30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Kendra Willson, "Inside and Outside in Gísla saga Súrssonar"

The form of the narrative in Gísla saga changes dramatically at the point where Gísli is outlawed.  The first half of the saga is a tightly-structured unit, with symmetries as convoluted as the relationships among the characters, while the second part is a loosely-structured sequence of episodes involving attempts to capture the outlaw Gísli.  This contrast reflects the difference between Gísli's social network as a member of the tiny, incestuous community, on the one hand, and as an outlaw, on the other.  Being outlawed from society reduces much of his network of relationships to cameo encounters.  This is also seen in the ways in which characters are followed through the text.  Many new characters are introduced after the end of the murder cycle.  Many of these are introduced with little or no genealogy, and they are generally not traced in the text beyond a single anecdote.  While this bipartite structure appears to be a deliberate construction of the saga author/redactor, the contrast may have roots in the genesis of the material in oral tradition.  Most of the first half may have originated as a single story (into which other details may have been incorporated), while the second half may have grown out of a collection of anecdotes about outlaws, not necessarily associated with the same individual.


Last modified: Oct. 13, 2009
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