July 11, 2014
Monday, December 23, 2013

Iceland's hidden elves delay road projects

By Pablo Toledo
For the Herald

In this land of fire and ice, where the fog-shrouded (1) lava fields offer a spooky (2) landscape in which anything might lurk, stories abound of the “hidden folk” — thousands of elves, making their homes in Iceland’s wilderness.

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before (3) 21st-century elves got political representation.

Elf advocates (4) have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project building a direct route from the tip of the Alftanes peninsula to the Reykjavik suburb of Gardabaer. They fear disturbing elf habitat and claim the area is particularly important because it contains an elf church.

The project has been halted (5) until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on a case brought by a group known as Friends of Lava, who cite both the environmental and the cultural impact — including the impact on elves — of the road project. The group has regularly brought hundreds of people out to block the bulldozers.

And it’s not the first time issues about “Huldufolk,” Icelandic for ‘hidden folk,’ have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response (6) for elf inquiries, which states in part that “issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on.”

Scandinavian folklore is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters(*). Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven’t taken them seriously since the 19th century, but a survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 found that some 62 percent of the 1,000 respondents thought it was at least possible that elves exist.

Though many of the Friends of Lava are motivated primarily by environmental concerns, they see the elf issue as part of a wider concern for the history and culture of the very unique landscape.

One of Iceland’s most famous daughters, the singer Bjork, had no hesitation in responding when asked by US comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert if people in her country believed in elves.

“We do,” she said. “It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.”

Adapted from an article by Jenna Gottlieb for the Associated Press



Shroud (1)
A shroud is a thing that covers something else (originally, a piece of cloth that covers a dead body). To shroud, then, means to cover or hide something, and implies a sense of mystery.


Spooky (2)
To spook means to frighten someone. Spooky, then, means scary. A more unusual meaning is the noun spook, which originally referred to a ghost but was used during the Cold War to refer to spies and secret agents.


A matter of time (3)
If something is a matter of time, it means that it is sure to happen at some time in the future.


Advocate (4)
An advocate for a cause is someone who speaks publicly in favour of that cause and who supports it actively.


Halt (5)
To halt means to stop or to make somebody or something stop.


Stock response (6)
A stock response is a ready-made response prepared for a question that is often asked. A stock product is the standard variety of a goodthat is sold in shops.


(*) Elves are something else!

If you've read or seen Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, you are familiar with Legolas and the rest of the tall, slender, beautiful elves in Tolkien's Middle Earth. But did you know he was actually borrowing the race from a long mythological tradition?
An interesting and very fitting (for this week) derivation of the many elvish traditions in Northern Europe are Christmas elves — the little people dressed in green or red clad with pointy ears and pointy hats that make the toys in Santa Claus' workshop and take care of his reindeer.
The first reference to the Christmas elf was in the US in the 1850s. Meanwhile, our friends in Iceland believe in the Yule Lads (jólasveinar): 13 trolls who visit homes the last 13 nights before Christmas Eve to give gifts to good children and play pranks on naughty ones.
Still, dear reader, whether you believe in Legolas, Norse elves, trolls, chupacabras, Yule Lads or none of the above, this humble page wishes you happy holidays!



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