Published June 4, 2012
Member of Parliament Árni Johnsen recently arranged for the transportation of a 50 tonne boulder from the Hellisheiði mountain pass to his backyard in Vestmannaeyjar—a more ideal environment Árni says, for the family of elves who inhabit it. Yes, a set of grandparents, a couple of parents and three children, who stand no more than 80 centimetres tall, have reportedly joined the 4,000 people who live on the small island off the south coast of Iceland.
Árni says he became acquainted with these particular elves after a high-speed crash in 2010, wherein his car torpedoed 40 metres off the highway, destroying the vehicle, but leaving him unscathed. “[The elves] told me that they wanted to be in the grass,” Árni says. “Now they have windows looking toward the sea and the island, and some sheep as neighbours. Everything is under control.”
Courting the elf electorate
Árni, who will run for re-election next year, says he is not the only MP who believes in elves, though he refuses to give up the identities of others.
Despite the fact that only 8% of Icelanders admit to believing in elves outright, according to a 2007 poll conducted by Terry Gunnell, head of folkloristics at the University of Iceland, Headmaster of the Elf school, Magnús Skarphéðinsson says plenty of government officials and ministers, including President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, believe in elves. It would be “political suicide in Iceland to claim elves don’t exist,” Magnús adds.
Indeed, some government projects take this elf stuff seriously. As an MP who sits on the Committee on the Environment and Transport, Árni says construction workers needed to move a large stone when building a road from Keflavík International Airport to Reykjavík two years ago. Árni sent a specialist to check if the boulder housed elves, and his suspicions were confirmed.
“When I came close to the stone, I could see light in it. There were a few elves there,” Árni says. “If you move them, it’s okay, you just have to be very careful and speak to them and be very gentle.”
More recently, residents of Bolungarvík in the Westfjords blamed elves for construction equipment breaking down as workers were drilling a tunnel through a mountain last June, potentially disturbing elf homes. Townspeople, workers and a priest came together to try to ward off the elves’ spiritual backlash. “Of course they have lots power,” Árni says. “Even for such little creatures.”
Elf relocation is controversial
Árni maintains that the elves were willing immigrants to his backyard, noting that television personality and self-proclaimed elf specialist Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir signed off on the move. But elf scholar Magnús Skarphéðinsson is crying foul.
“This could be dangerous,” says Magnús, who has spent the last 30 years studying the lives of elves and hidden people (the latter being just as mystical as elves, but are reportedly human-sized), during which time he says he has met more than 700 people who have seen or talked to elves. Elves don’t typically consent to having their homes moved over land and sea, Magnús says. He claims Árni’s actions were a “maniac idea” that would likely result in “a sort of revenge.”
Árni has resuscitated his own political life after he was sentenced to two years in prison in 2003 for embezzling government funds from a project to refurbish the National Theatre. Former Prime Minister Geir Haarde pardoned him in 2006, and Árni wasn’t ready to say that the elves look down on his troubled past: “You should ask God that question. He knows it best.”