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Icelandic Folk Legends: Tales of Apparitions, Outlaws and Things Unseen

The Icelandic nation has a long and rich history of storytelling. Throughout centuries characterized by hardship, poverty and dark winters, the Icelanders kept their spirits high and moral values intact by telling each other stories.

In this collection of 15 Icelandic folk legends, we get a glimpse of the world-view of the Icelanders in centuries past as they endeavored to understand and cope with the natural phenomena around them. There are stories of malicious ghosts, outlaws living in carved-out boulders, hidden people residing in grassy knolls, trolls that are tripped up by their own stupidity, and much more. Throughout we get a powerful sense of the Icelanders’ beliefs, values and fears, as well as their strong religious sense and need to cling to all that was pure and good.

In the foreword to the book I have tried to explain the importance of storytelling to the Icelanders. Our spirits, like our bodies, need nourishment to survive, and these and other stories provided that nourishment to the Icelandic people as they spent months indoors in abject living conditions and all-encompassing darkness.I have also provided a short “field guide” to the apparitions and beings that appear in this book and other Icelandic folk tales, outlining their main characteristics and qualities.

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While this is the first time the book appears in electronic form, 12 of the stories were previously published in hard copy on two separate occasions. The book has been out of print for about four years now, and that does not seem likely to change any time soon. In the digital edition, I have added an introduction, a “field guide” to the apparitions, and two more stories.

When the book was reprinted, it received a stellar review in the Reykjavík Grapevine. Excerpt:

[T]his short collection of folk tales is a fascinating introduction to Icelandic myth for the uninitiated anglophone. Fascinating and confounding in equal measure. […] Icelandic Folk Legends is a vivid portrait of pre-20th century Iceland – as much in terms of living conditions and landscape as of imagination, values and belief. Part of its appeal is that the tales spring from the magical imagination that Iceland’s varied and unforgiving landscape inspires. Beyond that, however, the questions they raise offer a fascinating window onto the values espoused by close-knit, rural communities as they struggle with the natural and supernatural forces that threaten their everyday lives.

You can read the full review here, and Amazon reviews here.