Audun and the Polar Bear: Luck, Law, and Largesse in a by William I Miller

By William I Miller

Audun’s tale is the story of an Icelandic farmhand who buys a polar undergo in Greenland for no different cause than to offer it to the Danish king, part an international away. it will probably justly be indexed among the best items of brief fiction in global literature. Terse within the most sensible saga sort, it spins a narrative of advanced aggressive social motion, revealing the cool wit and finely-calibrated reticence of its 3 major characters: Audun, Harald Hardradi, and King Svein. the story must have a lot to have interaction felony and cultural historians, anthropologists, economists, philosophers, and scholars of literature. The story’s remedy of gift-exchange is necessary of the effective anthropological and historic writing on gift-exchange; its remedy of face-to-face interplay a fit for Erving Goffman.

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A transformation has taken place. The bear is in a process of value accretion that is almost magical. It is not a matter of market forces and scarcity, for the bear’s value keeps rising, even when it drops out of the story at the moment it is presented to Svein. It lingers on only in the revelation and determination of its value in the countergifts it elicits; it is its transformation into other repositories of value that is almost fairy-tale like, as a beast that becomes, if not quite a prince, then a princely sum.

GIVING THE BEAR TO SVEIN: THE INTERESTS IN THE BEAR If the confrontation with Harald is understood by both characters, as well as by the narrator, to be operating in a high-stakes comic mode, that is not the case once Audun shows up in Denmark. The stakes remain very high, but the mode shifts; it is no longer comic. He arrives out of funds and he and his bear are starving to death. For the first time, though it will not be the last, Audun is reduced to begging. Enter Aki, a steward of King Svein.

428n9. On threats and their credibility see Thomas C. Schelling’s classic The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, MA, 1960), pp. 21–80. 30 part one the author having to put the words into Audun’s mouth first for us to hear. Harald doesn’t seem to take offense at Audun’s refusal to accept the offer to buy for double the initial cost. Harald takes it rather as an invitation to ask for a gift. Though asking for a gift after twice having one’s offers to buy rejected might strike us as strange, it is not unheard of in the saga world.

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