Long before George R R Martin ever conceived of Westeros, a true realm of Ice and Fire existed in our world in the form of Iceland. So-called because of the oddity of glaciers and ice fields existing in a land that also has volcanoes and hot springs, this land of ice and fire has a coastline deeply indented by inlets called fjords; mountains, some of which are active volcanoes, that rise from the plateau and sometimes erupt; many geysers that spout steam and scalding water; and massive glaciers that cover one-eighth of its surface – Vatnajokull in the southeast alone is half the size of Wales. Iceland is the most thinly populated country in Europe. However, this small country produced a national literature which became the greatest in Europe during the early middle ages. Although the quality of Icelandic literature fell off somewhat after the middle ages, the country has never lacked poets and writers, and their verses and prose have been strongly influenced by the style of the sagas – a special kind of heroic story, or group of stories. The most famous of these storytellers was Snorri Sturluson, and his best known saga is called the Heimskringla, a historical saga about the rulers of Norway. This storytelling tradition continues to this day when, relative to the size of its population, Iceland publishes more books than almost any other country.
Few nations have possessed a greater gift of storytelling than the Norsemen or Vikings, the ancestors of the people who today live in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. There are Norse tales of outlaws and heroes, of ghosts and dragons, of sea-kings and peasant farmers, of love and adventure; but perhaps the most interesting of all are the legends of the gods who used to be worshipped in Scandinavia before the coming of Christianity. The same gods, under slightly different names, were once worshipped by many other peoples, including the ancestors of the English and German nations, but here the old pagan faith was swept away by Christian missionaries so early that only scattered traces of it remain. In Scandinavia, especially in the remote island of Iceland, Christianity was not established till the year 1000, or even later, by which time the legends had taken a firm hold on people’s minds, and the Icelanders’ love of a good story made them cling to the old Norse myths even after many converted to Christianity. The fullest and clearest picture of the Viking gods is given in two Icelandic collections of tales called the Eddas.