Alison Kinney at The Paris Review:
The Sagas of Icelanders chronicle the settlement of Iceland during the ninth to eleventh centuries, known as both the Viking Age and the Saga Age. “They’re not stories,” Jón gently reproved me: “they’re sagas,” a unique medieval prose form that upends the conventions of domestic drama, genealogy, historical fiction, adventure, and myth. They date not from the Viking Age but from the Christian, multilingual literary society that succeeded it. Around 1130, Ari Þorgilsson, the first recognized Icelandic author and historian, wrote Iceland’s origin story in The Book of Icelanders. By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, editors, translators, and even critics abounded, and celebrity poets, such as Snorri Sturluson, toured the royal courts of Scandinavia and England. That period of passionate inquiry and composition might yet be called a Silver Age, for its writers were troubled by lost cultural heritage, civil war, the relinquishment of Icelandic independence to Norway, and a sense of belatedness. Ari had composed the Íslendingabók with the authority of proximity and living witness, within a generation’s memory of the Saga Age. Two centuries later, the anxious writers committing saga-like oral narratives to parchment cited Ari’s book for credibility.