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Iceland 2001: The Huldufólk

Those Strange Basalt Formations Could Be a Troll ... or the Home of an Elf

Those Strange Basalt Formations Could Be a Troll … or the Home of an Elf

Many Icelanders, particularly those who grew up before the island became cool, believe in the hidden folk. As a matter of fact, despite all that ice, it was once a very hot place—so hot that the residents bake rye bread by burying it in a hole only a couple of feet deep. Many places, like the original Geysir (yes, that’s how it is spelled) are so hot that a single misstep could plunge you into boiling mud.

There are numerous stories about the island’s hidden folk, or huldufólk, namely trolls, ogres, elves, mermen, and others. If you think I’m being tongue-in-cheek while writing this, allow me to refer you to a story that recently hit the news in Reykjavík.

An interest group called Hraunavinir (‘Lava Friends’) is planning to sue over the making of a new road to Álftanes from Engidalur in Garðabær, across the lava field Gálgahraun, and to a roundabout opposite Bessastaðir, the presidential residence.

Seer and piano instructor Erla Stefánsdóttir maintains that the elf boulder Ófeigskirkja will be destroyed in the process and fears that wrath of dwarves in the hidden world will cause accidents on the road, Fréttablaðið reports.

Now this is not the type of story one would encounter in the New York Times. What I found particularly interesting was that there were some serious follow-up stories, including one just a few days ago in which one resident suggested the whole problem could be eliminated by a couple of strategically-placed roundabouts.

In Reykjavík, there is even an Elfschool, which has been open for over twenty years. It is run by Magnus Skarpheðinsson, who is an expert on Iceland’s huldufólk.

When I look at that basaltic plug in the photo above, at Dimmuborgir on the shores of Lake Mývatn in Northeast Iceland, I think that it may well be a petrified troll who hung around after sunset, or the residence of elves, who venture forth from their stony fastness to confound the ways of men.