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Book Chapter

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One of the risks of studying the Icelandic sagas and loving them, is, precisely, loving them. And what is one loving when one loves them? The wit, the entertainment provided by perfectly told tales? And just how are these entertaining tales and this wit separable from their substance: honor, revenge, individual assertion, and yes, some softer values, too, like peacefulness and prudence? Yet one suspects, and quite rightly, that the softer values are secondary and utterly dependent on being responsive to the problems engendered by the rougher values of honor and vengeance. Is it possible to study the sagas and not be attracted to the nobility, the dignity, the heroism of an ethic of "face," not to thrill to revenge and the open admission that it is the most satisfying way to reestablish the moral, if not the social, order after a wrong has been done? The risk, it so happens, is in coming to love their way as well as their way of talking about it.