Tales of the Elves: Icelandic Folktales for Children

Tales of the Elves cover

One day God decided to visit Adam and Eve.  They welcomed him and introduced  their children – all except the ones Eve had not finished bathing.  After all, you want your kids to be clean when the Supreme Being drops in.  God was aware of this and said, “What is hidden from me shall be hidden from men.”  Those children became the elves who live in the hills and mounds of Iceland.  They can see us but we can’t see them unless they wish it.

I know this because I read a magical book, Tales of the Elves, based on the Icelandic folktales of Jon Arnason, adapted by Anna Kristin Asbjornsdottir and illustrated by Florence Helga Thibault.  I found the book on our visit to Iceland, which I wrote about in the fall.

Interest in elves isn’t limited to children in Iceland.  One day, as we toured the countryside, our driver pointed to a spot in a wide valley where the highway curved around a pair of volcanic rocks.  The stones were only 8′ – 10′ tall, nothing modern earth movers couldn’t remove.  That was the intention of the highway crew.  The problem was, the bulldozers broke down or stalled every time they  approached the twin rocks.  Every time.  Locals explained that the stones marked the entrance to an underground elven settlement.  The equipment worked perfectly after the construction crew decided to route the highway around the stones.

If this reminds you of Irish fairies, there’s good reason.  Genetic testing has proven that many Icelanders, especially the women, came from Ireland, specifically, the viking settlements there.  The stories themselves teach us similar lessons in coexisting with “the hidden ones.”

“Midwife to the elves” shows how the elven folk can give the gift of the sight and take it away again.  “Elf Wind” demonstrates the courage and cunning required to set things right if you do something foolish, like cut the grass on an elven mound.  “Payment for Milk” is about the boons the elves can grant if you treat them with kindness and goodwill.

I’d been looking forward to writing this review since I found Tales of the Elves, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any venue where interested readers can find the book.  Not on Amazon US or UK.  Not on bookfinders.com or ebay.  I couldn’t find ordering information on the publisher’s website.  I posted a request for information on the illustrator’s Facebook page, and I’ll pass along anything I discover.  Meanwhile, here is the information – if you love folklore and fine illustration of fantasy themes, it’s worth keeping an eye open for this book.

Anna Kristin Asbjornsdottir (adaptation), Florence Helga Thibault (illustration), Victoria Cribb (trans), Tales of the Elves, Bjartur publishing, Reykjavik, 2012

ISBN:  978-9979-788-80-5

Please post any information you may discover.

13 thoughts on “Tales of the Elves: Icelandic Folktales for Children

    • You can see lots of caves formed by the rocks that jut out of the volcanic hills, and near some of them, people have placed little painted house facades or little houses, which are charming.

      There are other collections of Icelandic folktales available and delving into them is on my to-do list.


    • While searching on the title, I found one other blogger who had reviewed this after finding it in her local library. That was 2010 (the first English edition was 2007). She also could not find a place to purchase her own copy, but it proves that they do exist in libraries.


  1. awhile ago i got to thinking that there must be many gaelic loan words in icelandic; especially words associated with women’s activities since the majority of icelandic women are descended from irish stock. yesterday someone told me i might find more of them ion children’s lit and ion faery tales. have you found any published material on this subject? if so could you please pass it on as i would be very interested in finding some. thanks a lot!


    • I’m sure you’re correct, but I’ve not seen anything on that subject, and wouldn’t know where to begin looking. I have one general reference, Viking Age Iceland, 2001, by Jesse Byock, but I haven’t read it yet. Perhaps good general histories of Iceland and Ireland might have specific references in the bibliographies that would help.


      • thanks so much morgan. if you do hear of anything in the future, please let me know. i could also read faery tales from both countries and do comparisons, but i was hoping for something more direct!


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