Saturday, January 27, 2007

#1 - Iceland's Bell, Halldór Laxness

An Icelandic rikisdalur, dating from 1789. No, I don't know what any of that stuff says.

I'm a huge fan of everything Icelandic, and I'll say right here that it's because of Sigur Ros. You know how American anime fans call everything "kawaii! ^_^!", and think about how awesome it would be if they could move to Japan, really become one with the culture there, and think that if they eat ramen all the time they'll eventually become Japanese? Well... I don't really have an equivalent for any of that. I don't know how to say a word of Icelandic, although I think I've figured out some things.
  • The suffix -vik means city.
  • Everybody has the word "Thor" at the beginning of their name.
  • If you're a girl your last name is your dad's first name with -sdottir at the end of it, and
  • if you're a boy, it's your dad's first name with -sson at the end.
  • Everybody is bad. Ass. Thorhall Asgrimsson in particular.
  • ... actually, I think that's about it.
I do think about how awesome it would be to live in Iceland, if only because I live in Maine and think about how awesome it would be to live just about anywhere else. Nah, that's not the only reason I think about living in Iceland. I think about it because I love it. I think. I love it as much as you can love a place you've only romanticized in your head for a few years, which is probably a very unhealthy love, very one-sided. And no, I don't eat pickled shark's meat in the hopes that I can osmose some Icelandic power from it.

About two years ago I tried to start reading Iceland's Bell, but about ten pages one of the characters references Gunnar of Hlidarendi. Halldór Laxness, in his infinite glory and wisdom, places an endnote which tells me that Gunnar was the most bad-ass dude, like, ever, and that he drank the blood of witches, could leap ten ells, owned more property than Trump, and made love like a god. Naturally I was curious about this, so I went out and read some sagas to get acclimated to the Icelandic lore (Njal's, Hrafnkel's, and Egil's, in particular) that would undoubtedly take up a large part of the book. It turns out that I didn't have to, but they were great reads, anyhow, so I'm not complaining.

So I started reading Iceland's Bell again, and it read a lot easier. The book is written by a genius armed with a gorgeous pen, the words with gilt edges, the silences full with the knowledge of eternity. Divided into three parts, the book follows Jón Hreggviðsson, a poor farmer, on his journey across Iceland and into the rest of Europe to get his name cleared for a crime he's been accused of. During these travels his story becomes intertwined with the subject of of the second part of the book, Snæfríður Íslandssól, the daughter of a powerful magistrate and eventually the third, Arnas Arnæus, an Icelander living in Denmark under the king's employ, who has taken it upon himself to collect every piece of literature pertaining to Iceland in an attempt to save the country he loves from falling out of history. The first part, with Hreggviðsson, is the best, as he is rude to everybody and has very few redeeming qualities. Snæfríður's part is long and, while still interesting, the most tedious part of the book. Arnas' part is also very good.

The best part of the book, for me, at least, is how accurately it depicts mid-1700's Iceland. During that time Iceland was under Danish rule, owned by the king. There were steep tariffs on all goods imported into Iceland, and the king claimed nearly all the fish, grain, and other Icelandic goods for his country, leaving the impoverished Icelanders with nothing. Famine runs rampant and nobody has good shoes. Everybody seems to have accepted what's going on, complaining about it but not doing anything to remedy the situation. People die. A lot.

4.5/5 [Recommended!]
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Thursday, January 25, 2007

#2 - When The Tripods Came, John Christopher

As a sign of things to come, I forgot Iceland's Bell at A.'s place one night and ended up reading When The Tripods Came by John Christopher in 3 hours. I'd already read the other three books and enjoyed them immensely (I read them when I was 21, might I add), even moreso when I was watching the atrocious remake of War of the Worlds, during which they flat-out stole a scene from the end of the first book and used it as the finale for the film. Feeling like you're more creative than Speilberg is pretty nice, sometimes.

... Sometimes....

The premise behind When The Tripods Came is this: Tripods attack the planet, and we totally whomp their asses. We start to get cocky and make fun of them, and then they come and take over the whole planet using subliminal, television-based, mind-control, which doesn't seem that unfeasible in the context of the book (or in the context of television). Christopher wrote this in 1988, a full twenty years after the original trilogy had been published, in retaliation to some questions a certain Brian Aldiss raised about the original books, namely the way the tripods looked around for stuff. In the trilogy it was explained that when they were pretending they're Nazgûl, searching for, oh, I dunno, runaway main characters or something, they used regular old spotlights and shone them in the woods, looking for any hint that their prey was in there. Aldiss, the most important fiction author ever to lay his hands on a pen, said that there was no way he would believe that the tripods could take over the planet if they didn't even have infrared technology to look for things with, and then he crossed his arms and looked around at his peers. Smugly.

Christoper answers Aldiss' questions in a feasible, sound manner, a thorough round of so-theres applied, and never wrote anything again. Oh wait, he wrote A Dusk of Demons and A Bad Dream, but after that he never wrote anything again, clearly pleased with the way his magnum opus turned out.

A good read, especially after you've read the original trilogy. It is, admittedly, a children's book, but it's really fun and intelligent, and gives an accurate portrayal of what could (potentially) happen should we get invaded by beings from another planet.

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