Iceland, Finland and the Myths cherished by Tolkien

Patrizia Poli
6 min readAug 27, 2022

Thingvellir: I am behind the black basalt spur, in front of the immense lichen-covered lawn where the Althing was held, the open-air parliament of the Icelanders. In the cold, sulfur-smelling air, in this asphalt-colored lava land, among pumice dunes and geyser puffs, it is necessary to make a classification of memories and mental associations that pile up confused in my head.

Let’s start with the Edda.

The term Edda, in the plural Eddur, refers to two Norse texts both written in Iceland during the thirteenth century. The poetic Edda, or ancient Edda, and the prose Edda, that of Snorri.

The ancient Edda originates from the Codex Regius, a manuscript composed in the thirteenth century, of which traces have been lost until 1643. The initial part is the known Völuspa, the prophecy of the seer, a precious source of knowledge of Norse mythology and cosmogony. The prophet talks to Odin and tells him about the creation of the world and Ragnarök, his catastrophic fate. Inside the Völuspa, six stanzas are dedicated to a list of dwarf names, from which Tolkien drew heavily for his trilogy. In 2009, Harper and Collins published Tolkien’s posthumous work on the poetic Edda, entitled “The legend of Sigurd and Gudrun”, in an English that seeks to re-propose the Norse alliterative meter.

The prose Edda, written around 1220 by Snorri Sturluson, poet and politician belonging to the Icelandic parliament, begins with a re-enactment of the myths and legends already present in the ancient Edda but then evolves into a poetic manual, aimed at understanding the mechanisms of heraldic poetry.

Derived from the Icelandic voice skald, i.e. poet, Scaldic poetry is complex, intricate, alliterative, often composed in praise of a particular gentleman. Kenningar abounds, that is, hermetic metaphors, poetic and imaginative periphrases that replace the name of a thing. The use of Kenning is common in Norse, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon literature, examples are also found in the Beowulf, and the scaldic poetry approaches the trobadoric and Provencal one.

Snorri is also known for claiming that the gods were nothing but military leaders who were revered (in this proposing the theory of the philosopher Euhemerus).

Let’s deal with the Icelandic Sagas now.

The literary form closest to the modern novel that took place in the Middle Ages, capable of even coining a new term…

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Patrizia Poli

Patrizia Poli was born in Livorno in 1961. Writer of fiction and blogger, she published seven novels.