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Eric Brighteyes - INTRODUCTION Post by :winte37703 Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :April 2011 Read :3206

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Eric Brighteyes - INTRODUCTION

"Eric Brighteyes" is a romance founded on the Icelandic Sagas. "What
is a saga?" "Is it a fable or a true story?" The answer is not
altogether simple. For such sagas as those of Burnt Njal and Grettir
the Strong partake both of truth and fiction: historians dispute as to
the proportions. This was the manner of the saga's growth: In the
early days of the Iceland community--that republic of aristocrats--
say, between the dates 900 and 1100 of our era, a quarrel would arise
between two great families. As in the case of the Njal Saga, its
cause, probably, was the ill doings of some noble woman. This quarrel
would lead to manslaughter. Then blood called for blood, and a
vendetta was set on foot that ended only with the death by violence of
a majority of the actors in the drama and of large numbers of their
adherents. In the course of the feud, men of heroic strength and mould
would come to the front and perform deeds worthy of the iron age which
bore them. Women also would help to fashion the tale, for good or ill,
according to their natural gifts and characters. At last the tragedy
was covered up by death and time, leaving only a few dinted shields
and haunted cairns to tell of those who had played its leading parts.

But its fame lived on in the minds of men. From generation to
generation skalds wandered through the winter snows, much as Homer may
have wandered in his day across the Grecian vales and mountains, to
find a welcome at every stead, because of the old-time story they had
to tell. Here, night after night, they would sit in the ingle and
while away the weariness of the dayless dark with histories of the
times when men carried their lives in their hands, and thought them
well lost if there might be a song in the ears of folk to come. To
alter the tale was one of the greatest of crimes: the skald must
repeat it as it came to him; but by degrees undoubtedly the sagas did
suffer alteration. The facts remained the same indeed, but around them
gathered a mist of miraculous occurrences and legends. To take a
single instance: the account of the burning of Bergthorsknoll in the
Njal Saga is not only a piece of descriptive writing that for vivid,
simple force and insight is scarcely to be matched out of Homer and
the Bible, it is also obviously true. We feel as we read, that no man
could have invented that story, though some great skald threw it into
shape. That the tale is true, the writer of "Eric" can testify, for,
saga in hand, he has followed every act of the drama on its very site.
There he who digs beneath the surface of the lonely mound that looks
across plain and sea to Westman Isles may still find traces of the
burning, and see what appears to be the black sand with which the
hands of Bergthora and her women strewed the earthen floor some nine
hundred years ago, and even the greasy and clotted remains of the whey
that they threw upon the flame to quench it. He may discover the
places where Fosi drew up his men, where Skarphedinn died, singing
while his legs were burnt from off him, where Kari leapt from the
flaming ruin, and the dell in which he laid down to rest--at every
step, in short, the truth of the narrative becomes more obvious. And
yet the tale has been added to, for, unless we may believe that some
human beings are gifted with second sight, we cannot accept as true
the prophetic vision that came to Runolf, Thorstein's son; or that of
Njal who, on the evening of the onslaught, like Theoclymenus in the
Odyssey, saw the whole board and the meats upon it "one gore of

Thus, in the Norse romance now offered to the reader, the tale of Eric
and his deeds would be true; but the dream of Asmund, the witchcraft
of Swanhild, the incident of the speaking head, and the visions of
Eric and Skallagrim, would owe their origin to the imagination of
successive generations of skalds; and, finally, in the fifteenth or
sixteenth century, the story would have been written down with all its
supernatural additions.

