Happy Father’s Day! I didn’t get a chance to hang out with my dad this weekend (being on the other side of the country), but I did get to do some traveling and detectiving with my brother to try and figure out where in Northern MN my great-grandfather Hjalmar worked (nothing confirmed, but we learned a lot about the area at the time he was there). To pair with my Mother’s Day post (and because I have an awesome dad as well as an awesome mother, and know many awesome dads), here are a handful of interesting fathers from the Old Norse sources. As I’ve mentioned before, the medieval Norse sources are pretty patriarchally oriented, so we actually get a larger number of fathers showing up as significant characters than mothers (though let me note that it was really a shame that I mentioned Laxdæla saga in my Mother’s Day post without mentioning Melkorka, the Irish princess-in-secret whose son and grandson figure quite prominently there…).
OK, just a few favorites here which highlight the father-child (usually father-son) relationship:
Kveldulfr, Skallagrímr, and Egill in Egils saga Skallagrímssonar (The Saga of Egil the son of Baldy-Grim–free version here, current [and better] translation here). Like-father, like-son features prominently here, as the Berserkr + Werewolf (“Kveldulfr” = “Evening Wolf,” and he marries the daughter of a berserkr) characteristics of the first generation manifest in decreasingly supernatural ways in the next two generations (well, that is how I read the saga, anyway). While Kveldulfr is said to become a wolf in the evenings, his son Skallagrímr gets stronger, angrier, and completely unreasonable (ie, berserk-like) the later in the evening it gets (which, incidentally, leads to him nearly killing his son, and results in a little father-son mini-feud in true saga style). Egill is just plain ornery, but is certainly compared to a troll at least once, and in my own work (a conference paper and a field paper–need to polish it up one day so that it’s publishable and up-to-date) I have argued that Egill’s self-identification as a Viking (esp. taken with his close relationship w/ Óðinn and his magical skillz) associate him with the pagan past in a way similar to the more explicitly monstrous werewolf/berserkr angle, even if it’s a bit more watered down (he comes at a point deeper in the more historically/realistically portrayed Saga Age, after all). Well, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve worked on that, so I’ll put together a more thorough post w/ some notes on the relevant secondary lit some other time. Both Skallagrímr and Egill get particularly troublesome for their children in their old age, hiding gold rather than passing it on, threatening to cause a scene at the Alþingi, stuff like that– although the scene with his daughter Þorgerðr (who connects this narrative to Laxdæla and is also another significant mother in the sagas) after the death of his son (leading to the poem Sonatorrek) is quite touching (and funny). There is also a good amount of father-son advice, tragedy,revenge, and other touching moments during the first half of the saga, as the feud between Kveldulf’s sons and grandsons and the Norwegian royal family starts out, deepens, climaxes, and lingers. Anyway, one of my favorite sagas, in case you haven’t noticed, so check it out!
Speaking of werewolves, let’s not forget the coming-of-age romp in the forest in chapter 8 of Völsunga saga. Start several chapters earlier with the death of Völsung for the full incestuous revenge narrative, but look, you should really just read the whole thing. I’ve linked to Finch’s combined edition/translation, so every other page will be in English. There is also a translation out there by Jesse Byock and one (that I believe is out of print and very expensive) by Kaaren Grimstad (oh, and one by GK Anderson–haven’t seen that one or the Grimstad one). I actually like the Finch one (which is part of the same series as the Tolkien edition/translation I mention below), so it’s nice that it’s available online now!
And lest you think that only sons get any love from their heroic fathers, check out Christopher Tolkien’s (yes, THAT Christopher Tolkien) edition/translation of Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, in which warrior maiden Hervör rather forcibly convinces the ghost of her berserkr father Angantyr (killed, incidentally, by my great grandfather Hjalmar’s name-sake) to give her his sword Tyrfing. Later in the saga you also can find a nice antecedent to the riddling scene in a certain children’s book by Christopher’s father. See also the Eddic poem Hervararkviða (haven’t checked the translation–posting this pretty quickly as it is quite late now!).
Well, those are the fatherly moments that came to my mind. I’m posting this pretty late on Father’s Day, I’m afraid, but hey, I spent most of the day driving from Northern to Southern Minnesota. OK, will drive faster next time…
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