Skip to main content

Friday night folklore: North and down to Hell

There is an idiom in Icelandic that is used as a mild form of swearing: “Farðu norður og niður!”, which literally means “Go north and down!”, meaning simply: “Go to Hell!”. This story is an attempt to explain the genesis of that idiom.

Once upon a time there was a man in the north of Iceland who went fishing alone in an open rowboat whenever the weather allowed. One day when he was finished for the day and began to row home, a strong wind started blowing and pushed him out to sea, farther and farther away from land, so that he feared that he would be blown out to open sea. He was also very worried because the farther away from land he drifted, the darker it became, until finally he could hardly see from one end of the boat to the other for fog and darkness.

Eventually he struck land, jumped ashore, pulled up the boat and made it safe. But when he touched the land with his hands in the darkness, he could feel that instead of sand and gravel the beach was made up of ashes and coal. He didn’t like this at all, but knew he had to find shelter until daylight so he could try to find his way back home, so he began to walk, heading due north. The going was all downhill and very steep and dark. He walked like this in the blinding darkness for a long while until he glimpsed a red glow some way ahead of him. 

He walked towards the glow and finally came to a fire so large that he could see no end to it. He looked at it and noticed that inside the fire there was a mass of something that looked alive. It seemed to him to be a swarm of midges. In front of the fire stood a huge, terrible giant with a fearsome iron gaff in his hand that he used to stoke the fire and to make sure no living thing could get out of the fire.

But one midge was able to escape and flew over to the man. He asked the midge its name and what this place was, and the midge told him that he was looking at the fires of Hell itself and that the giant was the Devil. The midges in the fire were souls condemned to burn there for all eternity. It said it was happy to have escaped, but just then the giant realised that a soul was missing from the flames - because the Devil keeps count of his own – caught it with the gaff and threw it back into the heart of the fire. 

This frightened the visitor, who ran as fast as his legs could carry him up the steep slopes of Hell. As he got further away from the fire the darkness began to recede, until finally he could see where he was going. He followed his track back to the boat and made it home.

This is why, when people wish someone or something ill, that he or she or it should go north and down, because that is where Hell is.

It is fun to speculate about the origin of stories like this one - my guess would be that once upon a time a lone fisherman stumbled upon a small volcanic island and climbed ashore and into the crater to find glowing lava at the bottom. Of course this could simply be a completely made-up tale. Who knows?

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.


Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

First book of 2020: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (reading notes)

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I loathe movie tie-in book covers because I feel they are (often) trying to tell me how I should see the characters in the book. The edition of Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things that I read takes it one step further and changes the title of the book into the title of the film version as well as having photos of the ensemble cast on the cover. Fortunately it has been a long while since I watched the movie, so I couldn't even remember who played whom in the film, and I think it's perfectly understandable to try to cash in on the movie's success by rebranding the book. Even with a few years between watching the film and reading the book, I could see that the story had been altered, e.g. by having the Marigold Hotel's owner/manager be single and having a romance, instead being of unhappily married to an (understandably, I thought) shrewish wife. It also conflates Sonny, the wheeler dealer behind the retireme