Saga of the Volsungs

Books: Folklore | Mythology

Saga of the Volsungs (2000)

Saga of the Volsungs (2000) translated by Jesse L. Byock

I found this book more frustrating than gratifying (but I have to admit in a way that bothers me about some folktale collections as well) in that we have a fantastic story, but no one has not bothered to do anything other than lay down a bare translation. The language is stiff, and the prose wasn't very engaging, despite being a good tale.

I suppose that it could be translated thus, because it's a literal translation, Perhaps the original style was in that manner, and they want to remain true to the original, but I think they are doing a disservice to the tale itself.

I like to imagine that these tales originally came from the oral tradition (Yeah, I skipped the introduction that would have told me this. So sue me.), and so imagine the tales being told around a fire, with the storyteller, perhaps standing and pacing around, relating the tale with the relishes that would best suit his (or her) community. Certain details would go better with certain crowds, and so details would be added as the storyteller saw fit.

For a crowd of young boys, the tale would emphasize glorious battle, and perhaps if the storyteller had seen battle himself, vivid detail in the death scenes and the lists of casualties.

If the tale was being told to girls, the storyteller would emphasize the romantic tragedy of the story, how Sigurd and Brynhild found and then lost each other.

But regardless of the audience, there would be detail.

And detail is what this book left me wanting. It was as if the translator received the bare bones of a story, but never bothered to flesh it in, to add the detail that makes stories so exciting, entrancing. Here's an example:

After this Brynhild went out and sat under her chamber wall. She lamented grievously, declaring everything, both land and power, hateful to her, since she did not have Sigurd. And Gunnar came to her again. Then Brynhild said: "You shall lose both power and wealth, life and me, and I shall journey home to my kin and remain there in sorrow unless you kill Sigurd and his son. Do not raise the wolf cub.

I was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction, as if the tale had been related by someone without an ounce of passion.