The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward
Edited by K. J. Findlay
Amphora Press/Imprint Academic – £14.95
Rain and a cold gale from the East, just like a cold December day in England. Today at breakfast, an old story came to my mind of a tailor who used to live in Teign Street, called Symons. He spent a deal of his time drinking in public and one day his little child came to fetch him for dinner. On his enquiring what was for dinner, she said, ‘Sprats!’ On the way home, he remonstrated with her and bid her say something larger next time. So the following day, she fetched him and in answer to his question, ‘What’s for dinner?’ she said, ‘Whales, Father!’
‘Is it possible!’ he answered.
A laugh went up from his companions and he was called Possible Symons from that day until he died […].
The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward can best be described as an inviting read, replete with an infectious idiosyncrasy that is simply loaded with anecdotes from a long-gone, by-gone era. As a result, it takes the reader on an unsuspecting journey that is somewhat circular, but never ending; charming but inexorably heart-warming.
To substantiate as much (by way of 1937’s An Appreciation of Pike Ward), May Morris penned these words: ”…a sea-farer, an adventurer, a trader in high latitudes, whose story, if it came to be written, would seem to belong to other times than ours…”
Well now it has indeed been written.
Its 202 pages (excluding Introduction, Acknowledgements, A Note on the Text, Icelandic Letters and Sources) also include twelve pages of photographs – several of which are in colour – from which one can abduce a feeling of fabled authenticity.
Furthermore, the book also highlights a certain historical clarity, the following of which is both informative, yet oddly beguiling: ”In his 2000 work The History of Iceland, Gunna Karlsson raises the questionof why Danes bothered to hang on to Iceland at all. It was a military liability in the North Atlantic, being almost impossible to defend, and by this time the financial support Iceland received from the Danish treasury outweighed the reveneue it contributed. He suggests that the reason was more sentimental than pragmatic. The 19th century romanticisation of the Viking Age cast Iceland as a repository of the ‘true’ Norse culture, an idea that had appealed not just in Iceland but throughout northern Europe. Gunnar Karlson suggests this nostalgia was behind Denmark’s reluctance to let Iceland go, just as in Iceland it was fuelling the passion for independence” (Introducution).
Like the protagonist himself, The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward remains enticingly endearing whilst simultaneously anchored within a wayward yesteryear.