First published in 1952, Halldór Laxness’s Wayward Heroes offers an unlikely representation of modern literature. A reworking of medieval Icelandic sagas, the novel is set against the backdrop of the medieval Norse world, complete with Viking raids, battles enshrined in skaldic lays, saints’ cults, clashes between secular and spiritual authorities, journeys to faraway lands and abodes of trolls, and legitimate claimants versus pretenders to thrones. Laxness exploits such medieval tropes to criticize the global militarism and belligerent national posturing rampant in the postwar buildup to the Cold War. He satirizes the spirit of the old sagas, especially through the novel’s main characters, the sworn brothers Þormóður Bessason and Þorgeir Hávarsson, warriors who blindly pursue ideals that lead to the imposition of power through violent means. The two see the world around them only through a veil of heroic illusion: kings are fit either to be praised in poetry or toppled from their thrones, other men only to kill or be killed, women only to be mythic fantasies. Replete with irony, absurdity, and pathos, the novel more than anything takes on the character of tragedy, as the sworn brothers’s quest to live out their ideals inevitably leaves them empty-handed and ruined.
Archipelago Books thanks the Carl Lesnor Family Foundation for their generous support of this title.