Review by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
Icelandic Folk Legends – Tales of Apparitions, Outlaws and Things Unseen is a collection of Icelandic folktales translated by one of Iceland’s most widely read bloggers, Alda Sigmundsdóttir of the Iceland Weather Report, first published by Bjartur in 1997 and republished in 2007.
The small and handy book includes the translation of 12 folk stories, both stories that practically every Icelander knows by heart, like The Deacon of Myrká Church and Thorgeir’s Bull, as well as lesser known stories like The Vanished Bride and The Hidden Man and the Girl.
The collection includes a little bit of everything: ghosts, trolls, wizards and witches, outlaws, hidden people (elves), monsters and even Satan. As such the book provides a good overview of the different categories of Icelandic folk legends.
I imagine that it must be difficult to translate folk legends, which contain old-fashioned language and references to things and customs that people aren’t always familiar with today.
Folk stories are written in a straightforward style and usually don’t include much color or explanation and I feel Sigmundsdóttir did a good job in maintaining that style while making the stories understandable. There are also footnotes where further explanations are needed.
However, I would have preferred to have these stories presented in a broader context. For example, a general introduction on how Icelandic folk legends were preserved orally until, inspired by the brothers Grimm, Magnús Grímsson and Jón Árnason began documenting them in 1845.
I would also have liked more detailed information for each story, such as a map explaining where it took place.
For that reason I prefer A Traveller’s Guide to Icelandic Folktales to this book, which is perfect for tourists driving around the country, eager to learn more about the mysticism connected to their destinations.
Nevertheless, I also recommend Icelandic Folk Legends – Tales of Apparitions, Outlaws and Things Unseen. Folktales are a window to a nation’s soul and these stories are no exception. I especially like the broad variety of tales chosen for this book.
As the translation is excellent, this book is an easy read. It is a good present for people interested in learning more about Iceland’s past without too much effort. It explains how Icelanders dealt with the harsh realities they had to face and how these stories sprung from it.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]
Eygló graduated with a Bachelors degree in communication studies from the University of Erfurt, Germany, in 2004. In 2006, she graduated with a Masters degree in journalism from the University of Westminster, London. She has worked as the web editor for Iceland Review since October 2006. Eygló received an award for her entries in a nationwide short story competition in 1997, 1998 and 1999.