Around the 9th or 10th century, two peculiar and mysterious individuals lived adjacent to each other in southern Iceland, specifically in the region above the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. The names of this odd pair were Storolf and Dufthak. They had quite the different backstories, but they acquired very similar reputations. Storolf was born in Iceland, growing up on the estate of his prominent father, Ketil Trout, who came to the island from Norway during the reign of the Norwegian king, Harald Finehair (r. 860-940). When Storolf grew to adulthood, he settled down at a place called Hvoll. As for Dufthak, who lived just south of Hvoll at a place called Dufthaksholt, he was said to have been a former slave or prisoner who was accepted into the Icelandic community. He reportedly hailed from somewhere in the British Isles, but no specific location of origin was known. After arriving in Iceland and obtaining autonomy, Dufthak negotiated with Ketil Trout to gain possession of the land that would become his home. Dufthak and Ketil Trout evidently had a cordial relationship as neighbors, but the relationship was more complex when it came to the interactions between Dufthak and Ketil’s son, Storolf.
Despite their differences in upbringing and personal history, Dufthak and Storolf actually were said to have had a lot in common in terms of their character and personality. From the perspective of their Icelandic neighbors, the two were both highly spiritual—to the point that there was gossip that both men possessed knowledge of advanced forms of magic and sorcery. Due to their reputation of dabbling in eccentric occult practices, the two were similarly viewed by the community as suspicious and dangerous individuals. While Storolf and Dufthak could have become great friends, growing closer through their shared interest in magic and the supernatural realm, they instead began to quarrel over grazing rights. The Icelandic community (or, at least, its gossips) watched the dispute between the two sorcerous individuals with great interest, perhaps hoping for a magical showdown to occur. Curiously, it was another supernaturally-inclined figure who apparently led the rumor mills, because the lead source of the gossip was a person who claimed to have superhuman eyes that let him or her see the magic and magical beings that Storolf and Dufthak were supposedly capable of unleashing. The odd tale of the two alleged sorcerers and their special-sighted witness was recorded in the Icelandic Book of Settlements, which stated:
“One evening, about sunset, someone with second sight noticed a huge bear set out from Hvoll, and a bull from Dufthaksholt. They met at Storolfsvoll and set upon one another in a fury, the bear getting the best of it. In the morning, people saw there was a hollow where they had met, and it was just as if the earth had been turned upside down. Nowadays the place is called Oldugrof. Both men were badly hurt” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 350).
If the legend was built around gems of truth, perhaps some sort of geologic event occurred at Oldugrof, and maybe Storolf and Dufthak were both injured or sick around the time that it occurred. Whatever the case, the gossips—led by their leader with second sight—did not believe in coincidences, and instead a story was proposed that claimed the earthen hollow, along with the ailments of Storolf and Dufthak, were all caused by an epic nighttime duel between conjured spirit animals. If the two men survived their mysterious maladies, they likely discovered that their reputations as suspected sorcerers had greatly grown while they were bedridden.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustrasjon til “Olav den Helliges Saga”, artwork by Erik Werenskiold (c. 1855–1938), [Public Domain / no restrictions] via Creative Commons and the National Museum of Norway).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.