Halldór Kiljan Laxness
April 23, 1902- February 8,1998

Laxness Bibliography


This small web site is posted to provide English speakers with help in locating the available works of Iceland’s great writer and Nobel laureate, Halldór Laxness (Halldór frá Laxnesi), born Halldór Guđjónsson in Reykjavík.  His parents moved to the Laxnes farm in nearby Mosfellssveit parish when he was three, later taking his name from that farm and still later adding Kiljan after Irish St. Kilian.[i]  Unfortunately, of his prodigious output (see attached bibliography), only a few works are readily available to English speakers.


On the more fortunate side, recent interest in Laxness, perhaps sparked by two remarkable articles by novelist, poet and essayist Brad Leithauser (see below) in the New York Review of Books, has resulted in the issuance of Laxness titles long out of print, most recently of Iceland’s Bell.  Others are available from Icelandic publishers and, sometimes for dear prices, by searching used book dealers on the Internet.  The best Laxness collections at libraries that I have found are at the Universities of Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.


Icelandic is a “fossil” language, closely related to Old Norse (for which Old Icelandic is the available written form).  Guides to the pronunciation of modern Icelandic can be found here, here and here.


If you’re unfamiliar with Laxness, start with the Leithauser articles mentioned above.  The first was “A Small Country’s Great Book,” that appeared in NYRB May 11, 1995 and the second was “Laxness the Great,” appearing in the October 10, 2002 issue.  Both are available to read on the NYRB web site for a small fee and well worth it.  David Levine’s caricature of Laxness is also available on the web site.


The 1995 article on Laxness’ most famous and easily found book, Independent People, triggered my interest in his work.  Like Leithauser, I have made multiple readings of it, each time finding a new book.  Here is a short excerpt (Ásta Sóllilja is the stepdaughter and flower in the life of the book’s other main character, sheep farmer Bjartur of Summerhouses):


And Ásta Sóllilja, it was she who swept on wings of poetry into those spheres which she had sensed as if in distant murmur one spring night last year when she was reading about the little girl who journeyed over the seven mountains; and the distant murmur had suddenly swelled to a song in her ears, and her soul found here for the first time its origin and its descent; happiness, fate, sorrow, she understood them all; and many other things.  When a man looks at a flowering plant growing slender and helpless up in the wilderness among a hundred thousand stones, and he has found this plant only by chance, then he asks:  Why is it that life is always trying to burst forth?  Should one pull up this plant and use it to clean one's pipe?  No, for this plant also broods over the limitation and the unlimitation of all life, and lives in the love of the good beyond these hundred thousand stones, like you and me; water it with care, but do not uproot it, maybe it is little Ásta Sóllilja.[ii]


The newest Laxness book in English translation is The Great Weaver from Kashmir (Archipelago Books, 2008), his first major novel.  It is also available in electronic form for the Amazon Kindle.


The following Laxness books are currently in print from Vintage Books in the United States (also available in electronic form for the Amazon Kindle):

  • Independent People, 1997
  • The Fish Can Sing, 2000
  • Paradise Reclaimed, 2002
  • World Light, 2002
  • Iceland’s Bell, 2003
  • Under the Glacier, 2005


These Laxness books are currently in print in English in Iceland and can be ordered from randburg.com:

  • Independent People, Harvell Press, London, 1999
  • Under the Glacier, 1968 (N.B.: same as Christianity at Glacier, Helgafell, Reykjavík, 1972)
  • The Bread of Life, 1987


From here, one has to rely on dealers in used books and the prices can vary from very cheap to very expensive.  At the high end, one can find first editions in English signed by Laxness at $1,000 and $1,500 and a set of 31 Icelandic language first editions for $3,500.  At the low end, one can find used copies of Independent People for a few dollars.  The best such source for Laxness books is Advanced Book Exchange Inc., a web site featuring the inventory of multiple book dealers around the world, abebooks.com.  Other used book sources include alibris.com, amazon.com, and Portland, Oregon’s Powell's City of Books.  I have been able to purchase the following books from used book dealers:

  • A Quire of Seven, 1974 (short stories)
  • Christianity at Glacier, 1972
  • Salka Valka, 1936
  • The Atom Station, 1982
  • The Happy Warriors, 1958


I have also found at used book dealers the following books in English in which Laxness contributed among other authors:

  • Iceland: Impressions of a heroic landscape, 1960
  • N. Tryggvadottir: Serenity and Power, 1982


Laxness’ work has been translated into about 30 languages.  Click here for a bibliography, as complete as possible, of Laxness’ works in Icelandic (excluding most of those to which he contributed only partially) and English (including those to which he contributed only partially).  The owner of this site would appreciate knowing publication details on works in both languages not shown here.


Halldór Guđmundsson’s exhaustive 2004 biography of Laxness, The Islander, was published in English in a somewhat abridged form in2008 (but still 486 pp.) by Maclehose Press, London.


Dennis L. Haarsager

Haarsager <at> gmail <dot> com

Updated January 29, 2010, May 28, 2007, April 26, 2005.  Links last accessed November 2, 2003.  Please report broken links.

[i]  These details from a biography on the Finnish Pegasos web site.

[ii] Sjálfstćtt fólk, Island, 1935; published in English as Independent People, J. A. Thompson, transl., 1946.