With a planned visit to Iceland early in the diary for early next year, I could not resist picking up this book when I found it. The very next day, someone tweeted ‘Eight things to know about Iceland before you visit’, the first of which was that some people still believe in elves. I am very interested in mythology and its persistence in and adaption to modern life. The other night I caught the end of a programme about Ireland where someone was proudly announcing that a new road had been diverted round a fairy tree so as not to upset them.
The book was first published in Iceland in 1987 and the English translation in 2000. It was derived from a collection by a 19th century folklorist who had recorded many stories preserved in oral tradition. In addition to elves, there are chapters on Ghosts and Sorcerers, Saints and Sinners and a miscellaneous section with tales about serpents, giants, an ogress and others. It is illustrated with black and white drawings by Kjartan Gudjónsson. I will be interested to see how many are still detectable on my visit.