< Norfolk Volcano

A Lovesick Giant: The Marriage of Literature and Science

< Norfolk Volcano

A Lovesick Giant: The Marriage of Literature and Science

Last we week we interviewed candidates for the ‘Literature Outreach Coordinator’ Internship that we were offering. We chose Tom High –  he’s just graduated from UEA with a degree in English Literature and Philosophy and has a wealth of experience in working with children and outreach related to children’s literature. To celebrate this, we thought we’d do something a little different to our regular Monday Volcano Roundup. Instead, here’s a piece about an Icelandic giant, science and literature, written by BJ Epstein, a lecturer in literature and public engagement at UEA.

Flumbra is a giant who falls in love with another giant. But her love object is lazy and can’t be bothered to visit her in her cave in the mountains, so Flumbra gets angry and throws everything in her cave out. Rocks begin falling, flowers and grass are uprooted, and nothing stays still on the mountain.

Flumbra in all her gigantic glory.
Flumbra in all her gigantic glory. Illustration by Brian Pilkington

Flumbra’s still not satisfied, though. Not only that, but now she’s exhausted and hungry from her violence. So she cooks a meal, creating huge clouds of steam, sending soot and ashes down from her mountain, and the poor people who live in the valleys below are frightened.

Finally, she decides to make the trek to see her boyfriend, fed up with waiting for him to make the first move. Luckily, he is thrilled at the sight of her, and they hug and kiss and make love, making the ground quiver and split beneath them.

Thus does an Icelandic story explain, respectively, landslides, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

Before scientists and before research, humans needed a way to understand the world around them, and stories such as the one about Flumbra the lovesick giant were ways of explaining the often frightening and confusing natural phenomena.

Even today, when we know much more – but still far from everything – about how the world works, we still turn to stories. It isn’t that we necessarily believe there’s a giant stomping around (although some people do, of course) or that we don’t believe the scientific explanations; rather, it’s that we need both, and that they can coexist in a beautiful marriage.

Both science and literature explain and entertain. But they do so in different ways. We can relate to Flumbra’s feelings and experiences, and by thinking about her desire for her fellow giant and sympathising with her plight, we get curious about what actually is happening to the earth. Then we turn to science, wanting to know how things work. But even once we have learned about, for example, shifting tectonic plates and magma, we still imagine Flumbra on her journey.

If you’d like to read more about Flumbra, I can recommend: , Guđrún Helgadóttir’s A Giant Love Story, translation by Christopher Sanders, illustrations by Brian Pilkington, (Rekjavík: Vaka-Helgafell, 1981). And for more on literature about volcanoes, continue reading this blog!

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