Iceland's Rich Writing Traditions Influence the World - and Travel

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
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What do you do on an island? You tell stories. What you do on Iceland, one of the world's most famous islands, the land of fire and ice? You tell stories, write books, influence the entire world with your landscape, culture, mythology, beliefs, and, of course, writing.

Iceland's Rich Writing Traditions Influence the World - and Travel

Iceland has a long and rich literary history; countless tales have been told here. From the time the island was settled, around 870, stories have sprung up, influenced by the landscape, seasons, sparse population, and mythology. Icelandic sagas and poetry have been important tellers of history, including the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson, which is an invaluable source of knowledge about Norse mythology and medieval Iceland, the Grettis Saga, and modern Icelandic literature.

Monument of Grettir the strong in Bjarg, Miðfjörður. From Iceland's Rich Writing Traditions Influence the World - and Travel

Monument of Grettir the strong in Bjarg, Miðfjörður. Wikimedia Commons: Bromr

Reykjavik is a UNESCO City of Literature, one of 7 in the world. Here, almost everyone is a writer, including politicians and business people. Literacy is important - as is history, language, and storytelling. 

"It is hard to avoid writers in Reykjavik. There is a phrase in Icelandic, "ad ganga med bok I maganum," everyone gives birth to a book. Literally, everyone "has a book in their stomach." One in 10 Icelanders will publish one." ~ BBC

Iceland has a population of about 323,000. Iceland publishes the greatest number of books per capita, and has had many award-winning and important writers, including Nobel Prize-winning author Halldor Laxness, journalists Jónas Hallgrímsson and Einar Benediktsson, and poet and playwright Gerður Kristný. 

There are countless resources for literature and writing, indluding the Icelandic Literature Centre, the Reykjavik International Literary Festival, extraordinary libraries, the yearly Reykjavik Book Fair, the yearly Reykjavik Reads Festival, which celebrates both reading and writing, a Day of Icelandlic Language, and a plethora of literary awards (which can inform your reading - I often order books that have won these awards).  

Arnastapi: Stapafell, ganz rechts Barður Snæfellsás.  From Iceland's Rich Writing Traditions Influence the World - and Travel

Arnastapi: Stapafell, ganz rechts Barður Snæfellsás.

When you visit, you can see literary inspiration around every corner.

Take a look..

Tolkien's wizards and dwarves and very Icelandic landscape (and his love of the saga) are present here. Did you know Tolkien's children had Icelandic au pairs? That he studied and taught Old Norse (Icelandic), which helped inform the languages in his sagas? That the One Ring was dropped into a volcano in a landscape that looked like Iceland? That Iceland has ancient stories (and current beliefs) about giants that are turned to stone with sunlight? And let's not even start on the tiny ponies that Bilbo had such a difficult time riding...

An Icelandic horse near Krýsuvík (Tolkien's ponies in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings) .  From Iceland's Rich Writing Traditions Influence the World - and Travel

An Icelandic horse near Krýsuvík. Wikimedia Commons: Andreas Tille

See locations from the filming of the Game of Thrones - do they match what you thought when you read George RR Martin's epic tales?

Grjótagjá caves near Mývatn lake, Iceland (Game of Thrones).  From Iceland's Rich Writing Traditions Influence the World - and Travel

Grjótagjá caves near Mývatn lake, Iceland. Wikimedia Commons: Chmee2

Jules Verne's inspiration for the Journey to the Center of the Earth was the Snæfellsjökull glacier, which covers a volcano that served as inspirational model for his much-loved journey. Hike here and imagine yourself taking your own journey to the center of the earth.

Snæfellsjökull in the Morning (Journey to the Center of the Earth).  From Iceland's Rich Writing Traditions Influence the World - and Travel

Snæfellsjökull in the Morning. Wikimedia Commons: Axel Kristinsson

Take a saga tour (or several), or literary tours in Reykjavik, where the guides read aloud from important works in different locations around the city.

King Harald Fairhair releases his foster-father, the giant Dofri. Miniature from Flateyjarbok.  From Iceland's Rich Writing Traditions Influence the World - and Travel

King Harald Fairhair releases his foster-father, the giant Dofri. Miniature from Flateyjarbok. Wikimedia Commons: Jon prestr Þórðar son & Magnús prestr Thorhallz sun.

Walk around on your own literary tour with an app. Sit on a bench in Reykjavik and scan the barcode - you'll get audios of Icelandic literature, in Icelandic or English. Look down - you'll see poetry on the sidewalks.

Head to Iceland to write your own book! Attend the Iceland Writers Retreat, or create your own writing retreat - rent an apartment or cozy house, and explore by day (perhaps by snorkeling under the midnight sun?), write by night.

liffs near Arnarstapi village, Iceland. From Iceland's Rich Writing Traditions Influence the World - and Travel

Cliffs near Arnarstapi village, Iceland. Wikimedia Commons: Chmee2/Valtameri

 

What are your favorite Icelandic writings? What will you see first, when you explore literary Iceland?

 

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