Thursday, April 23, 2015

T is for Thidrek of Bern (Epics from A to Z)

If you like Norse sagas, King Arthur legends, and Alternate Universe fan fiction, then you will like this epic.

The group of legends centered on Thidrek (Dietrich) of Bern is German in origin. The particular collection discussed here, known as the Thidrekssaga, however, was probably written down somewhere in Scandinavia (although scholars can't agree if the writer was German or Norse). The English translation is almost 300 pages long (in extremely small print). The saga is usually dated around 1250, the high time of romances of chivalry... and boy does it deliver.

The Heroes
The story is essentially a mash-up of German legends such as the Niebelungenlied, some Norse sagas, stories of Attila the Hun, and a great dose of Arthurian pomp. It features several historical names, but in the end, it is a product of chivalric fiction.
In the center stands King Thidrek of Bern (Dietrich of Verona), who is often equated with the historical king Theoderic the Great. Around him gather the great names of German legends: his mentor Hildibrand (who can still kill ten young warriors in combat when he is over a hundred years old), Siegfried (the invulnerable dragon-killing hero of the Niebelungenlied), Heimir (who is not a nice person, but great with horses), Vidga (the white-haired half-mermaid son of Wayland the Smith - he is essentially the Lancelot of the bunch), Sistram of Fenidi (who joins the team after they fish him out of a dragon's mouth), Thetleif the Dane (who is not very smart, but very strong), Vildifer (who can and does pass for a live bear in combat), Herbrand the Far-Traveler (the diplomat of the team), Ekka and Fasold (the stereotypical red-haired identical twins, one a friend and one an enemy), Högni (the one-eyed, grumpy half-elf knight) (yeah, you read that right), Sifka (the traitor) and Earl Hornbogi (the handsome one).
Impressed yet?
Add Attila the Hun to the mix (he's best friends and allies with Thidrek), and you have a vague idea of the lineup you will meet in this story.
(There is an entire chapter devoted to what each of them look like, how they dress, and what their coat of arms is. They also all get their own backstories.)

While a huge part of the saga is taken up by very detailed duels and epic battles, it also has a lot of other delightful bits going for it. For example:

1. The duel between Thidrek and Ekka (the evil twin). They meet in the woods at night, and neither can see the other. After Ekka taunts Thidrek with how superior his weapons are, they decide to fight. Thidrek strikes sparks on rocks with his sword to see where his opponent is, and they fight in the flashing light of sparks flying from their blades. Now there's a visual.
2. The scene where Thidrek and Fasold find a dragon on a clearing. The dragon is in the process of devouring Sistram, whose head and shoulders are still free. He yells instructions at the two knights on how to kill a dragon, one of which is "Don't cut its neck! My legs are way down its throat..."
3. The time young Thetleif defeats an older knight (who rides an elephant) and after the duel they become friends and go home together. When the daughter of the old knight sees her father wounded, she yanks Thetleif off his horse and throws him down with a force that would kill a normal man. Of course they fall in love later.
4. The time Vildifer dresses up as a bear and sneaks into the enemy's castle to rescue the imprisoned Vidga. The enemy king doesn't realize there is something wrong with the dancing-bear performance until the bear draws a sword... At which point the king comments "That's a well trained bear!" (Famous last words)
5. The time Vidga kills a giant in single combat, and then covers himself in the giant's blood and rides back to his friends, pretending to be mortally wounded. Everyone panics, and Vidga laughs his bloody ass off.
6. There is a version of Tristan and Iseult's legend in here - Herburt and Hild - and it has a happy ending. That in itself made me so happy...
7. There is a battle where one of the kings is helped by his wife, the sorceress Queen Ostasia. She summons an army of lions, bears and dragons. The entire chapter is just one big battle scene between knights and combat dragons. I was having some serious Maleficent flashbacks.
8. When King Thidrek gets angry, he literally breathes fire. He only uses it once in combat, though.
9. This line: "King Hertnid rode at the dragon more out of honor than out of wisdom." (He gets devoured)
10. The time Heimir becomes a monk, and then decides to return to being a knight when a giant threatens the monastery. The monks tell him they already broke down his sword and used it for door hinges (it's one of the three magic swords in the saga). Heimir almost gets a stroke.
11. The time Earl Iron gets so obsessed with hunting that his wife feels neglected. Finally she goes out into the fresh snow and rolls around naked, leaving boob-prints all around the castle. Then she goes back to her husband and says "I have seen the tracks on a very rare new prey around the castle. If you don't hunt it soon, some other man will."

(This saga was definitely one of my favorites I read for this challenge.)


  1. That last episode is fantastic! Seems to me there are a lot of clever, witty women in the saga. Why do we always think these are men's stories?

    The Old Shelter - Epics from A to Z

  2. I laughed so loudly at "That's a well trained bear" that I frightened the cat :) Boob-prints - lol. So what you've got is a saga whose cast reads like a D&D campaign who seem to be having a wonderful time?
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  3. I find these stories so intriguing. They are very different from what I have been reading of late.

  4. With the mash-up of known characters and zany over-the-top action and antics, this sounds like a medieval Expendables. 0_o
    "That's a well trained bear" and the last line are fantastic! Adding another one to the list of things to read.

  5. I love dancing with the bear costume !! I really like this epic!

  6. Glad there's a version of Tristan's story that has a happy ending and 'boob' prints? Clever woman.

  7. That last bit of the tale was hilarious. I hope the king took heed of his wife's boob trail and paid her the attention she craved. I won't forget that image ever.

  8. Sounds like quite the cast. Someone needs to make this into a movie, or a series. It can be the opposite of Game of Thrones filled with zany antics.

  9. Sounds like a very interesting story! Gotta love an epic with boob trails.

    Where on earth did people come up with this stuff?

  10. I didn't know that Monty Python was first formed 800 years ago!! I'm desperate to read this story immediately but I looked on Amazon and B&N and it's not available!!

  11. I leave boob prints. Not really. So funny, but if he doesn't hunt what belongs to those prints, someone else will. Prophetic.

  12. Omg! The scene with the dude in the dragon's mouth! I died of laughter! And the boob prints!

    This sounds hilarious.

    1. The dude in the dragon's mouth is seriously my favorite part of the epic. I might tell the entire story just for that scene :D

  13. I like that "King Hertnid rode at the dragon more out of honor than out of wisdom." LOL. This story is priceless.

  14. Not surprising, but this is going on my wishlist as well. I love all these types of characters, and it'll be so wonderful to see an epic that gives them all of their dues! How fun!