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Fall 2021 catalog cover

The Penn Press list for fall 2021 includes hardcover releases, first-time paperbacks, and ebook editions intended for scholars, students, and serious general readers worldwide. Click here to explore our forthcoming books, grouped by subject area.

The Ring of Dancers
Images of Faroese Culture

Jonathan Wylie and David Margolin. Foreword by Einar Haugen

240 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 1981 | ISBN 9780812277838 | $79.95s | Outside the Americas £64.00
Ebook 2016 | ISBN 9781512809190 | Buy from Combined Academic Publishers £64.00
An Anniversary Collection volume

"An important addition to the ethnographic literature on the Faroe Islands."—Choice
Scattered in the North Atlantic, 300 miles off Iceland and 400 miles off Norway, lies the Faroe Islands archipelago. Despite centuries of foreign control, the Faroese have preserved their own distinctive identity. At present an internally self-governing dependency of Denmark, the Faroese have kept their culture alive in part by elaborating certain elements of that culture as badges of self-consciousness. The Ring of Dancers is composed a series of studies of aspects of Faroese life, language, and folk ways. A recurrent theme is the continuing reformulation of Faroese culture since the islands' Viking settlement in the ninth century.

The Faroes are introduced as the Faroese themselves conceive them—as islands both joined and separated by the waterways around about them. The archipelago visualized in terms of such waterways as fjords, the points of the compass, "home" villages, and natural and political districts. The authors also discuss Faroese society as the Faroese conceived it around 1890, by an analysis of a folktale popular at the time about the Ashlad. Placed in its social context, the tale appears as a kind of folk editorial on changing values and changing times.

Perhaps the most important symbol of Faroese identity is the Faroese language. Although it was not made a written language until the 1840s, and was not widely written or read until the 1890s, Faroese has replaced Danish as the islands' official language. In gaining its formal register, it has come to express a modern sense of what it means to be Faroese. The most spectacular Faroese custom, the grindadráp—the slaughter of schools of pilot whales and the celebration that follows the catch—typifies the continuity of the Faroes' anciently rooted identity. The image of the dansiringur, the "ring" of dancers singing ballads of wars and loves of heroic times—lingers throughout the book. The dansiringur, the authors contend, represents the Faroese adaptation of large forms to a land of closely known neighbors and landscapes, the complex inward turnings of Faroese culture, its tortuous sense of wholeness. The book ends by recounting interviews in Tórshavn, the Faroese capital, with an artist, a journalist, a politician, and others.

The Ring of Dancers vividly portrays the Faroese and makes clear why they are actively involved in preserving their culture as well as shaping it for the future.

Jonathan Wylie is with the Anthropology/Archaeology Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

David Margolin is Professor of Linguistics at the University of New Mexico.

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