The Ice Palace (Is-Slottet) is a beautifully-written Norwegian novel about the troubled relationship between two young girls.
First published in 1963, the original novel is written in Nynorsk and considered a classic of Norwegian literature. It has been translated into English. Tarjei Vesaas received The Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for the novel in 1964.
The Ice Palace tells the story of the vivacious 11-year-old Siss, living in a rural community in Norway. Her life is changed when the quiet girl Unn moves to the village to live with her aunt after the death of her unmarried mother. Siss and Unn are immediately attracted to each other, and cannot wait to meet. They finally do, at Unn’s house. They talk for a while, Unn shows Siss a picture from the family album of her father, then Unn persuades Siss that they should undress, just for fun. They do, watching each other, and Unn asks whether Siss can see if she is different. Siss say no, she can’t, and Unn says she has a secret and is afraid she will not go to heaven. Soon they dress again, and the situation is rather awkward. Siss leaves Unn and runs home, overwhelmed by fear of the dark.
Unn does not want to feel embarrassed when meeting Siss the next day, so she decides to skip school and instead goes to see the ice palace that has been created by a nearby waterfall. Ice castles are normal in cold winters, when the water freezes into huge structures around waterfalls. Unn climbs into this ice palace, exploring the rooms baffled by its beauty. In the 7th room she gets disoriented and cannot find her way out. She dies of hypothermia. Her last word is “Siss”.
When the search for Unn remains fruitless, people wonder if Siss knows more about the disappearance than she lets on. They wonder what had passed between them the night before. Siss on her part is overwhelmed by loss and loneliness, and makes a promise that she will never forget Unn. Therefore, Siss takes upon herself the role Unn had: standing alone in the school yard refusing to play or speak. Thus, she has to find her way out of her own emotional ice palace, before she can continue on the road towards adolescence and adulthood.
In 1987, The Ice Palace was made into a hauntingly beautiful, delicate and emotionally-charged Norwegian film.
The film (known as Is-Slottet) stars twelve year olds Line Storesund as Siss and Hilde Nyeggen Martinsen as Unn. It was directed by Per Blom in 1987, who was awarded the Grand Prix at the Flanders International Film Festival in 1988. The film focuses slightly more on Unn’s secret feelings than the novel, but otherwise it’s very true to the book, with the same slow snow-laden pace. The film had its first video release in 1991, which is no longer available. Never made available on DVD, those who wish to watch it in Norwegian, with subtitles, can find it an edited version here in nine parts:
Tarjei Vesaas is regarded as one of the finest writers ever to have come out of Scandinavia – he is notable for having been nominated for the Nobel Prize three times and has been considered one of the greatest prose stylists never to have won. Nevertheless, his reputation is secure and growing all the time. Peter Owen has long considered The Ice Palace to be the greatest work ever to have come from his publishing house, which boasts seven Nobel Prize winners on its list.
Details of other Tarjei Vesaas novels, including Spring Night, The Birds, and The Boat in the Evening can be found here:
Tarjei Vesaas (20 August 1897 – 15 March 1970) was a Norwegian poet and novelist.
Born in Vinje, Telemark, Vesaas is widely considered to be one of Norway’s greatest writers of the twentieth century and perhaps its most important since World War II.
Vesaas spent much of his youth in solitude, seeking comfort and solace in nature. He was guilt-ridden by his refusal to take over the family farm, and this guilt permeates much of his authorship. The destruction he witnessed after World War I made a deep impression on him. He married the writer Halldis Moren Vesaas and moved back to his home town of Vinje in 1934.
His authorship covers almost 50 years, from 1923 to 1970. Written in Nynorsk, his work is characterized by simple, terse, and symbolic prose. His stories are often about simple rural people that undergo a severe psychological drama and who according to critics are described with immense psychological insight. Commonly dealing with themes such as death, guilt, angst, and other deep and intractable human emotions, the Norwegian natural landscape is a prevalent feature in his works. His debut was in 1923 with Children of Humans, but he had his breakthrough in 1934 with The Great Cycle. His mastery of the Nynorsk language has contributed to its acceptance as a medium of world class literature.
The most famous of his works are Is-slottet (The Ice Palace), a story of two girls who build a profoundly strong relationship that ultimately ends tragically; and The Birds, a story of an adult of a simple childish mind, which through his tender-hearted empathy and imagination bears the role of a seer or writer.
The Great Cycle (Det store spelet) novel 1934
Women Call Home (Kvinnor ropar heim) novel 1935 (sequel to The Great Cycle)
The Seed (Kimen) novel 1940
House in the Darkness (Huset i mørkret) novel 1945
The Winds (Vindane) short stories 1952
Land of Hidden Fires (Løynde eldars land) poetry 1953
Spring Night (Vårnatt) novel 1954
The Birds (Fuglane) novel 1957
The Ice Palace (Is-slottet) novel 1963
The Bridges (Bruene) novel 1966
Through Naked Branches: Selected Poems of Tarjei Vesaas, 2000.
Here is a short film (by R J Dent) about the works of Tarjei Vesaas: