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MELVIN BURGESS’S BLOODTIDE AND BLOODSONG:SIGMUNDR, SIGURÐR AND YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE

CAROLYNE LARRINGTON

ST JOHN’S COLLEGE, OXFORD

Retellings of Norse mythic or heroic material, whether for child or for adultreaders, have not been particularly popular in Great Britain since World War II – and arguably from the period after the end of the First World War. Norse poetrywas received with great enthusiasm in Britain in the eighteenth century (CluniesRoss 1998; 2001), and its popularity continued into the nineteenth century, even if the enthusiastic translation of sagas and the possibility of visiting Iceland, meantthat the Victorian public were more familiar with Gunnarr á Hliðarendi than withGunnarr Gjúkason (Wawn 2000). Nevertheless, an accurate translation of thePoetic Edda appeared in Britain in 1866 from the scholar Benjamin Thorpe, closelyfollowed by Eiríkur Magnússon and William Morris’s translations of eddic poetryin their translation of Völsunga saga, published in 1870 (Wawn 2000; Larrington2007). Morris’s long original poem Sigurd the Volsung (1876), received »mixednotices«, but by the end of the century the poem was being used as a schooltextbook (Wawn 2000, 271-2). Norse myth and heroic legend were significantly popularised for adults by the first production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in London,which had its premiere in May 1882. It was extremely well received; the Timesreviewer notes that the story of the »Ring« might be seen as obscure, but that,fortunately, resources were widely available in English to help the opera-goer, namely Thorpe’s translation of the Poetic Edda, Morris and Magnusson’s»masterpiece of translation«, the Völsunga saga, and Morris’s own version, Sigurd the Volsung, »imbued with the genuine spirit of the northern myth«.

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