A few weeks ago, I read the most controversial book in recent years in Iceland, Draumalandið – Sjálfshjálparbók handa hræddri þjóð (Dreamland – Self Help for a Terrified Nation) by writer Andri Snær Magnason. The book has been described as a “milestone in Icelandic ideology” (www.baggalutur.is) and has already sold over 6000 copies.
Draumalandið is critical of government policy regarding the construction of aluminium plants and their operating in Iceland, especially in the light of environmental issues. It also breaks down government jargon that, until the publishing of this book, has been mostly if not completely incomprehensible for regular citizens.
I must admit that although I was worried before reading this book, it left me, aptly, terrified. Not only did I become terrified of what the future holds for Iceland and its natural resources, I also became terrified that this book and its author would somehow take a hit. It has been my experience in our day and age that artists and intellectuals who dare criticize the government become victims of slandering campaigns, making them less credible in the eyes of the masses. For example, I lived in the United States for two years under the George W. Bush regime. During that time, I formed my opinion of the leader of the free world as a more self-righteous, more dangerous and less intelligent version of Homer J. Simpson. I prayed that someone with enough influence would point out the Bush regime’s corrupt ways, and to answer my prayers, Michael Moore took the stage with his film Fahrenheit 9/11. In the following months, Mr. Moore was publicly attacked and slandered in the media until he was rendered down to a fat, lying conspiracy theorist who doesn’t know how to shave. It got to the point where Linda Ronstadt set off a riot in Las Vegas for dedicating the song ‘Desperado’ to Mr. Moore. She wasn’t even allowed back to her hotel room to pack.
Now, Draumalandið and Fahren-heit 9/11 have almost nothing in common, if it weren’t for criticism of government policy and the use of humour to underline the absurdity of politics from time to time. So far, no smear campaign against the book nor Mr. Magnason has taken place, calming my nerves. Knowing that Mr. Magnason has been on a successful book tour, I was finally convinced that his lectures would be conducted in a civilized, respectful manner. I attended a lecture of his in the Iða building, on a so-called ‘Skáldaspírukvöld’, a brainchild of Benedikt Lafleur, founder of the Lafleur Art Centre (Lafleur Listasetur). ‘Skáldaspírukvöld’ is a weekly event where writers read selected bits of their works and partake in a general discussion with the audience. Mr. Magnason took questions from the eager crowd. People had strong feelings towards the book but most of them were on their best behaviour, with the exception of a drunken man who blurted out arrogant comments every now and then. At one point, he shouted at Mr. Magnason whether or not he had the answers to his own questions. There was an embarrassing silence as Magnason pondered the answer, and finally he replied: “Yes. It’s 42.” Even great thinkers need to borrow material from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from time to time.
On a more serious note, Mr. Magnason hopes that his book will have the effect that people no longer accept incomprehensible jargon in the papers and in government statements. Enlightenment is the key, he believes. His passionate care for the environment is contagious, and after the lecture I felt like going on a hike to the Þjórsárver area to enjoy the clean air and untouched landscape before it all goes to hell. However, with more thinkers like Magnason, hopefully we can stop it all from going to hell. “According to my calculations, it’ll take about 10,000 people to read this book for it to have the desired effect,” Magnason said. With 6000 down, I’m allowing myself to be optimistic.
Editor’s note: Þórdís translates hræddur as “terrified”, whereas, in the feature on the same book, our other staff writer uses “frightened.” A typical translation is “scared or frightened” but all are correct.