Halldór Laxness: Wayward Heroes

“With these words, she drew back the bolts that Kolbakur had made to fasten her window frame, pulled the frame aside, and let the man into her bower. Images of gods were carved on the bower’s pillars and stiles and rails of her chair, but they were only half done — Christianity having come to Iceland before the artist completed his work.”

And with this fleeting imagery, a beautiful and ingenious depiction of the religious landscape in which the story is set. An age on the cusp between the fading world of paganism and the force of a new religion of peace, ironically preached by adventurers and men waging selfish crusades in the name of Christ. It was this melancholy conflict that I heard playing as a soundtrack throughout its pages.

It seemed revolutionary when Hollywood recently began to highlight the dark side of legends and heroes. These have become sombre reminders that even superhuman abilities are not enough to protect one from ego, the perilous thirst for fame, power, revenge, and from mere mortals’ tragedies.

Then there’s Halldór Laxness who had Wayward Heroes published way back in 1952, part of the body of work that earned him the Nobel Prize in 1955.

Written in the style of ancient Icelandic sagas, it is replete with violence, adventures amorous and otherwise, and the barbarism of medieval Europe. But how wonderfully Laxness refashions the old to become accessible and relevant to the new.

On the surface, these are the exploits of blood-brothers, Þorgeir and Þormóður. One can read it as such and it will remain entertaining. But one can always choose to go beyond that and take note of the language, the veiled ironies, how wit and sarcasm remain elegant, and the subtleties that only a master can pull off, and how this story remains especially timeless for being a cautionary tale about the heroes, kings, and causes to whom and to which we pledge fealty.

But do we ever listen?

14 thoughts on “Halldór Laxness: Wayward Heroes”

  1. “Honey I’m home!!!!” 😂 Did you miss me? Bought “The Orientalist” for the flight, realised I had read it before (probably borrowed it from my same friend years ago but forgot lol!) but still re-read it. Loved it! Hope you’ve had a good week! X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome back!!! I have been checking your blog for Cambodia posts, and here I was thinking, “Nothing?! She would seriously rather bask in the experience than spend time on the internet?!” Hahaha! Kidding! Of course, I missed your presence in here, silly! I hope you had an amazing time! 😊💛


      1. Haha I don’t ever post while on
        Holiday, I’m too technologically slow to use my phone and do it! Haha. It was an amazing eye opening trip. I have so much to blog but god knows when I’ll get started! Usually takes me a year to write about a country. Lol 😂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I’m getting old 🤣🤣🤣 The book did look familiar to me but I wasn’t sure. When I started on it I was like hang on, I have read this! I’m seriously worried about my mind!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful review, Mira! This looks very fascinating! Loved the quote you shared! I’ve never read a Halldór Laxness before. Now after reading your review, I want to read this one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just met two Icelandic men and remembered how they’re supposed to have the most published books of any country (?). One of them, the father, is well-read. So unrelated to this post, but I’m just reminded to read more outside my “zone”. I have been doing that a bit, but not enough, I guess. Well, I’m in my slow reading season. And that’s fine, I guess. It’s enough that I’m loving and assimilating what I have been reading. It’s just that I do miss those days when I read more. But I guess I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had the lasts few years for all the reading I missed.
    And I made your comments section my stream-of-consciousness, slow Saturday morning journal. Hahaha!

    Liked by 1 person

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