Jón Árnason (author)

This is an Icelandic name. The last name is a patronymic, not a family name; this person is properly referred to by the given name 'Jón'.
Jón Árnason

Jón Árnason (born 17 August 1819 in Hof, died 4 September 1888 in Reykjavík)[1] was an Icelandic writer, librarian, and museum director who made the first collection of Icelandic folktales.


Jón Árnason was educated at the Latin School in Bessastaðir.[2]

From 1848 to 1887, he was the first librarian at what became the National Library of Iceland in Reykjavík;[2][3] in 1881 its name was changed from Íslands stiftisbókasafn (Foundation library of Iceland) and his title became Landsbókavörður Íslands (National Librarian of Iceland). Meanwhile he also served as the first librarian of the Iceland branch of the Icelandic Literary Society.[2]

He was also the first curator of the Forngripasafns Íslands (Icelandic Antiquities Collection), which became the National Museum of Iceland, when it was founded in 1863.[2] For a long time he ran both the museum and the library.

In addition, he supplemented his small salary[4] by working as secretary to the Bishop and as a teacher and custodian of the library at the Latin School, which had moved to Reykjavík.[2] In 1877, when he was put forward as one of 2 Icelandic representatives to the centennial celebration of Uppsala University, the government in Copenhagen objected to a "porter" representing Iceland because he was "janitor of the Iceland High School", as Guðbrandur Vigfússon anonymously worded it in an obituary.[5]

Folk tales and other publications

Inspired by the brothers Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Grimm's Fairy Tales), Jón began to collect and record folktales, together with Magnús Grímsson, a friend who was a schoolmaster and later a clergyman.[4] Their first collection, Íslenzk Æfintýri (Icelandic Folktales) appeared in 1852, but attracted little notice. The two only resumed collecting after Konrad Maurer, the German legal historian and scholar of Icelandic literature, toured the country in 1858 and encouraged them.[4][6] After Magnús Grímsson died in 1860, Jón Árnason finished the collection on his own.[4] It was published in 2 volumes in 1862 and 1864 in Leipzig with Maurer's help,[7] as Íslenzkar Þjóðsögur og Æfintýri (Icelandic Folktales and Legends), comprising over 1300 pages.[8] In 195461 it was reissued in Reykjavík in 6 volumes.

Jón and Magnús lacked the time and means to travel much to collect tales, instead relying on present and former pupils and other contacts to send them tales in writing.[4] Also either they or Jón may have "touched up" the wording. However, the changes he is known to have made are slight, and the universal admiration for the saga style and relative lack of educational and class differences in Iceland mean that stylistic tastes differed less there than elsewhere in Europe in the 19th century.[9]

Jón Árnason also wrote biographies of Martin Luther (1852), Charlemagne (1853), and Sveinbjörn Egilsson.[10]

Personal life

Jón married late in life but his son died before he did.[10] He died after a long illness.[1]



  1. 1 2 Mannslát (Obituary) in Ísafold, 5 September 1888. (Icelandic)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "Jón Arnason", Library of the World's Best Literature: Ancient and Modern: A-Z, ed. Charles Dudley Warner et al., Volume 2, New York: Peale and Hill, 1896, OCLC 1182898, p. 802.
  3. "Icelandic Libraries" in David H. Stam, ed., International Dictionary of Library Histories Volume 1, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001, ISBN 1-57958-244-3, pp. 77-80, p. 78.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Jacqueline Simpson, Icelandic Folktales and Legends, London: Batsford, 1972, ISBN 0-7134-1120-1, p. 2.
  5. [Guðbrandur Vigfússon], "Obituary: Jon Arnason", The Academy No. 856, September 29, 1888, p. 205, OCLC 64040322.
  6. "Íslenzkar thjódhsögur og Æfintýri safnadh hefir Jón Árnason. Fyrsta bindi". Publication notice in Anzeiger für Kunde der deutschen Vorzeit (1862) p. 304. (German)
  7. According to the Anzeiger, pp. 304-05, with arrangement modelled on Maurer's Isländische Volkssagen der Gegenwart and with corrections overseen by him.
  8. In 1971 the manuscript was discovered in Munich: "Ósegjanlegur fengur segir þjóðskjalavörður: Þjóðsaga lætur filma og gera vinnuhandrit fyrir Íslendinga", Morgunblaðið November 4, 1971. (Icelandic)
  9. Simpson, pp. 11-12.
  10. 1 2 Obituary, The Academy.

External links

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