“Ghosts, Witchcraft and the Other World” Review

4 star rating

This is the first book in the Icelandic Folktales series. The stories were originally collected by Jón Árnason and Magnús Grímsson in the 1800s, and were translated by Alan Boucher in the 1970s. This volume features stories of ghosts, witches, and the Devil himself.

Iceland is a beautiful but rugged country with ferocious and highly changeable weather. Early farmers lived far apart on isolated farmsteads. Life was hard, so it’s no surprise that the supernatural world was real and near to them. Ghosts and other spirits walked among them, often with malicious intent. The Devil was around too, but not as the nearly all-powerful being imagined in Continental Europe and the Americas. Here, he could not only be bargained with, he could be beaten or fooled, and often was. On top of this, unlike Christian clerics elsewhere, many priests were also adepts, with various magical powers, and they could often be called upon to undo a curse or relieve a spell or haunting.

Boucher has not tried to pretty-up the language of these stories, retaining the plain wording and simple styles that Árnason and Grímsson originally captured, but readers are likely to stumble over the place names, whose origins are in old Scandinavian tongues, especially Norwegian.

If you’re interested in the folktales from faraway lands but are tired of those from England or Central Europe, you can be transported back in time and space with this book and its companions. Recommended.

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