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Fire & Freezing: Elves in the Road

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328809.  Fri May 02, 2008 5:27 am Reply with quote

Question: What creatures most commonly block road building in Iceland?

Forfeit: Reindeer: Crap Joke Forfeit: "elf and safety"

Answer: Unlike arctic foxes and reindeer, that don’t cause any problems, elves and fairies have on a number of occasions been obstacles when building roads in Iceland.

There is a common story, often trotted out, that road constructors in Iceland regularly have to reconsider their plans due to elves. Our own QI elves have been on the case, and can confirm that it certainly is true that on occasion the authorities have changed their plans due to the belief, by locals, that elves and fairies lived in certain locations. On the other hand, we are told that animals such as reindeer and arctic foxes have no effect on road construction. Of course, it is important for all construction projects to take into account the feelings of local residents, no matter what one may personally think of their objections.

The belief in elves, fairies or other “hidden people” is common in Iceland. A study in the 1970s first brought this to the international community, but a 2007 survey by University of Iceland folklorist Terry Gunnell shows that 8 percent of Icelanders believe in elves, 13 percent outright disbelieve, and about three-quarters of Icelanders are open to the possibility. Of course, it is important that all construction projects bear this in mind, just as US projects would consider Native American traditions, and Australians would consider the thoughts of Aboriginal leaders.

Icelandic roadworks often require the movement of rocks and boulders: tradition dictates that these are often the haunts of the hidden people. It is also often considered that certain sites are cursed. The authorities have reacted in different ways to local concerns: sometimes the issues are settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point whilst the elves living there have supposedly moved on, while sometimes the road’s path is slightly diverted; on other occasions the rocks are moved with the help of spiritualists.

Three specific incidents have been confirmed by the Iceland Road Authority, in all cases accidents or mechanical failures have occurred that have been pounced-upon by local press and blamed on elvish curses. Perhaps the most famous incident related to a boulder called Grásteinn (Grey Rock) that had to be moved in the early 70s. In actual fact, the elf stories in this case were probably invented at the time, out of a sense of mischief, but the boulder has since become a tourist attraction, and has now been defined as an archaeological site and has been marked as such.

In the Western Highlands of Scotland you will find hollow stones called grugach stones into which milk for the gruagach - local fairy - was poured so the fairies would not harm the cattle and would protect the area. You could also leave them cake or cream, so long as there was ample to keep the fairy happy.

Further sources:

Picture ideas:
A photoshopped picture of an elf tied to a tree, or lying in the way of a bulldozer might be funny. Else, just some nice pics of road construction and of the icelandic countryside.


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