From Iceland — Corpse Cats And Criminals

Corpse Cats And Criminals

Published July 8, 2014

A different side of Reykjavík on the dark deeds walking tour

Larissa Kyzer
Photo by
Matthew Eisman
Hugleikur Dagsson

A different side of Reykjavík on the dark deeds walking tour

Summer visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to guided introductions to our fair capital. There are walking tours, biking tours and Segway tours. History walks and sculpture walks and mythology walks. Culinary tours and beer tours and tours promising to reveal all of Reykjavík’s hidden nooks and secret spots. But for those looking for something a little more ghoulish, the City Library is now offering its own (entirely free) take on the walking tour: Dark Deeds in Reykjavík, a meandering 90-minute constitutional which transforms the city through both bygone folklore and contemporary crime fiction. Departing every Thursday at 3:00 PM from the downtown library at Tryggvagata 15, tour participants will be taken to eight downtown locations and read translated excerpts from four popular mystery novels, one ghostly saga and three particularly creepy folk tales.

Dark Deeds is the brainchild of Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir, a project manager at the main branch of the library. “Iceland is always touted as a supernatural country,” she says, “and it’s interesting to apply that to the city.” For despite the fact that there are plenty of spooky stories which highlight Reykjavík’s paranormal side, Iceland’s diverse cast of ghosts and “elemental beings” is often thought to reside exclusively in the countryside. In fact, this supposed dearth of urban legends is what inspired her to create a new tour through the library. “I’ve always wanted to do a haunted walk­—a grisly walk—there’s loads of excellent material.”

Setting The Scene

Úlfhildur has organised and led a number of literary walks for the library and literary organisations in Reykjavík over the years, including the recent “In the Footsteps of Detective Erlendur,” a walk highlighting notable locations in crime novelist Arnaldur Indriðason’s Reykjavík-based mystery series. Excerpts from several of Arnaldur’s novels—including his standalone thriller ‘Operation Napoleon,’ the Erlendur novel ‘Hypothermia,’ and the forthcoming ‘Man From Manitoba’—are read during Dark Deeds.

An excerpt from the latter novel was translated in advance of its English publication because it painted such a perfect portrait of its location. The tour’s goal is to find locations which embody and give ambiance to a text so that participants can truly imagine themselves inside a story. “We’re always very happy to find a text that refers directly to a location,” says Úlfhildur, noting that in ‘The Man from Manitoba,’ for instance, there’s a particularly memorable passage which describes the National Theatre on Hverfisgata as a kind of “fairytale palace.”

In a few cases, however, when walking distance would be prohibitive or the exact location can only be guessed at, the tour guides “have to cheat a little to create connections.” So a passage from ‘Grettir’s Saga’ describing the outlaw’s battle with a zombie-like ghost called Glam is read, naturally, on the street Grettisgata. And a passage from Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ is read on Skólavörðustígur, in front of what is not, but could easily be, the main character’s office.

Engrossingly Macabre

This occasional fudging of locations is unlikely to distract participants given that the texts (which are all accurate to their origin) are so engrossingly macabre. The monster tales are particularly delightful, if only for being rather peculiar. Consider the Skoffín, for instance, a monster which can be found “in every household.” Thought to be the spawn of a fox and a tabby cat, or perhaps even hatched from an egg, the Skoffín is the Medusa of Icelandic beasts, its gaze instantly killing anything that it catches in its sights. Cousin to the Skoffín is the Corpse Cat, which burrows itself into graveyards to feast on dead bodies. During the tour, guides relate the story of one such evil feline which reportedly terrorised a whole farm and once hotly pursued a man on horseback, with the man just barely able to outrun his hideous pursuer.

Conveniently, having discovered that these fearsome beings exist in the first place, tour participants will also learn how to ward them off. Mirrors often come in handy, for one. And fun fact for those of you who think it’s sufficient to behead a ghost: it’ll only stay dead if you place its head face down, nestled in the monster’s buttocks. But even those who don’t nurse Gothic fascinations may want to consider tagging along on a future Dark Deeds tour, if only for the sheer and simple pleasure derived from storytelling.

Listening to stories is a soothing experience for many people, says Úlfhildur, who notes that sometimes guests just want to join a tour so that they can take a walk “and have something cosy happening at the same time.” And that is perhaps the best and most unique part about the library’s literary tours. “It’s great to see people go all quiet and meditative,” she says. “What I really love about these walks is that you get to experience the basic fact that people love being read to.”

Dark Deeds

The free tour is offered rain or shine every Thursday at 3 PM. It leaves from the Reykjavík City Library at Tryggvagata 15.

The library has collaborated on a number of self-guided literary walks including Literary Reykjavík and Neighbourhood of the Gods, both of which can be streamed or downloaded via the City of Literature website at


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