Jón Árnason collector of folktales honoured

The Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature has put up a plaque in honour of Jón Árnason, collector of Icelandic folktales, on the 200 anniversary of his birth in August 2019. The plaque was put up on Laufásvegur 5 in the Reykjavik city centre, where Jón lived from 1880 until his death in 1888.

Jón (1819 – 1888) and his wife Katrín Þorvaldsdóttir Sívertsen (1829 – 1895) built the house at Laufásvegur 5 in 1880 and it often goes by the name Jónshús (House of Jón). It is made from gray basalt mixed with lime from Mt. Esja in the capital area.

Jón Árnason was an initiator at collecting folktales in Iceland and continued collecting them for most of his working life. He is thus instrumental in the preservation of this genre in Iceland, which is highly important in the country's literary history. In his memoirs Jón tells of his childhood interest in listening to stories and that noone in his childhood home could escape telling him some, even if the boy would be so scared that he had to ask his mother to hold him in his arms in his bed.

Jón started collecting folktales in 1845 together with Magnús Grímsson and their collection Íslenzk ævintýri (Icelandic Fairytales) was published in 1852. Magnús passed away in 1860 but Jón continued collecting folktales. The collection named by him, Íslenskar þjóðsögur og ævintýri - usually called Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar (Icelandic folktales and fairytales - or Jón Árnason's folktales), first came out in two volumes in 1862 and 1864. Jón Árnason was the first National Librarian of Iceland and instigated the founding of a museum of national relics along with Sigurður Guðmundsson. They jointly took hand of the collection, later to become the National Museum of Iceland. 

The 200 anniversary of Jón's birth is celebrated in various ways, both in Reykjavík and at Hof in Skagaströnd in North Iceland where he was born. 

The National Library of Iceland will host a seminar on Jón Árnason on September 7 where his life and work will be in focus. The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies will also honour his memory, with a conference in October.

Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature has since 2011 put up information signs in the city landscape, honouring the city's rich literary history. The location of these literary landmarks can be seen here on our website. Another way to enjoy literature while walking around the city is to take a rest on one of our literary retreats - city benches with readings from Icelandic literature in Icelandic and English. The readings can be accessed by scanning a code with your smartphone.