The Shorter Oxford Dictionary tells us that the word saga is Old Norse. ‘A narrative composition in prose which embodies the traditional history of Icelandic families.’ And ‘A mythical story which has been handed down by oral tradition.’
I love to use memories of a life now gone which people share with me. A saga is often a generational story, or one about relationships. Families lived close together in the past, often living in the same place for generations and forming close-knit communities. This is something we have perhaps lost in the modern world. Look at this picture of my mother as a young girl enjoying an afternoon out with her Aunt Sarah. Judging by the busy scene around them it's clearly taken in the late twenties, early thirties. They look so engrossed in their conversation, happy to be together. Yet her family was very poor with an invalid father who couldn't work, and a mother who was the family bread winner. What are they talking about, I wonder?
The dictionary also states that a saga can be ‘A story of heroic achievement or marvellous adventure.’ A sweeping tale of courage and bravery, good pitted against evil. Robin Hood, Star Wars, David against Goliath, as our hero battles against all odds to win. The saga’s we write are stories about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary events in their lives. Our main characters too must win through against all odds.
But can we class the saga as romantic fiction, or is it something different, a genre in its own right? Is it historical fiction? Or could it, perhaps, be a combination of both?
Catherine Cookson, considered one of the greatest saga writers of all time, certainly didn’t claim to be writing romance. Her novels are more often involved with cruelty, violence and savagery, the hypocrisy of religion, poverty, despair and of course her chief obsession, illegitimacy.
The ingredients of a saga might include:
Fast paced plot
The position of women.
Social and domestic history
Local industry and economics of the region
A sense of place
A view of a wider world
Maybe we can look at some of these in later blogs.