Posts Tagged ‘Iceland’

How to Drink Ale and Glare About Fiercely

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

”At the worst, the game will soon be played, and others will stand where we have stood, and strive where we have striven, and fail as we have failed, and so on, till man has worked out his doom, and the Gods cease from their wrath, or Ragnarök come upon them, and they too are lost in the jaws of grey wolf Fenrir.”

Thus spoke Eric Brighteyes to his beloved Gudruda the Fair on the gloomy and downtrodden eve of his exile from Iceland, having been unjustly declared an outlaw. A very serious man, Eric’s manner of speak resembles that of Styrbiorn the Strong, which is unsurprising since Eric Brighteyes and Styrbiorn the Strong were contemporaries; both are products of Victorian England. Eric Brighteyes by H. Rider Haggard and Styrbiorn the Strong by E.R. Eddison are both early English novels of Norse adventure and relish in the language of pomp and splendor that was popular at the time of their writing.

Check out my little blurb about Styrbiorn the Strong here if you so desire: How to Dally with Whores and Lose Kingdoms

I found an old out-of-print copy published by Zebra Books in the 70s (replete with the requisite non-sensical fantasy cover art typical of the era) and naturally snatched it up. The introduction by Lin Carter in this edition does a nice job of providing some background history to both Eric Brighteyes and Styrbiorn the Strong. Eric Brighteyes has enjoyed more popularity in general, remained in print for longer, and, basically, was written by a better-known author (Haggard also wrote King Solomon’s Mines). Lin seems to prefer Eric Brighteyes over Styrbiorn the Strong, though I personally liked Styrbiorn the Strong better. But if you like one, I think you’ll like both.

Eric Brighteyes is at its heart a romance. The entire book revolves around Eric’s love for Gudruda and her love for him, and the conniving of the evil witch Swanhild to tear them apart. Eric is essentially a noble Victorian hero full of virtue who just simply happens to be living in medieval Iceland. He is joined by his berserk friend, Skallagrim, for most of the novel, and they fare about on Viking adventures, but the Eric-Gudruda-Swanhild love triangle dominates. The tale is certainly entertaining and full of adventure, but the entire plot is revealed in a highly detailed and obvious dream sequence at the very beginning, which unfortunately detracts a bit from the book’s overall effect.

For comparison, Eddison’s Styrbiorn felt like more of an actual Norse hero who just happened to speak in Victorian Era slang, rather than being a full-blown Victorian Era hero transplanted to the ancient Northlands. And the full plot wasn’t revealed at the beginning (though if you know your sagas, you can very well guess how that book ends). For those reasons, I liked Styrbiorn the Strong better, but would still wholeheartedly recommend Eric Brighteyes to anyone looking for a classic Viking adventure novel, provided the language isn’t an impediment. For myself personally, the language is part of the pleasure. Some of my favorite little quips from the book are below.

”Skallagrim drank much ale and glared about him fiercely; for he had this fault, that at times he was drunken.”

”…and the Baresark fit came on. His eyes rolled, foam flew from his lips, his mouth grinned, and he was awesome to see.”

”Women shall bring him to his end, and he shall die a hero’s death, but not at the hand of his foes.”

”The wolf howls at thy door, Björn! The grave-worm opens his mouth! Trolls run to and fro upon thy threshold, and the ghosts of men speed Hellwards!”

”My honour shall be great for the feat, if I chance to live, and if I die—well, there is an end of troubling after maids and all other things.”

”Now dimly lighted of the rising moon by turns they bore Gudruda down the mountain side, till at length, utterly fordone, they saw the fires of Middalhof.”

”For when Love rises like the sun, wisdom melts like the mists.”

”It is a sad thing,” said Asmund, ”that so many men must die because some men are now dead.”

”It must be the Faroes,” answered Eric; ”now if we can but keep afloat for three hours more, we may yet die ashore.”

”Then Eric and Skallagrim leaned upon their weapons and mocked their foes, while these cursed and tore their beards with rage and shame.”

”Unhappy shall she live, and when she comes to die, but as a wilderness—but as a desolate winter snow, shall be the record of her days!”

”Eric comes and Whitefire is aloft, and no more shall ye stand before him whom ye have slandered than stands the birch before the lightning stroke!”

