Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Viking Repast - OR - The Relentlessly Terrible History of Iceland, in Three Courses

I'm happy to say this story, excerpted from my book-in-progress The Frost Giants, will appear in the 2010 edition of The Best Travel Writing; and in 2011 it will appear in The Frost Giants itself, though I'm not allowed to name the publisher just yet. A very very small excerpt, below;

The parked snow machines were working vehicles, cobbled together in the most utilitarian way, and the Spartan forms turned my mind to Viking ships. Years ago, Hordur had shown me a picture of such a vessel, a full-scale replica he’d built in the mid-90's and sailed across the North Atlantic with a small crew. The undecked, 40-foot boat had rolled and banged and wallowed, but they’d made it, all the way to New York City. The Iron Age design was a product of minds that revered utility, and the 1990’s replica was a product of minds that equally revered history, minds that still drove Icelanders into the wilds for ancient winter rites, like Thorablott.
A history of was the story of the Icelanders. Although a thousand years separated this evening's feasters from the first Norse to land in Iceland, an ethos of severe pragmatism bound them like an invisible but invincible chain.

That chain stretched back to primal Iceland, to a time and place of nameless ice caps, restless volcanoes, and snow-blown moors; a time and place of nameless exploding seas, cracking crags and moaning caverns, forests of cold-stunted birch, snapping river-ice, and gurgling streams.

After millions of years of mute anonymity, the windy, icy island was visited by its first animals: beetles and birds, foxes and fishes. In Europe, the Neanderthals came and went. Eons later, farming spread from the Balkans to Scandinavia. Millennia after that, Rome rose from dust, flourished, and collapsed, five centuries after Christ. All this time, the little storm-lashed island was unknown to humankind.

But one blustery day (every day seems blustery in Iceland) a sail appeared off the north coast. The first arrivals were not Norse, they were not Vikings: they were Irish monks, Christian hermitae who'd set out to find new land in which to worship in peace, and the farther from Dark Age Europe, the better. They arrived some time after 750AD, and for just over a hundred years, they farmed in what must have been unique isolation.

(c) 2010 Cameron McPherson Smith


Anonymous said...

I like this 'unique isolation' idea.


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