The Frigid Fringe

Bernd Brunner on the icy edge of imagination

Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland (Flickr/Thomas Maluck)
Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland (Flickr/Thomas Maluck)

The North has been a blank, snowy canvas for our best and worst fantasies for thousands of years, home to biting winds, sea unicorns, fearsome Vikings, and even a wintry Atlantis. And it is also home, of course, to Indigenous communities, whose existence and culture could be inconvenient to myths of Aryan purity. Historian Bernd Brunner explores this curiosity cabinet of a region in his new book, Extreme North, translated by Jefferson Chase. Brunner argues that the North was as much invented as it was discovered by the European explorers, colonists, and armchair enthusiasts who ventured there. Encounters with the cultures of the North would inspire epic storytellers (Tolkien, Wagner), grifters (James Macpherson and his Poems of Ossian), racists (Hitler), and countless other complicated figures (Franz Boas, Nanook of the North). Brunner joins us on the podcast to explore the outer, icy limits of the known world and why it still has a hold on us today.

Go beyond the episode:

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

Subscribe: iTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast

Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)

Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up