When we think of the roots of European civilization it's to the south - to Greece and Rome that our thoughts turn. But our love affair with the Mediterranean has led us to overlook a closer culture whose effect on us in Britain may be even more profound. This lesser known Europe is a land of fire and ice. And from this roaring, raging wilderness came an extraordinary blaze of creativity. Hundreds of years ago in faraway Iceland the Vikings began to write down dozens of stories - called sagas. It was a literary out-pouring which has few parallels in history. These sagas are great works of art; sweeping narratives based on real people and real events. They are novels - written hundreds of years before novels were invented. But as Oxford University's Janina Ramirez discovers these sagas are not just great works of art. They're also priceless historical documents which bring to life the Viking world. They reveal the close connections between the outposts of what was a vast maritime empire; in particular the intimate relationship between the British Isles and Iceland a thousand years ago. The sagas also explore many stereotypes. They demonstrate the extraordinary power Viking women wielded in what is usually seen as an alpha male world. Dr Ramirez travels across glaciers and through the lava fields of Iceland to the far north-west of the country to find out about one of the most compelling of these stories - the Laxdaela Saga. The Laxdaela Saga is a tragic and bloody menage a trois - one of the greatest love stories ever written. Today Iceland is one of the most literate and literary countries in the world. With the help of historians and academics, sorcerers and story-tellers Dr Ramirez learns about the unique relationship between the Icelanders and their sagas - stories which have helped them survive centuries of hardship and suffering. Her odyssey helps us understand the profound need human beings have always had for storytelling. Closer to home Dr Ramirez also investigates the literary legacy of the sagas and how stories written by the Vikings influenced some of Britain's greatest writers and inspired many of our most treasured tales.