Review by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
October 25, 2010, marked the 35th anniversary of the first Women’s Day Off in Iceland, when women took to the streets to protest the gender wage gap and fight for women’s rights.
This was still the focus of the 2010 demonstration but also to raise awareness of and end violence against women.
Along with 50,000 other women, and a few men, I marched downtown to support their cause and listen to speeches at Arnarhóll in the pouring rain.
I favor equality but I’m not much of a feminist. The speeches bored me until author and poet Gerður Kristný took the stage and read from her then newly-published poetry book, Bloodhoof (Blóðhófnir), which was later to win the 2010 Icelandic Literature Award.
Freyr’s paws pawed me reducing me to terror.
Scored a new scar on my skin each night.
Her words were powerful and spoke volumes about victims of abuse.
One year later I praised Svava Jakobsdóttir’s Gunnlöth’s Tale in a review on icelandreview.com. Inspired by Norse mythology, Svava reverses the roles of gods and giants, men and women, and looks at the mythology from a feminist’s point of view.
Gerður Kristný, also an outspoken feminist, was obviously under the influence of Svava’s writing when she wrote her much-acclaimed poetry book Bloodhoof.
Based on the ancient Norse poem Skírnismál, Gerður Kristný too turns the legends upside-down in giving the giantess of the story an earlier unheard voice and turning a love story into one of abuse.
In Skírnismál, Freyr, the god of fertility, sits on Óðinn’s throne and can see into all worlds. A fair maiden, the giantess Gerður of Jötunheimar, catches his eye and he falls lovesick for her.
Freyr’s messenger Skírnir promises to fetch Gerður for him as a bride in exchange for Freyr’s sword and horse. Freyr agrees and Skírnir sets off to woo her.
At first Skírnir offers Gerður precious gifts but she refuses. He then turns to threatening her and her family at which point Gerður gives in and promises to follow Skírnir to Freyr.
In Skírnismál it’s happy ever after but this is where Gerður Kristný disagrees. To her, Gerður sacrificed her maidenhood and happiness for the safety of her family and unwillingly lies with Freyr. He viciously rapes her, leaving scars on her body and soul.
Gerður is a wreck until she discovers that she is pregnant and stands up to Freyr. He leaves her alone after that and she dreams of revenge and bringing her son home to Jötunheimar.
As Svava’s tale, I find that Gerður Kristný’s poem provides a new and valuable angle to Norse mythology. It shouldn’t be so holy that the interpretation of its legends of fair gods and dark giants should never be challenged.
Gerður Kristný also underlines the modern relevance of ancient mythology in drawing comparisons with events that occur today.
To me, she might as well be describing the victims of war rape in DR Congo, for example, where women who fall victim to abuse are left in shame alone with their children.
Such appalling violence must be brought to an end, as preached during the Women’s Day Off in 2010, and Gerður Kristný’s words are valuable input towards that cause.
While I find the reference to Norse mythology in her poetry relevant and powerful, I didn’t quite get her references to folk legends, children’s rhymes and fairy tales, such as Snow White, where Gerður takes a bit of an apple and fears being locked up in a glass casket.
There may be a deeper meaning to it but I find it confusing.
To conclude, Bloodhoof is well worth a read, or many reads at that. Gerður’s writing is brilliant in finding modern relevance in ancient legends. From what I’ve seen of the translation it stays true to the original.
Released in English by Arc Publications in 2012, Bloodhoof is available on amazon.com.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]