The tendency of the human mind--and more especially of the Norse mind
--is to supply uncommon and extraordinary reasons for actions and
facts that are to be amply accounted for by the working of natural
forces. Swanhild would have needed no "familiar" to instruct her in
her evil schemes; Eric would have wanted no love-draught to bring about
his overthrow. Our common experience of mankind as it is, in
opposition to mankind as we fable it to be, is sufficient to teach us
that the passion of one and the human weakness of the other would
suffice to these ends. The natural magic, the beauty and inherent
power of such a woman as Swanhild, are things more forceful than any
spell magicians have invented, or any demon they are supposed to have
summoned to their aid. But no saga would be complete without the
intervention of such extraneous forces: the need of them was always
felt, in order to throw up the acts of heroes and heroines, and to
invest their persons with an added importance. Even Homer felt this
need, and did not scruple to introduce not only second sight, but gods
and goddesses, and to bring their supernatural agency to bear directly
on the personages of his chant, and that far more freely than any
Norse sagaman. A word may be added in explanation of the appearances
of "familiars" in the shapes of animals, an instance of which will be
found in this story. It was believed in Iceland, as now by the Finns
and Eskimo, that the passions and desires of sorcerers took visible
form in such creatures as wolves or rats. These were called
"sendings," and there are many allusions to them in the Sagas.

Another peculiarity that may be briefly alluded to as eminently
characteristic of the Sagas is their fatefulness. As we read we seem
to hear the voice of Doom speaking continually. "/Things will happen
as they are fated/": that is the keynote of them all. The Norse mind
had little belief in free will, less even than we have to-day. Men and
women were born with certain characters and tendencies, given to them
in order that their lives should run in appointed channels, and their
acts bring about an appointed end. They do not these things of their
own desire, though their desires prompt them to the deeds: they do
them because they must. The Norns, as they name Fate, have mapped out
their path long and long ago; their feet are set therein, and they
must tread it to the end. Such was the conclusion of our Scandinavian
ancestors--a belief forced upon them by their intense realisation of
the futility of human hopes and schemings, of the terror and the
tragedy of life, the vanity of its desires, and the untravelled gloom
or sleep, dreamless or dreamfull, which lies beyond its end.

Though the Sagas are entrancing, both as examples of literature of
which there is but little in the world and because of their living
interest, they are scarcely known to the English-speaking public. This
is easy to account for: it is hard to persuade the nineteenth century
world to interest itself in people who lived and events that happened
a thousand years ago. Moreover, the Sagas are undoubtedly difficult
reading. The archaic nature of the work, even in a translation; the
multitude of its actors; the Norse sagaman's habit of interweaving
endless side-plots, and the persistence with which he introduces the
genealogy and adventures of the ancestors of every unimportant
character, are none of them to the taste of the modern reader.

"Eric Brighteyes" therefore, is clipped of these peculiarities, and,
to some extent, is cast in the form of the romance of our own day,
archaisms being avoided as much as possible. The author will be
gratified should he succeed in exciting interest in the troubled lives
of our Norse forefathers, and still more so if his difficult
experiment brings readers to the Sagas--to the prose epics of our own
race. Too ample, too prolix, too crowded with detail, they cannot
indeed vie in art with the epics of Greece; but in their pictures of
life, simple and heroic, they fall beneath no literature in the world,
save the Iliad and the Odyssey alone.

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There lived a man in the south, before Thangbrand, Wilibald's son,preached the White Christ in Iceland. He was named Eric Brighteyes,Thorgrimur's son, and in those days there was no man like him forstrength, beauty and daring, for in all these things he was the first.But he was not the first in good-luck.Two women lived in the south, not far from where the Westman Islandsstand above the sea. Gudruda the Fair was the name of the one, andSwanhild, called the Fatherless, Groa's daughter, was the other. Theywere half-sisters, and there were none like them in those days, forthey were the fairest of

Eric Brighteyes - DEDICATION Eric Brighteyes - DEDICATION

Eric Brighteyes - DEDICATION
Madam, You have graciously conveyed to me the intelligence that during the weary weeks spent far from his home--in alternate hope and fear, in suffering and mortal trial--a Prince whose memory all men must reverence, the Emperor Frederick, found pleasure in the reading of my stories: that "they interested and fascinated him." While the world was watching daily at the bedside of your Majesty's Imperial husband, while many were endeavouring to learn courage in our supremest need from the spectacle of that heroic patience, a distant writer little knew that it had