Kettle Run High School teacher brings Ötzi the Iceman to life in a new historical fiction novel
The Iceman Awakens
Thirty years ago, two tourists from Germany were hiking in the Otztal Alps when they came across a discovery that would end up being one of the most remarkable archaeological finds of the century — the over 5,300-year-old mummified body of Ötzi the iceman. His remains have yielded a wealth of information about him, his life, and his times to fascinated archaeologists and historians. His discovery has since touched people all over the world, from scientists to fifth and sixth grade kids learning about Ötzi in school. Ötzi’s story reached Sharon Krasny, a Kettle Run High School AP English teacher, who found the story so interesting that she was inspired to write a meticulously-researched historical fiction novel about him, titled Iceman Awakens.
Iceman Awakens tells the story of Gaspare, a young Ötzi the Iceman, who, desperate to confront his fate and honor his father, receives the ultimate sacrifice. At thirteen with a gifted calling and promise of prophecy, he must face his failures, fight the oppression from his brothers, and learn to live in a society that deemed him a curse. This is Gaspare, the reborn Iceman found murdered on the Ötzal mountains as he begins his tale that led him to that fateful day.
From questions surrounding the mystery of Ötzi’s mummy preserved from the Neolithic Era, this coming-of-age, historical fiction novel explores how he got some of his sixty-one tattoos, found his life’s purpose in his copper axe, and how he lived. Iceman Awakens speaks of the timeless voices of love, destiny, and betrayal.
Growing up, it wasn’t until junior year of high school that Sharon Krasny found her voice, with the help of her English teacher. She wasn’t very fond of school, but Krasny was always captivated by storytelling. “[My English teacher] encouraged me and challenged me to keep going and keep writing,” Krasny said. “She gave me the gift of freedom to find my voice, which is why I try so hard to do that for my students, as well.” For someone who had never considered college as an option, it was her teachers who inspired Krasny to go to college to pursue a degree in English.”That’s a gift I’m so thankful that others didn’t let sit dormant in me,” Krasny said. “That’s part of why I teach.”
After college, Sharon traveled overseas to teach English. “I lived in Hungary and the Czech Republic,” Krasny said. “The students would tell me stories about their history and it impacted me in a way that made me realize how much people value the oral histories of who we are and where we came from. That’s part of why I started working with this book — he just holds so many possibilities. He was discovered the year before I went overseas to teach. It’s amazing that he is challenging us to reframe what it was we thought we knew about our history and who we thought we were.”
Upon returning from overseas, Sharon began teaching in Fauquier County and was inspired to write by her students. “It was through trying to help students understand the human condition and trying to connect them to these old stories when I finally got to the point where I thought, ‘Why not me? Why shouldn’t I try this?”
At the same time, she was enrolled in a graduate studies program where she had an assignment that required her to write a short story about Ötzi. Her professor at the time encouraged her to take the story and run with it. “When I started this project in 2015, only academic and National Geographic articles were produced. Now, pages of search results exist dedicated to studying him, debating his demise, copying his tools,” Krasny said. “The man’s story was begging to be heard once again.”
Upon searching for images of his 61 tattoos, a photo of Brad Pitt came up with a tattoo inspired by Ötzi. “I worked on it on and off,” Krasny said. “I would take time to write a little here and there. It wasn’t until I was researching his tattoos that I realized there was an audience of people who would be interested in his story. I wanted to restore dignity to him, color to his society and culture because I wanted us to learn from him — that’s what I set out to do.”
Years of research went into making Iceman Awakens as historically accurate as possible. “On him, they found a birchbark container that they thought was used to carry live embers,” Krasny said. “They didn’t always knock two rocks or sticks together. Otzi’s discovery has opened this up, because we used to believe they were more primitive than they were. We used to underestimate them because they didn’t have this advancement of technology.”
“It was through trying to help students understand the human condition and trying to connect them to these old stories when I finally got to the point where I thought, ‘Why not me? Why shouldn’t I try this?”
During lockdown, Krasny was able to connect with people all over the world while researching Otzi. “I connected with two expert primitive bowmen, John Strunk from Spirit Longbow and Carson Brown from Echo Archery, who are out in Oregon,” Krasny said. “They gave me an hour of their time so I could learn about archery. One of them shared his first hunting story, which I included in the story.”
The more Krasny researched and wrote about Ötzi, the more she realized that we can all relate to him. “What frustrated him, frustrated me,” Krasny said. ”I was in my story even though I tried so hard to remove myself from it. It’s that human element that writers have to tap into to make it authentic and make that connection real.”
Among those Krasny was able to connect with during her research was a historian based in Austria. “I met a reporter from Austria and she introduced me to the archaeologist I’ve been keeping in touch with. I’ve developed relationships that goes beyond Otzi the iceman. In a time where we’re supposed to be separate, this man’s story is bringing people together.”
One of Krasny’s main motivators for writing this story was to get the point across that we are so much more alike than we are different. “I wrote an opinion article for the New York Times about how in modern society, we look at other people and tend to judge them as either inferior, ignorant, or below us because they believe something different. My hope is that people will look at strangers with possibility and questions of wonder rather than judgments of criticism and see that we are surrounded by stories, including our own, and that our stories do have value and they need to be heard.”
To pick up a copy of Iceman Awakens locally, you can visit The Open Book in Warrenton or Second Chapter Books in Middleburg.
Although it is fiction, Krasney’s meticulous adherence to known facts serves to flesh out history, making it appropriate for use as a curriculum-supporting source for teachers as well as a fantastic book club option for adults and young adult readers alike. Currently, Krasny is working with the Allegro Community School of the Arts to produce an audiobook version of Iceman Awakens.