DVD Review: Journey’s End (Ferðalok)

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Documentary series explores the stories behind the Icelandic Sagas and seeks to discover why their legacy continues to endure

The richness and diversity of Icelandic Medieval literature offers an unparalleled glimpse into the foundation of a society alongside the emergence of a literary culture.

Documenting the settlement period and commonwealth era, the sagas were passed on by generations of storytellers before being written down in the thirteenth century.

For Icelandic readers part of the sagas’ allure is due to the inclusion of detailed genealogical information. Several individual sagas open with a history of the protagonists and their families before kickstarting the narrative. The inclusion of this biographical information may partially explain why this text continues to resonate, readers are able to spot references to their ancestors.

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The sagas are today regarded as the country’s greatest literary treasure. Providing invaluable detail about social structures in the Viking age they offer one of comprehensive contemporaneous accounts of the era available to us.

As literature the sagas have been compared to Homer’s tragedies and the works of William Shakespeare while their historical value has been contested.

Undeniably culturally significant, the precise origins of the sagas is largely unknown. Historians have struggled to definitively identify the authors. Are the texts an attempt to make sense of the new country and preserve its origins?

Following the publication of translated editions the sagas were accepted as historical fact throughout the 19th century, the veracity of the was called into question in the mid twentieth century. More recently a consensus has been reached among historians which accepts that the sagas are based on real events and acknowledges narrative embellishments may have occurred due to romanticization and the stories being passed down through several generations before the production of a permanent written record.

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Seeking to definitively explore the sagas basis in historical fact, documentary series Journey’s End reconstructs key sequences and uses archaeological evidence to determine if the narratives correspond with what is conclusively known about the era. Specialists analyse the sagas and seek to discover why this remarkable body of literature was written in Iceland at a significant moment in the nation’s development.

Anomalous for the time, their divergence from the verse form predominant in other forms of Medieval literature raises significant questions about the role of storytelling in early Icelandic culture and may be an indication of the population’s desire to create a new mode of narrative that asserted the nation’s cultural independence.

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Archeologist Vala Gardarsdottir visits excavation sites and museums in an attempt to learn if recent discoveries give credence to the written record or dismiss it.

Even-handed in its approach, the documentary features commentators from several disciplines. The sagas are analysed in terms of historical, scientific, artistic, and cultural perspectives.

Reconstruction sequences feature Hollywood level production values and showcase the cream of Icelandic screen talent.

The producers have cleverly pitched the documentary so it is accessible to those who have no prior knowledge of the sagas while simultaneously providing information that will fascinate ardent scholars.   

Journey’s End is available to order from Nammi.Is

 

Journey’s End – Trailer from Ferdalok on Vimeo.

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