Icelandic Folktales & Legends
by Jacqueline Simpson
But aside from all of that, the other part of the pre-travel preparations I love is reading books about and from the places I’ll visit, particularly books about the history and mythology of a place. Having read several times that the Icelandic people still have incredibly strong ties to the ideas and concepts behind magic and fairytales, I wanted to read a bit about them, and found this book.
It’s a compilation of Icelandic fairytales and legends, gathered from many different sources, and translated into English (thankfully!). The stories run the full gamut of everything from trolls to ghosts to mermaids and giants. There are 80-odd stories, but they’re all short and come with modern explanations and interpretations. One of my favourites was one of the first ones in the book, which you can get a copy of here...
It was once generally believed in Iceland that the Hidden Folk moved house on New Year’s Eve, and so one should choose that night to sit at a crossroads and see them go by. They cannot then get past the man at the crossroads, and offer him many treasures, gold and jewels, choice ornaments and delicate foods of every kind. If the man stays silent throughout and accepts nothing from them, the jewels and delicacies are left lying near him, and then he can have them, if he holds out till day; but if the man answers or accepts the elves’ offers, he is bespelled and loses his wits, and it never in his right mind again.
Some say the right crossroads are those on the fells and moors from which one can see four churches. The oldest believe is that one ought to keep vigil there on Christmas Eve, for that is the real beginning of the New Year.