Victor LaVelle’s narrator and I both left our hearts in Skaftafell, his literally and mine figuratively.
I felt connected to the passage due to a recent trip to Iceland including many of the places the story mentions, and found some solace in that his story takes place in August (as opposed to June when I visited) in case the very idea of flesh-devouring trolls takes root in my imagination and taint the memories.
Theme: troll as an imagination / coming of age allegory?
From the very first line, it was casually expected that readers have a mental picture of “trolls” to understand what “the style for trolls that year” might entail. Naturally I thought of it as an insult than mythology.
For the first third of the story, I imagined Gorroon to be a hobo-like straggler who’s just looking for a buddy. The middle third I struggled with whether Gorroon is “real”, until the front desk girl also made an acknowledgement. But she did say “If you ever see one then you will have faith. If you never do then you won’t.” So perhaps she could “see” through her faith in mythology. The last third I thought that Gorroon is an allegory for facing one’s demons and a coming of age: “That, unlike when I left that good woman behind, I wouldn’t run from the hard tasks of life.” The fight scene is graphic but comical, and the stone that ultimately encapsulates the struggle is monumental but also easily blends in.
Favorite line: “I saw marriage in my lane and I swerved.”
Overall, “I Left My Heart in Skaftafell” feels incredibly real as many facets it discusses are reality - Ring Road which goes around the whole country, rugged landscape without much human presence, hotels with very basic accommodations, and the tragic event of a group of adventurers meeting their demise after an unlucky fall.
A few things stand out: 1) the bus(es) that one can hop on/off anytime between towns. In my mind this resembles more of a trolley but it’d have to be a very well insulated vehicle to operate at that latitude. 2) the camera that belonged to the narrator that somehow captured the “thrashing bodies” as its last clear image. If this takes place in the future, can it capture a 3D image? 3) Gorroon’s beard that magically grows by the hour. It’s a little unclear why he bothers to shave, and what triggered the rapid growth toward the end of the story, but the focus on that particular feature is interesting, contrasted with the seemingly primitive tool he uses to shave.
Photos from Iceland! (did not encounter any trolls on my trip)