Icelanders have inherited a rich literary and linguistic heritage that all Icelanders deeply identify with their national identity. This outstanding literary history begins with ancient medieval literature made famous by the Sagas, the Edda poems and the Islendingabok (Book of Icelanders) and continues today with more books produced per capita than anywhere else in the world. The Icelandic language has changed very little over the centuries and modern Icelanders are still able to read the 1000-year-old Sagas which are on display at the Culture House in Reykjavik.
The renowned Icelandic Sagas are one of the world’s most astonishing literary achievements and have had a significant influence on European culture. Between the 13th and 14th centuries Iceland experienced a golden age of writing when dozens of medieval Sagas, or ‘stories’ were written featuring the colorful lives of the early settlers, their lives, families and struggles.
Most historians and scholars agree that the Sagas are a combination of fact and fiction but all of the locations mentioned in the stories are real. Travelers interested in seeing where some of the most dramatic events of the Sagas took place will enjoy visiting Reykholt in West Iceland, Snaefellsnes peninsula, the Icelandic Saga Center at Hvolsvollur in the South, and Saudarkrokur in North Iceland.
Early Icelandic literature also included the celebrated Edda poems, a collection of legends written between the 9th and 13th centuries with vivid descriptions of heroic and tragic tales from ancient Norse mythology. The ‘Prose Edda’ was authored by Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson who presumably intended these writings to serve as a guidebook for beginner poets who aspired to become ‘skalds’. Skalds held an elevated, even mystical status in the community and in kingdoms because they were entrusted with preserving world history in their verse and lifting spirits. Even to this day, poetic talent in Iceland is highly regarded and seen as a noble trait.
In the 19th and 20th centuries Icelandic literature flourished once again when Halldor Laxness was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955 for his novel, Independent People.
The great Icelandic narrative tradition is alive and well in Reykjavik which was recently named UNESCO World City of Literature. The city was recognized for its strong presence of writers, poets and children’s book authors who give it a unique position in the world of literature.
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