Yet Another Icelandic Monster: Marbendill - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Yet Another Icelandic Monster: Marbendill

Yet Another Icelandic Monster: Marbendill

Published August 15, 2008

They're not as evil as Nykur

Haukur S. Magnússon
Photos by
Hugleikur Dagsson

They're not as evil as Nykur

Last issue, we learned about fatal underwater horse Nykur, who likes to lure folks to a watery grave using a combination of charm and adhesive skin. This week’s amphibian is an altogether more benign being; although he’s still kinda sinister, the Marbendill has no interest in luring anyone and mostly wishes to be left to his own devices under the sea.

Best described as a psychic, slightly weird Merman, most tales describe the Marbendill as humanoid-like from the navel up, with his bottom half reminiscent of a seal’s. He is a marine creature and doesn’t like leaving the ocean. Sightings of the beings thus only occur when they get caught in fishermen’s nets – or when their bodies drift ashore post-mortem (there are also reports of them being found in sharks’ bellies). Apparently, they’ve resided in Iceland’s waters for a long time; there are records of Marbendill encounters in Landnámabók, the book that tells the tale of Iceland’s first settlers.

Marbendill is a wise and mysterious being, almost oracle like in character. Indeed, Marbendill-tales almost always involve him negotiating his way out of captivity from a fisherman who’s caught him by accident and decides to keep him. One story goes thusly: As a Marbendill was being dragged to land against his will, his captor’s dog rushes to greet them. The captor, a farmer-slash-fisherman, gets annoyed and kicks at the dog, which leaves the otherwise quiet Marbendill laughing. Walking home to the farm, the sailor stumbles on a hillock and yells out a loud curse. Again, the Marbendill laughs. Finally reaching his home, the sailor is greeted by his wife, whom he kisses and hugs back.

This prompts the Marbendill to laugh a third time, perplexing the sailor further. Enraged, he finally asks the Marbendill: “What’s so damn funny?” Our amphibian antagonist strikes a deal with the sailor, promising to disclose if he returns him to the ocean from whence he came. “I laughed the first time because you kicked your dog, who loves you more than life itself. Then I laughed for that hillock you cursed holds a great buried treasure. Your antipathy towards it thus amused me. Lastly, I laughed at your affection towards your wife, for she is a cheating whore who wants you dead.” Needless to say, all of the creature’s prophecies came true, and the fisherman had great fortune after following its advice.

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