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Vampires and Watchmen: Categorizing the Mediaeval Icelandic Undead

Vampires and Watchmen: Categorizing the Mediaeval Icelandic Undead


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Vampires and Watchmen: Categorizing the Mediaeval Icelandic Undead

By Ármann Jakobsson

The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 110, No. 3 (2011)

Introduction: One can imagine three ways to approach a mediaeval Icelandic draugr, a term which is usually glossed as ‘ghost’ in English. The first would be the most common one, to simply accept the definitions of the most influential nineteenth-century scholars, Konrad Maurer and Jón Árnason, and use them to categorize the mediaeval draugar. The second way would be to take every instance of the word draugr in mediaeval texts and analyze carefully what type of creature it seems to indicate, and then examine the vocabulary used about those creatures. The third is to focus on the function of actual mediaeval Icelandic undead in order better to understand the essence of their being.

In this study, I shall argue that the first two methods are flawed and instead attempt a tentative categorization of my own of the mediaeval Icelandic undead, those beings that most modern Icelanders, knowing their Jón Árnason, would refer to as draugr, based on their function and characteristics.

The first volume of Jón Árnason’s Íslenzkar þjóðsögur og æintýri (1862) is divided into four groups of folktales. The first is termed Goðfræðissögurand includes stories of elves, trolls, and sea-dwellers. The second is called Draugasögur and the third Galdrasögur. For some reason, Jón Árnason did not write the introduction to his monumental collection himself but rather Guðbrandur Vigfússon, who explained that the arrangement of the folktales followed the system of the noted German scholar and Icelandophile Konrad Maurer (who had recently edited a smaller collection of Isländische Volkssagen der Gegenwart, 1860) who, according to Guðbrandur, arranged his collection by the principles then in fashion in Germany.


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