Monstrous Heroes

This focuses on the Icelandic sagas, but it's a feature of Northern European literature more generally. Culhwch and Olwen, which appears in both the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rydderch, has a long list of Arthurian heroes many of whom have monstrous qualities.


Lars Walker said...

The ambiguity of saga characters is a feature that's often overlooked. For a long time historians have caricatured the sagas as simplistic fantasies, lacking the complexity of real life. In fact many sagas are far more complicated than many history books. My reading indicates that these attitudes on the parts of historians are beginning to change.

Anonymous said...

I suspect historians (self included) tend to lump all legends/sagas/ancestral tales/medieval transcriptions of oral traditions into one pile and call them "legend." And legends are simple, although the accretions over time may be rather complicated (as a look at folk-lore and literature dissertations will attest). But "of course" the characters are simple because they are at heart archetypes that later tale-tellers or scribes embroidered to fit personal or cultural need.

Except when they aren't. Which requires learning a lot more about culture and an often uncomfortable mental world (as best we can reconstruct it) than I suspect a lot of academics (self included) want to do.