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Hidden Folk, by Eleanor Arnason

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series 2022 Reads

As with other posts in this series, these #booksread2022 posts go anywhere from a few weeks to a month after I’ve read them. I read this particular book last week, though! 


Eleanor Arnason is a longtime speculative fiction writer: she’s been publishing since the 1970s, and her work spans SF, fantasy, and poetry, but this is the first thing I’ve read by her. I was attracted by two things: a positive comment about another book of hers by a friend, and the fact that Hidden Folk explores the mythic landscape of Iceland.

At the time, I was finally reading some of the old Penguin editions of Icelandic literature I’d brought over from Canada, enjoying them, and was very curious to see how a modern author would approach that landscape and body of stories, and the lore of Iceland generally.

All told, I was impressed. The five tales in Hidden Folk draw on a mix of saga material and Icelandic folklore, as an afterword in the back of the book explains. Every one of the tales involves something fantastical: undead, magic, fey and elven realms, an infernal school of magic beneath the streets of Paris, lycanthropy (with a twist or two), and trolls all come up. Each one has its charms, though I think my favorites were “Kormak the Lucky” (for the horror of Egil—I’ll never see mention of a “retired adventurer” again without a shudder of terror—and for the sheer inventiveness in Arnason’s depiction of the elven and fey realms, especially that of the dark elves) and “My Husband Stein,” which is set in the modern world and starts out with a woman being stalked (in the sense of creepy sexual harassment) by a troll. (By the end it’s bloomed into much more than that: something about the hidden costs of modernization, and a sort of ecological fairytale about our changing relationship with landscape.) It’s sad and solemn, but also charming and very funny in parts.   

Honestly, my only disappointment was really that the book left me wishing for more: it contains just five tales, and runs only a bit more than 170 pages (if you count her introduction to the book, which is worth reading, and the notes on the stories at the end, which are likewise fascinating). I have a copy of Arnason’s Mammoths of the Great Plains on hand, I look forward to reading that soon, as well! 

 

Series Navigation<< <em>Elements of Fiction</em>, by Walter Mosley
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