As we drove between the lava fields outside of Reykjavík, my family friend and guide for the day, Sirry, pointed out one of the many stacks of large stones you will likely spot on the horizon travelling across Iceland - arranged in order of size, like snowmen, but molten black. I asked Sirry what they were.
“Huldufólk”, she said.
There was a pause (I don’t understand Icelandic).
“You know… elves. Hidden people”, Sirry clarified.
My curiosity was piqued.
Sirry, on the other hand, seemed hesitant to say much more on the subject, except to reassure me that, despite my reservations, the majority of Icelanders do in fact believe in the existence of elves. The closest figure I would later find (from a survey in 1998) showed that 54.4% of people living in Iceland at that time believed in their existence. As a testament to this belief, parents in Iceland will warn their children not to throw stones in case they hit an elf they cannot see, and often plans to lay new roads or build new houses are denied or re-routed because of the report of an elf-sighting nearby. Mythology plays an important role here to the extent that, to this day, the landscape is shaped by it. I read one story of a research scientist who, while taking samples of rock on the ridge of a volcano, went missing and was presumed dead, but was later found the following year crawling on her hands and knees, covered in tattoos and speaking only in old Icelandic.
Stories like this, I am told, are not uncommon.
Much as I tried, however, I couldn’t find any hidden people – I was hoping that some evidence or sign of them would show up on my negatives when I got back to London. But then, in the most sparsely populated country in Europe, finding any people at all can be a challenge in itself.