Illness and Healing in Wilderness Iceland: ‘The Stones Speak’ by Thórbergur Thórdarson

Prof. Allison Williams1, Ms.  Kaelan Brooke2

1McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

2McMaster University , Hamilton , Canada


Research in therapeutic landscapes recognizes wilderness spaces as promoting health and well-being. Beginning with Palka’s work (1999) concerning Alaska’s Denali National Park, the field has expanded to include various wilderness areas in North America and Europe. Immersion in natural landscapes promotes well-being through spiritual reflection, mental relaxation, and physical activity. Due to its abundant wilderness areas, this paper uses Iceland as a case study. Through a content analysis of ‘The Stones Speak’ by Thórbergur Thórdarson (published in English in 2012), this paper explores the physical, spiritual, and social environments of rural Iceland at the turn of the twentieth century. The historic experience of the local people presented in the novel is contrasted with the experience of modern-day visitors to Iceland. This paper concludes that the therapeutic quality of the wilderness is not universal and depends upon one’s social location and feelings of escapism.


Allison Williams is a Professor in the School of Geography and Earth Sciences at McMaster University, Ontario,  Canada. Trained as a health geographer, Allison works in many interdisciplinary groups, examining issues related to health, quality of life and wellbeing. In addition to keeping a pulse on applications in therapeutic landscape research, she currently holds a Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Research Chair in Gender, Work and Health, and is examining how workplaces can best accommodate employees who are also juggling the role of family caregiving. She currently supervises seven trainees and works collaboratively with a range of partner organizations.

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