Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Sagas

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow I’ll hit you with one of my (many, admittedly) pet peeves.
This particular pet peeve is about the use of the word saga.

Now, if you are old as I am you might recall a Canadian prog band called Saga, and of course there’s a series of comics published by Image with the same name. I’ve got nothing against either. Ditto for the place in Japan called Saga.
What peeves me is this habit of calling anything with a fantasy flavor and lasting more than two issues/volumes/episodes, the Saga of… whatever.

Quoth Wikipedia…

Sagas are stories mostly about ancient Nordic and Germanic history, early Viking voyages, the battles that took place during the voyages, and migration to Iceland and of feuds between Icelandic families. They were written in the Old Norse language, mainly in Iceland.

9780722111291-usOK, so maybe this is a little too restrictive, and I can accept that something like Tolkien’s world was translated as The Saga of the Ring in Swedish. The Professor would have been pleased. And I am ready to accept the idea that Poul Anderson wrote sagas, even if they comprised a single novel – like The Merman’s Children1.
But when I start reading about the Conan Saga or the Elric Saga, I start shaking my head.
Sure, they have an epic tone.
But they are series, what’s so bad about the word series?
Or cycle, really?
We have mythic cycles, and courtly cycles and what else.
It’s not that anything fantasy can be marked (and marketed) as a saga.

domneiIn recent times it seems to me that “saga” has become a way for publishers (and fans) to say “a series of volumes, we don’t know beforehand how many they will be”.
Three novels (or a novel in three parts)? Trilogy!
Four? Tetralogy.
Lin Carter (I think it was him) coined the term eikosipenthalogy to describe the 25-volume Poictesme cycle by J.B. Cabell, also known as The Life of Manuel.

But if they are not sure how many books will the series or cycle be, they go with saga.
And so you end up reading a new book described as “a new entry in a science fiction saga to match the Star Trek saga.”

Really?
Don’t mind the repetition (where are the editors?), but Star Trek, a saga?
Can you imagine Troubles with Tribbles retold in verse, in Old Norse?


  1. great book, you should absolutely read it. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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