The Supernatural North


“Norsemen Landing in Iceland” by Oscar Wergeland – Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“Norsemen Landing in Iceland” by Oscar Wergeland – Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Join Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough on a journey to Arctic Norway, in search of the legends and landscapes that have inspired writers as diverse as Philip Pullman, AS Byatt, and the authors of the medieval Icelandic sagas. Eleanor’s BBC Radio 3 Sunday Feature is available to download now.

As the dark winter nights draw in, our thoughts turn to all things Northern – roaring fires and woolly jumpers, snow, ice, and the faint jingle of Father Christmas’s sleigh. But across the centuries, a weirder, wilder North has lurked in the imaginative shadows: a North populated by mountain trolls, demons and direwolves, white witches and white walkers, snow queens and Sámi shamans. Why do we associate the north with the supernatural?

A far northern wasteland, pale shapes gliding through the wood…George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is just the latest in a long line of supernatural tales with northern connections

To find out, Eleanor follows the trail of a 9th century Norseman called Ohthere, who travelled along the northern coast of Norway and down to the White Sea in Russia. But whereas Ohthere wanted to survey the land and acquire walrus ivory, reindeer and exotic furs, Eleanor is looking for a stranger North – a place inhabited by mountain trolls, witches and giants. This supernatural world has long haunted the imagination of writers such as Philip Pullman, A.S. Byatt, C.S. Lewis, Hans Christian Andersen and the authors of the medieval Icelandic sagas, on which Eleanor’s research focuses.

To listen to this programme, visit BBC iPlayer.

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