”Eric stared and said, ’By Odin! I see a shape of light like to the shape of a woman; it walks upon the waters towards us and the mist melts before it, and the sea grows calm beneath its feet.’”

”In the rosy glow there sat three giant forms of fire, and their shapes were the shapes of women. Before them was a loom of blackness that stretched from earth to sky, and they wove at it with threads of flame. They were splendid and terrible to see. Their hair streamed behind them like meteor flames, their eyes shone like lightning, and their breasts gleamed like the polished bucklers of the gods. They wove fiercely at the loom of blackness, and as they wove they sang.”

”Last night as we sat on Mosfell we saw the Norns weave our web of fate upon their loom of darkness. They sat on Hecla’s dome and wove their pictures in living flame, then rent the web and flew upward and southward and westward, crying our doom to sky and earth and sea.”

21st Century Eyrbyggja Saga

Saturday, May 30th, 2020

I recently finished reading Saga: A Novel of Medieval Iceland by Jeff Janoda and what an immersive experience it was! The book is billed as a modern retelling/novelization of Eyrbyggja Saga, which is correct, but also slightly misleading because the book really just focuses on a fraction of the overall saga; the action corresponds to chapters 30 through 38 for those of you familiar with the Hermann Pálsson/Paul Edward translation (these are the chapters that focus on the land dispute between Snorri the Priest and Arnkel).

It is quite an achievement to take 20 pages of very curt, matter-of-fact saga story-telling and transform it into an engaging 350 page novel, and that’s what we have here. Janoda has painted the characters to his own styling in a way that completely meshes with the original saga material and that remains believable. Additionally, minor characters from the original saga are given significantly more attention and some new ones are invented to flesh out the narrative. This is particularly true in the case of Janoda’s female characters, since women weren’t given nearly as much attention by the original medieval scribe. They play critical roles in the plot and help move the story forward. The various characters, major and minor, all play their parts in accordance with the original saga and while filling in the in gaps of the original in a consistent manner. The book is true to the original source while adding its own creative take on things, and the blending of the two is incredibly well done.

I obviously highly recommend this book, and if you’re the type of person who somehow managed to find and visit my website, odds are you’re also the type of person who would enjoy it. It’ll make for some great summer reading. And if retellings of sagas are your thing, I’d also strongly recommend Nutcase by Tony Williams.

Helgafell, the Holy Mountain, near the location of Snorri’s farm

Álftafjörður, the fjord around which the action takes place

The Most Valiant Man Who Has Ever Lived in the Destitute Housing Projects of Northern England

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

It’s not often that I discover a book so unique, so bizarre, and so badass that I choose to publicly word-vomit about it to all of the several individuals who occasionally stumble across this site by mistake, but Nutcase by Tony Williams is one of those rare exceptions. Nutcase is basically an updated, modern-day retelling of the Icelandic Saga of Grettir the Strong set predominately in the crime-ridden, brutalist housing projects of Yorkshire and the Humber. And it’s brilliant.

Anyway, the story arc follows the Icelandic original, but with necessary and clever modifications to suit the tale to its modern context. Grettir’s role is assumed by that of Aidan Wilson who, like his forebear, does not always get along well with others and partakes in numerous instances of urban violence. A multitude of characters come and go, in proper Norse fashion, and it can be a bit tricky to keep track of who is who, but readers familiar with the original will readily recognize the key plot points as Aidan evolves from unruly lad to local hero to inebriated outcast. It’d be inappropriate to divulge any specific details, but I particularly found the encounter with Glam in this rendition to be much more unsettling than in the original. And Aidan/Grettir’s last stand was perfectly updated for our media-frenzied, digital world.

The book is written with a very heavy emphasis on informal British slang, but I condone that sort of thing. How else would you end up with a beauty of a passage like this: “It was the most vicious fight you ever saw in your life, but useless too because they were both already so badly hurt. It was a bit like watching two bull sea lions gouging lumps out of one another on the rocks off Argentina, except instead of David Attenborough watching from a safe distance there was Bartholomew slumped there losing his vital signs in a pair of bloodstained Pumas.” Even if you’re not an acquaintance of Grettir’s, how can you go wrong with writing like that?

