ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Books, Literature, and Writing»
  • Commercial & Creative Writing

Halldor Laxness

Updated on November 13, 2014

An Introduction to an Icelandic Nobel Prize Winner

Icelanders have always had a tendency towards books, towards reading and storytelling. The nation's writing tradition dates back to people like Ari the Wise (1067-1148 AD) and Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241). This article is about the life and work of the only Icelander to have received a Nobel Prize in literature, namely Halldor Laxness (1902-1998).

Laxness Poll

Have you read any of his novels?

See results
Reykjavk in the early 20th century
Reykjavk in the early 20th century

A Man of the 20th Century

Halldr Kiljan Laxness was born in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavk, on 23rd April 1902, and died on February 8th 1998, thus living through almost the entire 20th century. In his lifetime, Icelandic society underwent enormous changes. In the beginning of the century, Iceland was still a society of farmers. Most people lived in the countryside, and towns and villages near the sea were few and small. The Icelanders had gotten used to being poor. By the end of the century this had totally turned around. Almost everyone lived (and still does) in towns and villages near the sea, and fishery had made Iceland one of the richest countries in the world. Laxness not only got to witness this transformation of Icelandic society, he was a part of it.

"Laxness is a writer of the first degree, a writer I dreamt of coming close to." – Boris Pasternak

A Giant of Literature

Halldr Laxness is the giant of Icelandic 20th century literature, no doubt about it. Not just because of the quantity and variety of his work (he wrote a total of about sixty books: novels, short stories, plays, essays, memoirs, travel journals, and poetry), but also (and more importantly) because of its quality and the influence it had. He had an opinion on just about everything, which he put forward in newspaper articles and which also has a strong presence in his literary work.

When he was only 17, Laxness published his first novel: Barn nttrunnar (Child of Nature). The same year (1919), he started his extensive travels abroad. He wanted to see the world and write about it. He was determined to become a big writer, willing to do whatever it took. During the 20s, he turned to Catholicism and stayed in a monastery in Luxemburg, published his novel "The Great Weaver from Kashmir" (1927) and tried his luck in Hollywood for two years (1927-1929) to name just a few highlights from his life during this decade. After the Hollywood-period (which was rather unsuccessful), Laxness returned to Iceland to write literature that would appeal to the whole world, even though written in one of the world's rarest languages. This he achieved. Now, in the 21st century, part of his work has been translated into over forty languages.

Millions of copies of his books have been sold around the world, and are still selling. One of the secrets of his success is that in his work there is a lot of respect for the common people, those who just do their work without fuzz and don't seek fame and fortune (unlike him though!).

In the 1930s Laxness was a strong supporter of the Soviet communism, traveling to the Soviet Union in 1932 and was invited back again during the winter of 1937-38 (he would later reevaluate his views on communism and socialism). Because of his political (and other) views, which had a presence in his novels, he was a rather controversial figure in Iceland in those years. After he received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1955 (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/... the controversy around him waned, and Icelanders were of course quite proud of him. He certainly played a role in the nation's struggle for independence, since Icelandic literature was an important part of it. He continued to write well into the 1980s, still managing to surprise his readers.

Let the Serious Writing Begin

The 1927 novel by Laxness:

The 1930s saw Laxness write some of his most famous novels. Salka Valka (1931-32) tells the tale of common folks in a small coastal fishing village, where the merchant Bogesen (a Danish name) rules. The main character is a young girl named Salka Valka. In addition to being a story about the growth and development of Salka and her interaction with the people in her life, there is a political aspect present in the book as well. A character named Arnaldur comes to the village to lecture about the wonders of socialism.

Independent People (Sjalfstaett folk, 1934-35) is a particular favorite of mine, and probably Laxness' most famous work. Set in the beginning of the 20th century, it tells the story of a man who dreams of becoming his own master (like the Icelandic nation, which wants to become independent from the Danish). The man does achieve his goal when he buys a little cottage in a remote valley. But independence has a price.

In World light (Heimsljos, 1937-1940) Laxness tells the story of Olafur Karason, a poet who is drawn into a political struggle (not unlike what happened in his own life), and as a consequence has not much time for his poetic ambitions.

1943-1946 saw the publication of the historical Iceland's Bell (Islandsklukkan), set around the turn of the 18th century. This was Laxness' main contribution to Iceland's struggle for independence from the Danish, a goal achieved with the foundation of the Republic of Iceland in 1944. This novel was Laxness' first to be universally well received in Iceland.

Laxness was not yet done ruffling feathers though. The Atom Station (Atomstodin), published in 1948, caused a heated debate since it tackled a sensitive matter: the presence of the American military base in Keflavik. Laxness was, like many Icelanders, totally against it, and he could use his writing skills to show his contempt with this masterpiece of a satire.

Later works include The Fish Can Sing (Brekkukotsannall, 1957) and Paradise Reclaimed, (Paradisarheimt, 1960). The latter tells the story of a poor 19th century farmer who abandons his family and life in Iceland and goes to the promised land: America, where he joins Mormons in Utah. The promised land turns out to be an illusion and a bitter disappointment, much like Laxness’ former “love affair” with the Soviet Union.

Comments? - They're quite welcome!

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • RestlessKnights profile image
      Author

      RestlessKnights 5 years ago

      @Diva2Mom: Thank you my friend! :)

    • Diva2Mom profile image

      Diva2Mom 5 years ago

      What a very cool, informative lens indeed, Marion! Thanks for introducing Laxness to me! I agree he's so brilliant, just by reading your lens. Thanks so much for sharing, my dear friend! May God bless you!

    • RestlessKnights profile image
      Author

      RestlessKnights 5 years ago

      @Kumar P S: Thank you!

    • Kumar P S profile image

      Kumar P S 5 years ago

      Great lens ! Useful and informative. Thanks for sharing.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)