A review by msand3
The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer, by


I have found the prose sagas to be far less engaging than skaldic verse, and this is no exception. Despite being one of the most famous and influential sagas, it pales in comparison to the same variations found in [b:The Poetic Edda|381112|The Poetic Edda|Anonymous|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1388232643s/381112.jpg|370900] and [b:The Nibelungenlied|18261|The Nibelungenlied|Unknown|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1377408982s/18261.jpg|1145339]. That being said, there are a few reasons why this is a worthy read: we get a different perspective on events recounted in those other sources, including more details on Brynhild’s outcome. (Her story is just dropped in other versions once Sigurd is killed.) We also get a history of Sigurd’s Volsung line descending from Odin. And, most importantly for me, we get details of Sigurd’s early life which were only hinted at or glossed over in those other two texts: his birth, the forging of Gram, the lineage of his horse Grani, the description of his slaying of Fafnir, etc. These were all events that were lacking in those other sources, and this saga fills in those gaps in a very satisfying way, despite the rather bland and jumpy narrative that is typical of saga prose.

And that latter point is why I didn’t enjoy this work as much as the verse epics that cover the same myths. For all their fame and influence, the Icelandic sagas are just dreadfully composed: uneven pacing, gaping plot holes, abandoned storylines/characters, rambling tangents, etc. For this reason, the second half of the saga, which covered territory previously recorded in verse, was a bit dull, even if all the details were new and different compared to the verse texts. Although it is worth reading for a classic take on the Sigurd/Siegfried myth, there are some other more amazing versions to be found elsewhere.

On a final note, the introduction and notes in this edition by Jesse Byock were stellar. Not only is the saga placed in context with other versions of the myth, but the historical migrations of the Huns, Goths, Burgundians, Franks, etc. is given in precise detail with helpful maps, which shed light not only on the historical background of this saga, but also on several other European texts from the Early Middle Ages that I have read recently.