Saga

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A saga (the word is pronounced 'SAH-ge', IPA: /ˈsɑː gə/, and is derived from the same Common Germanic root as the verb 'to say') is

  • properly and originally, the name for a form of medieval Scandinavian story-telling in prose. These were written down in the 13th-15th centuries, in Norway or Iceland. Famous examples include Njáls saga (also translated as The Saga of Nurnt Njál); Eyrbyggja saga; Laxdaela saga; Grettis saga; Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, an [inaccurately] historical account of the kings of Norway; and the Völsunga saga, which was one of the sources of Richard Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen cycle of operas, better known in English as The Ring Cycle. Wagner (1813-1883) did much to popularize and revive these original sagas in modern Europe; in English literature, it was rather William Morris (1834-1896) who performed a similar function, with translations of The Saga of Gunnlaug Worm-Tongue, Grettis Saga and The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs. His own epic retelling of the story of Sigurd the Volsung was his favourite among his poems.
    • Scholars of the early sagas in this pure sense distinguish between
      • family sagas, which aim at objective history of the early settlement of Iceland with consequent genealogical weight, though often mythical in nature;
      • kings' sagas, which claim to be factual records or 'official histories' of the kings of Norway; and
      • heroic sagas (or legendary sagas) which recount the fantastic adventures of various legendary heroes.
  • Modern English literary studies uses the term saga to label novels that are felt to echo the family sagas: long prose works that trace the relationships between different members of the same family or families. It is sometimes used more generally: the Gondal saga is a name coined by modern readers for the series of fictions and poems written in their childhood by the Brontes about their imaginary world, with the countries of Angria, including Northangerland, Gaaldine and Glasstown. One of the works (by Emily and Anne) that has not survived is
    • The Gondal Chronicles, a name that underlines the confusion between the terms saga and Chronicle novel, as does the use by John Galsworthy of
    • Forsyte Saga as the title of the collection of the first five texts of his chronicle novels about the Forsyte family: The Man of Property (1906), Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1918), In Chancery (1920), Awakening (1920) and To Let (1921). The term Forsyte Saga is sometimes applied loosely to these and the other nine works about the Forsytes.
    • Aga Saga is a disparaging term applied to novels that are seen to portray a comfortable English middle class rural lifestyle, centred on the (expensive and prestige) cooking device that is the centrepiece of the kitchens of such people.
    • The Sagas of Noggin the Nog are a charming series of illustrated books and TV programmes made for children in the 1960s by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. Their name represents their nature: they introduce the ideas of Scandinavian culture to young readers, Noggin being a charming (because harmless) caricature of the stereotypical Viking warrior, whose life is enlivened by his villainous uncle, Nogbad the Bad, and his wife, an Eskimo princess called Nooka of the Nooks
  • Colloquial English uses saga to denote a long tale involving a whole series of related incidents. It carries connotations of tedium and over-complexity: 'Have you heard his saga about missing the train?'
    • In West Indian slang, a saga boy is a 'playboy' - a young male with too much money and leisure
    • Saga is also the name of a commercial undertaking that specializes in offering services such as insurance and travel to customers over the age of 50.