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Traversing Icelandic Literature

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  • A grey pillow, blanket, book and mug sit by a window

Shawna, Clemens Mill | February 28, 2022

Iceland brings its own unique presence to literature reflecting its history as part of the Viking mythology and medieval sagas. Their literature has long been flushed with poets reflecting on the faults of human nature backlite with weather events that storm across the rugged, barren land and coastal life. Modern day Icelandic writers bring these influences into their unique novels that are translated and reach our library shelves today.

Sjon’s writing is known for beautifully blending elements of mythology and folklore set in a tale of the recent past. The Blue Fox takes place in 1883 focused on two opposing men in a small rural community. The story opens with the fox leading the hunter Balder Skuggason deep into a snow storm. While naturalist Fridrik Fridjonsson is back in the community dealing with rural life and death. This novella is an exquisite blend of historical life in Iceland, elements of folklore and faults within human nature.

For a look at Icelandic sagas, Englishman Neil Gaiman has written a well-rounded work of Norse Mythology. The brief introduction outlines the main gods, goddesses, giants and demi-gods who populate the nine worlds of Norse mythology. Along with factual information like when and who recorded the sagas. The body of this work takes us from the creations of the worlds through a number of journeys and battles of the immortals, reveling in mighty feats and complex personal rivalries. Ending in their final days: Ragnarok.

For a modern-day adventure Icelandic authors hold their own with their Scandinavian mainland counter parts bring Nordic Noir to the world of crime and mystery. Yrsa Siguroardottir series Children’s House Trilogy start with The Legacy. In Reykjavik, Detective Haulder is suddenly promoted to solve the media sensitive murder a woman whose young daughter is the only witness to have seen the attacker. To aid in the delicate task of negotiating a child witness through a criminal investigation Haulder partners with Freaja of Children’s House. Despite their personal tensions they must protect their young witness and break an usual code being sent by a killer before he murders again.

For a little true crime, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a historical fiction about the last hanging that occurred in Iceland in 1829. It follows the accused Agnes from her prison cell to the isolated farm where she waits her execution date. Through the winter the family and young priest Toti, charged with hearing her confession, learn of the dynamic events that led up to the murders. Kent takes us through the events revealing the complex personalities of the murdered and accused that lead to that fateful night.

For more mysteries from Iceland and the Scandinavian mainland check out Idea Exchange’s collection of Nordic Noir.

For more Mythology Idea Exchange has an extensive mythologies collection from around the world at our various locations.

On Saturday, March 5, 2020 at 2:00 pm Idea Exchange will be holding a virtual author talk with Iceland’s First Lady Eliza Reid. She will be speaking about her book Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women. Please register here to join us virtually.