Vikings in defense of Google’s book search

Sunday, 25 February 2007

There is a particular quote from the Icelandic sagas that I’ve wanted to drop many times but been unable to recover verbatim. The quote is like a proto-Hollywood over the top, snarky, bad-ass action film line. There are a handful of them in the sagas.

I’ve read the sagas all at least once and a few of them several times. I could not recall which saga the line was from nor find the line from skimming my copies. I was seriously dreading rereading Njal’s Saga just to look for it.

Since Google launched their book searching I forgot to care. Stupid me. The apparent magnitude of my scholarship just jumped 10-fold because I am good at remembering pieces of information, especially spatial, but nowhere near eidetic.

Searching on “fashionable nowadays saga” and eyeballing the first page of results was all it took to discover the words appeared on page 95 of Grettir’s Saga.

No page shown however. The University of Toronto Press holds the copyright of the translation of the 750 year-or-so-old original. Instead of hating those rat bastard Canadians for pretending there is such a thing as copyright on the works of man dead for 40 generations—as coached relentlessly by certain Internet prime donne—I thanked them for saving me hours of reading just to extract a bit of trivia to show how wonderfully terrible some of my ancestors were. I walked to the bookshelf and took down the book and found the passage as advertised, on page 95.

The guy, Atli, hears a knock at his door in a rainstorm. Gets up. Grumbles about business. Opens the door to find no one so peers out in the weather. Suddenly–

Thorbjorn came rushing up to the door, and with both hands he drove the spear into Atli’s waist, forcing it right through his body. Grettir’s Saga

What does Atli do? Does he scream, cry, pray, call out for help to his family? Nope. The motherfucker looks down at what’s happened and with his last breath says–

“Broad spears are becoming fashionable nowadays.” Atli the Run-Through

The kind of people these men and women were, I can almost believe such ludicrous machismo isn’t fictionalized at all.

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