Folklore and Folk Poetry
Folklore Systematic collecting of folktales started around the middle of the nineteenth century in Iceland. Like elsewhere, an interest in folk culture and oral tradition went hand in hand with Romanticism but was also connected to the struggle for independence. The first collection Íslensk ævintýri (Icelandic Fairy Tales) was published in 1852 by the collectors Jón Árnason and Magnús Grímsson. Jón's renowned, extensive collection (six books) was not published until 1954–1961. It has often been pointed out that folk stories are a feminine genre of literature; it was first and foremost women that preserved and told these stories, though men later collected them and committed them to print.² In fact, folktales were shunned by the church and the elite, and during the height of pietism they were banned but thrived despite the church's efforts. Icelandic folktales have lived an extraordinarily strong life within the nation, and writers were much freer with using them as material in contemporary literature than the ‘sacred’ medieval literature. Numerous writers have sought inspiration in this heritage for all types of literature: poetry, prose and plays, both for children and adults. An example of this are collections of tales for children by some of the best-known children's authors in the country, which have been used for Icelandic lessons in primary schools. Another example is an amusing collection of short stories from 1991 called Tröllasögur (Tall Tales), where Gunnar Hardarson, Magnús Gestsson, and Sigfús Bjartmarsson transfer various folktales to modern Reykjavík, and the outcome is both a novel view of the old tales and the contemporary time in the stories. Some of the best examples of folktale material in contemporary literature can be found in the works of poet and novelist Gyrdir Elíasson (b. 1961), who regularly taps into folklore in a unique and original way. Folktales are possibly the genre of literature that is most interwoven with the country itself, many place names derive from them, as from the Sagas, the environment and the land itself has conjured up stories that have lived on through the generations.
Summary of Icelandic Literary History
Published on Jul 23, 2012