Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Icelandic Toys

In the old days, when Icelanders lived in turf houses like this one, how did the children play?

The English traveler Alice Selby visited Iceland in 1931. During the week she spent on a farm in a narrow northern valley, she writes, "the weather grew steadily worse. At first it was bright but cold. Then it grew cloudy, and then the rain began. After that it grew still colder, the rain turned to snow and sleet, and the bitterest wind blew unceasingly. My first impression of the Icelandic countryside was one of complete gloom."

Then one day, out on a walk, she met a local man who shared with her a secret: "When we drew near the farm where he lived, he led me out of the way to a sheltered hollow and showed me a little village of toy houses made by children from the farm. The tiny mud houses were roofed with turf and fenced with sheep's horns. There were flowers, daisies and little pink arenaria planted in the gardens, and there was even a cemetery with crosses made from match sticks. I felt unaccountably cheered."

Selby doesn't mention the animals at the children's farm, but I came across this extensive farm-animal set one year when I visited the Skogar Folk Museum in southern Iceland. Before Legos there were bones. According to Jónas Jónasson frá Hrafnagili, in his book on Icelandic folkways, the knucklebones of sheep were sheep, the knucklebones of cows were cows, while the legbones of sheep were horses, though jawbones were sometimes horses too, like this well-laden packhorse:

In the airline magazine, on the way home from that trip, I read about a new toy set designed by Róshildur Jónsdóttir, "Something Fishy." According to the magazine, it's "a model-making kit including cleaned bones from fish heads and paint … The kit doesn't contain any instructions; it's up to the creative mind of each user what they want to create: spaceships, angels, or elves--anything is possible. A great alternative to virtual games and plastic toys." Here's an example:

Róshildur was inspired, the magazine says, by "the old days," when children's favorite toys were bones. You can read more about "Something Fishy" here:

1 comment:

  1. I think children everywhere play the same way. When circumstances call for making their own toys, more demands are made on their imaginations.