Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Writing for Iceland

Interviewing me about my new book, Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland's Elves Can Save the Earth, a reporter asked, Did you write it for an Icelandic audience, or for an American one?

Um ... yes.

Of course, my main audience is the much larger American one. I fell in love with Iceland (population 365,000) on my first visit, in 1986, and much of my writing since then has been aimed at sharing my love for Iceland's landscape and culture with people who haven't (yet) visited this amazing island in the north Atlantic. (In 1986, Iceland was not on everyone's bucket list, as it seems to be today.)

But it is also very important to me that the Icelanders I am writing about like my books--or at least see them as being fair.
It makes me very happy, for instance, to know that the families featured in my first book, A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse, are always glad to have me visit. This summer, 25 years after I bought a horse from them, I spent a week with Fjóla and Elvar of the farm Syðra-Skörðugil in north Iceland; we laughed at how naive I'd been about horses then, and reminisced over how well things had turned out.

So when my book about Iceland's elves, Looking for the Hidden Folk, was sent to a group of Icelandic writers and scholars for review, pre-publication, I was anxious that they would also think I was being fair to their ancient culture.

I needn't have worried.

Wrote Egill Bjarnason, author of How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island: "Nancy Marie Brown reveals to us skeptics how rocks and hills are the mansions of elves, or at least what it takes to believe so. Looking for the Hidden Folk evocatively animates the Icelandic landscape through Brown's past and present travels and busts some prevalent clichés and myths along the way--this book is my reply to the next foreign reporter asking about that Elf Lobby."

Terry Gunnell, a professor of folkloristics at the University of Iceland, whose work on elf-lore is heavily cited in the book, called it "A love song to the living landscape of Iceland and the cultural history in which it is clothed, inspired by the author's numerous encounters with the country and its people over the last decades."

Ármann Jakobsson, a professor in the department of Icelandic at the University of Iceland, and author of the fascinating book The Troll Inside You, also understood what I was trying to say. He wrote: "Looking for the Hidden Folk is an elegantly written and wonderfully individualistic exploration of Icelandic culture through the ages, combining a shrewd appraisal of traditions with an acute interest in the modern world and all its intellectual quirks."
Gísli Sigurðsson, a research professor at The Árni Magnússon Institute of the University of Iceland, agreed. He wrote: "Using ideas and stories about the hidden folk in Iceland as a stepping stone into the human perception of our homes in the world where stories and memories breathe life into places, be it through the vocabulary of quantum physics or folklore, Nancy Marie Brown makes us realize that there is always more to the world than meets the eye. And that world is not there for us to conquer and exploit but to walk into and sense the dew with our bare feet on the soft moss, beside breathing horses and mighty glaciers in the drifting fog that often blocks our view."

And finally, my friend Gísli Pálsson, professor of anthropology at the university of Iceland, seems to always know how to sum up my books just so. He wrote: "This is a sweeping and moving journey across time and space—through myth and theory, language, and literature—into the world of wonder and enchantment. Beautifully written, Looking for the Hidden Folk offers a compelling and surprising case for the recognition of forces and beings not necessarily 'seen' in everyday life but nevertheless somehow sensed, exploring their complexity and why they matter."

Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland's Elves Can Save the Earth will be published on October 4 by Pegasus Books. It is now available for pre-order through Simon & Schuster distributors or through my shop on Disclosure: As an affiliate of, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.


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