Texta vantar

See also


Chapter 75: betri menn: “If this biographical appendix seems unnecessary, it, too, has a reflexive function, for Kolskeggr’s absence, together with those of Þráinn and the Njálssons, is construed as an immediate cause of Gunnarr’s death. ‘Now people were saying that the district was being emptied of its best men,’ the author remarks in Ch. 75, and again, one page later, ‘They all felt that it would be easy to catch Gunnarr, now that Kolskeggr and Þráinn¬ and many other friends of his were away.” (p. 285)


  • Written by: Jensen Scheuer
  • Icelandic/English translation:
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