Icelandic folklore is rife with tales of elves and hidden people that inhabited hills and rocks in the landscape. But what do those elf stories really tell us about the Iceland of old and the people who lived there? In this book, Alda Sigmundsdóttir presents twenty translated elf stories from Icelandic folklore, along with fascinating notes on the context from which they sprung.
The international media has had a particular infatuation with the Icelanders’ elf belief, generally using it to propagate some kind of “kooky Icelanders” myth. Yet Iceland’s elf folklore, at its core, reflects the plight of a nation living in abject poverty on the edge of the inhabitable world, and its people’s heroic efforts to survive, physically, emotionally and spiritually. That is what the stories of the elves, or hidden people, are really about.
In a country that was, at times, virtually uninhabitable, where poverty was endemic and death and grief a part of daily life, the Icelanders nurtured a belief in a world that existed parallel to their own. This was the world of the hidden people, which more often than not was a projection of the most fervent dreams and desires of the human population. The hidden people lived inside hillocks, cliffs or boulders, very close to the abodes of the humans. Their homes were furnished with fine, sumptuous objects. Their clothes were luxurious, their adornments beautiful. Their livestock was better and fatter, their sheep yielded more wool than regular sheep, their crops were more bounteous. They even had supernatural powers: they could make themselves visible or invisible at will, and they could see the future.
To the Icelanders, stories of elves and hidden people are an integral part of the cultural and psychological fabric of their nation. They are a part of their identity, a reflection of the struggles, hopes, resilience and endurance of their people.
All this and more is the subject of this book.
To read more about the inspiration and instigation behind this book, click here.
What people are saying:
The Little Book of the Hidden People is lively and insightful introduction to Icelandic folk beliefs and it contains countless pearls of insight from an author who is committed to telling the truth with sympathy and understanding. … A quick glance at my personal library reveals a dozen or more books about the huldufólk on my shelves, in both English and Icelandic. If I was forced to thin my collection down to a single volume, this is the one I would keep. – Lögberg Heimskringla, February 2017 [full review]
What a brilliant little book
What a brilliant little book! Ms. Sigmundsdottir has a very engaging way of writing, but doesn’t embellish the tales. And in her commentaries she has a fine sense of the difference between “believing” in the stories and fully accepting them as part of the back story of this amazing culture with its difficult history. I’ve immersed myself in the Sagas and Jón Árnason’s book and other writings about the folklore of Iceland and this is a great (and necessary and welcome) addition to the tales. I’m going to buy her other books right now. – Wayne A. Simpson
Another Icelandic Gem from Alda
This book is a welcome respite from ‘cute’ and sanitized folk stories. There are lots of sexual escapades, some very peculiar Icelandic customs, as well some touching tales of love ending in grief. Alda does a great job in filling in the background on the stories, some of which would be real ‘head-scratchers’ without her explanations. – SCC
Think of The Little Book of the Hidden People as an Icelandic version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Alda makes this comparison). Like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, there are clear morals to each story that reinforce cultural values. Now, imagine a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, where each fable is followed by well researched explanations of that story’s cultural and historical context, all written in a very vernacular and accessible style. If you can picture that, and it sounds interesting, go ahead and order this book without delay. – Mitch
Fantasy meets facts
I loved this book for its sociological/anthropological take on Icelandic mythology, rather than the usually inexplicable “fantastic epic” prism taken by many authors who venture into this world. It brings very unique points of views which is what makes indie books, such as this one, very interesting, important and of great relevance to be published. Works of this kind enriches and enlightens the big mass publishing market. I have a special love for Iceland, even though I know so little about it. Books like this one are a great way to learn the history of a country though the eyes of the common folk, the everyday farmer, the ordinary people, and basically through unofficial eyes of written History, done by authorities. – Luciana Nasser