From Iceland — Top Five Volcanoes Someone Should Write A Book About: A Symposium By Valur & Hannah Jane

Top Five Volcanoes Someone Should Write A Book About: A Symposium By Valur & Hannah Jane

Published March 15, 2021

Top Five Volcanoes Someone Should Write A Book About: A Symposium By Valur & Hannah Jane
Hannah Jane Cohen Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Axel Sigurðarson & Others (see individual captions for credit)

You would think that a nation that is both as obsessed with literature and as seismically active as Iceland would write a lot of stories about volcanoes. But that’s not actually the case.

Granted, there are some. The excellent story ‘Eldarnir: Ástin og aðrar hamfarir’ focuses on the love affair of a geologist on the brink of a supervolcano going off not only in Reykjanes, but also in her heart. It’s better than it sounds, trust me.

But if you look at the grand scheme of Icelandic literature, we tend to write mostly about the weather and, occasionally, avalanches. Very rarely are volcanoes mentioned. Even the writers of the sagas were more obsessed with nonsense gossip about the chieftains rather than the roaring volcanoes all around them. Seriously, I’m surprised more geologists don’t complain—really, who gives a S%&# about King Haraldur’s hair? Seriously!

But in the current apocalyptic atmosphere of Iceland, we decided to take some time to suggest some possible novels that other people (not us, we’re busy watching ‘The Crown’) could write.

Eyjafjallajökull. Photo by Þröstur Jón Sigurðsson,


Let’s just get this out of the way. Obviously you all know this volcano, it’s the one that stopped air traffic before COVID-19 even got the idea. And truly, what a glorious display of raw power it was. Finally, Iceland proved that it, a small rocky island in the middle of the goddamn Atlantic ocean, could stop the world for a second. It’s the moment drama was made for.

And for sure there are some movies about it, but no Icelandic writer has yet to accept the challenge of writing about it. But lucky for you, we’ve crafted a potential plotline: Farmers have had their world turned upside down by the ash, which cues that classic Iceland rural depression rumination. Then there’s a murder in the midst of the chaos, and also lovers that the natural disaster keeps apart, but then they find a way to be together (maybe by stowing away on a tugboat crossing the Atlantic? Rowing?). The scenery around the volcano at the beginning of the eruption was downright nightmarish, so throwing in a few hauntings would be the icing on top. Because who killed the farmer in the beginning? A ghost. Or wait, not a ghost, just the despondent Mother of one of the lovers covered in the ashes of one of the lovers, who was actually a ghost this entire time.

There you go—a love story that’ll be as convoluted as Padmé and Anakin but with the loving cynicism of ‘Lost In Translation’. Bestseller!

Photo by Óskar Elías Björnsson via Wikimedia Commons.


Ok, there are some books written about the famous eruption at Vestmannaeyjar’s Eldfell, as this is by far the most dramatic story of all. Around 5,000 people woke to discover there was an active volcano going off just a couple of metres away from their bedroom window. It’s nothing less than an incredible achievement that sailors got the people away from danger in only hours. And what’s more—nobody died.

The fact that there isn’t some sort of War and Peace-length thriller about this is just insane. Add in some sort of moral ambiguity about saving one citizen who had, I don’t know, murdered their former lover and you’ve got the telltale signs of a Nordic Book Prize. For can one human make the decision as to whether or not another human is worthy enough to be saved from a natural disaster? Do we have that power? I don’t know. Ask Sartre.

Hekla volcano by Hansueli Krapf/Wikimedia Commons


Possibly the weirdest volcano on the list, but a good fit if you want to do some weird fantasy with a dash of realism. Hekla goes off regularly and it’s not that threatening for anyone other than whichever poor sheep find themselves wandering in her hills.

But that mountain’s got a secret: It’s (allegedly) the gateway to hell. So perhaps write some sort of weirdly uncomfortable locals with noticeable physical and vocal quirks, throw an outsider into the mix, and wait for the moment when the eruption starts and good ole’ Jón the blacksmith mysteriously whispers, “Oh that’s nothing to worry about. The real demons are inside the walls.” Then there’s some sort of silent meditation when the main character realizes he’s stayed too long in the town and therefore can only take up farming and slowly fade into the scenery. Yes, basically ‘Dune’ mixed with ‘Woman Of The Dunes’. We never said we were creative.

1918 Katla eruption. Public Domain image.


This is the scary one. This is the one that can take a town, eat it alive in fifteen minutes, and worst of all, stop air traffic. Located under Mýrdalsjökull, the heat alone from this eruption would start a brutal flash flood that could sweep Vík í Mýrdal away in a split second. In fact, were it to blow, people would have fifteen minutes to get their loved ones into their cars just to speed the hell away. Baltasar Kormákus is currently making a Netflix series about the mountain, but there are no books about this incredible threat that Icelanders live with every day. And what’s more, this volcano is due to blow and could go off anytime now.

Of course, a thriller would be the natural choice, but that seems kind of expected, yeah? So go crazy and write a comedy. Perhaps a re-telling of ‘Candide,’ but instead of having your protagonist basically get fucked over at every opportunity, just have them totally thrive in the wake of the eruption. That’s right! Let’s bring back Leibnizian! No one (especially not those from the Nordic literature tradition) would see that coming!

It really writes itself, so for just a moment, allow yourself the fantasy of accepting your Nobel Prize with the line: “Take that Karl Ove Knausgård! No struggles here!” Yay volcanoes!

Axel Sigurðarson, eruption, eruptioniceland, Iceland, Volcano, Bárðarbunga, Bardarbunga, Holuhraun, Vatnajökull, Dyngjujökull, Glacier, ash, ashtag, danger, Civil Protection Department, Emergency Services,

Holuhraun. Photo by Axel Sigurðarson.


This volcano was in such an isolated place that it didn’t even have a name. It didn’t even bother anyone, just sat there roaring while no one kind of noticed. Sounds a little bit like a YouTube commenter who doesn’t believe in the moon landing and is just there, yelling alone online at bots, only to later find out in the end, the volcano stops, just like his life.

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