The news: Iceland’s formidable elf problem has once again delayed the construction of a new road.
The government of Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was hoping to construct a direct connection between the Alftanes peninsula and a neighboring Reykjavik suburb, but its efforts have been stymied by an environmental group called Friends of Lava, which claims that the roadwork will disrupt an indispensable elf habitat that contains, according to the AP, “an elf church.”
Friends of Lava has resorted to both sitting in front of bulldozers, as well as filing a case with Iceland’s supreme court, in order to halt development of the thoroughfare.
The background: While the Nordic country of Iceland may only house some 320,000 people — so few that it has its own incest-preventing iPhone app — it is apparently rife with elves, fairies, trolls, and other "Huldufólk" ("hidden folk") in the way that some Brooklyn apartments have bedbugs. Approximately half of Iceland’s human population, including one Björk, either believes in elves or is open to the idea of them, making elves’ wellbeing a priority for the small island nation.
Icelandic elves typically prefer to reside in rocks and boulders, unlike their shelf-dwelling American counterparts. Some Icelanders even outfit rocks with tiny doors in the hopes of attracting the small supernatural creatures, who, according to folklorist Valdimar Hafstein, “have livestock, cut hay, row boats, flense whales, and pick berries … have priests and sheriffs and go to church on Sundays.”
According to traditional Icelandic belief, while elves are generally busy going about their business and protecting the land, they can become extremely territorial when disrupted, causing outbreaks of disease and accidents in response to perceived threats. Such may have been the case in 1970, when a stone was split during the construction of a Reykjavik bike path. In contrast, when elves' homes and needs are respected, they can save lives. That’s why Icelandic Member of Parliament Árni Johnsen had a 30-ton boulder housing three generations of elves moved onto his property after he survived a perilous car crash in 2010.
Iceland has opened its own Elf School in honor of its native population, and its roads department has developed a highly diplomatic five-page statement about its stance on Huldfólk.
The takeaway: Elves or not, it’s hard to find fault with a country that recovered from its role in the 2008 financial crisis by avoiding austerity measures and actually allowing banks to fail. All joking aside, as a spokesman for the road agency once said, asking that a road avoid an elf community isn’t too far afield from asking that people not plow through a burial ground. If the mandates of a cultural tradition happen to coincide with modern ideals about environmental protection, it’s all the more reason for Iceland to take the long way around. Plus, I'd take elves over bedbugs any day.