From Iceland — Get Your Read On: The Ice Lands and Njáls Saga

Get Your Read On: The Ice Lands and Njáls Saga

Published May 31, 2017

Get Your Read On: The Ice Lands and Njáls Saga
Björn Halldórsson
Photo by
Art Bicnick

‘If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!’ said John Waters, famously. And this, if nothing else, should propel you to the bookstore quickly forthwith.

Steinar Bragi – The Ice Lands

In ‘The Ice Lands’, Steinar Bragi is on familiar ground, playing with tropes of the horror genre to address deep-seated psychological issues found in today’s culture. Two young couples set out for the Icelandic countryside in hopes of escaping the troubles of city life. The four of them are plagued in various ways by the recent economic crash, which has left them on unsure footing whereas before their futures had seemed bright and secure. During a storm, their jeep crashes into a dilapidated farmhouse and the foursome must seek shelter with the occupants, an uncommunicative elderly couple who bar themselves in at night and are fearful of something in the howling wind outside. Outwardly, the story leads itself into a familiar horror narrative, but the tensions are more internal, as conveyed through the shifting perspective of the rotating protagonists. Gradually, the four of them descend into chaos and madness as layers of their past and being are unraveled during their absurd and terrifying tribulations.

Njál’s Saga

If you want to take the plunge into Icelandic cultural heritage, look no further than Njál’s Saga, the quintessential Icelandic saga. The story outlines a feud between two families that spans decades, escalating from minor slights into defamations of honour that lead to outbreaks of violence and murder. What is so striking about the story is how relatable it is to our modern tendencies: the power dynamics between men and women and the troubling closeness of vulnerable masculinity and violence. The people in the stories are not gods or mythical beings but everyday folk navigating a world of rigid social rules where every infraction can have dire consequences. Delivered in a terse, clipped style which one might blasphemously call “Hemingway-esque,” Njál’s Saga is one of the most readable page-turners to come out of the 13th century.

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