Friday, 1 November 2013

My Favourite Fictional World... a guest post by Margrét Helgadóttir

As part of the Impossible Spaces blog tour currently being organized by Hic Dragones, I'm inviting some of the writers onto the blog to talk about imagined worlds. I've asked each guest to name their favourite fictional world (a tricky question, I know, but a fun one). My first guest was Douglas Thompson. Today I welcome Margrét Helgadóttir.

Margrét Helgadóttir is an Icelandic-Norwegian writer who was born and lived parts of her childhood and youth in East and West Africa. Margrét started to submit fiction in English for publication in autumn 2012. So far she’s mainly written short stories and flash fiction, but she’s working on a couple of novellas and a collection as well. She loves to write dark, weird and quirky stories, often set in the future, mostly within the speculative genres, and often influenced by Nordic culture, climate and folklore. Margrét’s stories have so far appeared in magazines like Tuck Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly and Negative Suck, and she’s got stories in the 2013 anthologies Fox + Fae and Piracy. Her first story was one of the winners of Fox Spirit Books’ International Talk like a Pirate Day story competition in 2012.

So, Margrét, what's your favourite fictional world?

I had to think hard when Hannah sent me this question. I’ve been a dedicated bookworm since I learned to read as a little girl, and was drawn early on to the spectacular stories that took place in fictional fantasy worlds, be it fairy tales, folk tales or dark science fiction from outer space. I don’t have a favourite fictional world. I have several, created by great authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Le Guin, McCaffrey, Kafka, Murakami, Ende and Nordic authors like Jansson and Lindgren. Many other wonderful Nordic writers’ works are unfortunately not translated to English, and their amazing stories remain hidden from the world except for the few who can read the languages.

One of these writers is the Norwegian author, illustrator and cartoonist Thore Hansen. Seventy years old, Hansen has written and illustrated numerous lovely stories throughout his many years, like Enhjørninger gresser i skumringen [Unicorns grazing at dusk] and De flygende hvalers land [The land of the flying whales]. He’s also co-operated several times with another lovely Norwegian author: Tor Åge Bringsværd. Hansen has received many awards for his illustrations and books and he’s written in several genres, such as crime fiction, children books and fantasy. But from what I can gather, most of his work remains untranslated.


One of my favourite fictional worlds is a book series written and illustrated by Hansen. The series goes by the name Skogland, which translates to something like ‘Forest Land’. These books I visit again and again, and I never become tired of them. It’s one of my sorrows that these books haven’t been translated to English, because I think many people would enjoy these books.

The story starts with the grieving and lonely forest man-creature Gwan killing a dragon. In its nest he finds the little human boy Kaim, unconscious and wounded, and a golden dragon egg. Human bones lie scattered around the nest — probably Kaim’s family. Gwan, having no respect for humans, reluctantly takes care of the boy. And when the dragon egg hatches a little dragon and the boy defends it, the brusque and rugged forest man suddenly has two orphans to nurture. (Kaim’s family had escaped from slavery and run into the woods, wanting to travel to a legendary city in the north.) Gwan agrees to take the boy to the inn at the big crossroads in the deep woods, thinking someone going north would stop there and maybe take the boy with them. And so the tales of the human, the dragon and the forest man who share a camp fire begin.

Hansen’s beautiful writing about Skogland bears strong resemblance to the oral tales told around camp fires: legends, fables, folk tales. Skogland is a place of humour-filled tales and gruesome tales, and quiet tales told in hidden inns where all kinds meet in peace over good food and beer, sheltering from the harsh winter storms. And in between are Hansen’s gorgeous drawings.

He has created a world filled with strange animals, shadow people, elves, demons, humans and forest people. Some are evil, some are kind. But this is not the classical fantasy story about the battle between evil and good. This is a story about living side by side in peace and understanding, respect and tolerance, never enslaving each other. It’s an eco warrior tale about humans destroying the climate and the balance in the nature. It’s a story about ethics, morals and taking care of each other. The back of the collection says: “There is a world only a step to the left from our own world. It’s called Forest Land. It’s a world filled with hope, one thinks.” It’s one of my biggest wishes that these books will one day get the attention they deserve and be translated. I feel that Hansen’s underlying message in these books is something we all need to hear today.

Thank you, Hannah, for letting me spread the word about these books.

Margrét Helgadóttir's short story, 'Shadow', is one of twenty-one weird and dark tales in the Impossible Spaces anthology - out now from Hic Dragones.

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