Icelandic Journals: Notes on 1871 Journey

Saturday, July 29, 1871

'peculiarly solemn place and is the gate of the wilderness through which we shall be going now for some three days'
WM's fine descriptions here, and in the next few dozen lines, of jutting greys and blacks close by, and of shining glaciers in the distance, do recreate a sense of solemnity and wonder at the desolate and vast spaces where Grettir wandered during his many years as an outlaw. Jane Cooper, in 'The Iceland Journeys and the Late Romances" (JWMS 5.4, Winter 1983-84, 40-59) points out interesting parallels of image and movement between the Icelandic Journals and WM tales like The Glittering Plain and The Water of the Wondrous Isles.

'this pretty king's highway, (for as I live by bread 'tis marked as a road in the map) and there was not one of the ponies that wasn't cut and bleeding more or less before the day was over."
Hugh Bushnell (see note July 28) had the same problems with these inland Iceland roads, and he, 90 years later, was steering a British Landrover rather than an Icelandic pony. WM's use of the epitaphs 'as I live by bread' and 'heaven save the mark,' a few lines earlier, indicates the depth of his exasperation.  

'the fabulous or doubtful Thorisdale of the Grettis-Saga; and certainly the sight of it threw a new light on the way in which the story-teller meant his tale to be looked on.'
This is the place where Grettir confronts the fearsome and evil Glam (May Morris, in her introduction, recalls 'roof-riding like Glam' at Kelmscott, while her father was in Iceland.) And note here the distinction WM makes between 'teller' and a story to be read, between the oral and the written story, and we recall that these tales were current in Iceland before Christianity brought in writing.

'whereon we fry a joint . . . of lamb'
Here Morris makes fun of Magnússon, while reminding Georgie of his own proud role as chief cook on the expedition.