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Conference on ‘Folk Belief’ & ‘The Supernatural in Literature and Film’

20-23 January 2017, Longyearbyen, Svalbard

This interdisciplinary conference explores the supernatural in literature and film as well as folk belief from around the globe.

Folk belief and traditions of the supernatural.

Folk belief and vernacular religion exist in all societies. But what happens to folk belief in places with new communities and transient residents? Can legends and rituals thrive after their originators have departed back home? Longyearbyen (population 2200) is the world’s northernmost town, the main settlement on Norway’s vast, largely ice-covered Svalbard archipelago. The polar night, when the sun never rises above the horizon, lasts from late October until mid-February. Risk of attack by polar bears means that people are only permitted to leave town in the company of someone with firearms training, and nightmares regarding bears are common among residents. This would seem to be an ideal incubator for traditions of the supernatural, yet most residents remain in Svalbard for only a season or a few years.

The supernatural in literature and film.

Svalbard’s transient population has not, however, prevented the island from being associated with the supernatural in literature and film. In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Svalbard is the realm of armoured polar bears. The TV series Fortitude, modelled on Longyearbyen, is steeped in mystery, and Michelle Paver’s novel Dark Matter is a ghost story set in the immensity of the polar winter.

Extreme darkness and isolation are themselves genre staples within works of supernatural horror, from the vampire-infested arctic town in Steve Niles’ 30 Days of Night  to the blinded civilisation in John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids to the antarctic alien terror of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

© Heinrich Eggenfellner

About the conference.

The conference begins on the afternoon of 20 January. On 20-21 January, we will combine tours out into Svalbard’s haunting polar landscape with an exploration of the town of Longyearbyen itself. Participants will venture into the arctic darkness on snowshoes as well as visit the tunnels of Longyearbyen’s former coal mine. We will also speak with local residents concerning life and traditions in this remote community. 22-23 January will feature conference presentations by delegates, held at the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel Spitsbergen.


Proceedings of submitted conference papers will be published online.