Andri Snær Magnason is one of Iceland’s best known writers. His books and plays have been published or performed in over 30 countries; his book about Icelandic nature, ‘Dreamland,’ had profound impact on the Icelandic nation. Some say that his novel ‘LoveStar’ (2002), had incredible foresight about social media and its controversial impact on the world. We asked Andri Snær what made him the artist he is today. Here are his answers:
America in the 70s and early 80s
I grew up in America from 3 to 9 years old. I started to see things from different perspectives. I was from an imaginary Island people knew nothing about; I could entertain with stories about Iceland and was entertained by Godzilla movies at 4 PM. After moving home to Iceland, America followed me with all the pizzas, malls and consumerism Iceland had not discovered yet, so from very young age I could see things in a sceptical or ironic way.
My family stories
I have been lucky to have lots of funny storytellers and interesting people in my family. My parents were always reading, my grandfather would discuss literature and poetry and have interesting and original points of view.
Kurt Vonnegut and lots of books by lots of authors.
I would name poets like Steinn Steinarr and Tómas Guðmundsson. My father’s best friend, Þórður Helgason, is a good poet. He would give me all sorts of books that I would read and I would find out that modern poetry existed outside of the school textbooks. He helped young poets to self-publish, and the idea that I could publish a book would probably never have occurred to me if he hadn’t encouraged me. Later it would be Vonnegut, Borges and Calvino that I really liked, and authors like Þórarinn Eldjárn and Gyrðir Elíasson. All have great imagination.
Old school techno when it was new
808 State, Chemical brothers, The Prodigy and Public Enemy. I remember thinking how lucky my father’s generation was to have gone through amazing changes in music during the 60s, while I was bored stiff in 1986 with Bros, Rick Astley and more terrible things happening in music. When I heard techno music for the first time it was a revelation. I was quite sure that I was the first in the world to like these sounds and beats per minute. That music period might have influenced my early writing. I did some experiments in sampling, scratching and break beating in my text.
Icelandic Folklore I-VI, collected by Jón Árnason
I was always a bit ashamed of writing sci fi and fantasy, without having read Tolkien or many of the masters of the genre properly, until I found Vonnegut. When I was younger I felt like fantasy books were not “real,” while the folklore was full of “real” stories. I read most of these books when I was a teenager. Each volume is about 700 pages, indexed like an encyclopedia: “I. Evil doings of Trolls. Trolls show friendship. II. Elves revenge. Elves seek human love. III. Wizards. IV. Black Magic. V. Monsters and mysterious beings. VI. Dead men seek revenge. Dead men keep promises…” My grandfather’s sister was actually a nanny for Tolkien in Oxford in the 1930s, and told his kids some of these stories.
Codex Regius – Edda
It sounds vain to mention the original manuscript containing the prime source of Norse mythology, but I had the privilege to handle this book for a whole summer in 1997. I would take it from the vaults every morning and put it on display in the manuscript exhibition. I was surprised how easy it was to read the text. Reading about Ragnarök on the actual page from the actual handwriting of a person that lived 900 years ago was mind-blowing; how the words could still be relevant and understood 900 years after they were written. My son was born in that year, so I had in my hands both the oldest wisdom in Iceland, and the newest on any given day. Nordic mythology has impacted ‘LoveStar,’ ‘The Story of the Blue Planet,’ ‘The Casket of Time,’ and the book I am working on now.
Read the makings of more artists here.