Continuing Without Closure: Analysing Irresolution in the Old Norse Hildr Legend

20 Jul 2018

The article introduces Old Norse material into the ongoing critical discussion about resistance to closure in medieval literature, a discussion traditionally dominated by Old French and Middle English texts. The failure of narrative accounts of the Old Norse Hildr legend to resolve is embodied by the tableaux of the eternal battle at the legend’s climax, an impasse which nevertheless functions as a closural device and unites the retellings of the legend around the theme of battle. The open nature of the impasse, however, encouraged medieval authors to work on constructing narrative closure within their own accounts of the legend, not only by writing new endings but also new beginnings for the battle, elaborating on the motivations behind it. Such a strategy confirms that in Old Norse texts, as in wider medieval literature, concepts of closure involved more than merely the ending of a narrative but embraced its broader structure and invites further comparison with other medieval European texts. Finally, in taking as its starting point not a text but a legend, the article aims to explore how issues of openness versus closure can be usefully applied to a narrative unconfined by a single text but represented rather in a nexus of texts with little in common besides a brief overlap in subject matter. The article argues for the necessity of the legendary perspective, in spite of its methodological challenges, in order to distinguish between closure on a textual and closure on a narrative level.