Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of Grettir the Strong

14th century, Old Norse.

A troll is a dead person who lives in the ground and comes out to terrorise a district at night.

'Then there was the ghost of the shepherd Glam,' said Quintin. 'Glam had been killed by a troll, which is just a dead person who lives in the ground and comes out at night. As a result of this he became a troll himself and terrorised the farm and the district round about until all the farmer’s servants and labourers had fled and most of the farm animals had been killed.'

'Not really a ghost, then?'

'Ghost isn't really the right word, I agree. Much more like a zombie. Glam could break every bone in a horse’s body and used to climb the farm buildings at night and bash his heels against the roofs, making them 'troll-ridden'. He was capable of killing men and in the end he was able to be killed himself. They can all be killed. All the dead-and-buried vikings in their treasure-laden barrows are killed again by the hero who enters the tomb to steal the sword and the wealth that it contains. Glam wrestled with Grettir for a long time during the night that Grettir stayed at the haunted farm. At last Grettir was able to force Glam onto his back, draw his sword and cut off his head. The storyteller then seems confident that the ghost has been laid.'

'And now comes your wonderful piece of imaginative interpretation.'

'Well, it is! Do you have a better explanation for it?' asked Quintin. 'And it wasn’t the first time he had done it either. When Grettir laid the severed head of Glam between his thighs, he was doing what he had done before in the tomb of Karr the Old. The troll Glam curses Grettir and then,' said Quintin, emphatically: When the thrall has spoken the faintness which had come over Grettir left him. He drew his short sword, cut off Glam's head and laid it between his thighs.

'So which way up do you place the head?' asked Miranda.

'Whichever way looks more like childbirth, I suppose,' replied Quintin.

Story fragment recounted from: Online Medieval and Classical Library. Grettir's Saga. Translation by G H Hight, 1914. London. Also: Faulkes, Anthony, Johnston, George and Foote, Peter, 2001, reprinted 2004. Three Icelandic Outlaw Sagas: Saga of Gisli, Saga or Grettir, Saga of Hord. Viking Society for Northern Research. The Saga of Grettir. The hauntings of Glam, chapters 32–5.

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Icelandic saga – Wikipedia

Sagas of Icelanders – Wikipedia

Grettis saga – Wikipedia

Grettir's Saga – Text obtained at the Online Medieval and Classical Library. Code and format by Northvegr.

Dead and yet alive

District Line

entrance to a passage grave
grassy knoll with stone slabs hinting at a hollow interior

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