Why is Iceland Cool all of a Sudden?
Not too long ago, there were plenty of people who hardly knew what Iceland was. Today, Iceland is a major tourist destination and filming location. What changed?
In just a couple of weeks, a major motion picture, The Northman (from the same director responsible for the bizarre movie “The Lighthouse”), based on a fictional Icelandic prince and cowritten by an Icelandic poet and novelist is about to hit the silver screen.
Why is Iceland as a country, a culture and an idea so much more popular today in the public’s mind than in years past?
Lord of the Rings – Paving the Way to Fantasy
If you remember a couple of decades ago when a little movie called “The Lord of the Rings” came out, it shook the world. I don’t think there really have been movies as big in a way to rival the LOTR franchise except for maybe the Marvel movies. LOTR proved that fantasy could rope in a lot of viewers, make a ton of money at the box office, and even become a powerful cultural force.
Of course, eventually others would try to fill the big shoes left by the end of LOTR. Things like “Game of Thrones” cropped up, and more recently “The Witcher” show on Netflix and the misguided adaptation of “The Wheel of Time”.
So what does LOTR have to do with Iceland?
Well, the answer is two-fold. On the one hand, Tolkien was inspired by ancient Icelandic myth in his creation of Middle Earth, the fictional world in which LOTR takes place. Furthermore, the LOTR is what made a massive (if greatly inferior) TV show like GOTR (Game of Thrones) to be possible. And GOTR is well known for having been filmed in part in Iceland, with many tourists purposefully visiting Iceland to see iconic film locations from the show.
A Rich Literary Tradition Continues to Inspire the World
It’s quite poetic that literature and fantasy and now film are drawing people back to a renewed interest in Iceland, given the country’s own ancient and rich history of literature and storytelling. Story and narrative have been at the very core of Iceland’s culture for centuries.
Of course, there has also been another issue at the center of Icelandic culture, and that is the countries intimate involvement with the Viking Age.
Viking History Has Been Granted Incredible Interest Lately
Similarly to how LOTR made GOT possible, GOT made History Channel’s ‘Vikings’ possible. And that show, inevitably, becomes grossly intwined with Iceland. Its sequel, “Vikings Vahlhalla”, continues this involvement with the central character, Leif Eriksson.
With all of these different stories and shows in play, the familiarity with Iceland has grown enough that someone could actually produce a movie about the tiny country and have it have something of a residence with mainstream culture.
I think, too, that the overall lack of reference or cultural understanding of Iceland from a world perspective has helped garner the scrutiny Iceland is under today.
Iceland, a Place of Mystery, is a Place Where Anything Can Happen
If you take a trip to Seattle and visit the Museum of Pop Culture you’ll find an interesting exhibit focused entirely on Seattle’s most famous rock group, Nirvana. Oddly enough, one of the reasons that Seattle became under such universal fame during the 90s was that nobody knew anything about it. It was a weird, cloudy place with no preconceived notions. So Seattle could basically become whatever it is that people wanted it to be.
The same could be said about Iceland. Although its cultural impact is growing, and tourism is certainly on the rise, there are plenty of people who just haven’t been there. Its land of mystery to most of us makes it possible for us to create these mythical, pop culture tales about it and enables it to be something of a real life middle earth, where epic tales still happen.
Iceland being cool in the 2020s can only be seen as a good thing. And I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to more shows and movies coming out about Viking stuff that’s from somebody other than Michale Hirst.