Today, Monday, December 15, 2014, is Hidden Folk’s official publication date. Here Eleanor talks about the huldufolk and heroism, the Bardarbunga eruption and Iceland’s banking crash, and gives us this morning’s marmalade report.
Who are the Hidden Folk? And why are they hiding?
“Hidden folk” (huldufolk) is the Icelandic name for elves. According to an Icelandic folktale, God came to visit Adam and Eve. Eve wasn’t able to tidy up all the children, so she hid the ones who were still dirty and uncombed and only showed the washed children to God. God looked at the children and said, “These look promising. But are there any other children?” Adam and Eve said no. God knew there were, of course. He said, “Since you have hidden your other children from me, they will always be hidden from ordinary people.” Iceland’s elves are the descendants of those hidden children.
What inspired you to write about Iceland?
An easy question to answer. My father’s parents were from Iceland, and I have always been interested in Iceland. I’ve read many of the medieval Icelandic sagas in English, along with as many folktales as I could find in English. I took medieval Icelandic in graduate school and read some of the literature in the original. The stories influenced me a lot.
In these Icelandic tales, have you found yourself exploring similar themes and concerns as in your other stories and novels?
This is not an easy question. I try to write about ordinary people and to challenge the idea of heroes. There are heroes in my stories—Egill Skallagrimsson and Grettir Asmundarson are the heroes of two famous sagas—but the viewpoint characters are a farm wife and a slave. Volund the Smith, who appears in “Kormak the Lucky,” is a figure out a myth. I stick pretty close to the myth in my story, but the viewpoint character is a slave.
I value hard work, loyalty, and decency, and these are the values I try to write about; also the courage that keeps people going through strange and difficult times. It’s not an epic, dragon-killing courage, but a steady, one-foot-after-another courage.
Will you be writing more stories about Iceland?
I have started a story about the Laki eruption in the late eighteenth century, which killed most of the farm animals in Iceland and about a quarter of the people. Now is a good time to write about Laki, since the current Bardarbunga eruption shares traits with the eighteenth-century eruption. Laki killed animals and people with toxic ash and gas, and Bardarbunga is generating a lot of poisonous gas. People have to stay indoors with the windows closed when the wind blows in their direction. Children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems are at risk.
Beyond the sagas and folktales, have you read any contemporary Icelandic literature?
I don’t read as much as I should. I have read several novels by the great twentieth-century novelist Halldor Laxness, and have more books by him in the house. My favorite so far is Under the Glacier, though I have of course read his greatest book, Independent People. I also like the contemporary detective novels by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. She manages to write Nordic detective stories without the horrible, black depression of most of her colleagues.
In the tales collected in Hidden Folk, modern Iceland and Icelanders are always coming into unexpected, and uneasy, contact with mythological Iceland and its elves, trolls, and other beings of lore and legend. Are there current events in real-life Iceland today that might form the basis for future stories?
The Bardarbunga eruption. And Iceland is dealing with the aftermath of the banking bubble of the early twenty-first century. When the bubble burst, serious damage was done to the Icelandic economy. Similar banking bubbles harmed the economies of the United States and the European Union, and none (so far as I know) of the bankers responsible have served time, though much of what they did was crooked. Part of the background of “The Puffin Hunter” is crooked banking. The giant hydroelectric project in eastern Iceland, which shows up in “My Husband Stein,” is real and now completed.
Looking at the year ahead, what else besides Hidden Folk do we have to look forward to from you?
Aqueduct Press is bringing out e-book editions of three early novels, which are currently out of print. Aqueduct is also bringing out a collection of stories about the hwarhath, the aliens in my novel Ring of Swords. Beyond that, I have half a dozen stories that need to be finished or revised and sent out. I would like to produce two more collections, one of stories set in the Lydia Duluth universe and one of miscellaneous stories.
Can you tell us anything yet about the eagerly awaited sequel to Ring of Swords?
The title is Hearth World. I have a first draft done and plan to finish revising the novel in 2015.
Last but not least, what’s this morning’s marmalade report?
At the moment, I am eating Tiptree orange marmalade, but I need to go online and order different English marmalades. In my experience, English marmalade is always the best by far.