Urgent Public Service Announcement

Look, everyone. The important thing about Magnus Magnusson is not that he presented bloody Mastermind for so many years, or – relatedly – that he said “I’ve started, so I’ll finish” more times than most over the course of a lifetime, but that he translated a whole bunch of the Icelandic Sagas for the Penguin Classics series, including the greatest of them all, Njál’s Saga, and that these were later revised and improved (not least by incorporating the genealogies back into the main text, rather than shunting them off into the footnotes) and reissued as parts of a two-volume Folio Society set. Get your priorities right, please.

The brothers Hrut and Hoskuld rode west to Reykjadalur and stayed overnight at Lund; it was the home of Thjostolf, the son of Bjorn Gulberi. It had rained heavily that day; everyone was soaked, and the longfires had been lit. Thjostolf sat between Hoskuld and Hrut. Two boys who were in his care were playing on the floor, along with a little girl; they were chattering loudly because they knew no better.

One of the boys said, “I shall be Mord‚ and divorce you from your wife because you have not poked her.”

The other boy replied, “I shall be Hrut and make you give up your claim if you do not dare to fight me.”

They repeated this a few times, and there was much laughter among the household. Hoskuld became angry and struck the boy calling himself Mord‚ with a stick. It hit him on the face and drew blood.

“Get out,” said Hoskuld, “and stop ridiculing us.”

Hrut said, “Come over here.” The boy did so. Hrut drew a gold ring from his finger and gave it to him, and said, “Off you go, and never provoke anyone again.”

The boy went away and said, “I shall never forget your goodness.”

Hrut was much praised for this. Later they went home to the west, and so ends the episode of Hrut and Mord Gigja.

That’s the end of the eighth chapter of Njál’s Saga.

0 thoughts on “Urgent Public Service Announcement”

  1. I sympathise – next week, I’m having to give a talk on Ken Russell to a load of sixth formers (as one does), to whom he will almost certainly be “the old git off Celebrity Big Brother” first and foremost.

    (As an entirely irrelevant aside, I’ve greatly enjoyed the way people in the Celebrity Big Brother forums – which I dipped into briefly last week as legitimate background research – have been making the tacit assumption that because Russell is nearly eighty, he must therefore be some like of delicate, easily shockable flower. These people have clearly never seen The Devils, let alone Lisztomania…)

  2. I have just posted on this very point with a more or less apposite reference from A E Housman on the newspaper response to the death of Matthew Arnold. It’s pretty bad when even supposedly ‘intelligent’ papers go for the ‘celebrity’ slant.

  3. Gah! Viking soap opera with an emphasis on divorce cases and the bloodfeuds to which they inevitably give rise? How can anyone not be hooked? But perhaps you’re more of a Hrafnkel’s Saga kinda guy?

  4. Yup, you’re right:

    Þeir bræður riðu vestur til Reykjardals, Höskuldur og Hrútur, og gistu að Lundi. Þar bjó Þjóstólfur sonur Bjarnar gullbera. Regn hafði verið mikið um daginn og höfðu menn orðið votir og voru gervir langeldar. Þjóstólfur bóndi sat á meðal þeirra Höskulds og Hrúts. Sveinar tveir léku á gólfinu. Þeir voru veislusveinar Þjóstólfs og lék mær ein hjá þeim. Þeir voru málgir mjög því að þeir voru óvitrir.

    Annar þeirra mælti: “Eg skal þér Mörður vera og stefna þér af konunni og finna það til foráttu að þú hafir eigi sorðið hana.”

    Annar svaraði: “Eg skal þér Hrútur vera. Tel eg þig af allri fjárheimtunni ef þú þorir eigi að berjast við mig.”

    Þetta mæltu þeir nokkurum sinnum. Þá gerðist hlátur mikill af heimamönnum. Þá reiddist Höskuldur og laust sveininn með sprota, þann er Mörður nefndist, en sprotinn kom í andlitið og sprakk fyrir.

    Höskuldur mælti við sveininn: “Verð úti og drag engan spott að oss.”

    Hrútur mælti: “Gakk hingað til mín.”

    Sveinninn gerði svo. Hrútur dró fingurgull af hendi sér og gaf honum og mælti: “Far í braut og leita á engan mann síðan.”

    Sveinninn fór í braut og mælti: “Þínum drengskap skal eg við bregða æ síðan.”

    Af þessu fékk Hrútur gott orð. Síðan fóru þeir vestur heim og er nú lokið þrætum þeirra Marðar.

    From over here.

  5. Magnusson was of much the same opinion. There is a very cruel and funny story about how he was showing a VIP around an archeological site in Iceland. At the end of the tour the VIP said:
    “There’s something I’ve often wondered and you are really the only man with the expertise to know so can I ask you a question?”
    “Of course” beamed Magnusson “I should only be too pleased!”
    “What’s Fred Housego* really like?”

    *Taxi-driver and Mastermind winner who briefly became a minor celebrity in the early 1980s.

  6. Simon Hoggart’s column in today’s Guardian has the same story, but also reveals that:

    “Magnus saw himself as a historian first, and got slightly tetchy if people regarded him only as the presenter of Mastermind.”

    And there’s also a rather sweet coda to the Fred Housego question:

    “I’ve rarely seen anyone look so sad and deflated. But he can’t have minded too much, because he cheerfully recounted the incident in his memoirs, called, no doubt at the insistence of his publisher, I’ve Started So I’ll Finish.”

    Incidentally, what’s his reputation outside the UK? Or did Mastermind carry all before it?

    (Or is he totally unknown outside Britain and, obviously Iceland? Or even unknown in Iceland, much as nobody in America knows who Ruby Wax is?)

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