For part of my research on the Illustration project of Myths and Legends of Iceland I have read these two books:
Icelandic Folk tales & Legends
A Traveller’s Guide to Icelandic Folk Tales.
The first story that really captured my imagination was the Seal Skin, here is a little history and directions to the place in which it happened:
From the Book:
Icelandic Folktales & Legends: Magnus Magnusson & Jacqueline Simpson.
The Seal’s Skin
“J.A. I 632-3, from the Revd Skuli Gislason (d.1888). A fine example of ML 4080, ‘The Seal Woman’, also classifiable as a sub-type of AT 400, ‘The Man on a Quest for his Lost Wife’. Six other versions are known from Iceland, the earliest being from a work by Jon Gudmimdsson the Learned, 1641 (J.A. I xiii Maurer 173, and four in manuscript): see Simpson 1988, 241-2, for a translation of J.A.’s second version. Seals were said to be descended from Pharaoh’s soldiers, drowned in the Red Sea, and to lay aside their skins and resume human form once a year, on Midsummer Eve, or on the twelfth day of Christmas: the term ‘sea people’ was sometimes applied to them. SImilar tales are common in Scotland, Ireland, the Orkneys and Faroes, and in Norway: for the Scorrish and Irish tales and beliefs, see Thomson, 1965. For a Faroese version, see Kvideland and Sehmsdorf, 265 – 6.”
From the book:
A Traveller’s Guide to Icelandic Folk Tales: Jon R. Hjalmarsson.
The Woman and the Sealskin : South Iceland: Myrdalur.
“Myrdalur is the region between Jokulsa on Solheimasandur in the west and the Myrdalassandur desert in the east. This is Iceland’s southernmost region, a fertile and well-vegetated area in the shelter of the Myrdalsjokull glacier.
The Ring Road passes through Myrdalur and most travellers stop in Vik i Myrdal, an attractive village located near the sea on lowland below Mt. Reynisfjall. Vik was initially a fishing station but a village began to grow up there after it recieved its trading charter in 1887. The population is now neary 400. The local economy is largely based on commerce, light industry and services, not least tourism. The village has a resteraunt and guesthouse, campsite and other tourist facilities, and various activities are offered, such as trips by amphibious vehicle out to Reynisdrangar or Dyrholaey.
The landscape of Myrdalur is picturesque, with splendid mountains such as Burfell, Fellsfjall, Petursey and Arnarstakksheidi inland, and Dyrholaey and Reunisfjall on the seaward side. In spite of their names, neither Petursey (Petur’s Island) nor Dyrholaey (Door-Hill Island) is actually an island. Petursey is a hill that rises up from the lowlands some distance from the sea, while Dyrholaey is a rocky headland, 120 m high, with a lighthouse on top. A hole through Toin, a point extending from headland, is the ‘door’ of Dyrholaey. There are many rock pillars at Dyrholaey: Arnardrangur stands on teh shore, while out at sea is Haidrangur, 56 m high. Farther east is Mt. Reynisfjall, 340 m high, and south of this the Reynisdrangar rock pillars rise up out of the sea, the highest reaching 66 m. These pillars came into existance when two night trolls wet to tow a three-masted vessel ashore. They took longer than they expected and were caught in the rays of the risisng sun, and so they and their ship were turned to stone. Each pillar has its own name: Landdrangur, Langsamur, Skessudrangur, etc.
In the past, Myrdalur had a number of fishing stations: Porshofn east of Reynisfjall and Reynishofn to the west, Dyrholahofn at Dyrholaey, and Mariuhlid on the Jokulsa river. Seals are often seen swimming offshore at Myrdalur. According to folklore, seals came into existence when the waters of the Red Sea were parted for the childern of Israel so that they could pass safely over to the other side: when Pharaoh’s warriors followed them, the sea closed over them and they were turned into seals. God mercifully allows them to come ashore once a year, shed their sealskin and make merry in human form until morning. The folk tale of the woman and the sealskin from Myrdalur suggest that such things really happened.”
I was vey lucky to be able to visit where the story took place when I was out in Iceland, Here are some of my own photos taken from the area.