From Iceland — Readers' Huldu-fólktales

Readers’ Huldu-fólktales

Published August 20, 2014

Readers’ Huldu-fólktales
Larissa Kyzer
Photo by
Melanie Franz

Since our Hidden People issue came out on Friday, readers have been submitting their own elf-encounter tales left and right. Here are a couple of the submissions we’ve received so far; send us yours at and we’ll add to the collection!

If you’d like to read more Hidden People folktales in translation, check out “Hidden People, They’re Just Like Us (Kind Of)” and “Hidden People Folktales.”


i spent july in olafsfjordur at the listhus artist residency.  and i was up there looking for trolls.  but i haven’t seen any that aren’t rock. 

i was out in the evening to walk up a hanging valley (gardur), and just about to reach the bridge across olafsfjardarvatnos (did i get that right? probably not).  the lake’s surface was like glass, and i was stopped in my tracks by the beauty of the reflections of the mountains and the snow and the clouds – all those deep colors looking as oversaturated as a picture postcard from the 1960s.  as i was fumbling for my camera, i noticed a tall and kind of stout man in black, with a bald head, running up the side of the road toward he bridge – toward me.  he was about 50 meters from me, and running faster than a jog; i decided he was out for his evening run, and turned to take a picture of the upper fjord across the vatn.  it took five seconds, with maybe another ten seconds to completely grok the beauty of the lake.  and when i turned back to my walk, still only approaching the bridge, and expecting to see the jogging guy’s head bobbing over the bridge railing – he wasn’t there anymore.  he hadn’t turned off to go to gardur, or the other way, to kleifar, and i would be able to see him if he had.  he hadn’t passed me, i’m certain of that.  the hair at the back of my neck was standing up.  he was gone.  and not hiding under the bridge, either.  there was nowhere for him to be; he was supposed to be just passing me but he wasn’t there.

so i saw a troll, i think.  or a very large elf.  it wasn’t a real person, that’s all i know.



My grandmother has a summer house just outside of Selfoss and every summer, my family would come to visit her in Iceland (I grew up in Minneapolis) and spend a few weeks in the summer house.

My grandmother had a fondness for sherry and would, on special occasions, sip a glass after dinner. But whenever we went to the summer house, rather than sip it slowly sitting on the couch with a book like she did at home, she’d go out to the front porch, pour herself a glass, and then down it in one go, like a shot. Even weirder, she’d lock the sherry up in a little chest that she kept on a shelf in her closet.

When I asked her about all this once, she just said that it was so much nicer to have her sherry outdoors, but that it was usually too chilly for her to sit outside very long. I was eight, and this made sense enough, so I didn’t think too much about it.

Years passed and my grandmother stopped bringing her little bottle of sherry to the summer house. Instead, she brought a small bottle of Opal liquor, which she would sit and sip on the couch after dinner, reading a book, often making a bit of a grimace after she would take her drink.

I asked her a few times why she had changed her routine, particularly because she seemed to hate the Opal, and she finally told me what had been going on. Basically, she was convinced that the reason she went through so much sherry so quickly while at the cabin was because there was a house elf who would gulp down her sherry when she set down her glass. So instead of sipping it inside slowly, as she liked to, she would go out and have the sherry very fast, so the elf couldn’t drink it.

But then she’d decided that maybe if she drank something that didn’t taste so good, the elf would stop stealing her drinks. So she switched to Opal, which neither she nor the elf, liked nearly as much.

-Sara F.

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