A song of Iceland and fire

Norsemen landing in Iceland. (Photo by Wikimedia)
Norsemen landing in Iceland. (Photo by Wikimedia)

By Andrew Nalewski
If you were asked “Hey, do you like things?” your answer would most likely be yes, followed by bewilderment. The question comes out of the blue, but makes more sense if you know the Icelandic meaning of the word “thing.”
A “thing” is a term used for a gathering to discuss issues – governmental, lawful, and societal – and is also a common event in medieval Icelandic sagas. Two distinct professors will be hosting a thing on Icelandic sagas here at Fitchburg State in October.
The two professors, both fantastically bearded, are Dr. Andrew Pfrenger of Kent State-Salem and Dr. John Sexton of Bridgewater State. Icelandic sagas, which Dr. Pfrenger describes as “a ‘story,’ a ‘tale,’ or even ‘history,’ though it’s really all three of those concepts blended together,” are the topic of the duo’s podcast, aptly named “Saga Thing,” which is aimed at giving a sense of the readings to those unfamiliar with them. “Most people don’t know a lot about them,” said Dr. Pfrenger of the sagas.
“We want to make sure people know they’re out there and understand what they have to offer,” said Dr. Pfrenger. He described the podcast as “a more lightheaded affair, very accessible to a public, non-expert audience.”
The podcast always consists of these two halves: the summary, giving an account of the main story, and “judgment” in which the duo highlights things in the story, such as the amount of bloodshed, the number of unnatural deaths, and witticisms in the text.
The podcast is far from being solely literary analysis, making use of playful banter between the two friends.
“Essentially what we’ve ended up with is an extension of the way we treated each other when we were grad students,” said Dr. Sexton of the podcast. “We’re just constantly digging at each other and making fun of each other while we’re doing this.”
In addition to the podcast, both men are co-presidents of the New England Saga Society, which puts together academic panels on the sagas, and is currently working to publish a collection of essays for a journal on teaching sagas.
The two professors met at the University of Connecticut where they earned their degrees and found that they shared a passion for medieval literature. “We find the sagas particularly engaging, and fun, and interesting,” said Dr. Pfrenger.
Fitchburg State’s own Dr. Kisha Tracy also went to the University of Connecticut with the two soon-to-be guest speakers. Dr. Tracy described them as “very good teachers” and “very interesting,” while Dr. Sexton described Dr. Tracy as being “frighteningly competent at everything.”
The three collaborate frequently, as Dr. Sexton cites a bond that is developed between graduates of the University of Connecticut program. He says that he will be inviting Dr. Tracy to go down to Bridgewater and speak to his class about medieval outlaws.
Dr. Tracy said that she is looking forward to the event.
When asked about what they will be discussing while at Fitchburg State, the professors replied that things are still up in the air, saying that they will be consulting Dr. Tracy about what her students are currently reading, as they have been invited to the event.
However, if Dr. Tracy has her students reading a particular saga, the duo is considering doing a judgment section of it live.
The event will be taking place on Monday, Oct. 27 at 11 a.m. in the Percival auditorium.