I was recently left a collection of books of Icelandic saga literature and writing about the sagas. The books had belonged to Alison, who lived with her husband Iain in the picturesque country town of Tambourine Mountain. Iain had written to me last year, when Alison was unwell, to tell me that they were reading Saga Land and enjoying the book, because she had always loved Iceland so much.
Last month, Iain wrote again to let me know that Alison had passed away not long after our last correspondence, and would I be interested in having her Icelandic books? I drove from Brisbane to Tambourine Mountain to collect them. Iain told me that Alison had lived in Iceland in the early 1970s - to study the sagas and learn the language. The books she bought are inscribed with her maiden name, Alison Brenan, and the years 1971 and 1972, the latter coincidentally also the year I was born.
But more so than dates, the cross-over lies in patterns of reading that I recognise as my own when I first began buying sagas and saga criticism. There are Íslenzk Fornrit editions; a handsome edition of Sturlunga saga; well-known studies by Theodore M. Andersson, Sigurður Nordal, Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, Jónas Kristjánsson, W. P. Ker, and others; novels by Halldór Laxness; Old English poems like The Seafarer and The Battle of Maldon; dictionaries of Old and modern Icelandic; the folder-bound proceedings of a Saga Conference in Oslo in 1976; a work on W. G. Collingwood's travels to the saga sites; and even a rather vivdly-covered edition of Bósa saga. I've included that cover in the last of the photographs below, which represent a part of this unexpected gift.
How wonderful that a collection of books is a kind of biography, and also a shared one.