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Vinland and historical imagination

From Iceland to the Americas, an anthology of thirteen original critical essays, is an exercise in the reception of a small historical fact with wide-ranging social, cultural, and imaginative consequences. Medieval records claim that around the year 1000 Leif Eiriksson and other Nordic explorers sailed westwards from Iceland and Greenland to a place they called Vinland. Archaeological evidence has in fact verified this claim, though primarily by way of one small, short-lived Norse settlement in Newfoundland, which may not even have been Leif’s. Whether or not this settlement was his, however, the contact associated with him has had an outsized impact on cultural imagination in and of the Americas. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, indeed, novels, poetry, history, politics, arts and crafts, comics, films and video games have all reflected a rising interest in the medieval Norse and their North American presence. Uniquely in reception studies, From Iceland to the Americas approaches this dynamic between Nordic history and its reception by bringing together international authorities on mythology, language, film, and cultural studies, as well as on the literature that has dominated critical reception. Collectively, the essays not only explore the connections among medieval Iceland and the modern Americas, but also probe why medieval contact has become a modern cultural touchstone.

Vinland as remembered by Icelanders
Simon Halink

In an ironic vein, Oscar Wilde reportedly once said something along the lines that the Icelanders were the most ingenious people in the world, for not only did they discover America, they also had ‘the good sense to lose it again’. Like others before me, I have failed to locate the original source of this quotation. 1 But the fact that it can be found on a great number of websites and is repeated over and over again in the (Icelandic) media is in itself more relevant than the question of the quotation’s authenticity. Its popularity may indicate that it

in From Iceland to the Americas
Iceland travel books 1854-1914
Emily Lethbridge

From America to Iceland ‘The Yankee is here; his feet tread [Iceland’s] heath-clad hills and snow-covered mountains. He has boiled his dinner in the hot-springs, cooled his punch in snow a hundred years old, and toasted his shins by a volcanic fire’, declared Pliny Miles in his 1854 account of travel to Iceland, Norðurfari, or, Rambles in Iceland . 1 From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, not least with the advent of steamship passage, Iceland became increasingly accessible for tourists looking to marvel at natural wonders and wax lyrical about sublimely

in From Iceland to the Americas
Iceland in the literary and the professorial imagination
Seth Lerer

Early on in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth ( Voyage au centre de la Terre , 1864), the young narrator comes upon his uncle, a German professor of mineralogy, poring over a rare text. The manuscript, a copy of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla , baffles the boy, and he assumes his uncle reads it in a German translation. Professor Lidenbrock replies: ‘A translation! What would I be doing with your translation? Who’s bothered about your translation? This is the original work, in Icelandic: that magnificent language, both simple and rich

in From Iceland to the Americas
Remembering the Norse
Tim William Machan

In 1875 the Victorian scholar-adventurer Richard Burton, reflecting on a century of English engagement with Iceland and its natural wonders, observed that the ‘travellers of the early century saw scenes of thrilling horror, of majestic grandeur, and of heavenly beauty, where our more critical, perhaps more cultivated, taste finds very humble features’. For in their enthusiasm, early visitors like Ebenezer Henderson, George Mackenzie, and Henry Holland had created a dilemma for those who followed: to embrace their predecessors’ calculated zeal and possibly

in From Iceland to the Americas
Norse gods and American comics during the Second World War
Jón Karl Helgason

The most striking echoes of medieval Icelandic literature in contemporary American culture are several recent blockbuster movies from Marvel Studios in which the superhero Thor, brought to life by the Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, plays a prominent role. These films can be considered as adaptations of a series of graphic stories about the Mighty Thor and the Avengers that Marvel Comics started to release in the 1960s. The first tale, published in the magazine Journey into Mystery #83 in 1962, was created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Larry Liber, but the

in From Iceland to the Americas
Bergur Þorgeirsson

monument to Harald on the king’s grave at Haraldshaugen in Haugesund. This monument memorialises the 872 Battle of Hafursfjordur, which has traditionally been thought to mark the unification of Norway under one king. Although Anderson was unimpressed with this historical figure, he also said that one could thank Harald for making exodus to Iceland necessary at the time of the settlement of the country around the year 874. As Anderson puts the issue elsewhere, It was Harald Haarfager’s tyranny and usurpation of power that made Norway pour her best blood out of her

in From Iceland to the Americas
Leif Eiriksson, the 1893 World’s Fair, and the Great Lakes landnám
Amy C. Mulligan

past that can deepen and enlarge awareness of the present’. 6 A dragon ship on Lake Michigan The intention behind sailing a reconstructed Viking ship to Chicago was to show that the Norse navigators could have made it to America five centuries before Columbus. As described in the medieval Eirik the Red’s Saga ( Eiríks saga rauða ) and The Saga of the Greenlanders ( Grænlendinga saga ), voyages from Iceland to Greenland, across the Atlantic to North America, were undertaken by Eirik the Red and his descendants, most notably his son Leif. 7 Though the

in From Iceland to the Americas
The mythology of emigration in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
Heather O’Donoghue

thirteenth-century Icelandic mythographer Snorri Sturluson, ‘some call the slanderer of the gods and the source of deceits’. 9 Further, Wednesday has a glass eye (although at first Shadow only notices that one eye is a slightly different colour from the other (20)) and Odin is said to have deposited one of his eyes in the well of Mimir in exchange for a wisdom-giving drink from it. 10 Once Shadow recognises that Wednesday only has one eye, he asks, ‘How’d you lose your eye?’ Wednesday replies, ‘Didn’t lose it … I still know exactly where it is’ (61). This looks like a

in From Iceland to the Americas
The Dark Knight and Balder’s descent to Hel
Dustin Geeraert

universes they inhabit, be consistent, logical, and self-referential. We don’t produce mere stories anymore … ‘Metafiction’? ‘Macrofiction’? Let’s settle for saga , and define it as a series of heroic tales that, although complete in themselves, are serially related and are part of a much larger fictional construct. 6 O’Neil’s identification of the famous myths and sagas of medieval Icelandic literature as the closest premodern narrative analogy to the interwoven stories of modern comic books points the way toward an Old Norse reading of quintessential Batman stories

in From Iceland to the Americas