Asbjørnsen, Peter, 1812-1885, and Moe, Jørgen, 1813-1882

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Peter Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe
1812-1885; 1813-1882


(Full names Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Ingebretsen Moe) Norwegian folklorists, editors, and compilers of fairy tales.

The following entry presents an overview of Asbjørnsen and Moe's careers through 2003.


As Norway emerged from four hundred years of Danish rule in the early seventeenth century, folklorists Asbjørnsen and Moe made a significant contribution to the growing sense of Norwegian national identity. By traveling throughout the country and gathering regional folk and fairy tales, Asbjørnsen and Moe helped preserve elements of traditional Norwegian mythology that otherwise may have vanished. The pair also worked to develop and publish in a written language that was independent from Danish and reflected popular Norwegian speech. Their most well-known collection, Norske folkeeventyr (1841-1844; Norwegian Folk Tales), effectively captures the spirit of Norwegian folk beliefs, nature, and language. Many of the tales that were originally published in Asbjørnsen and Moe's collections—such as "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," "The Squire's Bride," and "The Runaway Pancake"—have since been reprinted as individual stories for modern audiences.


Asbjørnsen was born in Christiania, Norway, in 1812, and Moe was born in Ringerike in 1813. During their formative years, both men were surrounded by traditional Norwegian storytelling. Asbjørnsen's father was a glazier, and apprentices and travelers gathered in his workshop to gossip and tell stories. Likewise, Moe heard folklore and fairy tales while working on his family's farm. Asbjørnsen and Moe met in 1827 at the Støren brothers' prep school at Norderhov in Ringerike. Drawn together by their shared love of nature and folklore, they quickly became close friends. After leaving prep school, the two met again at the university in Christiania in 1833, the year that Andreas Faye published Norske Sagn (Norwegian Legends), one of the first serious attempts to publish Norwegian folklore. Although Asbjørnsen and Moe recognized the importance of Faye's work, the collection was considered dry and stolid by most audiences. Moe eventually left university because of ongoing health problems, but wrote to Asbjørnsen: "If I can ever get well again I am going to start telling folk tales … that shall be Norwegian!" The two men chose significantly different livelihoods—Moe entered the clergy and eventually became the Bishop of Christiansand, while Asbjørnsen worked as a zoologist and forest inspector—and both struggled financially throughout their careers. However, their shared interest in folklore remained strong. After reading the works of the Brothers Grimm, Asbjørnsen and Moe wrote Jacob Grimm, proclaiming, "An early acquaintanceship with your Kinder und Hausmärchen, as well as an intimate knowledge of the life and lore of the people of Norway, gave us the idea to prepare a collection of Norwegian folktales." The pair then set off across Norway, traveling throughout the country to gather examples of regional folklore. As Edmund W. Gosse notes, "It was from minstrels at bridal-feasts, from boatmen on the fjords, from old blind vagabonds and the household paupers who form so strange a feature of a Norse peasant community, that they obtained most of their best stories." It was important to Asbjørnsen and Moe that their writing capture the vitality and oral tradition of Norwegian folk tales. To keep the stories from reading flat, therefore, the two men conducted extensive fieldwork to determine how to retell the stories in an animated, vibrant voice.


In 1837, after collecting a variety of Norwegian folklore, Asbjørnsen and Moe met to collaborate on the tales. Their first small book, Nor: En Billedbog for den norske Ungdom (1937; Nor: A Picture Book for Norwegian Youth) was published under Asbjørnsen's name and contained an anonymous introductory poem by Moe. In 1841 the first installment of Norwegian Folk Tales was published without a title or the publisher's or authors' names. The publication of Norwegian Folk Tales marked the first time a book was printed in a common Norwegian language, using Norwegian provincialisms and idioms. Oscar J. Falnes observes, "[t]he public received them with some hesitation. Critics who should have led the way, were more or less puzzled, and while they faltered, the stories independently proved their popularity." In 1842 Moe reported that the stories were making "a big success, almost a furor." By 1844 three additional installments of Norwegian Folk Tales were printed, and the four books became recognized as a collection. Though many of the tales echo themes common among European tales and legends, they additionally feature distinct Norwegian elements, including the prevalence of trolls, the hero Askelad (or "Boots"), and depictions of the Norwegian landscape. The stories also embody elements of Norse mythology, incorporating themes of good versus evil and urban versus rural. Prompted by its initial success, a new edition of Norwegian Folk Tales that included a long scholarly introduction by Moe was printed in 1851; Moe's introductory essay became an important addition to international scholarship on folklore. In 1859 Sir George Webbe Dasent translated the collection into English as Popular Tales from the Norse. Both Asbjørnsen and Moe were pleased with the translation, which has remained the standard English version used in many subsequent reprinted collections and individually retold stories.

After the 1852 edition of Norwegian Folk Tales was published, Moe took a less active role in the partnership while Asbjørnsen continued to edit and reprint new editions of their collection. Asbjørnsen also gathered twenty-seven new stories for the collection Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn (Norwegian Fairy Tales and Folk Legends), which was printed in three editions between 1845 and 1848. Although it did not initially receive as much critical attention as Norwegian Folk Tales, Norwegian Fairy Tales and Folk Legends was eventually recognized as a classic rendering of Norwegian national romanticism. While many of Asbjørnsen and Moe's tales were reprinted in Andrew Lang's Color Fairy Books, they have not received the critical attention or general popularity of the collections published by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. However, Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen's edition of East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, with Other Norwegian Folk Tales (1912) did help spread Asbjørnsen and Moe's stories throughout American schools and libraries. In addition, some of the tales—especially "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" and "The Three Billy Goats Gruff"—have been widely reprinted as individual books and become popular childhood stories across the globe.


