Showing some elf-respect: Teenagers on a frozen lake in Iceland?s capital, Reykjavik.

Showing some elf-respect: Teenagers on a frozen lake in Iceland?s capital, Reykjavik. Photo: New York Times

Reykjavik, Iceland: In this land of fire and ice, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape in which anything might lurk, stories abound of the "hidden folk" — thousands of elves, making their homes in Iceland's wilderness.

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before 21st-century elves got political representation.

Elf advocates have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project building a direct route from the Alftanes peninsula, where the president has a home, to the Reykjavik suburb of Gardabaer. They fear disturbing elf habitat and claim the area is particularly important because it contains an elf church.

Iceland, a land alive with geysers and volcanoes, is also home to people who believe in elves.

Iceland, a land alive with geysers and volcanoes, is also home to people who believe in elves. Photo: Reuters

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.

And it's not the first time issues about "Huldufolk," Icelandic for "hidden folk," have affected planning decisions.

They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states that "issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on."

Icelandic singer Bjork believes in elves.

Icelandic singer Bjork believes in elves. Photo: AFP

Scandinavian folklore is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven't taken them seriously since the 19th century, but elves are no joke to many in Iceland, population 320,000.

A survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 found that 62 percent of the 1000 respondents thought it was at least possible that elves exist.

Ragnhildur Jonsdottir, a self-proclaimed "seer," believes she can communicate with the creatures through telepathy.

"It will be a terrible loss and damaging both for the elf world and for us humans," said Ms Jonsdottir of the road project.

Although many of the Friends of Lava are motivated primarily by environmental concerns, they see the elf issue as part of a wider concern for the history and culture of a very unique landscape.

Andri Snaer Magnason, a well-known environmentalist, said his major concern was that the road would cut the lava field in two, among other things, destroying nesting sites.

"Some feel that the elf thing is a bit annoying," said Mr Magnason, adding that personally he was not sure they existed. However, he added, "I got married in a church with a god just as invisible as the elves, so what might seem irrational is actually quite common" with Icelanders.

And at Christmas, Icelanders await not just one Santa Claus, but 13 trolls known as the "Yule Lads" who come to town during the 13 days before Christmas. Each has his own task, putting rewards or punishments into the shoes of little children. They include Stufur, or Stubby, who is extremely short and eats crusts left in pans; Pottaskefill, or Pot-Scraper, who snatches leftovers; and Hurdaskellir or Door-Slammer, who likes to slam doors at night.

One of Iceland's most famous daughters, the singer Bjork, displayed no hesitation when asked by US comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert if people in her country believed in elves.

"We do," she said. "It's sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It's all about respect, you know."

AP