The saga of Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue and Raven the Skald, composed in the 13th century, relates the story of two Icelandic poets Gunnlaugr Ormstunga and Hrafn ?nundarson, and their competition for the love of Helga the Fair, daughter of ?orsteinn Egilsson and granddaughter of Egill Skallagr?msson.
The story opens with a prophetic dream of two eagles fighting over a swan, prefiguring the love triangle in the story. The rivalry is initially fought using verse, but later with weapons, when Gunnlaug challenges Hrafn to a holmgang -- a duel, the recognised Norse way of settling disputes. The narrative follows Gunnlaugr and is sympathetic towards him as it describes his ambitious career as a court poet across Scandinavia and the British Isles.
The saga has similarities to earlier sagas of poets, such as Korm?ks saga and Bjarnar saga, but it is more refined and elegant with strong characterization and emotional impact. Long considered a masterpiece, the saga is often read by new students of Old Norse literature.
William Morris is normally thought of as a fantasy precursor of Tolkien, having written The Wood Beyond the World among other works. But he was also a translator, along with Eir?kr Magn?sson, of more than just a few Norse Sagas. Originally written in the old Icelandic language, considered to be the closest tongue to that spoken by the Vikings, Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue and Raven the Skald is but one of those efforts.
Published: 3rd June 2014