Brian Pilkington, a Liverpool native living in Iceland since 1977, is one of the country’s most beloved children books’ illustrators. His award-winning illustrations have played a big role in the Icelandic trolls’ image makeover that has taken place over the last twenty years or so. Pilkington’s art has supplied a generation of young Icelanders with the image of the benign and just a little bit simple looking trolls. He has even managed to make Grýla look nice. A quick look into Icelandic folklore will tell you that the trolls have not always been as warm-hearted and chipper as Pilkington’s Stumble and his family, who even describe themselves as “giant-sized bundles of fun.” In fact, the trolls of old were more prone to forcing humans into marriage with them (mostly the men, as there is a curious shortage of male-trolls in our tales) and, if that failed, the trolls had no reservations about eating the humans. But pedagogy doctrines have somewhat changed and it is not fashionable to frighten the lives out of children any more.
Stumble tells the tale of a confused troll who wakes up one night after a very long sleep with two ravens perched on top of his head. He is covered in snow and can’t remember a thing about who, or even what, he is and how he got there. He puts his trust in the ravens who guide him through the harsh and wintry Icelandic landscape all the way home, where he is reunited with his family and gets his memory back. Pilkington both writes and illustrates, and the text and pictures work nicely together, though I can’t help but notice that they are the work of an artist turned writer rather than the other way around. The text is both simple and straightforward. The gorgeous illustrations are neither. Full of colour, humour, warmth and enough detail to make you want to turn back the pages for another look, they are evidence enough for the reasons why Pilkington is Iceland’s most successful illustrator to date. He even manages to make a scene of Iceland’s snow filled highlands and glaciers look inviting. The trolls seem a homely bunch and their clothes are based on Icelandic traditional wear and obviously inspired by Vikings, making them perhaps look more Scandinavian then strictly Icelandic.
The book is obviously aimed at children and is simple enough for those who are able to read for themselves. It will also serve well for reading aloud to those who are still young to read on their own; the balance between the length of the text and picture details on each page is good enough to keep the little ones’ attention engaged throughout the read.
Overall it makes for a very heart-warming homecoming for Stumble and the book serves as a nice and fun way to introduce children to a part of Icelandic folklore. The modern, less scary version of it, that is.
- By: Brian Pilkington
- Publisher: Mál og menning, Reykjavík 2000
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