Rán Flygenring

Rán Flygenring
Sebastian Ziegler
Rán Flygenring: Eldgos. Picture book, Angústúra, 2022. Nominated for the 2023 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.


Icelanders may live on a volcanic island, but eruptions are not an everyday occurrence and can very rarely be seen from inhabited areas or reached on foot. Early in 2021, however, a volcano awoke near the country’s largest urban area, filling children and adults alike with a mixture of horror and fascination. People flocked there to witness the eruption, and the area was soon full of people who, from a distance, called to mind a head covered in lice.


The fear aroused by this event is deconstructed in Eldgos (“Volcanic Eruption”, not published in English) with the help of small everyday pests that make us itch. We follow a day in the life of Kaktus, when his mum, Brá, takes him to work because there’s been an outbreak of lice at his school. Brá works as a guide, so they board a bus full of tourists and start a tour of the mountains and other natural phenomena. Suddenly, Kaktus sees something unusual through the window: a volcanic eruption! Brá immediately decides to let the tourists get off the bus and, with fire in their eyes, the group walks together towards the volcano.


The book’s lovely pictures radiate humour and are full of captivating details. They flow like pitch-black volcanic ash in Japanese ink, then like a river of glowing lava in a colourful rug, reproducing nature both realistically and adventurously. The people are all depicted in black and white, while nature is radiant in colour. Thus the red-glowing lava emerges as a character in its own right, while the contrast between people in black and white and colourful nature serves as a reminder that we’re only visitors on earth. Just like the tourists in the book.


At first glance, Eldgos may seem like a lively and straightforward story about a mother, her son and oblivious nature, but it goes a lot deeper than that. The story makes one think about prejudice, foolishness, danger and fear, and about the importance of taking responsibility for oneself in encounters with nature. Brá and Kaktus try in vain to save a fox sitting on a small mound encircled by glowing lava. Suddenly, a big group of rescuers appears. It turns out that Kaktus’s head is covered in lice, which leap over to the mound “like a tiny, well-trained rescue patrol” and save the fox. Flygenring juxtaposes the emotional extremes that arise when – on the one hand – you’re seeing the ground split open and new mountains being created and – on the other hand – you’re faced with an everyday lice epidemic. Does one have similar feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness when faced with a threat of a different kind?


In Eldgos, the point of view constantly shifts between the gigantic and the diminutive, which injects excitement and life into this relatively simple story. At the end, the lice have settled in the fox’s fur and started a new life in harmony with their host. This should be interpreted as hope that humanity will finally find a good way to live on earth – a way that’s not reminiscent of an epidemic but in harmony with nature.

Rán Flygenring (born in 1987), the illustrator and author of many children’s books published in Iceland and Germany, has won awards for her unconventional and lively style of illustration. She has won a number of prizes and awards, including the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis, and has been nominated for the Alma Prize and the Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.