When Elves Halted An Iceland Road Construction Project

By Karen Harris

Picture taken on April 22, 2016 shows an elves palace in Reykjavik. (Halldor Kolbeins/AFP via Getty Images)

Although they may not admit it to your face, many Icelanders believe in elves. While this may seem like nothing more than a charming quirk to outsiders, incurring the wrath of these "hidden folks," as they are called, can be catastrophic. Just ask the workers who were hired to construct a new road through a lava field in 2013.

Elves In Iceland

According to surveys, roughly two-thirds of Icelanders believe in elves, and it's not hard to see why. Scholars have long contended that belief in the supernatural simply provides the human psyche with an easy explanation for the unexplained, and with its strange beauty and defiant landscape, the country certainly has some explaining to do. If elves were going to live anywhere, it would definitely be Iceland.

That became a problem when construction of a new road from the Reykjavik suburb of Gardabear to the nearby Alftanes peninsula began in 2013. The highway would have crossed a lava field (which isn't as alarming as it sounds—the place is lousy with 'em) and passed some large, seemingly insignificant boulders. In other words, typical elf stuff, which is why workers got spooked when weird things started happening. Tools came up missing and reappeared in bizarre locations, and then an excavator refused to start.

Just look at this place. (Pierre-Selim Huard/Wikimedia Commons)

Elf Law

Word got out that the workers suspected they might have been disturbing the land of the hidden folks, and Icelandic elf advocates clamored to agree, insisting the lava field in question housed an elf church in the form of a large boulder. They joined forces with an environmental group called Friends of the Lava, who had rather more globally acceptable objections, to petition the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission to reconsider the highway and stage a series of protests at the site, where several hundred people routinely circled bulldozers to prevent construction. They eventually emerged victorious after the Supreme Court of Iceland ruled in their favor, killing the project.

Believe it or not, this wasn't the first time concern for elvish welfare interrupted development in Iceland. Though they didn't receive such widespread news coverage, such incidents date back to the 1970s. Thanks to the 2013 kerfuffle, however, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission has implemented an official policy to handle the public's concerns about elves. 

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.