Every once in a while someone starts writing about the “fact” that most Icelanders believe in ghosts or elves. That someone may be a journalist who thinks he has a funny story. On Sunday the story was sent out by the Associated Press and put on the web site of the Guardian and a host of other news sites.
The story goes that the “elf lobby” has blocked a road project in Álftanes, a peninsula just seven kilometers south of Reykjavík.
The story is false. It is probably written by someone who learned about it in a bar. Or a freelance journalist, trying to make a quick buck before Christmas, wrote about something that everyone loves reading about, the mixture of myth and reality by an odd nation on the fringe of civilization.
In reality the “elf lobby” is a group of environmentalists. It has not “regularly mobilized hundreds of people to block bulldozers building a direct route from the tip of the Álftanes peninsula, where the president has a property, to the Reykjavík suburb of Garðabær"
There have been many people protesting in the lava, but not hundreds. One of them is the self-confessed elf believer mentioned in the story, the others are environmentalists. The road is not from the tip of the peninsula, but rather a new connection from the main road to the existing road in the peninsula. The president does not have a property in Álftanes any more than Obama has the White House. Bessastaðir, the official residence of the President of Iceland, is on Álftanes.
The road has not been blocked. Work continues on it and the lava has already been crossed by bulldozers.
My opinion of the Guardian (and the Associated Press) plummeted this afternoon.
It is true that some Icelanders believe in elves and ghosts. Some think it is funny to tell foreigners that most Icelanders believe in “hidden people.” I remember that when Reagan and Gorbachev met in Iceland, an Icelandic storyteller told CNN that the house where they met (Höfði) was haunted.
It made a good story, but in reality no Icelander has ever seen a ghost in Höfði. The story originated when a British Ambassador who was living there alone claimed to see a “White Lady” walking around the house. When the Ambassador moved out the movers reportedly found White Horse whisky bottles by the hundreds, and it was thought at the time, that the White Lady probably came on a White Horse.
The fact is that in Iceland we have our share of people who see elves, and some say they believe they exist, because they think it is funny. Not many believe in trolls, and everyone under the age of seven believes in the Yule Lads.
Benedikt Jóhannesson - firstname.lastname@example.org
(Who still believes in the Yule Lads, but no longer puts his shoe in the window).