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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Jón Árnason (1819–1888)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
JÓN ÁRNASON was born in 1819, at Hof, Akàgaströnd, in Iceland, where his father, Arm Illugason, was clergyman. After completing the course at the Bessastad Latin School, at that time the most famous school in Iceland, he took his first position as librarian of the so-called Stiptbókasafn Islands (since 1881 called the National Library), which office he held till 1887, when he asked to be relieved from his official duties. During this period he had been also the first librarian of the Reykjavik branch of the Icelandic Literary Society; a teacher and the custodian of the library at the Latin School, which in the meantime had been moved from Bessastad to Reykjavik; secretary of the bishop, Helgi Thordersen, and custodian of the growing collection of Icelandic antiquities which has formed the nucleus of a national museum. He had found time, besides, during these years, for considerable literary work; and apart from several valuable bibliographies had, alone and in collaboration, made important contributions to his native literature. He died at Reykjavik in 1888.  1
  His principal literary work, and that by which alone he is known outside of Iceland, is the collection of folk-tales that appeared in Iceland in 1862–64, in two volumes, with the title ‘Islenzkar Thoosögur og Æfintyri’ (Icelandic Popular Legends and Tales). A small preliminary collection, called ‘Islenzk Æfintyri’ (Icelandic Tales), made in collaboration with Magnus Grimsson, had been published in 1852. Subsequently, Jón Árnason went to work single-handed to make an exhaustive collection of the folk-tales of the country, which by traveling and correspondence he drew from every nook and corner of Iceland. No effort was spared to make the collection complete, and many years were spent in this undertaking. The results were in every way valuable. No more important collection of folk-tales exists in the literature of any nation, and the work has become both a classic at home and a most suggestive link in the comparative study of folk-lore elsewhere. Árnason thus performed for his native land what the Grimms did for Germany, and what Asbjørnsen and Moe did for Norway. He has frequently been called the “Grimm of Iceland.” The stories of the collection have since found their way all over the world, many of them having been translated into English, German, French, and Danish.  2
  In his transcription of the tales, Árnason has followed, even more conscientiously, the plan of the Grimms in adhering to the local or individual form in which the story had come to him in writing or by oral transmission. We get in this way a perfect picture of the national spirit, and a better knowledge of life and environment in Iceland than from any other source. In these stories there is much to say of elves and trolls, of ghosts and “fetches,” of outlaws and the devil. Magic plays an important part, and there is the usual lore of beasts and plants. Many of them are but variants of folk-tales that belong to the race. Others, however, are as plainly local evolutions, which in their whole conception are as weird and mysterious as the environment that has produced them.  3
 
 
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