Halldór Kiljan Laxness was born as Halldór Guðjónsson in Reykjavík in 1902. He was an award winning 20th century writer and the only Icelandic Nobel laureate. He wrote almost anything from newspaper articles to travelogues, poetry to plays, short stories to novels. His original name followed the Icelandic patronymic tradition but later has been changed when he was confirmed in the Catholic Church. Laxness is a name of his homestead where he grew up and Kiljan was added in honor of the Irish martyr Saint Killian.

At an early age Halldór started to read books and write stories. His first article was published when he was 14 years of age in the newspaper Morgunblaðið. When he was 17 years old, his first book Barn náttúrunnar (Child of Nature) was published. This was the beginning of his successful career as a writer. In 1922, he merged in with the Abbaye St. Maurice et St. Maur in Clervaux, Luxembourg. It was then he had an opportunity to self-study inside the abbey. He read and studied Latin, French, philosophy as well as theology and “Undir Helgahnjúk” a story he wrote was published in 1924. He was a member of a praying group at that time that prayed for the Nordic countries to return into Catholicism. This was his inspiration in writing another book called “Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír” and was published in 1927.

When Halldór Laxness went to live in America, it was the end of his religious phase. He was into socialism upon the influence of Upton Sinclair whom he met in California. As he was joining the socialist bandwagon, he wrote the book “Alþydubókin” which was published in 1929. He also made part of writing screenplays for Hollywood films in the years 1927 to 1929 that was right after he departed from Iceland.

Halldor Laxnes masterpieces & awards


In 1930’s Halldór Laxness began writing Salka Valka a remarkable series of sociological novels that was often consist of socialist ideas. It was published in 1936. “Sjálfstætt folk” or “Independent People, supposedly his next series novel came out in publication first in 1935, was considered the best books of the 20th century by critics and in 1946 it sold out in 450,000 copies in the USA. Another book by Laxness that critics noticed was “Heimsljós” or “World Light”. It was even acknowledge as his most important masterpiece by high standard critics. After that he went to the Soviet Union to write in favorably the Soviet system.

In the year 1940’s Halldór Laxness moved back to Iceland where he wrote a three part series of a historical novel called “Íslandsklukkan” or “Iceland’s Bell”. It was published in the years 1943-1946. Then he wrote a novel to show his protest to the US military base in Keflavík, “Atómstöðin” or “The Atom Station” which brought him into the blacklist in the United States.

Halldór Laxness was awarded the World Peace Council Literary Prize which was sponsored by the Soviet Union back in 1953. His novel Salka Valka was made into a movie in 1954 by Sven Nykvist. Then another award in 1955, the Nobel Prize in Literature award with his novels and books about Iceland.

In 1956 he realized that Soviet military actions were not to be approved of because of the incidents that happened in Hungary. He took the risk of writing several articles about them, and when the United States of America heard of this they took his name off the blacklist. This made Halldór Laxness together with his wife Auður Sveinsdóttir again free to tour around New York City, Washington D.C., Chicago, Madison, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. In addition of their tour they went to Rome, Cairo, Bombay and then Peking. His acclaimed works during that time were “Gerpla” or “The Happy Warriors” (published in 1952), “Brekkukotsannáll” or “The Fish Can Sing” (1957) and “Paradísarheimt” or “Paradise Reclaimed” (1960). Then it was followed by ”Kristnihald undir Jökli” or “Under the Glacier / Christianity at the Glacier” in 1968 that won him the Sonning Prize award in 1969.


In Halldór Laxness later years, he continued to write but he resided in Gljúfrasteinn outside Reykjavík. You drive by Glufrasteinn when you go for the classic Golden Circle tour from Reykjavik. When he began to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease in the mid 1980’s he was moved to a nursing home and he passed away at the age of 95. His home Gljúfrasteinn was turned into a museum which is being managed by the Icelandic Government. He left us with another Icelander pride, his daughter Guðný Halldórsdóttir, an award winning film maker and his grandson Dóri DNA, a hip-hop artist popular in Iceland.