Storytelling - Sagas

Vikings for all occasions, no tale too tall

Manaraefan Herred

Viking culture and society was very different from ours today and Hrothgar tells his tales in such a way as to highlight these differences and bring a smile to his audience.  Not a few of the tales of the Norse gods involve sex and Hrothgar takes care to imply this to the adults while the younger members of the audience hear only of love and marriage!  The violence of many of these stories is also told of in a manner acceptable to the younger audience, or rather their parents!

Storytelling or saga telling was an important pastime for the Vikings.  The boredom of long winter nights could be broken when an individual told a tale of the gods, spoke of the great deeds of his ancestors or recounted his own exploits.   They might be told by a local poet or skald, may be an itinerant skald would tell the tale along with news from abroad, or one of the people present would take it upon themselves or be called on to tell a tale or two.

These tales and sagas might be listened to in respectful silence, particularly if new to the audience or about some solemn affair.  The audience might chorus out particular parts of a familiar and popular tale.  Other tales might be greeted with laughter and mock scorn as the teller knowingly exaggerates his own mundane deeds into the saga of a great warrior.

The teller of these tales may speak with gravitas, especially perhaps when speaking of his hosts ancestors.  He may be quiet and solemn when telling a tale of the gods to a small group gathered close.  Then again, particularly with a large audience, he may be loud and brash, making exaggerated gestures and displaying great passion.   Each tale and each audience will require a different storytelling style.

Listening to a story was an important social activity for the Vikings in the same way that modern people visit a theatre or cinema.  A well told story will evoke immediate responses and inspire the imagination.  The audience will discuss among themselves their favourite parts and the children might well play at being the heroes and villains in mock fights.  Listening to tales of ancient heroes and the gods with other members of the community helped to bind them together with a common belief system and heritage.

The story in Viking culture informs its audience not only of the deeds of their ancestors and gods but also of how they are expected to behave.  Young warriors might be offended by behavioural advice in the day but will listen to a tale of an ancestor at night which will give them pause for thought when comparing their own actions to those of the hero.  In a society composed of armed men prickly of their honour the story was a good way of giving advice without offence. 

In Manaraefan Hrothgar is renowned for his tales and can be relied upon to be first to start the evenings round of stories.  He has been known to exaggerate his deeds just a little!  He tells his tales with passion and volume encouraging his audience to join in especially when telling his tale in rhyme.  Most of the tales told around the Manaraefan fires are of their own deeds and those of friends and foes, but when a public audience is available stories of the Norse gods are usually told.

Comments on this site should be sent to Roger Barry