Using the medieval Icelandic saga Gísla saga Súrssonar as its subject, scholar Emily Lethbridge’s Memories of Old Awake (filmed and produced by Patrick Chadwick) aims to show how Gísla saga is written into the dramatic landscapes of Iceland’s West Fjords. In the saga, which is set against the background of bare mountain-sides that plunge down into dark waters of the fjords, adulterous jealousy, wounded personal, and family honor, conflicting family loyalties, the uncompromising requirements of the 10th-century Icelandic vengeance imperative, and the inevitability of fate combine in a powerful and complex narrative.

The film’s title is a quotation from an impromptu 4-line verse about the saga’s hero, Gísli Súrsson, composed by a man who lives today in the area where Gísla saga is set. The ways in which local people still engage with “their” saga, as their predecessors did in past centuries, is a second theme explored in the film.

Memories of Old Awake was commissioned by the Office of External Affairs and Communications at the University of Cambridge. It is one of a number of short films in the “Cambridge Ideas” series, which showcases research being conducted at the University. It was filmed and produced by Patrick Chadwick who joined Lethbridge in the West Fjords for a week in May 2011. This was Chadwick’s first visit to Iceland and his first encounter with the Icelandic sagas. The weather was harsh, which made filming challenging though the bird-song in the audio signals that spring was on its way, despite appearances to the contrary.

In her lecture, Lethbridge will talk about her experiences as a “21st-century saga pilgrim” and some of the ways that her “saga fieldwork” was inspired by, converged with, and diverged from, William Gershom Collingwood’s late 19th-century explorations of the medieval Icelandic sagas and their physical settings.

About Emily Lethbridge

Emily Lethbridge was awarded a Ph.D in Old Norse-Icelandic language and literature by the University of Cambridge in 2008. She subsequently held a 3-year Research Fellowship at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, and was concurrently a Research Associate of the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge. 2011 was spent in Iceland, working on the Saga-Steads of Iceland: A 21st-Century Pilgrimage project while living in an ex-military Land Rover ambulance. In January 2012, Lethbridge took up a position as a post-doctoral Research Associate at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, University of Iceland.

Further information about this project and Lethbridge’s work can be found at



Photo by the American-Scandinavian Foundation

SAT – 1-5-2013 – 2:30 PM