In April’s Vanity Fair, an article on Iceland’s economy discusses one unique problem that expansion faces: elves.
Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant. The first was the so-called “hidden people” — or, to put it more plainly, elves — in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.”
I think this is awesome. For one thing, what a great job — you could go around determining economic development by certifying things elf-free or not-elf-free, and not get locked up, as you might elsewhere. And for another, it’s nice to know that even in deeply skeptical times people believe in things. According to the New York Times:
A belief not just in elves but also in the predictive power of dreams, in the potency of dead spirits and in other supernatural phenomena, is closely linked to Iceland’s Celtic traditions and punishing, powerful landscape —especially the harsh weather and the rocks that appear everywhere.
“If there was a large stone in the garden, and somebody said to an Icelander, ‘That’s an elf stone,’ would they blow it up? They wouldn’t,” said Terry Gunnell, head of the folkloristic department at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.
“It’s not like they think there are little people living in there who come and dance outside,” he added. “It’s more a sense that there are other powers, other forces around them.”