The Good Shepherd
Out of Gunnar Gunnarsson’s vast catalogue of writings only this short novella is currently available in English; a fable about a shepherd who puts himself at great risk while searching for lost sheep in a winter storm.
As the title of the English translation suggests, The Good Shepherd contains an overt Christian message of self-sacrifice and empathy for all creatures great and small. (Gunnar himself decided on the slightly more subtle “Aðventa” (Advent), invoking the Christmas season when the story takes place.) As such, it is not necessarily on par with Gunnar’s most renowned work, Svartfugl (Auk or Blackbird), a novel about a famous 19th century murder that took place in the Westfjords of Iceland. Even so Benedikt, the eponymous shepherd, his dog Leo and his faithful ram Gnarly, will be familiar characters to most Icelandic readers of a certain age.
In his time, Gunnar, who lived in Denmark and worked primarily in Danish (although he later translated the majority of his work into Icelandic), was continually considered for the noble prize for his contribution to literature. He never actually received the prize, with some citing the reason being the popularity of his work in Nazi Germany. His legacy has been somewhat tarnished by accusations of not having taken a stand against the rising threat of Nazism in Europe in the advent of WWII – rumours that are not helped by his supposedly having been the only Icelander to meet Adolf Hitler. Nevertheless, Gunnar Gunnarsson’s writing is an important and often overlooked chapter in the literary history of Iceland.