Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Multifaceted Hiatus - Grýla

I came home from Bouchercon happy and really satisfied with all and everything despite having to leave than I would have liked, in particular as I missed Tim in the restaurant.  There was only one thing that I brought back and would rather have left behind and that was a bad case of the flu. I tried getting rid of it by passing it on to someone else (my mother) but that did not help at all.

So because of the flu, my looming deadline (looming is so perfect a word in fornt of deadline) and the new geothermal power plant design contract we just landed, I am forced to re-post an older post in place of writing something new and fresh. For this I apologise.

What is worse is that the whole of October looks even worse than this past week as in addition to my day job and the looming I will still be subject to, I will somehow have to juggle the upcoming Frankfurt bookfair at which Iceland is the coutntry of honor this year. As we are the guest country I will be travelling a lot and might have to use this re-vamping of old posts again. I feel that if I make it through October I will be able to do anything. And I mean anything.

Well. Except maybe write a short story as the craftmanship required has always eluded me. And I won't be able to speak French. Or spell "restaurant" without the aid of a dictionary. Or understand how TV works. Considering this and the fact that the list of what I cannot do is probably longer than what I can do,  I must change my bravado statement: "I will be able to do anything" to "I will be able to do something" - which sounds rather unimpressive.

But here is the old post from 2009 about Grýla:

Iceland and ghost stories have gone hand in hand since the time of settlement. It is not hard to understand why, the winter nights are long and dark and the irregular landscape characterized by lava fields, can even evoke an imagination in my tax accountant. With the birth of electricity illumination did little to decrease the spookiness, it merely amplifies the effect, as the still black darkness now simply waits silently outside the border of light. Ghost stories are therefore still valid as a form of bizarre entertainment and usually considered good form – the creepier the better. As an example, when my daughter graduated from elementary school last spring the school celebrated by inviting the children to spend the night in a secluded lighthouse where they were to be told ghost stories. Every single child attended and I am sure the lighthouses bulbs were badly strained, if not cracked, from the screaming that lasted all night long. Not one parent complained and my husband and I were very pleased with the effort. Icelandic parents are great believers that you need to toughen up your kid for later.

This begins at a much earlier age than the graduation from elementary school. While the States have Dr. Spock to help raise the young, Iceland has Grýla to assist in childrearing. Albeit not a ghost, Grýla is an old, horrible ogre woman who eats naughty children and therefore comes in handy for using to scare them into obedience. This works like a charm for a number of years but eventually the kids catch on and realize they are not about to be put into a pot and boiled alive to make Baby Bouillabaisse. This marks the beginning of an awkward transition phase, wherein parents have to figure out something else to keep their offspring in check. The most commonly selected method is bribery which generally last until they are out of the house. Although the latter method has more endurance, the Grýla method is a lot more fun and a whole lot cheaper. Few things compete with a wide eyed and frightened stare of a naughty toddler, caught in the act, expecting a snaggletoothed cannibal with a huge wart on its nose to appear in the window, canvas bag in hand, ready for filling up with children and dragging them up into the mountains for cooking.

To complicate things Grýla is also the mother of the Icelandic Santa Clauses or Yule Lads, 13 in all, who are vastly different from the jolly bearded Santa Claus known to the rest of the world. These guys are small time crooks, thieves and robbers, who steal food, aside from one who’s criminal specialty is being a peeping Tom. These tattered looking guys travel down from the mountains during December – one per night from the 11th on. The story dates from the time when food was the most valuable commodity in Iceland but if it originated from the modern day, these robbers would probably steal computers, TVs and other items of more value to the average family than a leg of lamb. Although the food crimes of yore have stood their ground and not evolved, the legend has been amended at some point, possibly to catch up with the times that did not appreciate the nonexistent moral of the story. The vulgar characters suddenly started leaving things behind for good children and today every Icelandic child places one of their shoes on the windowsill of their bedroom, 13 nights in a row leading up to Christmas Eve, and if they have behaved well during the day they will wake up to find a small toy or candy waiting for them within the shoe. If they have been disobedient or bad it will contain a potato. I have never been able to figure out why shoes were chosen as the receptacle for these small presents but I have reached one conclusion from the set up of this tradition – namely that Icelandic children must be less well behaved than children in other countries as they only need to be good for one single day to get a present from Santa Claus while elsewhere Santa reviews their behavior on an annual basis. Perhaps Dr. Spock’s methods are more effective than using the Grýla scare tactics.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Yrsa, every piece that you have posted on this blog has ranged from incredibly interesting to incredibly interesting and hysterically funny.

    Your life sounds incredibly busy and very interesting. The interesting is a reflection of your personality and life. The busy goes off the chart when you factor in the parts you didn't mention, a husband and children.

    No need to feel guilty about putting something on the post that everyone is going to be more than happy to read.

    I have an incredibly uninteresting life and I have long since been doomed to re-posting because new posts require that I have read a book. Sometime that just doesn't happen such as this week.

  2. Since I am a relative newcomer, these old posts are new to me, and this one was a hoot. My parents were European so we were threatened with all kinds of international bogeymen. I hope you feel better, and all your deadlines are met.