top of page

The Saga of Hrafnkel Frey’s Godi

The Icelandic Roots Book Club for Thursday, February 2, 2023, will feature

The Saga of Hrafnkel Frey’s Godi, with Jason Doctor as our guest.

By Heather Goodman Lytwyn

February 2023's book club selection has multiple benefits. It reminds Icelandic Roots members to access one of the many sources of information available to us. You need not purchase or borrow a book. You simply log on to our Database. Click on Special Collections, then on Saga’s Alphabetically. Go to #23 Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoða. Then select “Read the Saga Here” in English or Icelandic. You can read it online or print out the 24 pages.

Our featured saga was translated into English in 1882 by John Coles from the original. Seventeen of the forty sagas are available in both English and Icelandic, twenty in Icelandic alone, and three are “in progress."

But there is more. For additional information, select ” For a Synopsis of the Saga, click here.” However, please do not mistake the synopsis to be reading the original story, which is where I recommend we start. I believe most of these sagas, even those not yet translated into English, do have the option of the synopsis, which is a direct link to an excerpt from Wikipedia.

Concerning our featured story, you will find a photo of the first page of Hrafnkel’s Saga from the Árni Magnússon Institute of Icelandic Studies, a synopsis, information on its preservation, origins, etc. I can see us all going down those rabbit holes and getting lost for hours!

There is an additional option to “See people and places referenced in each Saga. “For example, if you click on maps listing Hrankel’s Saga, there are 62 locations in Iceland, one in Norway, and one in Turkey. Currently, Icelandic Roots volunteers are creating a People reference which will tell us who has been referenced in the saga, their IR number, first and last name, and the saga connection. There is enough information on the sagas in the database to write an entire book.

If you have never actually read a saga from start to finish, perhaps you started reading one and found the genealogy at the beginning a bit of a snooze fest. The genealogy seems like much-unrelated information at first. We need to connect with our prior knowledge before connecting with what we read. But pursue it and the story will unfold.

And to answer the question, why should anyone read stories that were written 800 years ago? As Egill Bjarnason pointed out in How Iceland Saved the World: The Big History of a Small Island, these stories have allowed his homeland to be the only European country that can claim to know anything about its birth. The sagas provide stories of the first settlers, their laws, and their values. They add to our understanding of the Norse pagan culture and practices and the transition to Christianity in Iceland around the year 1,000 A.D.

Jason Doctor
Jason Doctor

When I invited Jason Doctor to lead our discussion at the upcoming IR book club, I asked him to select a saga from our database that was a favorite of his and one that he thought members would enjoy. In his email, Jason recommended Hrankel’s Saga “because it is one of the most famous sagas written and it also takes place in East Iceland on the farms from where many Western Icelanders left for Canada and the US.

In addition, it is brief, only 24 pages, so it is a good ‘saga starter’. It is fast-paced, and the characters are few and clearly contrasted. There are no long genealogies to get confused by. It is an interesting story that considers religion, politics, power, and how to treat others.”

Jason is a volunteer for Icelandic Roots and the Director of Social Media. If you are a member of the Icelandic Roots Facebook page, and if you are reading the regular IR Newsletters, you will be familiar with Jason’s interest in all things connected with the history of Iceland and the migration stories of Icelanders and their descendants around the globe. He is an American whose ancestry is from both North and East Iceland. He is a professor of Public Policy at the University of Southern California.

I hope you will join us for our February book club discussion. Perhaps we will better understand the reason “…ancient kings and modern-day universities have consistently sought Icelandic speakers: they can read stories and scripts written entirely in old Norse..” (Bjarnason, p 39) and the reason Tolkien perhaps hired an au pair from Iceland so that he would improve his Icelandic language skill and go on to write about hobbits and magic rings.

Please log on to Zoom Thursday, Feb 2, 2023 at 5 p.m. Pacific, 6 pm Mountain,

7 p.m. Central, 8 p.m. Eastern, and 1 a.m. Iceland on Friday morning.

Icelandic Roots members will receive the link in their emails the day before the event.


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

bottom of page