People living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. And if you’re in Iceland, even displacing a stone could be sacrilegious. That’s because there could be elves under there.
Don’t ask why, but I”m on the loose in this lusciously green country of volcanos, glaciers, geysers, and $30 fish-and-chips. (Don’t even get me started on the price of beer.) I’ve found this country of 325,000 people to be an exotic, friendly (tourist-trappy, even) haven for lovers of isolation, the outdoors, and folklore.
As the ridiculously cool Settlement Exhibition explains, scientists are still uncertain when the island was first discovered, ever since a recent unearthing of pre-Viking ruins debunked the conventional story that Ingólfur Arnarson was the original settler, in 874.
And as detailed here last year, another ongoing mystery is the existence of “hidden people,” or elves. They live among the rocks in the lava fields that cover substantial parts of the island. Now, many Icelanders kind of mock this traditional superstition, but few have gone so far as to say they are certain elves don’t exist. On one tour I joined, the guide spoke of elves without a trace of irony. On the other hand, ethologist Árni Björnsson suggests only 10% of Icelanders actually believe in the little guys.
Many are agnostic on the issue. That’s partly why activists have successfully protested even large-scale construction projects in the name of the Huldufólk.
Whether elves themselves exist or not, there’s something uncanny and lovely about the idea of a “hidden” entity contributing to the mystique and beauty of this rather unique country. At the time of this writing, no elves were immediately available for comment. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
—Tom Faure (on Elf Assignment for NC)