As a nation living in such close proximity to the sea, Icelanders have a plethora of open sea monsters, but also a good number of myths that talk of monsters living in the fresh water lakes, fjords and the many tide pools along the shore. The Skeljaskrímsli is among these very itinerant beasts.
The name Skeljaskrímsli, which translates from Icelandic as shell monster, is a name used for a number of Icelandic monstrous animals. These bizarre animals vary in appearance and size, and may resemble dogs, sheep or horses. They often have many (at least four) limbs, and can move with the lightest touch or make a lot of noise by shaking the coat of shells, along with seaweed or anything found on the shores, that covers their body.
Despite the differences in shape and size, three things link all these animals together:
-They are always observed dragging-hoping along the seashore,
-They all have a hump on the back,
-They all possess a coat of shells and other debris they pick up from the shore.
Shell monsters have been sighted along the coasts of all the main regions of Iceland. In their book Meeting with Monsters, Hlíðberg and Ægisson indicate that the skeljaskrímsli is a quadrupedal marine creature, bulky and powerfully built, its size is close to that of a winter’s old bull calf or a huge horse.
It is believed, the skeljaskrímslis live shallow waters, coming to the shore in the dark moonless nights of the northern winter. Often, they can be seen just before or after spells of bad weather and storms. Experienced fishermen and those who live by the shore, know this monsters are attracted to light sources, leaving deep gouges in farmhouse doors as testament to their nightly visits. So it's advised to close all windows before lighting candles or building up the hearth's fire.
You can recognize this creature by its broad neck, a set of jaws and teeth of impressive dimensions, and its reddish eyes. If seen during the dusk or dawn, when light is less abundant, a phosphorescent glow may be observed coming from its mouth. Generally, unless it has lost a part of it in a fight, the skeljaskrímsli’s tail is long and armed with a lump at the end. Its short, strong legs end in circular feet armed with large claws. Suffice to say that anyone who encounters one of tthem will be in for a bad time.
Fortunately, scraping against each other, the shells on their body rattle as the they move, giving warning of its arrival, and a chance to escape to unsuspecting passers-by. Nonetheless, one must be vigilant, because on dark nights, when on the hunt, the skeljaskrímsli may move with care and in perfect silence, surprising its prey by appearing out of nowhere.
One other thing may save you from the attack of a skeljaskrímsli, and that is their smell. With a coat of shells and other marine debris covering its body, in proximity, a powerful stench gives the position of a skeljaskrímsli away.
There is little good to say about this monstrous inhabitant of the Icelandic shores, for even its blood and meat are toxic.
Most weapons are useless against a skeljaskrímsli’s formidable coat of armor. Ancient records tell of one farmer who battled a skeljaskrímsli, managing to keep it at bay for hours, until the monster tired and returned to the sea, Days later, the farmer was stricken with leprosy, for he was too close to the beast and probably inhaled some of its poisonous breath. The same record notes the case of another farmer managed, who wounded a skeljaskrímsli with a whale harpoon only to be splattered by some of its poisonous blood, dying in agony soon after.
To harm a skeljaskrímsli one must resort to alternative ammunition; a musket loaded with silver buttons, grey willow catkins, or lamb droppings is the only ways to injure and kill this beast.
The Fjörulalli (to be found lurking along Fjords) is the best-known breed of the skeljaskrímsli. This subspecies has been reported to be smaller, about as big as a dog, and may or may not have a tail, with a head thta looks more like a small and rounded outgrowth from the body. Instead of being covered in shells, its coat is often made of lava fragments that scrape together as it moves. Unlike the larger shell-monsters, these smaller ones are usually harmless. They will, however, tear the udders off sheep, and pregnant women should avoid them lest they negatively affect their unborn babies.
-Jón Baldur Hlíðberg, Sigurður Ægisson. 2008. Meeting with Monsters: An Illustrated Guide to the Beasts of Iceland. JPV.
-Guðrún Bjarkadóttir. 2010. Icelandic mammal name: Their history and origins, Master Thesis. University of Iceland. Department of Icelandic Studies and Culture.