Radio review: Dark lullabies from Iceland

Nuala McCann

Iceland's Dark Lullabies Radio 4

Kiss the schmaltz goodbye ... enough of fat, red suited gentlemen, cherry cheeked children and marshmallow puff.. bah.

Here is a man who has had his fill – struck in a traffic jam in modern Reykjavik, drenched in ho ho hos, neon lights and with a truck full of stuff, he dreams of the old dark Christmas, “the one my ancestors used to know when a single flame of a candlelight was brighter than a star”.

Andri Snaer Magnason is a gifted story teller – he's a poet who weaves magical pictures of a moonlight snowy Iceland.

Magnason has a deep, whisper of a voice, like he's sharing carefully-nursed secrets, stories of ghouls and ghosts and monsters crawling out from under rocks and dark caves and stormy lakes.

It's Iceland and as the days grow shorter, the trolls grow bigger – sausage swiper, meat hoker, palm licker .... Magnason names them all.

It's a scary, pagan Christmas complete with a huge cat that roams from farm to farm seeking to feast upon the poorest of the poor.

Children shiver at the thought of the 13 Yule lads. Their mother is Gryla – she can carry 30,000 children at any time back to her mountain for dinner.

He remembers how, as a small child, his grandmother scared the bejaysus out of him with Gryla – and how he rolls that R.

Gryla lives in a cave and stirs her human soup of naughty children. One of her troll sons wears his wet and bloody lungs outside his body and he chases children and hits them with his lungs.


Perhaps those dark lullabies were practical, says Magnason, they were made out of love. In the old days, if a child wandered into the dark night, there was no way to find it – the scary tales were invisible fences to keep the children close and safe.

Maganson's dark tales were pure magic – an antidote to all the seasonal tat.

He included the odd modern day scary story too, like the one about a man getting locked into an Ikea store on Christmas Eve – he spent all night there.... I'd rather face Grylla.

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