Storytellers who are interested in the Völsunga Saga material have a number of sources, as well as a number of translations of those sources. William Morris, a late-nineteenth-century textile designer, J.R.R. Tolkien (yes, that Tolkien) and University of California archaeologist Jesse Byock have all translated the Saga. Of these, I prefer Byock. Morris is so late-Victorian elaborate that it makes my head hurt, Tolkein relies heavily on the alliteration that was a feature of Nordic poetry which also makes my head hurt. Byock simply tells the story.
Much of the Saga material is also found in the Lays (narrative poems) in the medieval collection called The Poetic Edda. The stories in the Edda are similar, but certainly not identical to the ones in the Saga and the various translators have made their own decisions concerning the action.
That’s where the tangled trails come in. In broad outline, the story I call The Fight of the Valkyries goes like this:
Sigurd the Völsung kills the dragon Fáfnir, follows the advice of seven nuthatches (small European birds), takes the dragon’s treasure and go finds the Valkyrie Brynhild, who is sleeping in a ring of fire.
But wait! The “Lay of Fáfnir” calls the birds “titmice.” They tell Our Hero to get the gold and take it straight to the hall of a man named Gjuki, who is the king of the Burgundians. They mention Gjuki’s daughter Gudrún and then talk about Brynhild. And “The Prophecy of Gripnir” has Sigurd going first to Gjuki’s Hall and then to find Brynhild. (BTW – Morris gives the avian speaking role to eagles!)
Once Sigurd finds Brynhild, he decides he loves her. She feels the same way and they exchange pledges before he rides to the hall of a man named Heimir, who is Brynhildr’s foster-father. There he spends his time doing fun happy warrior things – hunting, starting small wars – with her kinsmen. Once she arrives at Heimir’s Hall, they again pledge their love but she tells him they will never marry. He wanders off and ends up doing fun happy warrior things with two sons of a king named Gjuki. The three young men have so much fun that they pledge blood brotherhood and Gjuki’s sons take him back to their father’s Hall.
This is if Our Hero hasn’t already made friends with Gjuki’s sons before waking Brynhild.
Gjuki’s witch of a wife casts the spells that bind Sigurd to her daughter Gudrún. He completely forgets Brynhild, happily marries Gudrún and swears blood brotherhood with her brothers (if he hasn’t done so already). Then Gjuki’s wife, whose name is Grimhild, decides that her older son, Gunnar, should marry Brynhild. Everybody – even Sigurd who is still under the influence of Grimhild’s magic ale – thinks this is a wonderful idea so they all go visit Brynhildr’s father Budli. Budli is in favor of getting his daughter married off, but issues the standard caveat – if she is willing. Then they all go ask Heimir who gives the same answer. He also warns them that she will only marry the man who can ride his horse through the blazing fire around her own home.
Sigurd has already ridden through the fire once. What happens next? That’s for Tangled Trails Part 3
During my recent visit to Fort Union National Monument in New Mexico, I discovered that the ruts of the Santa Fe trail look more like a tangle of random arroyos than a tidy set of tracks across the short grass prairie. I am told that tourists often ask how to find the Santa Fe Trail while they are standing in one of those arroyos that are the trail.
I thought Google Earth might help me find the “real” trail. The iron tires of all those wagons, which were capable of carrying as much of 6,500 pounds according to Mark L. Gardener’s Wagons on the Santa Fe Trail published by the National Park Service must have left tracks that look like a road.
Not really. Those wagons may well have all started in Missouri (either in Fort Leavenworth or Independence) and followed one of two routes, the Mountain Branch and the Cimarron Cutoff. Many of the journeys actually ended at Fort Union, for much of the freight on the trail was military. But the trial, up close and personal is an enormous collection of nice straight lines.
In some ways, this makes sense. As a hiker and cross country I have often been on trails that turn into a confusing tangle, usually when hikers or skiers try to bypass a mud hole or find a smoother path. I’ve gone around a few mud holes myself. I have noticed the same need to go around mud holes as I develop the story of the great quarrel between the Valkyrie Brynhild and Gudrún, her sister-in-law. Brynhild, under the name of Brunhilda, is best known in her operatic form. She is soprano, often wearing a completely inaccurate horned helmet, in Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle.” The trail that I am following has two main branches and in some places, those branches contradict each other.
The first of these branches, The Saga of the Völsungs, compiled by an unknown Icelandic author during the 13th Century. This work is primarily prose and was drawn from the oral tradition in the form of Eddic poetry which is, in its turn, based on oral tradition. The second of these branches is a set of Lays, skaldic poetry, that are part of The Poetic Edda, which was also compiled by an anonymous Icelander at approximately the same time.
And why am I comparing the literature of medieval Iceland with the Santa Fe Trail? Because both processes – the formation of the trail, mud holes and all and my decisions while I craft my story – involve decisions.
What to do? Which way to go? What do I use, what do I not use as I work on The Fight of the Valkyries, which will be part of the upcoming (September 20th, 6:30 pm) MYTH MOB performance in the South Mountain Community College Performance Hall. Some hear my decisions and those made by my fellow Mobbers – Liz Warren, Marilyn Omifunke Torres and Sulé Greg Wilson.