Magnus Magnusson has died. Though the Icelandic Scot will be remembered in the UK for his career on TV, I'll always think of him as a translator of the Penguin Classics' Icelandic sagas. I have four volumes co-translated by him and Hermann Palsson: Njal's Saga (1960), The Vinland Sagas (1965), King Harald's Saga (1966), and Laxdaela Saga (1969). The bare bones exposition, irascible characters and laconic dialogue of these books remain a model for me when I write. Here's a bit from chapter 48 of Laxdaela Saga:
Over at Laugar, in Saelingsdale, Gudrun rose early as soon as the sun was up. She went to the room where her brothers were sleeping, and shook Ospak. Ospak and his brothers woke up at once; and when he saw it was his sister he asked her what she wanted, to be up so early in the morning. Gudrun said she wanted to know what they were planning to do that day. Ospak said they would be having a quiet day -- 'for there isn't much work to be done just now.'
Gudrun said, 'You would have had just the right temper if you had been peasants' daughters -- you do nothing about anything, good or bad. Despite all the disgrace and dishonour that Kjartan has done you, you lose no sleep over it even when he rides past your door with only a single companion. Men like you have the memory of hogs. It's obviously futile to hope that you will ever dare to attack Kjartan at home if you haven't the nerve to face him now when he is travelling with only one or two companions. You just sit there pretending to be men, and there are always too many of you about.'
Ospak said she was making too much of this, but admitted that it was difficult to argue against her. He jumped out of bed at once and dressed, as did all the brothers one after another; then they made ready to lay an ambush for Kjartan.
This prose style may be Magnusson's legacy.