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This review is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

A FEW STEPS The Complete Sagas of Icelanders including 49 tales. Thirty translators. General editor Vi Ýar Hreinsson. Editorial team: Robert Cook, Terry Gunnell, Keneva Kunz, Bernard Scudder. Five volumes. (Leifur Eiríksson Publishing) £300

In his acceptance speech for the 1995 Nordic Prize for Literature for Angels of the Universe, Einar Már Gu Ýmundsson places Northern literature at the heart of European culture. He reminds us of the words of Homer at the start of The Odyssey:

Tell me Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy's sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of...

Today, in an age of media and the technological, the European Muse has come to appear as a passive newsreader. In the storytelling through the centuries man stands against the superpower. 'The art of storytelling and literature are the point in the world where we stand and say: "Nothing human does not touch me."' The news and media show us the superpower only in terms of its weapons, wars and economic statistics. They fail to show 'the kiss which appears in the foreverness, of the corner of the eye which says it all'. Contemporary Icelandic is little changed from the Old Norse of a thousand years ago. Icelandic writers work within an unbroken literary and linguistic tradition extending back at least to the early ninth century, and especially the Settlement years from 874 to 930. Einar Már's contention is that the core of European culture has to do with an unbroken tradition of storytelling and poetry fostered by twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth century writers in ...

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