My latest dive into Icelandic literature is The Story of the Blue Planet by Andri Snær Magnason, translated by Julian Meldon D’Arcy. At first every Icelandic novel I read was infuriatingly opaque. But with this book, I feel like I’m starting to get the Icelandic novel. Now the dreamlike atmosphere that so confused me in The Children of Reindeer Woods has started to feel familiar; sometimes I can tell when something is supposed to be funny; sometimes I can even decode the symbols. Of course, Blue Planet is a kids’ book.
The name “blue planet” immediately cues to adult readers that this is a story about Earth. When Andri describes it as a planet populated only by children, the line from Joe vs. the Volcano comes to mind,
We are the children of children and we do what we are shown.
And that’s basically how things go in the Story of the Blue Planet. This idyllic land full of children who have everything they need to be happy is invaded by a joke-telling space monster who sells them things they never knew they wanted in exchange for a few drops of youth at a time. As in his novel LoveStar, one young couple begins to see the flaws in the new system, and tries to put things back the way they were, only to meet resistance on every front.
The allegory is plain. But the story is also good. I read the book to my kids at bedtime, and they were captivated. My oldest never trusted the space salesman Mr. Jolly-Goodday, and felt terrific vindication when his inventions proved problematic. Every night, both girls couldn’t wait to find out what Hulda and Brimir were going to do next. And I confess, I was curious, too.
Andri’s allegory was so well-structured, and so aptly described the environmental and social justice issues we’ve created for ourselves in real life, I half hoped that his solution in the book would offer a path to sustainability in real life. But of course, the children had only to deal with one space man. Although they gave him the same destructive power that we have given our leaders, Jolly-Goodday is a bit easier to manage than the G8. And the children of the Blue Planet, even after sacrificing most of their youth, are perhaps a little wiser than the adults of Earth.
Even so, Story of the Blue Planet is an elegant explanation of our planetary predicament. Educational kids’ books and allegories for any age group are so often tedious, but the playful illustrations by Áslaug Jónsdóttir and the sweet characterizations in Blue Planet make this story of environmental devastation and first world privilege go down easy.
I have placed The Story of the Blue Planet next to The Phantom Tollbooth on my mental bookshelf. It’s the one where I keep books to reread when I need a little hope to help me go on.