|Vatnsdalur, looking north up the valley|
"As we advance along the rich meadows of the dale, Jörundarfell rises grandly over a magnificent facade of contorted beds of rock, like a bit of the Savoy Alps in general aspect, though not identical in geology. Among the incidents of the valley there is a pretty waterfall ... hanging from the cliffs, -- losing itself half way down in spray, and finding itself again in a stream collected out of the thin fringe of falling rain, in which the iris shines distinct in the afternoon against the black background of the gill" (Pilgrimage, p. 160). As I drove south down Vatnsdalur the other day, the rich meadows Collingwood noted in his description of the valley were barely visible for thick low rainclouds; the waterfall was less of a -fall than a -lift or an upward-kicking of spray because of the winds; and when the clouds eventually lifted, snow could be seen to have dusted itself over the upper reaches of the steep mountain Jörundarfell, and had lined the countless vertical cracks and gullies running down to the lower reaches, producing a sharp inlay effect.
|Hof in Vatnsdalur, Ingimundr's farmstead|
In the entrance hall of the local school is a vast mural painted by the Catalan artist Baltasar Samper (famous for his frescoes in the church on the island of Flatey) in the 1980s which presents the saga narrative chronologically in visual form. I was told that all children know of the saga and know the principal episodes in it because of this mural; presently, the saga is being 'retold' in textile-form by a group of local people who began work on the 'Vatnsdæla tapestry' this year. The tapestry's design takes its inspiration from the Bayeaux Tapestry; work will continue for a good 10 or 15 years...until the tapestry reaches its projected length of 45 metres...
In an inversion of the more usual topos at the beginning of the Íslendingasögur where 'independent Norwegian emigrates to Norway after refusing to bow to the tyranny of King Haraldr hárfagri ('Fair-Hair)', Ingimundr -- who is a close friend and ally of King Haraldr -- is reluctant to emigrate to Iceland, calling it an eyðisker ('wasteland skerry'; Vatnsdæla saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit 8 (Reykjavík 1939), ch. 10, p. 27). But a Finnish seeress prophecies that Ingimundr's fate lies on this hostile rock, and says that her prediction will come true -- as a proof, some silver that is in Ingimundr's purse will disappear and he will find it in the place in Iceland where he is ordained to build a farm. A little later, three more supernatural Finns perform an out-of-body exploration of Iceland on Ingimundr's behalf, and survey the area where Ingimundr's fate will lead him, describing the local features of the landscape.
|Memorial stone to Þórdís at Þórdísarholt|
|Memorial stone to Ingimundr at Hof|
The valley is settled widely over time, and the saga narrative proceeds. Ingimundr is killed in a fight by the river in the middle of the valley by a trouble-making outlaw to whom Ingimundr has offered protection; Ingimundr's sons avenge him and the saga then takes up their stories, and then the storie of their sons. Vatnsdæla saga is truly a multi-generational saga, though local knowledge seemed mostly to focus on Ingimundr, the first settler of the valley. In one vivid episode, one of Ingimundr's sons, Jökull, chases another local trouble-maker called Þórólfr down the valley, catching him up on a moor above the river; when Þórólfr sees that he will not escape, the saga states that ‘he sat down in the bog and cried; that place has been called Grátsmýrr (‘Weeping bog’) since’ (þá settisk hann niðr í mýrinni ok grét. Þar heitir síðan Grátsmýrr, Vatnsdæla saga ch. 30, p. 83). Jökull gains great renown for ridding the area of this dubious character.