There is a classic commercial that runs every Christmas season in Iceland.
The elves have long, pointy ears and when the narrator, late actor Rúrik Haraldsson, asks at the end of the commercial: “trúir þú á álfasögur?” (“do you believe in elf stories?”) his ears grow large as well.
People love this commercial, perhaps because it poses a question often asked in all earnest in Iceland.
Iceland has many elf stories, both treasured folk stories that have been preserved orally for centuries and new stories where people claim to have encountered elves, or hidden people (huldufólk), as they are commonly referred to in Iceland.
This week, elves made headlines when Independence Party MP Árni Johnsen had a 30-ton boulder moved from Hellisheiði to his home in the Westman Islands to save it from demolition because of the widening of the Ring Road.
The MP has a special affection for the boulder as he claims it saved his life when his car overturned on Hellisheiði two years ago. He later had his suspicion that the boulder was inhabited by elves confirmed by a specialist in the supernatural.
In fact, Árni Johnsen seems to have a special affection to rocks in general.
In 2003, Árni was sentenced to two years prison in 2003 for embezzlement, breach of trust in a public position, corruptibility and providing a false report to the authorities after having been entrusted with overseeing repairs to the National Theater in 2001.
As recollected on the Icelandic version of Wikipedia, Árni had bought so-called óðalssteinar (“premium paving stones”) from the construction material company BM-Vallá on behalf of the National Theater’s construction committee, which he chaired.
However, the stones were nowhere to be found but it later turned out that they were in the garden outside the MP’s home, Höfðaból, in the Westman Islands, to which he has now transported the elf boulder.
Behind bars, Árni passed time by creating artwork from stone, which he displayed once he got out of “the rock”, úr steininum, which is Icelandic slang for prison.
Now, one might think that only people thick as a brick would reelect such a character to parliament after he was pardoned—conveniently when his party leader, former PM Geir H. Haarde, was in charge of the presidential office in the president’s absence in 2006.
Árni’s candidacy was indeed controversial with a number of Independence Party voters crossing out his name on ballots in the 2007 and 2009 election, resulting in him being demoted by one seat on the party’s list each time, but he still made it back to parliament.
Among Árni’s most famous moments in the podium was when he burst out singing during a three-hour filibuster on temporary tax repayment for filmmaking in Iceland in April 2009.
He certainly likes to entertain; for decades he has led the brekkusöngur communal singing at the annual Þjóðhátíð outdoor festival in the Westman Islands.
And he has also sung about potatoes in a cover of Leadbelly’s “Cotton Fields”, called “Þykkvabæjarrokk” in Icelandic, an ode to the potato gardens in the aforementioned Þykkvibær, which brings us back to the elves in the commercial.
In the paper today I read about a foal born in the shadow of the new elf boulder in the Westman Islands, standing tall in the MP’s garden.
The owner decided to name the foal Álfur (“Elf”) in honor of the islands’ new inhabitants, saying it best to keep them happy.
“Do you believe in elf stories?” the journalist asked. The foal’s owner answered indecisively, as many Icelanders would, concluding that he shared Árni’s view that one shouldn’t disregard something just because it’s hidden.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org