The Ice Palace : a fortress of solitude?

The title of this book conjures up an image of a wintry scene; isolation and snow and a sense of foreboding, Superman in his icy fortress 1. But beyond that quick and easy TV Trope2 interpretation the question remains, what is the Ice Palace that Vesaas. This paper will argue that it can be seen as the ultimate in withdrawal from life, a retreat that results in death for Unn. This is a path that Siss begins to follow. In the end, however, she choses a different road back towards community and society, and so towards life.

At the beginning of the book we are introduced to Siss as she forges her way through the darkness towards Unn. That opening sentence “A young, white forehead boring through the darkness”3 brings to mind an image of birth. Siss’s forehead emerging out of the darkness as a child’s head emerges out of the birth canal. This birth imagery can be found throughout the novel. When Unn goes to explore the ice palace she is described as squeezing her way through fissures and tunnels. She wants in and the ice seems to “open up for her”4. But unlike a child being born, finding its way out of its mother’s body, Unn is travelling in the opposite direction. Her very reason for going to the ice palace was avoidance and retreat. She did not want to meet Siss, or any of the other children, she felt unable to meet them. Her mysterious secret forces her to withdraw to, what she hopes will be, a place of safety. But in life there is no going backwards. You cannot return to an earlier form. Unn is searching for the safety of the womb, but it is no longer safe for her. In choosing to retreat from life she will be punished with death.

Unn’s disappearance has a huge impact on Siss. It changes her from a popular, outgoing child into an introvert. She has begun to follow Unn on the path away from life. Her desire to hold on to Unn, to remember her, shows the beginnings of “a life of inwardness and devotion to the craft of memory”5. But memory cannot take over if life is to be lived. Siss’s fiction of recreating Unn in herself can not last. If she continues with it she will ultimately follow Unn away from life. If Siss is to live she must return to being Siss, to living, to interacting with her classmates and parents, with the community at large. Life cannot thrive without forging new connections.

The ice palace represents isolation and the past. It seems to offer some form of safety and protection, but this is false, the ice palace is all the more dangerous because it does not seem so. The ice palace, I would argue, represents memory; lovely to visit but you can’t live there.

  1. ‘Fortress of Solitude’, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2013  

  2. ‘Ice Palace – Television Tropes & Idioms’ 

  3. Tarjei Vesaas, Ice palace (London; Chester Springs, PA: Peter Owen?; Distributed in the USA by DuFour Editions, 2009), p. 7. 

  4. Vesaas, p. 51. 

  5. Catherine Wilson, ‘Capability and Language in the Novels of Tarjei Vesaas’, Philosophy and Literature, 27 (2003), 21–39 (p. 34). 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.