And last, but not least, some visual aids:

Park Hill Housing Estate in Sheffield, the sort of environment where Aidan Wilson spent most of his days. Compare to the image below…

Bjarg in Iceland, the sort of environment where Grettir the Strong spent most of his days. Call me biased, but I think Grettir got the better deal.

Icelandic Saga Recaps

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

So I just stumbled across the Icelandic Saga Recaps by Grayson del Faro that are being published in English over at the Reykjavik Grapevine online magazine. They are just as their name implies—abbreviated recaps of the plot lines of various sagas, with extra special attention given to all the best bits involving irrational behavior, senseless violence, and dick jokes, accompanied by amusing illustrations by Inga María Brynjarsdóttir (and the one shown at the top here is among the tamer ones…check out the illustration for The Saga of Hrolf the Tramper for something even bloodier or The Tale of Shady Halli for something gloriously ribald). At any rate, the Recaps are definitely worth checking out for anyone who enjoys the sagas and can appreciate the humor in contrasting their usually stark seriousness and some of the crazy things that transpires within them with our modern sensibilities.

Drink to the Deceiver of the Gods

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Iceland is undisputedly the most Viking place on the planet. In some cases, the coefficient of Viking discrepancy between Iceland and a comparative test sample is dramatic and severe (Ethiopia, China, most of the U.S. – particularly Florida) while in much rarer cases the coefficient begins to approach zero (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and perhaps most notably, the Faroes).

Proof of Iceland’s status as the Vikingest of them all abounds: its language resembles Old Norse, the events of the local sagas are tied to specific places in its landscapes and still remembered today, and Reykjavik is slated to receive the world’s first Ásatrú temple in a millennium later this year (see the rendering below and visit Magnús Jensson’s website for more about the architecture).

And last, but not least, Iceland produces special hard liquor in honor of the gods. Certainly, Iceland is not the only place to boast such an honor, but the Icelanders naturally take it to a higher level with their true, authentic Viking Schnaps, like the one devoted to Loki shown at the the top of the page. And in Iceland it’s not enough to just name some hard liquor after Loki, Freyja, or Thor, but the drinks praising their glory must also contain special all-natural ingredients such as dulse, golden root, and angelica root (yeah, might have to look some of those up…) and be produced by a health-oriented herbal supplement company called Íslensk Fjallagrös. Sadly, Íslensk Fjallagrös’ website is a bit underwhelming and does not include any information about their Viking Schnaps products, but you can still learn about cool things like their Icelandic lava booze or their moss-infused alcoholic concoction.

So, should you be lucky enough to acquire some mossy Icelandic liquor, then raise a glass and skål to the deceiver of the gods!

Heroes of Norse Proliferation: Nancy Marie Brown

Friday, November 6th, 2015

Books having to do with Vikings in some form or another seem to be experiencing a bit of a surge in popularity lately (at least compared to how the subject matter normally fares). I suspect this is mainly due to various publishers attempting to shamelessly piggy-back onto the pseudo-popularity of the History Channel’s Vikings tv show, which itself is an even more blatant attempt to piggy-back onto the enormous popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones tv show. That aside, I condone the increase in printed Viking material out there. These publications may not reach the same echelon of public consumption that the latest celebrity-ghost-written-pile-of-vomit-splurge does, but it’s sure better than a decrease in new Viking-related publications. And one of the most noteworthy contributors to this development is Nancy Marie Brown.

While her published work does not always deal exclusively with our dearly departed Norsemen, in the past 8 years she has authored 4 books about them, which obviously clocks in at a very impressive average of one Norse book every two years. 3 of these books are unique contributions to the historical field:

The Far Traveler, which provides a historical account of the life and times of the Icelandic woman Gudrid who crossed the Atlantic to settle in Vinland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song of the Vikings, which provides an intriguing biography of Snorri Sturluson and relates the writing of his Edda to the geography of Iceland.

 

 

 

 

 

Ivory Vikings, which describes the context and journey of the Lewis Chessmen, some of the most famous Norse archaeological artifacts in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

The 4th is a novelization of The Far Traveler called, appropriately enough, The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the things I like best is how approachable these books are. Brown’s writing style is fluid and engaging, as opposed to dry and so mind-numbingly academic that it makes you want to put your head in a meat grinder and get a little berserk with the crankshaft (and there are quite a number of relevant books out there that fall in this unfortunate category). Plus the subject matter is interesting, and always provides a fresh take or perspective rather than a simple rehash or update like so many of the other mainstream Viking history books on the market. Clearly, Ms. Brown is deserving of a mighty skål indeed!

