chapter  5
12 Pages

The World Is a Confused Pink Sheep: Subversive Uses of Icelandic Themes in the Poetry of Þórarinn Eldjárn


The works of Þórarinn Eldjárn (b. 1949), one of Iceland’s most popular and prolifi c poets for children, abound in motifs and characters from Icelandic mythology, folklore, and history.1 The uses of traditional Icelandic material earned him the label þjóðlegur (ethnic/national). Drawing on a repository of Icelandic themes is particularly conspicuous in Eldjárn’s poetry for children. The indigenous character of this verse is enhanced by the accompanying illustrations authored by Sigrún Eldjárn (b. 1954), Þórarinn Eldjárn’s sister, with some of the Icelandic motifs present only in the pictures. An examination of the collections’ visual texture would be enough to convince one that Eldjárn’s verse is indeed “ethnic” and “national”: colors of the Icelandic fl ag and traditional costumes are recurrent motifs and even the offi cial coat of arms makes an appearance. In his collections for children we fi nd familiar titles of mythological poems (“Völuspá”), medieval chronicles and sagas (Heimskringla, Egilssaga), and recognizable characters from Icelandic folklore (the Bull of Þorgeir, the trolls Grýla and Leppalúði, Nykur, Kölski). There are also verses on cultural heroes including the fi rst Icelandic settler Ingólfur Arnarson, the Romantic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson, or more recent fi gures such as the writer Halldór Laxness and the painter Jóhannes Kjarval. The titles of the poems lead one to believe that the poet aims to educate the young generation by recounting culturally important narratives and indeed to “initiate children into aspects of a social heritage, transmitting many of a culture’s central values and assumptions and a body of shared allusions and experiences” (Stephens and McCallum 3). This may well be the case.