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Icelanders still hold strong to their belief in fairies (Image courtesy of Flickr user ~bear~)

Icelanders Protest a Road That Would Disturb Fairies

Nepal has the Yeti. The South has Bigfoot. Iceland has fairies.

smithsonian.com

In Iceland, fairies are a big deal. Such a big deal that in the past few months there have been protests to stop a road that might disturb them. The new route would slice through the Alftanes peninsula, near Reykjavik, and the protesters say that the elves live amongst the rocks that would be disturbed.

This might seem odd for a modern nation like Iceland. But most countries have some sort of supernatural superstitions. New Jersey has the chupacabra. The south has Bigfoot. Iceland has fairies. Ryan Jacobs at the Atlantic spoke with Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, one of the protestors:

Though Jónsdóttir’s belief in elves may sound extreme, it is fairly common for Icelanders to at least entertain the possibility of their existence. In one 1998 survey, 54.4 percent of Icelanders said they believed in the existence of elves. That poll is fairly consistent with other findings and with qualitative fieldwork, according to an academic paper published in 2000 titled “The Elves’ Point of View" by Valdimar Hafstein, who now is a folkloristics professor at the University of Iceland. “If this was just one crazy lady talking about invisible friends, it's really easy to laugh about that,” Jónsdóttir said. “But to have people through hundreds of years talking about the same things, it’s beyond one or two crazy ladies. It is part of the nation.”

In fact, when Jacobs asked the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration about the elves, they provided a five-page standard reply—one that they have at the ready, since the question is so common. “It will not answer the question of whether the [Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration] employees do or do not believe in elves and ‘hidden people’ because opinion differs greatly on this and it tends to be a rather personal matter,” the statement said.

Benjamin Radford, at Live Science, also points out that it’s not just the elves that are being cited as reasons to protest the road:

It's easy to exaggerate the conflict and to caricaturize the protesters as crazy, lava-hugging environmentalists who are willing to be arrested to stop an imaginary elf village from being bulldozed. But disturbing the fairies is only one of several reasons offered by the protesters for why the road construction should stop; many challenge the legality of the road (the lava fields were officially protected in 2009, and may or may not remain so today), whileothers lament the impending destruction of a culturally significant local landmark (with or without resident elves).

Elves or not, the whole thing has blocked the road’s construction for months now, according to the Associated Press:

The project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on a case brought by a group known as Friends of Lava, who cite both the environmental and the cultural impact — including the impact on elves — of the road project. The group has regularly brought hundreds of people out to block the bulldozers.

Perhaps if they give the elves their own tiny carpool lane, everybody will be happy. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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