Why the Hell Did I Go To Iceland?

This has little to with my topic, but it is a great fantasy component—a throne of ice.

It has just occurred to me that I haven’t told you why we are here. I’m researching my fourth fantasy novel. I have finished my third, rounding out my “Gods of the New World” trilogy, and I think it is the best one yet. Sadly, Diversion Books has decided to focus on non-fiction, which means I’ll need to find a new publisher. Diversion is kindly continuing to sell my books until I do. But what does a writer do when they finish a novel? Start a new one.

Because the trilogy (“The Obsidian Mirror,” “Fire in the Ocean,” and soon (I hope) “Lords of the Night”) was based on New World mythologies, legends and folk tales, I thought I’d turn to the Old World for inspiration. But I didn’t want to recap the European fairy stories and evil creatures like vampires. I have long been intrigued with Iceland. Here’s why:

  • Iceland was very isolated from its original settlement around 850 C.E. until WWII. I don’t mean it was cut off from the rest of the world–the Icelandic Vikings were highly skilled seafarers, and Iceland was always in distant touch with the rest of the world. But it was difficult and dangerous to get to Iceland, and difficult and dangerous to go elsewhere. The language hasn’t changed since Medieval times, except for the addition of modern words like computer.
  • Around 25% of the population believes in or gives some credence to the existence of the huldefolk, the hidden people. English translates this into elves or fairies, but don’t imagine little fluffy things with butterfly wings. The huldefolk were the same size as people and earned their living doing similar things–farming and fishing. But they had powerful magic, their own religion, and lived inside the stones in magnificent palaces, wearing fine clothes and jewels–unlike the average Icelander, who lived in a single room with everyone else in the family and their children, slaves and servants, and probably a few dogs and cats and possibly a sheep or two. After the Christianization of Iceland in 1000 C.E., when it became the sanctioned religion, pagan worship became illegal. I find it hard to believe that paganism just died right then and there, however. The huldefolk lent some creativity and glamor to lives that were hard, filled with labor from dawn to dusk, and dangerous.
  • I read many of the sagas (I read them in translation. I am so glad I didn’t torture myself by trying to learn Icelandic.), and several volumes of fairy tales and related topics, I decided that the fairy tales were highly reminiscent of stories from continental Europe. But the Icelandic tradition of magicians has an entirely different flavor. They once believed there was a Black School for magicians, located “somewhere far away” and underground. There was no light, so the students studied by the fiery letters of their books. The Black School graduated its students in groups of seven, and the last student to leave the school would be claimed by the devil. Nonetheless, Iceland had several revered bishops and priests who were also magicians. And there were a number of Icelandic grimoires, books of incantations, now lost. Of course.
  • Iceland is a very different place, physically. It is full of active volcanoes, mud pots, hot pools, lava flows, and everything that goes with that. They have two kinds of volcanoes, which is unusual–cone and shield. Being so far north (nearly within the Arctic Circle), the plants and animals are quite different as well. Until the Vikings arrived, the only land mammal that made Iceland a permanent home was the Arctic fox. Polar bears still occasionally visit, but they don’t live here. Despite the dearth of any other dangerous land animals, the Icelanders filled their landscape with huldefolk, trolls, and assorted monsters. We haven’t left Reykjavík yet, but it appears a rather austere land, beautiful, awe-inspiring, but stark.

What more could a fantasy author ask for? All I need now is a story.

A red rose is frozen inside the central top finial of the icy throne.

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