Nobel laureate Halld�r Laxness's Under the Glacier is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, a wryly provocative novel at once earthy and otherworldly. At its outset, the Bishop of Iceland dispatches a young emissary to investigate certain charges against the pastor at Sn?fells Glacier, who, among other things, appears to have given up burying the dead. But once he arrives, the emissary finds that this dereliction counts only as a mild eccentricity in a community that regards itself as the center of the world and where Creation itself is a work in progress.
What is the emissary to make, for example, of the boarded-up church? What about the mysterious building that has sprung up alongside it? Or the fact that Pastor Primus spends most of his time shoeing horses? Or that his wife, Ua (pronounced "ooh-a," which is what men invariably sputter upon seeing her), is rumored never to have bathed, eaten, or slept? Piling improbability on top of improbability, Under the Glacier overflows with comedy both wild and deadpan as it conjures a phantasmagoria as beguiling as it is profound.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
March 07, 2005
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness
The Bishop Wants an Emissary
The bishop summoned the undersigned to his presence yesterday evening. He offered me snuff. Thanks all the same, but it makes me sneeze, I said.
Bishop: Good gracious! Well I never! In the old days all young theologians took snuff.
Undersigned: Oh, I'm not much of a theologian. Hardly more than in name, really.
Bishop: I can't offer you coffee, I'm afraid, because madam is not at home. Even bishops' wives don't stay home in the evenings any more: society's going to pieces nowadays. Well now, my boy, you seem to be a nice young fellow. I've had my eye on you since last year, when you wrote up the minutes of the synod for us. It was a masterpiece, the way you got all their drivel down, word for word. We've never had a theologian who knew shorthand before. And you also know how to handle that phonograph or whatever it's called.
Undersigned: We call it a tape recorder. Phonograph is better.
Bishop: All this gramophone business nowadays, heavens above! Can you also do television? That's even more fantastic! Just like the cinema-after two minutes I'm sound asleep. Where on earth did you learn all this stuff?
Undersigned: Oh, there's nothing much to making a tape recording, really. I got some practise as a casual worker in radio. But I've never done television.
Bishop: Never mind. Tape will do us. And shorthand. It's amazing how people can learn to scribble these rats'-tails! A bit like Arabic. It's about time you got ordained! But no doubt you've got a steady job?
Undersigned: I've done some tuition in languages. And a little in arithmetic.
Bishop: I see, good at languages too!
Undersigned: Well, I've got a smattering of those five or six languages you need for matriculation; and a little bit of Spanish because I took a group of tourists to Majorca once and did some preparation for that.
Bishop: And the theology, everything all right there, is that not so?
Undersigned: I suppose so. I'm not really much of a believer, though.
Bishop: A rationalist? That's not so good! One wants to watch that sort of thing.
Undersigned: I don't know what I should be called, really. Just an ordinary silly ass, I suppose. Nothing else. I didn't do too badly in theology, though.
Bishop: Perhaps not even wanting to be ordained?
Undersigned: Haven't thought much about it.
Bishop: You ought to think about it. And then you ought to get yourself a wife. That's how it went with me. It is also wholesome to have children. That's when you first begin to understand the workings of Creation. I need someone to go on a little journey for me. If it turns out well, you will be given a good living by and by. But a wife you'll have to sort out for yourself.
I began to listen expectantly now, but the bishop began to talk about French literature. French literature is so enjoyable, he said. Don't you think so?
Undersigned: Yes, I suppose so. If one had the time for it.
Bishop: Don't you find it odd that the greatest French writers should have written books about Iceland that made them immortal? Victor Hugo wrote Han d'Islande, Pierre Loti wrote Pecheurs d'Islande, and Jules Verne crowned it with that tremendous masterpiece about Sn?fellsj?kull (Sn?fells Glacier), Voyage au Centre de la Terre. That's where ?rni Sakn?ssemm appears, the only alchemist and philosopher we've ever had in Iceland. No one can ever be the same after reading that book. Our people could never write a book like that-least of all about Sn?fellsj?kull.
The undersigned wasn't entirely in agreement with the bishop over the last book on the list, and declared that he himself was more impressed by that writer's account of Phileas Fogg's journey round the world than Otto Lidenbrock's descent down the crater on Sn?fellsj?kull.
It emerged, however, that what I thought about French literature was quite immaterial to the bishop.
Bishop: What do you say to putting your best foot forward and going to Sn?fellsj?kull to conduct the most important investigation at that world-famous mountain since the days of Jules Verne? I pay civil service rates.
Undersigned: Don't ask me to perform any heroic deeds. Besides, I've heard that heroic deeds are never performed on civil service rates. I'm not cut out for derring-do. But if I could deliver a letter for your Grace out at Glacier or something of that sort, that shouldn't be beyond my capacities.
Bishop: I want to send you on a three-day journey or so on my behalf. I'll be giving you a written brief for the mission. I'm going to ask you to call on the minister there, pastor J?n Pr?mus, for me, and tell him he is to put you up. There's something that needs investigating out there in the west.