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ICELANDIC TROLLS - AUGUST 1998
By Alfred Gruber



figure 1
Figure 1. Ring Road Bridge at Skeidara

I spoke disparagingly of trolls while driving with friends on an Iceland lava road. Immediately rocks were thrown up into the car's fenders [now known as quarter panels]. "Trolls", they proclaimed. Being trained in the scientific method I immediately devised some experiments to test for the possibility that there were indeed trolls on the highways. First, I thought kind thoughts and the ride was smooth. Later, I mentally reviled the little devils and immediately rocks were thrown. After a period of quiet contemplation, the procedure was reversed. Bad vibes resulted in rocks again. I even tried belittling them on a paved section and whammo we hit a pot hole. I believe! During construction of the Ring Road, see the 1978 Skeidara Bridge stamp (Fig 1), trolls wreaked so much havoc on construction machinery the road was rerouted at one point. That constitutes government recognition doesn't it?

How did trolls get to Iceland? It's too easy to assume they stowed away on Viking ships. Let's examine the distinct possibility they are of Irish origin. Saint Brendan (Fig 2) set sail with seventeen monks and was blown onto Tila (a corrupted form of Thule) in the early sixth century. Their vessels were curraghs, very lightly constructed of tanned ox-hide strips caulked with ox-tallow. Scientific types now disbelieve St. Brendan landed on Iceland, nevertheless by 793 there were establishments of Irish monks notably at Kirkjubaer. Could not some loveable Irish leprechauns have stowed away or disguised themselves in monk robes and found the situation so grim in Iceland they soured on it all and adopted lives as trolls?

What do trolls look like? Since they are in Norwegian literature I looked for them on Norge stamps. One! He is the thinker on the 60 ore of the 1974 Folk Tales II issue. Some Noreg Christmas seals, e.g., 1919 (Fig 3), have cute little guys in pointy hats. The catalog calls them nissen which translates to goblins or elves. The thesaurus ranks elves and pixies as sprites - sort of cute people. Trolls on the other hand, are ranked with devils, witches, sorcerers and demons. So the Norway little people are not nasty trolls but pleasant nissen.

Figure 2 Ireland's St. Brendanfigure 2

 Perhaps there are portraits of trolls hidden in stamps similar to the perceived face on Mars resulting in a recent philatelic scam. While looking for something in Fundamentals of Philately. by L. N. and M. Williams, second printing [1971], a yellowed piece of newsprint at page 71 [I swear I never put it there] drew my attention to an inverted Iceland stamp. The subject was "Ghost Stamps". "Another example, chosen at random, of a 'ghost' visible when the stamp is inverted, occurs in Iceland 1938-45, 15a [Fig 41, where, to what is then the left of the main column of the geyser appears a smaller column (beginning about 4 mm. below the letters "EY") that seems, with a little imagination, like a small, crowned head with a large flowing white beard'. All the geyser stamps show him, but the portrait is clearest on the 15a. [Sometimes I see him; sometimes not; that's precisely the way it is with trolls.] 

fig 3 fig 4 fig 5 fig 6

Figure 3: 1919 Norway Christmas Seal

Figure 4: Troll hiding in Geysir

Figure 5: Another hidden troll

Figure 6. 1981 Europa XXII issue.

 It may have been a troll caused my hand to shake and drop the Dynjandi Falls stamp of Iceland 1935, 10a (Fig 5). It landed left side down and staring out of the top of the falls is a face. Turn the stamp to right side down and there is another. Since the trolls became my compatriots on the Iceland roads I am authorized to pronounce those faces to be true troll portraits. Iceland did recognize the subject with the 1981 EUROPA XXII issue. There, on two stamps we find Loftur the Sorcerer and the Witch in the Deeps around Iceland (Fig 6).

I rest my case.

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