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Looking for the Hidden Folk

How Iceland's Elves Can Save the Earth

Published by Pegasus Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

In exploring how Icelanders interact with nature—and their idea that elves live among us—Nancy Marie Brown shows us how altering our perceptions of the environment can be a crucial first step toward saving it.

Icelanders believe in elves.

Why does that make you laugh?, asks Nancy Marie Brown in this wonderfully quirky exploration of our interaction with nature. Looking for answers in history, science, religion, and art—from ancient times to today—Brown finds that each discipline defines what is real and unreal, natural and supernatural, demonstrated and theoretical, alive and inert. Each has its own way of perceiving and valuing the world around us. And each discipline can be defined, in the Icelandic perception, by its own sort of elf.

Illuminated by her own encounters with Iceland’s Otherworld—in ancient lava fields, on a holy mountain, beside a glacier or an erupting volcano, crossing the cold desert at the island’s heart on horseback—Looking for the Hidden Folk offers an intimate conversation about how we look at and find value in nature. It reveals how the words we use and the stories we tell shape the world we see. It argues that our beliefs about the Earth will preserve—or destroy it.

Scientists name our time the Anthropocene: the Human Age. Climate change will lead to the mass extinction of numerous animal species unless we humans change our course. Iceland suggests a different way of thinking about the Earth, one that offers hope. Icelanders believe in elves— and you should, too.

About The Author

Nancy Marie Brown is the author of several highly praised cultural histories, including The Real ValkyrieSong of the Vikings, and Ivory Vikings. These titles have been favorably reviewed in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Economist, the Times Literary Supplement, the Wall Street Journal, and many other journals. Brown has spent decades studying Icelandic literature and culture. She lives on a farm in Vermont where she keeps four Icelandic horses and an Icelandic sheepdog.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Pegasus Books (October 4, 2022)
  • Length: 328 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781639362295

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Raves and Reviews

Advance praise for Looking for the Hidden Folk:

"Nancy Marie Brown reveals to us skeptics how rocks and hills are the mansions of elves, or at least what it takes to believe so. Looking For the Hidden Folks evocatively animates the Icelandic landscape through Brown's past and present travels and busts some prevalent clichés and myths along the way -- this book is my reply to the next foreign reporter asking about that Elf Lobby."

– Egill Bjarnason, author of How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island

"Using ideas and stories about the hidden folk in Iceland as a stepping stone into the human perception of our homes in the world where stories and memories breathe life into places, be it through the vocabulary of quantum physics or folklore, Nancy Marie Brown makes us realise that there is always more to the world than meets the eye. And that world is not there for us to conquer and exploit but to walk into and sense the dew with our bare feet on the soft moss, beside breathing horses and mighty glaciers in the drifting fog that often blocks our view."

– Gisli Sigurosson, Research Professor, The Arni Magnusson Institute, University of Iceland

“Nancy Marie Brown is a scholar and a pilgrim, and Iceland (plus much else) is here illuminated through her knowledge and passion.”

– Thomas Swick, author of The Joys of Travel

"This is a sweeping and moving journey across time and space – through myth and theory, language, and literature – into the world of wonder and enchantment. Beautifully written, Looking for the Hidden Folk offers a compelling and surprising case for the recognition of forces and beings not necessarily 'seen' in everyday life but nevertheless somehow sensed, exploring their complexity and why they matter."

– Gísli Pálsson, Professor of Anthropology, University of Iceland

“Astonishing, lyrical, and thought-provoking. Yes, I am a scientist, but this book makes me consider a new reality. I am captivated.”

– Pat Shipman, author of Our Oldest Companions

"A love song to the living landscape of Iceland and the cultural history in which it is clothed, inspired by the author‘s numerous encounters with the country and its people over the last decades"

– Terry Gunnell, Professor of Folkloristics, University of Iceland

"Nancy Marie Brown's Looking for the Hidden Folk is an elegantly written and wonderfully individualistic exploration of Icelandic culture through the ages, combining a shrewd appraisal of traditions with an acute interest in the modern world and all its intellectual quirks."

– Ármann Jakobsson, Author and Scholar

"In this fascinating book Nancy Marie Brown shows how the stories of Iceland’s hidden people are a natural human response to the island’s extraordinary landscape, and makes the reader question whether dismissing such belief as irrational is itself irrational.”

– Michael Ridpath, author of the Magnus Iceland Mysteries

Praise for Nancy Marie Brown:

“I eagerly pursued this book, which is as much about Brown’s adventures as Gudrid’s, for the very same reasons.”

– The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)

“Full of exciting detective work, along with absorbing excursions into the history of the Vikings, of chess in the Middle Ages, and of walrus ivory (known as arctic gold).”

– The New Yorker

“A stirring reexamination of Viking history. Passionate and well-researched. Giving archaeology and history equal time with folklore, Brown makes a convincing case that Viking women played a prominent public role.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“This book is a delight for chess players, of course, but also for gamers of all sorts as well as anyone interested in the intricacies of the provenance of art and in endlessly fascinating minutiae.”

– Booklist (starred)

"For readers who've long sensed that older winds blow through the works of their beloved Tolkien, Song of the Vikings is a fitting refresher on Norse mythology. Nancy Marie Brown shows how mere humans shape myths that resonate for centuries.”

– Jeff Sypeck, author of Becoming Charlemagne

"This truly enjoyable and very well researched book is a must-read for anyone interested in Viking Age history and the history of women."

– Michèle Hayeur Smith, Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University

“A lively, eye-opening portrait of a sophisticated Europe whose intellectual leaders showed genuine interest in learning.”

– Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"This amazing book offers nothing less than a paradigm shift. Carefully researched and beautifully written, this journey into the distant past has a lot to offer for current discussions of gender bending, the instability of scholarly “facts,” the dynamics of misogyny, and the legacy of slavery."

– Gísli Pálsson, Professor Emeritus, University of Iceland, author of The Man Who Stole Himself

“Beautiful. A fascinating tale of science and religion, one that provides further perspective on the plight of Islamic science today.”

– The New Republic

“Brown’s enthusiasm is infectious as she re-teaches us our history.”

– The Boston Globe

“Rivetingly told.”

– Tom Shippey, Times Literary Supplement, Best Books of the Year

"Combines archaeology, history, and literature. So cool.”

– BookRiot

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