Andri Snær Magnason is one of Iceland’s most famous writers on the international stage, and he always has a lot of irons in the fire. He has written novels, plays, children’s books, poems, a full-length documentary, and he has even dabbled a bit in city planning. One of his cleverest works, “The Casket of Time,” has recently been translated into 12 languages, including English.
In his own words, the story concerns a magical invention, the TimeBox, that “seals you from time so you can skip a day, a week or a year, if times are bad or boring. You can skip the rainy days, the dark days, the Februaries and Mondays. You can avoid things that are difficult or annoying. You can kind of binge on the good days.”
The inspiration for the story came from reading about Snow White and Sleeping Beauty; both stories that employ caskets wherein a character rests in a state of suspended animation. Circumstances particular to Iceland also helped spark the catalyst for writing the story, which began in 2010.
“The boring times we had, the economic crisis, the volcanic eruption, the melting of glaciers,” Andri Snær says of that dreary year. “And then of course I am inspired by books. Old mythology, classic children’s books, favourite authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Astrid Lindgren, Michael Ende.”
As with most fables, there is a lesson to be learned from “The Casket of Time.” Trojan horsing a serious message with a fantastical story is part of Andri’s modus operandi.
“We are at a very critical moment of humanity; scientists have painted a very dark picture of the future if we do not transform our systems,” Andri tells us. “‘The Story of the Blue Planet’ and ‘The Casket of Time’ both have these themes somewhere in the fabric of the stories. I do not explicitly deal with the issues, but I am seeking metaphors, like in ‘The Story of The Blue Planet’ when Jolly Goodday puts a nail in the sun so it can always shine on one side of the planet. The readers read them like stories of fantasy and suspense, but they explore many themes.”
You can’t have light without the dark
The underlying theme in “The Casket of Time,” Andri says, is that “maybe you do not get bright days if you avoid the dark days. Maybe you will not enjoy the holidays if you have skipped all the Mondays and that things do not get better if everyone just waits for things to get better. But the books are literature, a study on human nature and attempts to create modern mythology. And the themes are more philosophically presented than direct lessons to be learned.”
Andri regards the world’s youth as both impressive and inspiring for their role in trying to compel grown-ups to do something about climate change, representing a sea of change that Andri welcomes.
“I speak a lot with teenagers and college students about these issues and it is very relieving to see that they are leading the way now,” he says. “Skipping school to teach the grown-ups a lesson. These are actually very interesting times, something you would not have believed could have happened.”
Up on the big stage
A lot of Icelandic writers have talked about the double-edged sword of being a big fish in a small pond; many of them believe that the true mark of success is getting translated and distributed abroad. For Andri, though, the desire to reach a broader audience is about more than that.
“I write in Icelandic, but I am inspired both by translated and foreign books, so it is natural to want to participate ‘on the big stage,’” he says. “That is, share my ideas with the world. It is always fun to see people in very distant places reacting to your work. It is vital for the Icelandic language that we authors prove that we can use this language to speak to the world and at the same time it is vital for our language to get the best the world can offer in translation.”
“The Casket of Time” is available on Amazon, and can also be found on stores throughout Iceland.
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