The Little Book of the Hidden People

Twenty stories of elves from Icelandic folklore

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?

The Little Book of the Hidden People presents twenty translated elf stories from Icelandic folklore, along with fascinating notes on the context from which they sprung. It is available in paperback, ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats. The paperbacks, ebooks, and audiobooks are available from your nearest digital store. The hardcovers ship from Iceland.

Hardcover copy of The Little Book of the Hidden People lying on a cloth

Sample story

The elf adornment

Once in bygone days, all the people from a certain farm went to evensong on New Year’s Eve, save for one maidservant who was made to stay at home to watch over the farm.

Soon after everyone had left, the maidservant heard a commotion and then a knocking at the door. She took a light and went to answer it, and found outside a large group of hidden men and women who invited her to dance with them, which she gratefully accepted. After she had danced for a while, the elves murdered her. She lay dead in the doorway when the other farm residents came home from church.

The same incident repeated itself the following New Year’s Eve. All the farm residents went to church, except for one maidservant who remained at home. After a time she heard a great ruckus, as the other maidservant had. There was a pounding at the door, and outside she found the same visitors as had been there the previous New Years’ Eve. The elves were boisterous in the extreme, and with much glee invited the maiden to dance with them. This ended with the hidden people cutting off her head on the farmhouse threshold, and that is how the farm residents found her when they returned from church.

On the third New Year’s Eve, everyone left the farm as before, except for one maidservant. When the people had gone she swept the floor and placed lights throughout the house wherever possible. Then she sat down to read. After a while, she began to hear loud noises and a strange commotion. There was a knocking at the door, but she ignored it and continued reading.

Next, the elves came into the baðstofa and tried to entice her to dance. She ignored them. They greatly admired how tidy everything was, and also the determination with which she read her book.

The elves passed the night in the baðstofa, engaged in frenzied dancing. When dawn finally came the maidservant said: “Thank God it is daybreak.” This so shocked the elves that they instantly made to leave. Before going, one of the hidden men placed a chest on the floor, which he asked the maiden to accept. He told her that she should use the adornment contained within it on her wedding day. The elves then vanished and the maiden kept the chest, telling no one of its existence.

A short while later the farm residents returned and were greatly relieved to find the maidservant safe and sound, even if the house was bedlam from the carousing of the elves.

Much later, when the maidservant was preparing to wed, she opened the chest as the elves had instructed and found a woman’s dress sewn with gold thread and a gold ring. She is said to have been exceptionally beautiful in her elf adornment.


From approximately 1300 onward, Icelandic authorities – meaning the church and king – took great pains to ban dancing among the Icelanders. Dancing, they believed, lowered people’s inhibitions and led to all sorts of debauchery, which in the eyes of the authorities was synonymous with unwanted pregnancies. Those had to be avoided at all costs, for the simple reason that there was not enough food to feed everyone already in the world.

Before the ban, dances were among the few opportunities people had to get together and have some fun. One of the most infamous was the Jörfagleði, an annual dance held at the farm Jörfi in Haukadalur. One year, nineteen children are said to have been conceived there, while other reports put that number as high as thirty.

After a couple of centuries of feeble prohibitions, dancing was unequivocally outlawed in Iceland from the early 1700s until the late 1800s. My thought is that stories like this one may have been “floated out there” to warn against the evils of dancing. The propaganda of the day, if you will.

Incidentally, the man who finally succeeded in banning the Jörfagleði events, Jón Magnússon, fell on some seriously hard times after that. He was the local district magistrate and was eventually tried for a variety of crimes, evicted from office, and just barely escaped flogging and execution. He died in complete poverty. The word on the street was that his misfortune was a direct result of the Jörfagleði ban since he had upset the elves who routinely took part in the celebration. In the end, the story went, the elves had taken a stand with the proletariat against the ruling elite. So in other words the elves were not only enchanting, glamorous, and powerful, they were also political.


The fascination of the international media

Why are they so obsessed with elves?

The meaning of elf

What do hidden people stories tell us about the psyche of the Icelanders of old?

Come help my wife in childbirth ..

or else!

Elves were badass

They could make or break your fortune so you’d better be nice!

Mind your morals

Or the elves will teach you a lesson

Hear all about the ljúflingar ..

hidden men who became the lovers of mortal women

Glamorous and regal

Why were the elves so damn good looking?

The grim realities

Scholars today have theories about all those missing children supposedly abducted by elves

The movie stars of the day

Everything was infinitely more glamorous in the elf world

And so much more inside!

Three copies of The Little Book of the Hidden People

Immerse yourself in the stories of the hidden people—an integral part of the cultural identity and psychological fabric of the Icelandic nation. Learn about the struggles, hopes, resilience, and endurance of the Icelanders in the centuries past.

Get your copy of The Little Book of the Hidden People today!



[…] 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.



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 view which is what makes indie books, such as this one, very interesting, important, and of great relevance to be published. Works of this kind enrich and enlighten the big mass publishing market. […] Books like this one are a great way to learn the history of a country through the eyes of the common folk, the everyday farmer, the ordinary people, and basically through unofficial eyes of written History, done by authorities.



This gifted author gives readers a glimpse into the literary traditions of Icelandic people and the social and psychological function of Hidden People and the stories about them. Alda grasps the significance of these stories to a people that had next to nothing, yet held on and even thrived. I am a Western Icelander. My father, a second-generation Icelander, told stories to me when I was a child. After reading Alda’s books, I can see that the oral tradition from Iceland was not lost to the Western Icelanders.



This short eBook from Alda is another in her continuing series of informal yet almost ‘scholarly’ works about Icelandic culture. As with her previous efforts, the only fault I can find with any of them is that I finish them too quickly.

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 as 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.



A wonderful little book and an excellent introduction to Icelandic folklore. I used this as a text for my seminar on world folklore because it gave the students a succinct approach to some standard Icelandic tales in addition to other Icelandic reading they were doing before a study tour to Reykjavik. What was most valuable for our purposes is the author’s distinct interpretation at the end of every tale. Her strong point of view allowed for some great discussion on the meaning behind the stories.



[…] With the international media running wild with the sensational headline ‘All Icelanders Believe in Elves’ shtick, Alda seeks to clarify the Icelandic folktales in their historical and sociological contexts. The Little Book of the Hidden People is a collection of stories, with each one followed by commentary (that are both informative and fun!).

I highly recommend this book, as well as the other Little Books […]. They are great for gaining a bit of insight into the many little quirks of the Icelandic character.



Icelandic Folklore is beautiful, magical, and such a rich part of Iceland’s history. The author’s writing leaves you transported, entertained, and informed about the influences folklore had on the Icelandic people. Fantastic book!


About the author

Alda Sigmundsdóttir the Author of the Little Books about Iceland

Alda Sigmundsdóttir is a writer, and occasional journalist. She runs her own independent press, Little Books Publishing, based in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Alda is the author of ten books, each of which explores an aspect of Icelandic culture or society. Her two latest books, The Little Book of the Icelanders at Christmas and The Little Book of Days in Iceland, are about the Icelanders’ enthusiasm for the Yuletide season, and Iceland’s special seasonal events and holidays, respectively. Alda is active on social media, and may be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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