This book starts with a health warning. It’s a warning about the validity of trusting that all Icelanders believe in hidden people. Sure, some do and there is mention specifically of the elf school, and individuals that claim to see such beings, but the author, Alda Sigmundsdóttir, is quick to point out the current view, where such misconceptions may have arisen, the origins of hidden people stories and crucially, the role of the international press in hyping the view of hidden people beyond, well, belief.
Alda Sigmundsdóttir is well placed to offer such advice. She is a well known writer and commentator in Iceland and overseas. As well as a very successful blog, a novel, a book about the financial meltdown, Alda also has a series of books: The Little Book of the Icelanders, The Little Book of the Icelanders in the Old Days, and now this one, The Little Book of the Hidden People. Her strength is that she is able to offer the view of an Icelander, and with the help of whip smart observations and a good helping of humour.
With the warning out of the way, Alda begins to tell us a number of stories of the hidden people in Iceland. These are curated from oral accounts and texts from right across the country. They are well researched and full of charm. As Alda points out from the outset, some of the stories have a peculiar turn of phrase, or sometimes lack clarity or detail in the crucial moments. This is due to the account being taken as found, and Alda strictly prohibiting any embellishment of her own. Whilst this is commendable, it can lead to some stories being unduly short, or taking an extra amount of concentration.
The saving grace though, is the short passages that follow each story from Alda herself. In these, she imparts knowledge on the subject, as well as her own opinion on the account. These are astute observations, and from an informed perspective. Often they are an informal foil to the solemn tales, for example, one tale recounts a maidservant who is punished by elves for mistreating children and being seduced by a man. Alda adds: “I don’t think we need to dig deep to find the moral of this story: Do not covet other people’s belongings, slap their kids, or sleep with their husbands. THE END.” And you can’t argue with that.
I’m not going to recount the tales of hidden people here. Alda does a fine job of it. Some of the stories will shock you with their sex and violence, or by their very subject matter. One such example is the story of ewes being impregnated by elf rams. No, really.
This is a neat addition to Alda’s ‘Little Book’ series, and I’m sure it will delight her fans as well as new readers alike. As a collection of folk tales about the hidden people of Iceland, I’m not sure there is anything else out there quite like it.
The Little Book of the Hidden People is available in Icelandic bookstores and on Amazon.com.
Edward Hancox lives in in the United Kingdom with his wife and two small, noisy children but spends as much time as he can in Iceland. Music—especially contemporary Icelandic music—is his other passion. He writes about both subjects for Iceland Review and in his debut book, Iceland, Defrosted. He does not consider himself an expert on anything.