After reading Egil's Saga, a desire to read additional Icelandic sagas was sparked. Although quite different in that The Saga of the Volsungs is set in a more distant past that is far removed from the Iceland of Egil's lifetime (not to mention the 13th century author of both sagas), both demonstrate some of the social values of the "Viking World" and Germanic cultures of northern Europe (particularly the emphasis on kinship and warriors). In the case of the Volsungs, the prose narrative mixed some verse while documenting the rise and fall of the Volsung clan during the tumultuous 5th century in Europe.
The fall of the Roman Empire, Burgundian and Gothic expansion, Hun invasions and conquests, and the varied migrations of Germanic peoples are the historical background for this account. A time when centralized authorities were weak and esteem was attached to male warriors or champions help explain why the story of Sigurd (and his forebears) appealed to the Scandinavians centuries later, who remembered Sigurd in oral traditions, poems, and art before Volsung was composed in the 1200s.
Although this story and that of the Nibelungenlied share a similar source in legends and epics shared by many Germanic-speaking societies in northern Europe, the saga, written in straightforward prose translated by Byock, seems to revel in its supernatural events and characters. Odin makes a number of appearances throughout the saga, and a dragon, an unbelievably powerful sword (via Odin), fate, a ring, dreams, magic, shape-shifting, and seers appear throughout the text.
The saga is thoroughly immersed in this magical world, even if the central hero of the Volsung family, Sigurd, remains a mortal. Despite his great strength, and of the fame and fortune Sigur enjoys as a slayer of Fafnir, he cannot escape destiny. Loss of favor with Odin and the cursed golden treasure of the greedy Fafnir ensure the fall of the Volsungs. Human beings, even great warriors, will meet their end like the lowly (and cowardly) thrall. With regards to divine intervention and fatalism, this saga resembles the ancient Greek romances, but with a more blunt sense of humor and violent society.
While not the most interesting prose, this saga's unique interpretation of Scandinavian retention of the Sigfried epic is valuable and worthwhile reading. The dialogue can be quite snappy and humorous, too, with exchanges of insults or ironic lines uttered by characters who continue to drink poison. The multi-generational family saga aspect displays the importance of kinship, family, and mythology in the Norse world. Moreover, all the great archetypes of the hero in fantasy is established in the story: the quest of the hero, the mission for avenging one's kin, the slaying of the dragon, and a rise and fall through curses or loss of favor of the gods. There are even very strong, compelling women in the saga. Gudun and Brynhild, for instance, engage in battle against men while also moving the plot forward through their actions and visions of the future.
Indeed, the great Attila the Hun is brought down by Gudrun, while women often express agency in determining their own affairs (Brynhild choosing her own husband). Indeed, women are central to the survival of the Volsung lineage, and prove to be quite heroic (or villainous, in some cases). The spectacular and unrealistic epic battles and clever method used by Sigurd to defeat Fafnir are also entertaining episodes which reveal the degree to which Tolkien was indebted to Norse mythology. Without sagas and narratives such as his the entire genre of fantasy would be be difficult to imagine.