So we’re sitting on an orange leather couch at Helgi’s house, a golden sun pouring in the window at eight in the evening. Helgi sets out six shot glasses of amber-tinted aquavit—and Esther and I are the only ones who imbibe. We are drowsy. Very drowsy. Out the living room window are Tolkien mountains and Tolkien mists. It’s a Tolkien town. Before we even got to Helgi’s, we stopped at a turf house museum where we all commented how hobbit-like the houses looked. Coincidentally on the coffee table where our empty shot glasses sit, there is the first book of the trilogy, Lord of the Rings, in English. Another one in Icelandic. This starts to add up to something, even in my somnolent mind. We are in a place, another state, and it is one of sheer contentment. All beauty and peace has descended here at Helgi’s house in Holar. The world is still or at least slowed. For Esther and me, admittedly, the aquavit may have helped, but the others who aren’t drinking feel it too. We cannot move or speak. Even Esther, who never runs out of things to say, is silent. Not only that, her eyes are closed and her face bears a beatific smile. Finally Bev, maybe sensing social pressure and noticing that her hitherto garrulous friends have checked out, picks up the slack and asks a few questions to Helgi. Thank god for that, because the rest of us are not being good guests.
Gudrinn, Helgi’s wife, comes home from Akureyri where she had been attending a conference on the economy of the Arctic States. She looks full of information. Their 8-year-old niece shows up, too. Blond-haired and brown-faced from the sun, she speaks in a whispery, angelic voice. Surely she is an elf child. Helgi calls us to the dinner table. I float there. He puts out a meal of onion quiche, mushroom bisque, tomato salad, and skyr tarte, He has performed his kitchen magic.
The talk turns to the supernatural. You never know if Icelanders are pulling your tourist legs when they tell you stories of elves and trolls. And politeness stops you from asking if they believe. By most standards, Iceland is the sanest country, but the sagas and myths lodge deep in their psyches and they relish telling the tales. Helgi and Gudrinn explain the oh-so obvious:
“Trolls are giants. It’s the Icelandic word for giant. Trolls can only move in the night. If the sun comes out and catches them, they turn into boulders.”
“They are always getting into trouble. Mostly with their engineering feats. They start moving rocks and then get caught when the sun comes up.”
“Elves are invisible people. They are the beautiful people.”
“How do you know if they’re beautiful if they are invisible?” I ask.
“You know because there are times when people can see them. You can corner one at a crossroad, for instance, and if you do, it will offer you everything to let it pass. There’s a story about an elf cornered by some guy and the elf offers him gold, silver, horses–anything to let him pass. But all the guy wants is sheep fat.”
“Elves know the secret of the universe. If they tell it to you, you have to keep it quiet. Or else.”
I’m going with it. I’m gullible. I get suitably woo-woo in certain settings, especially in the recreation of Middle Earth. I want to know the secret of the universe, but I’m also happy just knowing that there is a secret to the universe.
Before the conversation is over, Helgi says, “I think it is all the subconscious at work. That we project dreams, that sort of stuff.”
Well, that’s the equivalent of a buzzkill, and puts an end to the cowardly lions’ voice in my head, “I do, I do I do believe in ghosts.”
Later that night….
we are driving home on a mountain road, we have troll-like boulders to our right that are perched along the edge of a steep cliff, and to our left, the other lane of approaching traffic. We come to the crest of the road just as the blinding globular sun cuts at an angle that obliterates our vision, including Jill’s, who is driving. She says worriedly, “I can’t see the road. I can’t see where I’m driving.” If she drives to the right too much, we hit a boulder or missing that head right off the cliff. Too much to the left, there could be oncoming traffic. She stops the car in what feels like the middle of the road. We are encased in the glare of the midnight sun waiting for it to move an inch on the horizon to give us room to see. But in those few moments, when blinded like that, you can see anything: an elf at the crossroad or a troll turn into a boulder.