Literature of the Vikings in Orkney

There is much great literature on the Norse period in Orkney History. The most famous work is the Orkneyinga Saga, written by an Icelandic scholar in the early 13th century. There are several translations of this story of the Earls of Orkney including an 1873 translation edited by J. Anderson and reprinted in 1975 and a modern translation by Hermann Palsson/Paul Edwards, published in 1978.

Other sagas, including Laxdaela Saga and King Harald’s Saga are wider in scope but include stories of Orkney Vikings. Laxdaela Saga refers to Earl Einar Rognavaldsson (Turf-Einar) and Erlend and Paul Thorfinsson, Earl Rognvald Brusason, and Earl Thorfinn Sigurdson (Thorfinn the Mighty) are referred to in King Harald’s Saga.

More recently, Ernest W. Marwick compiled and edited An Anthology of Orkney Verse (1949) with verse from the Norse era and later works such as:

The Lay of Grotti, the story of Grotti, the Magic Quern
The Everlasting Battle, the story of the Strife of Hjadnings
The Fatal Sisters
Hymns in Praise of St. Magnus, sung at St. Magnus Festivals, and
Lay of the Jomsvikings, by Bishop Bjarni Kolbeinson “… still only a name in the history books, but undoubtedly the greatest poet that Orkney has produced”; and
A Ballad of Thorfinn by Sir Edmund Head.

The Viking days of Orkney have been depicted in modern stories and novels by George Mackay Brown and Eric Linklater, famous authors from Orkney. Brown wrote short stories such as The Feast at Paplay (1983), the story of the “feast of the reconciled earls” in Holm, Orkney, at the time of the murder of holy Jarl Magnus. He also wrote novels such as Magnus, Vinland (1992) and Beside the Ocean of Time (1994). Linklater’s works include, The Men of Ness: The Saga of Thorlief Coalbiter’s Sons (The Orkney Edition), published in 1952.

Orkney Vikings figure, albeit less prominently, in the stories by Henry Treece and others. Treece’s The Last of the Vikings (1964), which is wonderfully illustrated by Charles Keeping, describes some adventures of King Harald Hardrada.