Hildur, Queen of the Elves, and Other Stories
Icelandic Folk Tales
retold J. M. Bedell
with an introduction and new translations Terry Gunnell
5 1/2” x 8 1/4” • 288 pages
ISBN 9781566566339 • paperback • $18.00 •
The first explorers arrived on the volcanic island that would one day be called Iceland in the year 870. Those who settled here, on the edge of the Arctic Circle, beside the last vestiges of ancient Ice Age glaciers, must have been a resourceful and hardy folk, to have withstood the fierce storms, plunging temperatures, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and the isolation of this place. In the 1200s, Iceland’s governing body, frustrated by years of civil war, accepted the rule of the king of Norway, and fiercely independent Iceland embarked on 700 years under the rule of other nations: first Norway, then Denmark.
Out of this geography and this history emerge these poetic and imaginative Icelandic legends. On the one hand, these stories come out of the great wellspring of Scandinavian tales that have so influenced the Western imagination: Here are elves and trolls, ghosts, goblins, and monsters; drama and mystery and moral. But Iceland’s particular geography, its long nights and savage weather, also led to the development of a unique oral tradition, from which grew the famous Icelandic family sagas and these stories. In Iceland, the stark and shifting landscape is itself, as folklorist Terry Gunnell writes, a storybook. Consequently, these legends hold a particular wary respect of nature, and a wry wisdom at turns gentle and sharp: that we human beings are mere tenants on earth, with no control over weather or ghosts or wild creatures.
J.M. Bedell is the author and co-lyricist of the children’s musical Mischief and Eve and a full-time writer of fiction and nonfiction for children.
Terry Gunnell was educated in Britain and is now the head of folklore at the University of Iceland. He is the author of The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia.
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