With all those dramatic volcanoes and glaciers, Iceland has become known as the Land of Fire and Ice. But we like to think of it as the Land of Legends and Poetry, a place to go adventuring with your extrovert pals, then curl up with a great book and a cozy sweater for some epic introverting.
Literature is baked into Icelandic culture, starting with the Sagas and carrying through medieval warrior poets to today: The capital city of Reykjavík is a designated UNESCO City of Literature and home to both the Iceland Writers Retreat and the Iceland Noir Festival.
When you’re ready to explore the island, start in the capital for fancy cocktails, the vibrant food scene, and friendly locals. Then hit the road — the Ring Road — to circumnavigate the island and see fantastical sites along the way: volcanoes and lava fields, waterfalls and glaciers, puffins and horses with emo bangs, the black church and dramatic sea cliffs — plus northern lights, turquoise-colored hot springs, a troll or two, and wee elf houses.
In this episode, we dig into the charming idiosyncrasies of the Icelandic language, get real about Vikings, and celebrate powerful Icelandic women. We also recommend five great books that transported us there on the page, including two nonfiction books that explore what makes Iceland so badass, a Gothic novel rife with witchcraft and secrets, a family saga-travelogue mashup, and a chilly slab of Icelandic noir with a formidable lady detective.
Read the full transcript of Iceland: Warrior Poets, Emo Horses, and Maybe (Probably) Elves.
Let’s set the scene:
… and the Hallgrímskirkja.
… and the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.
… and the troll man known as Bárður Snæfellsás, the Protector of the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Hallgrímskirkja was inspired by the shapes of cooling lava and can be seen from almost anywhere in Reykjavík. National Geographic has more.
The 1783 eruption of the Laki volcano changed the course of history.
Beware of trolls! The Eerie Folktales Behind Iceland’s Natural Wonders.
The Atlantic digs into why so many Icelanders still believe in elves.
Why not give The Elfschool a try on your next visit to Iceland?! Here’s the official website, a first-person account of what one student learned at Elfschool, and a profile of the Headmaster Magnus Skarphedinsson.
Here’s a primer on what you need to know to drive Iceland’s Ring Road.
Finally, no visit to Reykjavík is complete without a stop for a hot dog at the Bæjarins beztu pylsur hot dog stand. We know you’re thinking, ‘Hot dog? Big deal.’ but trust us when we say these hot dogs are delicious.
Statement 2: The Icelandic translation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a complete re-write of the source material. Wikipedia has the scoop. Get your hands on the English-language translation of the Icelandic version here: in print and audiobook. There’s also a website dedicated to the book with backstory, maps, and more.
Egill Bjarnason of How Iceland Changed the World. Here’s an interview with the author:
Caroline Lea is the author of The Glass Woman. Here’s an interview with Historia to celebrate the novel being shortlisted for the HWA Debut Crown Award.
We’ll be doing a Zoom version of our podcast at the Newbury Literary Festival on 30 April at 11:00 am Eastern. Our session is called ‘Dumplings and Dysfunction: In the Kitchen with the novel The Family Chao.’ In this special Zoom edition of our show, we’ll go behind the scenes of restaurant life. We’ll be joined by author Lan Samantha Chang to discuss her new novel The Family Chao, a delicious exploration of identity, family ties, and a little bit of murder. We’ll also play a round of Two Truths and a Lie and recommend more stories set in steamy kitchens. Learn more and register for our FREE event right here.
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Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
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