SSoP Podcast Episode 33 — Iceland: Warrior Poets, Emo Horses, and Maybe (Probably) Elves

SSoP Podcast Episode 33 — Iceland: Warrior Poets, Emo Horses, and Maybe (Probably) Elves

Monday, 25 April, 2022

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.

The Island

buy | read review

How Iceland Changed the World

buy | read review

The Glass Woman

buy | read review

The Almost Nearly Perfect People

buy | read review

The Tricking of Freya

buy | read review

other books we mentioned


other cool stuff we talked about

Let’s set the scene:

Here’s Reykjavík…

colorful houses in reykjavik
Photo courtesy of Amy/flickr.

… and the Hallgrímskirkja.

grayscale image of the hallgrímskirkja in iceland
Photo courtesy of Chris Lawton/Unsplash.

… and the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.

green grass, pink sky, and tall waterfall in iceland
Photo courtesy of Robert Lukeman/Unsplash.

The Black Church of Budir

small black church in iceland in the middle of a lava field
Photo courtesy of Federico Di Dio photography/Unsplash.

… and the troll man known as Bárður Snæfellsás, the Protector of the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

rock troll statue in iceland
Photo courtesy of Steenaire/flickr.

iceland 101


also mentioned


two truths and a lie

  • Statement 1: Iceland has a word that means ‘road trip to get ice cream. Learn more about Ísbíltúr with Smithsonian Magazine and Visit Reykjavík. ‘There are more ice-cream parlors in Reykjavík than there are public hot tubs.’
  • 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.

  • Statement 3: One day in 1975, 90% of Icelanders went on strike. Here’s the BBC and The Guardian on October 24, 1975, a.k.a., the Women’s Day Off.

  • The novel The Island is set in the Westman Islands and the island of Elliðaey. Here’s a video excursion to the Westman Islands:
the rock island of ellidaey with a small white house sitting on top
Photo courtesy of Diego Delso/flickr.
  • The trailer for the TV series Trapped:
  • Christina Sunley is the author of The Tricking of Freya. In this Q&A, she discusses her inspiration and research for her novel.

newburyport literary festival - 30 april

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.


Do you enjoy our show and website? Please consider supporting our work on Patreon! You’ll get access to bonus content and input on which destinations we cover each season. Every little bit of financial helps us keep the show going and makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Get all the info you need right here.


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Top image courtesy of iacomino FRiMAGES/Shutterstock.

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The flavors of Iceland reflect its terrain: tangy skyr, silky smoked salmon, grassy herbs; everything is fresh, vibrant, and local. Inspired by Icelandic breakfast, this dish brings a taste of Iceland to your table.
What makes an already fantastic place even better? A bookshop, of course. And when it's a lovingly preserved historic shop with a friendly bookseller (in tweed) with stunning views out the windows, we're all in.

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