Brewsky of the North

Monday, September 21st, 2015

There’s no better way to start the week off right than by rolling out of bed Monday morning and popping open a cold, refreshing Icelandic craft brew courtesy of the Einstök Beer Company. Located in Akureyri, along the island’s north shore near the Arctic Circle, Einstök brews a variety of beer styles that are gradually making their presence felt over here in Vinland. With any luck, Einstök will be luckier than Leif the Lucky was in his day and remain here in Vinland for many years to come. I was personally lucky enough to recently find a batch and enjoy its clean, glacially-derived alcoholic contents. There’s just something about drinking a well-crafted beer from the land of fire and ice that helps you get by. And the logo is pretty damn badass, too.

June Downbeat: Some Dark, Wintry Ice[land]

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Ahhh, June, that wonderful month when the weather warms up (maybe), the sun stays out late (when it’s not overcast), and vacation seasons tend to officially start (if you can get the time off and/or afford to go anywhere). But let’s not be so optimistic here. Winter is only a short half a year away. In three weeks the days will be getting shorter, again. We will hurl headlong towards the bleak darkness of December and its vicious little gnomes, who as the descendents of two abominable ogres, will terrorize your yule-tide merry-making by breaking and entering into your house to eat all of your yogurt, steal your sausages, slam all of your doors loudly in the middle of the night, and spread germ-ridden saliva over all of your dishes and kitchen utensils.

But the stout of heart won’t let these trolls get them down, because there is beauty in winter, especially in Iceland, where they maintain a keen appreciation of their Norse heritage, as exemplified by Jón Gunnar Árnason’s work Sólfar dramatically situated along Reykjavik’s waterfront (above) or Alexander Stirling Calder’s Leif Eriksson memorial statue in front of Hallgrímskirkja (below).

A Good Day to Hail Leif

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Today is the official Leif Erikson Day of 2013, and what appropriate and ironic timing!

Leif’s Icelandic ancestors all bailed from Norway when they finally got too disgusted with their slimy politicians to bother sticking around. Lucky for them, they were able to find a nice (if harsh), uninhabited island out in the middle of the North Atlantic to claim as their own, and their descendents kept the tradition of exploring alive, culminating with Leif’s badass voyage to America. That’s a far cry from our current tactics of belly moaning and ineffective protesting. Too bad we don’t live in an era where we can just get our buddies together, get in a boat, and go find a new place to conquer and settle without getting fire-bombed in retaliation. Oh well.

The photo above is a statue devoted to Leif’s glory located in Reykjavik, Iceland. Check out my Monuments to Greatness page to learn more about Boston’s own glorious Leif statue. And best of luck staying sane in this sea of madness.

Skálmöld Trip Out with the Wolf

Friday, September 27th, 2013

It’s the last Frey’s day of the month, the nights are becoming longer than the days, the average daily temperatures are dropping, and “winter is coming.” That makes it a perfect time to trip out with Icelandic Viking metal band Skálmöld in their new music video. In it they take us on a journey through their wild Icelandic landscape and show us all sorts of strange on-goings involving that demon-woman Hel, Odin hanging out passively on the top of a cliff, the iron-ribbon Gleipnir wrapping around a young girl, and the wolf shaking the shit out of his fur to get dry. Pretty badass.

Also, the video itself was created by Bowen Staines who originally hails from New Hampshire, so this is a nice New England-Scandinavia collaboration!

Icelandic Lava Beer

Friday, June 28th, 2013

 photo lavabeer_zps01b3df40.png Finally! The Icelanders have begun smoking their beer (in addition to smoking their whales and their puffins). I personally can’t think of a more befitting national, Viking-appropriate meal for Iceland than one composed of smoked endangered animal, smoked cute little penguin-type thing, and smoked beer inspired by volcanic eruptions. How could you possibly go wrong with all those items sitting on your table all at the same time? The answer is: you can’t.

Plus it’s 9.4%, so knock yourself out with many and then go break down a door in a drunken rage. Odds are, you’ll only regret the monetary expenses, because Lava ain’t cheap.