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Icelandic Ghost Stories

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The presence of ghosts has been strong in Iceland throughout the centuries, causing fear and panic among the people. In the thick darkness and cold of Icelandic winters, ghosts have committed horrendous atrocities, both in the small and cramped houses and out in the harshness of the wild.


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The presence of ghosts has been strong in Iceland throughout the centuries, causing fear and panic among the people. In the thick darkness and cold of Icelandic winters, ghosts have committed horrendous atrocities, both in the small and cramped houses and out in the harshness of the wild.

31 review for Icelandic Ghost Stories

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    This is an English translation by Philip Roughton, which I obtained while in Reykjavík earlier this year. The ghost stories are folk legends spanning from the mid-1700s to the early-1940s. A common theme throughout is the return of beloved spouses who've recently departed as malevolent fylgjur or draugur (as in the case of Þordís returning – er, sort of returning – to Bjarni). In the case of a draugur, the revenant establishes a lair to guard if their return is completely achieved, wheras in the This is an English translation by Philip Roughton, which I obtained while in Reykjavík earlier this year. The ghost stories are folk legends spanning from the mid-1700s to the early-1940s. A common theme throughout is the return of beloved spouses who've recently departed as malevolent fylgjur or draugur (as in the case of Þordís returning – er, sort of returning – to Bjarni). In the case of a draugur, the revenant establishes a lair to guard if their return is completely achieved, wheras in the case of a fylgja, the unfortunate living family member or other intended victim is haunted, or “shadowed,” often across generations of children. The collection appears to be a collection of classical folklore, and the thing I found most interesting about the storytelling is the practice (as with the Icelandic medieval sagas) to switch from past to present tense to indicate tension or a dramatic moment. It took some getting used to, but understanding the writer’s intention in doing so seems to help with the pacing, especially with a good ghost story.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Despite the bloodcurdling blurb on the cover, this is rather a tame collection of (very) short stories.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ian Casey

    This slim volume is a recounting of ten Icelandic folk tales about ghosts, translated by Philip Roughton from 19th and early 20th century sources by way of Icelandic folklore textbooks. As such, it's quite unlike ghost stories written as prose fiction from the ground up, albeit those often draw on comparable folkloric influences. Therefore, this functions as a smattering of selections from more comprehensive and academic works on the subject, most of which are unavailable or uncommon in English This slim volume is a recounting of ten Icelandic folk tales about ghosts, translated by Philip Roughton from 19th and early 20th century sources by way of Icelandic folklore textbooks. As such, it's quite unlike ghost stories written as prose fiction from the ground up, albeit those often draw on comparable folkloric influences. Therefore, this functions as a smattering of selections from more comprehensive and academic works on the subject, most of which are unavailable or uncommon in English translation. Unfortunately, there is no introduction where one is sorely needed. There are a handful of footnotes on the meaning of terms and the reasoning for specific translations, and also endnotes providing sources. However, what is lacking is any sense of context. Folk tales by the nature of their oral delivery have innumerable variations. How, when he references multiple works for a given story, did Philip Roughton decide which text to use? Is he amalgamating? Do the academic texts in turn derive from identical or different sources? Why pick these ten stories specifically? What, if anything, do we know about the evolution of these stories through countless re-tellings up to these versions documented in the 19th century? None of these questions are answered and it is to the impoverishment of the text's potential. The stories, as presented, are understandably dry and lacking the excitement and tension of their fictional counterparts. Yet they are undoubtedly a fascinating insight into their cultural traditions. The ghosts themselves are varied, from poltergeist-style invisible beings assaulting people with inanimate objects, to more zombie-like animated corpses who still have minds of a sort and even eat food in some cases. Most of those spirits presented here are actively malevolent, sometimes going to the trouble of haunting an entire family through generations. Many of them have a fetish for killing livestock, often in brutal and physically impossible ways worthy of a death metal record. In short, the subject matter is fine but one is left with the unsatisfying impression of reading a short proof-of-concept for a more ambitious campaign of English translations. Some notes on pronunciation of names also would have been nice. Given the translation is clearly aimed at non-academic English readers, it's not terribly helpful to have frequent use of accents and even typographical characters we don't use in our language without some explanation. I'm glad that a book such as this exists at all, but in its present form it represents a missed opportunity.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jaime

    Full agreement with the other reviewer who laments the lack of an introduction to contextualize this collection, which reads as an academic exercise, not a set of stories, despite the lurid cover and the description on the back. A disappointment, considering the section of the bookshop where I found it, but interesting to learn something about Icelandic legends, in any case.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brianna

    Short, easy read, but quite poorly translated and tough to follow.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Aristea

    Bad, bad, bad translation. So bad that you sometimes can't follow the stories. Not worth your time or money. You can find better and more decent translations of Icelandic ghost stories. Bad, bad, bad translation. So bad that you sometimes can't follow the stories. Not worth your time or money. You can find better and more decent translations of Icelandic ghost stories.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ali

  8. 4 out of 5

    Damian Noszkowicz

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andy

  10. 5 out of 5

    Niki

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kara

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kerry

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alice Blackwater

  16. 5 out of 5

    Big Bad Mess

  17. 4 out of 5

    Basil Elton

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lorenna

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joana

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ann G

  21. 4 out of 5

    Becky

  22. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rene Daihl

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maria Dvarionaite

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marco Dias

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anika Elsý

  27. 4 out of 5

    Britt MacKenzie-Dale

  28. 4 out of 5

    Herdís P.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  30. 5 out of 5

    Loe

  31. 4 out of 5

    Nat

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