Fjord as a Literary Symbol


Fjords have long captivated the imagination of writers, serving as a powerful literary symbol in literature. These deep, narrow inlets of water surrounded by steep cliffs are not only stunning geographic features, but also carry a rich symbolic meaning that has been explored by authors throughout history.

Perhaps the most notable use of fjord as a literary symbol is in Norse mythology. In Norse mythology, the world is said to have been created from the body of the giant Ymir, whose death resulted in the formation of mountains and fjords. This origin story imbued fjords with a sense of ancient power and mysticism, making them a natural choice for use as a literary symbol in Norse tales.

One example of this can be found in the epic poem Beowulf. In the poem, the character Beowulf and his warriors journey across a treacherous sea to reach the kingdom of King Hrothgar. The sea is described as a “frosty current, wound with icy cliffs” and the travelers must navigate through “narrow defiles” to reach their destination. This description of the sea as a foreboding and treacherous place, with its icy cliffs and narrow passages, echoes the physical characteristics of a fjord and serves to foreshadow the challenges that the characters will face in their quest.

Fjords have also been used as a symbol of isolation and inaccessibility in literature. This can be seen in Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth. The characters descend into a volcano and eventually discover a hidden world within the Earth’s core. As they navigate through this underground world, they come across a vast underground ocean with a fjord on its coast. The characters are struck by the isolation and inaccessibility of this world, mirroring their own journey into the depths of the Earth.

Similarly, in literature set in the Scandinavian region, fjords are often used as a symbol of isolation and distance. In Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, the main character Nora is trapped in an unhappy marriage and longs for freedom. The setting of the play is in a fjord town, with Nora’s house located at the edge of the water. This placement of the house emphasizes Nora’s feelings of being trapped and isolated in her marriage, unable to escape the fjord that surrounds her.

Fjords have also been used as a symbol of natural beauty and a source of inspiration. In the novel Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, the protagonist embarks on a journey of self-discovery, seeking spiritual enlightenment. Along the way, he encounters a beautiful fjord and is struck by its majesty and tranquility. The fjord serves as a reminder of the natural world and its ability to bring peace and clarity to the mind. This moment acts as a turning point for Siddhartha, leading him to make important realizations about himself and his quest for enlightenment.

In addition to its use as a symbol within the narrative of a story, the fjord has also been used as a structural element in literature. One famous example of this is in James Joyce’s modernist masterpiece, Ulysses. Joyce used the structure of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, as a framework for his own novel. The final episode of Ulysses, titled “Penelope”, is set in a quiet fjord town in Ireland. This episode is narrated by the character Molly Bloom, who represents Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. The setting of the episode in a fjord town symbolizes the end of Odysseus’ turbulent journey and the return to a calm and peaceful home, just as Molly finds peace and contentment in her own life.

In conclusion, fjords have been a recurring and powerful symbol in literature, representing a wide range of themes and emotions. From their roots in Norse mythology to their use as a structural element in modernist fiction, fjords have proven to be a versatile and evocative symbol for writers throughout history. Through their depiction of isolation, beauty, and natural power, fjords continue to serve as a rich source of inspiration for literary exploration.