The Whispering Muse

Author: 
Publisher: 
Place: 
London
Year: 
2012

The novel Argóarflísin​, translated to English by Victoria Cribb.

About the book:

The year is 1949 and Valdimar Haraldsson, an eccentric Icelander with elevated ideas about the influence of fish consumption on Nordic civilization, has had the extraordinary good fortune to be invited to join a Danish merchant ship on its way to the Black Sea. Among the crew is the mythical hero Caeneus, disguised as the second mate. Every evening after dinner he entrances his fellow travelers with the tale of how he sailed with the fabled vessel the Argoon the Argonauts’ quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece.

From The Whispering Muse:

I, Valdimar Haraldsson, was in my twenty-seventh year when I embarked on the publication of a small journal devoted to my chief preoccupation, the link between fish consumption and the superiority of the Nordic race. It was written in Danish, under the title Fisk og Kultur, and came out in seventeen volumes over the space of twenty years. During the First World War, publication was suspended for two years – and the sixth and seventh volumes were only half complete, i.e. only two issues each, as fate decreed that following the death of my first wife I was confined to my bed for eight months, from late August 1910 until spring 1911. Then the extent of the readers’ loyalty to the periodical was revealed, as I see from my records that the only parties who cancelled their subscription were the University of Krakow and the Kjós Parish Reading Society. I won’t go further into the reasons here but will refer anyone who may be interested to my book Memoirs of a Herring Inspector (pub. Fisk og Kultur, Copenhagen, 1933).

The content of the journal was written primarily in foreign tongues, as I knew that the majority of my ideas would be far too newfangled for my countrymen, indeed would pass way over their heads. For they hadn’t even heard of the recent scientific advances on which I based my theory, which was reiterated on the title page of every issue:

It is our belief that the Nordic race, which has fished off the maritime coast for countless generations and thus enjoyed a staple diet of seafood, owes its physical and intellectual prowess above all to this type of nutrition, and that the Nordic race is for this reason superior in vigour and attainments to other races that have not enjoyed such ease of access to the riches of the ocean.

The final issue of each volume included a summary of the year’s best articles and essays, translated into Hungarian by my brother-in-law, the psychiatrist Dr György Pázmány. Every issue also included bits and bobs to fill up the pages, chiefly droll stories and occasional verses from my childhood home in the county of Kjós, all in Icelandic which I left untranslated.

As one might expect, I was for a long time the sole author of the scientific articles in Fisk og Kultur, but as the journal gained a wider circulation I received ever greater numbers of letters and contributions from foreign enthusiasts on these topics. While most were interested in fish consumption, there were also quite a few devotees of the Nordic racial history. However, it was a rare man who perceived – as I, the editor, did – how inextricably these two factors were linked. Primus inter pares among the latter group was the Danish shipbroker Hermann Jung-Olsen, then hardly out of his teenage years yet already showing an unusual brilliance of mind. He was one of those individuals who inspire benevolence and sympathy from the very first encounter, deepening on more intimate acquaintance into respect and trust. For Hermann Jung-Olsen was a fine figure of a man, a firebrand with an insatiable appetite for work. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, yet although his childhood home was one of the most elegant in Copenhagen, there was fish on the table at least four times a week, not only on weekdays but on high days and holidays too. This was mainly because his father Magnus Jung-Olsen was of the old school when it came to money – a strict man who never rushed into anything or did a precipitate deed in his life, a great man indeed.

(7-9)