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Icelandic culture, North Atlantic Drift, Viking heritage, Smoky Bay, Icelandic language

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Iceland (Icelandic, Island), island republic in the North Atlantic Ocean, located between Greenland and Norway. The northern tip of Iceland reaches the Arctic Circle. Iceland is roughly the size of the state of Virginia. Oval in shape, Iceland measures about 485 km (300 mi) from east to west and about 360 km (190 mi) from north to south. Unlike nearby Greenland, Iceland is generally considered to be a part of Europe.

Geologically, Iceland is not very old. It was formed by volcanic eruptions during the last 60 million years. A large number of volcanoes are still active on the island. Earthquakes are frequent, and hot springs bubble to the surface in volcanic areas, especially in the southwest. Steam rising from hot springs in a southwestern bay gave rise to the name of Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, which is an Icelandic term meaning “Smoky Bay.” Today, abundant geothermal energy provides much of Iceland’s heating needs.

Despite its northerly location, Iceland is not an Arctic country. The island’s climate is tempered by the warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift—a part of the Gulf Stream. The seacoast is open for ships nearly all year-round. It is closed only in the north and east during the winter, when ice descends from the polar region.

Icelandic culture derives from the island’s 9th century Viking settlers. Icelanders are proud of their Viking heritage, and many people can trace their family roots to the earliest settlers. The Icelandic language is closely related to Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, and it has changed very little since ancient times. Because of this, Icelanders can easily read the medieval Icelandic sagas—the history and folklore of early settlers—in the language they were originally written.

Icelanders inhabit a rugged land with few mineral or agricultural resources. About three-quarters of the island is barren of vegetation. Plant life consists largely of grasslands, which are grazed by livestock, especially sheep, cattle, and sturdy Icelandic ponies. Many varieties of fish live in the surrounding ocean waters, and the fishing industry has traditionally been a cornerstone of Iceland’s economy. Today, fishing and fish processing account for more than half of Iceland’s total exports.


For younger readers

Somervill, Barbara A. Iceland. Scholastic, , 2003. For readers in grades 5 to 9.

Wilcox, Jonathan. Iceland. 2nd ed. Benchmark, 1996. For readers in grades 5 to 9.

Scandinavian literature

Budd, John, ed. Eight Scandinavian Novelists. Greenwood, 1981. Criticisms and reviews of selected Scandinavian novelists.

Faowens, Lily, ed. The Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales. Grammercy, 1993. Stories from the Danish master storyteller.

Lonnrot, Elias, trans. The Kalevala: An Epic Poem After the Oral Tradition. Oxford University Press, 1989. The national epic poem of Finland.

Naess, Harald S., ed. A History of Norwegian Literature. University of Nebraska Press, 1993. From the Vikings to the 1980s.

Rossel, Sven H., ed. A History of Danish Literature. University of Nebraska Press, 1992. From the ancient runic inscriptions to post-World War II trends.

Schoolfield, George C., ed. A History of Finland's Literature. University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Surveys Finnish-language literature and Finland's Swedish-language literature.

Warme, Lars G., ed. A History of Swedish Literature. University of Nebraska Press, 1996. From the Middle Ages to the 20th century.


Auden, W. H., and Louis MacNeice. Letters from Iceland. Random House, 1969. Observations by two poets on their travels in Iceland in 1936.

Byock, Jesse L. Viking Age Iceland. Penguin, 2001. An excellent companion to the sagas; dispels many of the standard stereotypes about Vikings.

Krakauer, Jon, and David Roberts. Iceland: Land of the Sagas. Villard, 1998. A description of the sagas and photographs of the landscapes that inspired them.

Lacy, Terry G. Ring of Seasons: Iceland, Its Culture and History. University of Michigan Press, 1998. Exploration of Iceland's history and culture, with a focus on religion, politics, and family life.

Miller, William Ian. Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland. University of Chicago Press, 1990. Law and social customs in medieval Iceland.

Nordstrom, Byron S. Dictionary of Scandinavian History. Greenwood, 1986. Four hundred articles on the histories of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden from AD 1000, arranged alphabetically by subject.

Stark, Peter. Driving to Greenland. Lyons & Burford, 1994. The author's impressions of winter sports in North America, Greenland, and Iceland.

Tomasson, Richard F. Iceland: The First New Society. University of Minnesota Press, 1980. Sociological description and history of Icelandic culture from the 11th century.


Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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