To many visitors, the formidable rock monolith Hvítserkur, a basalt sea stack that presides over the Vatnsnes Peninsula in grim vigil, resembles a dragon or an elephant drinking out of the ocean. Some claim it was formed in an eruption thousands of years ago, and that the pounding waves of the Atlantic Ocean have sculpted this volcanic creation into its hulking shape.

But the truth is much simpler.

Hvítserkur is a night troll who was turned into stone by the light of day.

Iceland converted to Christianity in the year 1000, much to the chagrin of the country’s trolls. Not content to make a mistake without immediately following it with another one, Icelanders further angered the trolls by peppering the landscape with churches in celebration of their new religion.

And when the church at Þingeyri was built, a night troll who had been living in the nearby Vatnsdalsfjall mountain lost her temper.

One Christmas eve, a church celebrating mass rang its bells in celebration, which set the troll off in a fiery rage. She grabbed her staff and rushed down the mountain, blinded by her fury.

Upon reaching the plains, she hurled the staff at the church with all of her might, hoping to smash either the church bells or the church itself—and preferably kill the priest in the process. But, the staff broke in two in mid-air and missed the church entirely.

As the broken pieces hit the ground, the troll looked up. She realised that dawn was breaking. As any night troll would do, she panicked. She rushed toward shelter in the mountain as quickly as she was able, but she slipped and fell down a cliff. She landed on the beach below, where the sun’s first rays reached her, turning her into the stone monolith in the north that we now know as Hvítserkur.