I’m sure you’ve heard about “hygge.” Variously pronounced as ““hyue-gar,” “hoog-jar” but most commonly “hoo-gah,” it’s a Scandinavian concept that embraces the pleasant cosiness of simple pleasures. It’s widely cited as the reason that Denmark is the happiest country in the world.
It’s an idea that I find absolutely necessary during the cold, sun-less days in Belarus. And since I don’t have a fireplace (something that would make immediate hygge), I’ve been trying to find hygge in books.
Granted, fantasy fiction is not the most obvious place to look for hygge. Characters are often on the run or getting attacked by monsters. But actually that makes them all the more aware of moments of simple pleasures in between events of earth-shattering importance.
So, grab a coffee, or a hot chocolate with marshmallows, or even an Ivan-chai. Cuddle up in your super-comfortable reading spot…maybe something like this…
… and let’s find some hygge-inducing moments in fantasy novels.
- Farmer Maggot’s mushrooms in The Lord of the Rings
The quest in The Lord of the Rings has not yet begun. The hobbits have yet to leave the Shire. But it’s all about to get really crazy. So, in true hobbit fashion, the gang stops over at Farmer Maggot’s house for a proper hobbit meal and some of the best mushrooms in the Shire. I dare you not to smell those mushrooms as they’re brought on a platter to the already bursting table!
- Tea with Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
C. S. Lewis was a famous lover of hygge, so it’s no surprise that his stories are full of such moments. The first of them all is Lucy’s tea part at Tumnus the fawn’s. The scene is full of hygge: lots of tea, delicious food, excellent company, a warm fireplace. Yes, all of that hygge turns out to be actually quite sinister, but let’s just gloss over that fact for now, shall we?
- Any scene in the Inn at Dorling
The Traitor Son series by Miles Cameron does a great job of showing one of the most forgotten aspects of Medieval life—love of feasting. There’s one particular place in his fantasy world that is full of hygge—the Inn at Dorling. This huge building (more a complex of buildings than a single inn) is the place where the heroes go to rest after they’ve been beaten. It’s one of the safest places in the world (it’s protected by a huge dragon, after all), and it offers one of the rare, great pleasures of the medieval world—pipe smoking.
- Fitz and the Fool in Fool’s Fate
Robin Hobb loves to put her characters through the ringer. And that’s an understatement. But she’s also capable of beautiful moments of cozy character building. One of the best scenes in the entire Fitz and Fool series comes after Fitz defies fate itself to bring his Beloved Fool back from death. In some ways, their interaction is excruciating, but Hobb grounds the intensity of emotion in beautiful details. Things like rabbit stew, warm fires, tea, and the sweetness of plums. For a few brief, brilliant moments, both of these tortured characters experience hygge, and we with them.
- Meditation before coronation in The Goblin Emperor
In some ways, the mannered style of The Goblin Emperor makes any sort of hygge unlikely. But there’s a wonderful scene right before the improbable coronation of the half-Goblin Maia when he meditates. The oneness he feels with the world around him, and the outpouring of love he feels constantly for others as a result of it, is something rarely found in fantasy these days.
- The last scene with the witches in The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Hygge can also be a melancholy thing, I think (or maybe is just the Russian in me). There’s a sad kind of hygge in the last scene of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. In it, the main character, already an adult, is drawn by instinct to the place of his childhood adventures. There, he has tea with the witches. They have an intense moment of remembrance of sacrifice and love and beauty in a way that I won’t spoil for those who haven’t read it. It’s a sublime moment. One of my favorite in all of fiction, not just fantasy.
- Ged and Tenar in Tehanu
After the grand adventures of the first three books of the Earthsea series, Ged is faced with his most difficult challenge yet—life as a mere mortal. And, not surprisingly, even in the “real world” he finds horrors and pain. But he and Tenar, for the first time in their life, are able to express a love that he was not allowed to as a wielder of magic. The scene of their lovemaking on a simple rug before the hearth of their tiny stone hut is not so much erotic as full of hygge. Two people who loved each other their entire lives have finally found each other, and it’s beautiful.
Have I missed any? I’d love to hear any ideas you might have. Let’s continue the discussion in the comments section.
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