Thomas Reid Collecting Prize: Northern Myths and Legends

Jennifer Hemphill

PhD Candidate in Scandinavian Studies

My name is Jennifer Hemphill and I am currently doing my PhD in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Aberdeen. I was the 2019 recipient of the Special Collection’s Thomas Reid Collecting Prize, so I thought I share a little bit about how I started my book collection, and how I continue to expand the collection through my love of travel.

My PhD research project focuses on Weather Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages, which is a topic that stems from my overall fascination with myths, legends, and folklore from Northern Europe. These stories are also the centre focus of my book collection, which is almost two decades in the making. My collection ranges from translations of medieval sources, which includes a variety of Old Norse and Old English literature and poetry, to first and collector editions of modern pop-literature that is inspired by the original medieval tales.

Olaus Magnus, On Erik Väderhatt (Image: public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

My interest in Northern myths and legends started when I was a really small child. My mom would read to me every night and I remember hearing stories about magical worlds with towering castles, legendary heroes going on splendid adventures, and the rugged landscapes of the North. Going to the local bookstore with my mom was always a huge treat for me when I was growing up, and this is what started my love for collecting books. I loved to find new versions of my favourite stories so much that my collection began to grow organically, without a conscious decision to start book collection. The first books that made the bare bones of my collection were fantasy books, ones that were inspired by the Northern Legends I had heard so much about. Unsurprisingly, I was particularly interested in works by Tolkien, CS Lewis, JK Rowling and Philip Pullman, although at this stage I couldn’t really afford to buy any special editions. But even then, finding different versions of the same book published with varying covers, or published as a special edition or anniversary edition, was really fun. My collecting interests have really expanded over the years and now focuses less on modern literature, but I am always happy to continue to add to this original part of my collection. One of my favourite recent additions to this part of my book collection is a signed edition of Alan Lee’s The Hobbit Sketchbook. I received this book for my birthday last year and haven’t been able to stop looking through it since!

(Image taken by author)
(Image taken by author)

My collection has further grown in the form of supporting my doctoral research, where I focus on magic in the Nordic Middle Ages, with a particular interest in weather magic. In my research, I mainly work with medieval Scandinavian literature and poetry. I have been very lucky to expand this aspect of my collection through the travels associated with my PhD project.

For me, linking my passions for travel and collecting books has been the highlight of my entire collecting process, and my book collection really started to grow as I began to travel more internationally. When I travel to a new city, the first thing that I like to do is find as many antique or second-hand bookstores as I can. Of course, it’s extremely easy to browse international bookstores and make book purchases online nowadays, but for me, there is really nothing like going into a physical bookstore and having a wander around. I think that one of my favourite aspects of book collecting is stumbling onto something special, rather than seeking out a specific book. Plus, the internet can’t replicate the cosy feel of a bookstore!

A second-hand bookstore in Copenhagen (Image take by author)

A few of my favourite recent additions to the book collection came from a trip to Copenhagen, which I took in early 2019. By the time this trip rolled around, I had recently started my PhD programme and was really excited to try to find a few special books that were relevant to my project. The first book that I found was an edition of Saxo Grammaticus’ Den danske krønike, published in 1851. I also picked up a copy of Neckel & Kuhn’s Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern, which is a book that I heavily rely on in my PhD thesis.

(Image taken by author)

The next exciting find was a first edition of Fridtjof Nansen’s In Northern Mists (2 volumes) published in English.

(Image taken by author)
(Image taken by author)

My last find of the trip was a pencil sketch of a medieval stave church in Norway, which strays a bit from my normal book purchases. Unfortunately, the store that I bought this from did not have any information on the artist or date of the sketch, but I loved the drawing so much that I bought it, nonetheless. 

(Image taken by author)

Understandably, the arrival of coronavirus has made book collecting through travel impossible for the time being, but I really look forward to the day when I can start exploring new bookstores again!

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