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The Icelandic National League of North America (INL of NA) was formed in 1918. Our founding convention was held on March 25, 1919 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Since then, we have promoted cultural activities among Icelandic-North American people.

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INL Reads

Donald K. Johnson Icelandic Film Series


‘The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler’ is the INL Reads book for 2015 – 2016 as announced at the Convention in Minneapolis in May.  The idea is to get people reading books about Icelanders or about Iceland.  Below is the Guide written about the book.  Nancy Marie Brown is willing to discuss the book by over the phone or in a manner requested by the Clubs.  I have found this very interesting in the past.  The LEIC has this book in the library if someone wishes to borrow same.



The story behind ‘The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler.’

Medieval women, everyone knows, did not stray far from home. But the historical Gudrid, on whom I based the character in this novel, traveled from Canada to Rome. She crossed the North Atlantic eight times in an open boat. She earned the nickname “Far-Traveler”—though no one called her that in her own day, as I do. The tag was attached to three Viking men whose travels took them through Russia and on to the mysterious East.

To me, that doesn’t seem quite fair. Gudrid was just as adventurous and brave as they were. If I was a young woman growing up in Iceland in the Viking Age, I would want to be like Gudrid. Even today, I think Gudrid is an excellent role model for girls, which is why I wrote The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler as a novel for young adults (though I hope readers of any age and sex will enjoy it).

I was still in my teens when I first learned about Gudrid. I was studying medieval literature in college, and when I discovered the ‘Icelandic Sagas’ I lost interest in ‘King Arthur’, and ‘Beowulf’, and everything else. But, the two sagas that mention Gudrid, ‘The Saga of the Greenlanders’ and ‘The Saga of Eirik the Red’, were not my favorites. Their plots don’t hang together. Their settings and characters are weak. Their use of folk-tale motifs—fortune-telling, belligerent ghosts, one-footed humanoids—is clumsy and repetitious. They read like sketches from a writer’s notebook.

Thirty years later, that insight inspired me to write ‘The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler.’ By then, I was a writer. The sagas could be my notebook.

They provided ample room for my imagination. The two ‘Vinland Sagas’, as they’re called, don’t agree on the particulars of Gudrid’s life, and they don’t tell us very much about her. She was “of striking appearance,” intelligent, adventurous, and friendly. She could sing. She was born in Iceland, married in Greenland, and explored Vinland (which I translate as Wine Land in the novel). She returned to Iceland and raised two sons, took a pilgrimage to Rome, and became one of the Iceland’s first nuns. Many people in Iceland today trace their ancestry from her.

Over the last 50 years, archaeologists have proved more and more of her story true. In Greenland, they uncovered Eirik the Red’s house at Brattahlid and the church built there by his wife, Thjodhild. They uncovered the house at Sand Ness where Gudrid’s husband died.

On the far northwestern tip of Newfoundland, near a fishing village called L’Anse aux Meadows, they found three Viking longhouses. This small settlement is now thought to be the gateway from which the Vikings explored North America. Among the Viking artifacts found there was a spindle whorl, proving a Viking woman had been on the expedition.

Three butternuts found at L’Anse aux Meadows prove the Vikings sailed well south, to where butternut trees—and the wild grapes for which Wine Land was named—then grew. One likely spot (the one I chose for Gudrid’s house) seems to be the mouth of the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, where there was a large Native American settlement at the time.

In 2001 a team of archaeologists began working in Skagafjord, the valley in northern Iceland where Karlsefni came from. I worked as a volunteer on the project one summer as we uncovered a house on the farm called Glaumbaer, where the sagas say Gudrid finally made her home. The floorplan of the house looks like no other found in Iceland. It most closely resembles a house at L’Anse aux Meadows.

I told the story of my summer working on the archaeological team in ‘The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman’, which was published in 2007. I thought then that I had written all I could about Gudrid the Far-Traveler. Her spirit disagreed. As soon as that book came out, I began writing this novel.

At the same time, I was working on my nonfiction book The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages, so, not surprisingly, one of Pope Gerbert’s students, Father Gausbert, managed to become a character in Gudrid’s story. I was also beginning to become interested in the Lewis chessmen, the walrus-ivory chess pieces on which Karlsefni’s set were modeled. That interest ultimately grew into my next book, ‘Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them.’ But while Father Gausbert accurately reflects what I learned about the Church’s views on science in the Viking Age, the story of the Lewis chessmen turned out to be much different than I imagined. Karlsefni couldn’t have made them—they were not carved until about 200 years later, and probably by an Icelandic woman named Margret the Adroit. I hear her spirit clamoring for a novel now.

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