21 SEPTEMBER 1956, Page 28

Islandic Saga

As T. S. Eliot pointed out a long time ago, every age needs its own translations to bring the classics of other languages into a more immediate relationship with contemporary ways of expression. A new version of Njal's Saga was long overdue since Dasent produced his Story of Burnt Njal. and that of Carl F. Bayerschmidt and Lee M. Hollander (Allen and Unwin, 30s.) fills the gap. Their transla- tion reproduces the laconic style of the original and mercifully avoids modern collo- quialisms. There is a helpful introduction by Mr. Hollander which gives the general reader some insight into the strange organised anarchy of' mediaeval Icelandic life and the conditions which produced these first accom- plished examples of the European novel, whose terseness and grim humour were hardly to be found again until the twentieth century and the appearance of writers like Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald.