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The Hunted Children of Kings: A Theme in the Old Icelandic Sagas

Ármann Jakobsson

University of Iceland

Scandinavica, vol.43, no.1, 2004

Is Life a Stepmother Tale? When King Sverrir of Norway (1177-1202)is on the run from his enemies in his youth, his misfortunes remind theauthor of tales that he regards as being from the ancient past “Í þeiri ferðfékk hann mikit vás, var því líkast, sem í fornum sögum er sagt at verit hafi, þá er konungabörn urðu fyrir stjúpmœðra sköpum”. (His hardshipsin this trips were such that they most resemble what is told in old tales,when children of kings were hit by stepmother spells.)In this instance life appears to imitate art, that is if we categorize fairytales as art. Life, or at least the life of King Sverrir, resembles a storyabout stepmothers. The author of Sverris saga, presumably the abbot Karl Jónsson (d. 1212/13) under close supervision of the king himself,speaks only of ‘ancient tales’ and might be indicating that fairy tales are ancient history, rather than just stories. To him, these ‘old tales’ are not necessarily fictional. Being old, they might just belong to a different reality, a past which resembles fairy tales to a larger extent than his own life, or that of his audience.

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