Reynisdrangar. Photo from National Geographic

Earlier this month I saw a National Geographic article on-line about the folktales behind Iceland’s natural formations, like rocks, islands, and lava formations. I’ve also enjoyed Icelandic folk tales, even before I knew that’s where they came. I might just have an affinity for trolls.

I couldn’t find the full version of the story of the trolls of Reynisdrangar on-line, but I’ve pulled together a couple sources, including National Geographic and a geo-caching site.

Trolls, in Iceland, are night-dwellers. One night, three mischievous trolls, Skessudrangur, Laddrangur and Langhamar were pulling a ship onto shore. Apparently the task took longer than they anticipated and they lost track of time. When dawn came, they were instantly turned to stone. If you drive by the cliffs near Vik, you can still hear their wails as they dream of their home in the mountains.

Reynisdrangar are basalt sea stacks. As basaltic lava cools over an extended period of time, geometric forms emerge, including the cliffs at Vik. The stacks are usually formed from the erosion of the headland, which I assume is what happened here. The process usually begins when the sea flows through small cracks in a headland and opens them. The cracks then gradually get larger and turn into a small cave. When the cave wears through the headland, an arch forms. Further erosion causes the arch to collapse, leaving the pillar of hard rock standing away from the coast—the stack. Stacks typically form in sedimentary or volcanic rocks. These rocks’ medium hardness means they have a medium resistance to erosion. Cliffs with weaker rock, like clay, tend to slump and erode too quickly to form stacks, while harder rocks, such as granite, erode in different ways.

Image from

A little folklore and a little science today.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.


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