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
Please post any information you may discover.