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Wayward Heroes by Halldor Laxness. Book Review

October 14, 2016


Wayward Heroes was one book in the body of work for which Halldor Laxness was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1955. Its inspiration came from the wonderful classic Icelandic Sagas. Wayward Heroes is a title which says it all, because it is the story of Thorgeir and Thormod, two blood brothers. Thorgeir, is obsessed with becoming a warrior, while the less bellicose Thormod aspires to be a great bard. The text begins in a very grand manner in the style of a storyteller enthralling his audience huddled around a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night.

The story is set in eleventh-century Iceland. Europe is not completely Christian. Yet the behaviour of the story’s characters shows that people are essentially the same, regardless of time or location.

Thorgeir witnesses his father’s death; a man who was far from popular in the local community. Fuelled by his father’s stories of Viking warmongering and traumatised by his father’s murder, Thorgeir sets about his own form of training to fulfil his obsession with becoming a Viking warrior and avenge his father’s death. He eventually meets frustrated bard Thormod, and the two set off on their adventures, Don Quixote style.

But there is no Sancho Panza to save them from themselves as the characters lurch from one misadventure to the next. They certainly do not seem to be the glorious heroes of the Sagas. Their brand of Viking prowess is little more than sordid and unnecessary violence, ensuring they soon wear out their welcome. Although eventually history shows they do manage to redeem themselves.

This is a book to savour and one that does feel epic, while at the same time feeling remarkably intimate. You are also left wondering whether you have just read a work of fiction, or something that really happened a long, long time ago in an unforgiving land far, far away.

Wayward Heroes was courtesy of Archipelago Books via NetGalley

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