Particularly within their home country, Asbjørnsen and Moe have been widely acclaimed for their tireless efforts at preserving stories and legends from the Norwegian oral tradition. As Gosse has stated, the two men "were only just in time to preserve the stories from extinction; in many districts they had already ceased to exist, in others they remained solely in the memories of a few very aged persons." The initial critical reception of Asbjørnsen and Moe's collections, however, was decidedly mixed. Certain literary purists deemed their stories offensive and lamented their reliance on urbane Norwegian jargon. But such disapproval was quieted once the stories achieved popular success with European audiences and won the approval of several influential critics. Jacob Grimm heartily noted the superiority of the collection, and Romanticists praised the stories for upholding the peasant tradition and the emerging Norwegian national identity. In an 1852 review in the Christiania Morgenbladet, P. A. Munch commented that the new edition of Norwegian Folk Tales was written in a "superb, national … style, a mode of expression that spoke directly to the childlike mind and heart." Scholars have also commended Asbjørnsen and Moe's role in assisting in the construction of a cohesive Norwegian national language. Although the two men were used to writing in Danish, Joan Roll-Hansen states that Asbjørnsen and Moe agreed that their stories should "be written in a popular style, as close to that of the originals as possible, with all the colloquialism, the verve, the ripe humour of the tales that were living in the woods and valleys. At the same time, they wished to avoid using marked local dialects that might not be understood in the rest of Norway. Their great achievement was to create, in close cooperation, a style in which these aims were carried out." Asbjørnsen's Norwegian Fairy Tales and Folk Legends further contributed to Norway's developing language and has been studied for its portrayal of a foreign "Other"—often portrayed by Gypsies or other "outsiders"—within the stories. Critics and historians have speculated over whether Asbjørnsen or Moe played a more central role in determining the selection and style of the tales in their various collections. The current critical consensus generally recognizes Moe as the stronger stylist and credits him with emphasizing the folk tales' cultural significance. Roll-Hansen, however, has noted the strengths of both, arguing that Asbjørnsen "excelled in humorous tales" while Moe "was a master at rendering the more serious, epic tales." As Hans Hansen states in his 1932 biography of Asbjørnsen, "[t]he work on the folk tales ought for all time without reservation be tied to the names of both men, and the honor be equally divided between them."


Nor: En Billedbog for den norske Ungdom [Nor: A Picture Book for Norwegian Youth] [with Bernt Moe] (folklore) 1837

Norske folkeeventyr [Norwegian Folk Tales] 4 vols. (folklore) 1841-1844

Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn [Norwegian Fairy Tales and Folk Legends] 3 vols. (fairy tales and folklore) 1845-1848

Principal English Translations/Compilations

Popular Tales from the Norse [translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent] 1859

The Fairy World: Folk and Fairy Tales [translated by H. L. Braekstad] 1897

East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, with Other Norwegian Folk Tales [by Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen; from the translation by Sir George Webbe Dasent] 1912

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North [translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent; illustrations by Kay Nielsen] 1917

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Twenty-one Norwegian Folk Tales [translated and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire] 1938

True and Untrue and Other Norse Tales [compiled by Sigrid Undset; illustrations by Frederick C. Chapman] 1945

The Three Billy Goats Gruff [translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent; illustrations by Marcia Brown] 1957

Norwegian Folk Tales, from the Collection of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe [translated by Pat Shaw Iversen and Carl Norman; illustrated by Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelson] 1960

A Time for Trolls: Fairy Tales from Norway [translated by Joan Roll-Hansen, illustrations by Kai Øvre] 1962

The Squire's Bride [illustrations by Marcia Sewall] 1975

The Runaway Pancake [illustrations by Svend Otto S.] 1980

East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon [translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent; illustrations by P. J. Lynch] 1992

The Man Who Kept House [illustrations by Svend Otto S.] 1992

Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins: A Norwegian Folk-tale [illustrations by Lauren Mills] 1993


Edmund W. Gosse (essay date 1897)

SOURCE: Gosse, Edmund W. "Introduction." In The Fairy World: Folk and Fairy Tales, translated by H. L. Braekstad, pp. xii-xx. Boston, Mass.: De Wolfe, Fiske and Company, 1897.

[In the following introduction to the 1897 edition of Asbjørnsen and Moe's The Fairy World: Folk and Fairy Tales, Gosse asserts that the folk tales in the collection are vital literary works because they employ a common language and portray the "genius and temper of the Norwegian peasant."]

Three names in the living literature of Norway may be said to have escaped from the provinciality of a narrow home-circle, and to have conquered a place for themselves in the general European concert. Two of these—Ibsen and Björnson—are borne by professional poets; the third is that of a man of science whose irresistible bias towards literary style may be said to have made a poet of him against his will. The novelettes of Björnson and the comedies of Ibsen belong to the tradition of imaginative art, but the stories of Asbjörnsen, a selection from which is here introduced to the English public, in some sense inaugurated a new order in literature. Here in England, where our poetical language has been repeatedly renewed at the fresh wells of the vernacular, where Chaucer and the Elizabethans, Butler, and Burns and Dickens, each in his own way, have constantly enriched our classical speech with the bright idioms of the vulgar, we can scarcely realise how startling a thing it is when a great writer first dares, in a ripe literature, to write exactly as people commonly speak. This is what the author of these tales has done in Dano-Norwegian. He has cast to the winds the rules of composition, the balance of clauses, the affected town-phrases, and all the artificial forms hitherto deemed requisite in Danish prose, and he has had the courage to note down the fine idiomatic speech of the mountaineer in its native freshness. So much for the outer form of these stories, a husk which our translation must needs crush off and window away, but which adds, in a native ear, much sweetness and strangeness to the narrative.

To understand the inner worth of the tales, we should know, perhaps, something of their author's career. Education made him a zoologist, but nature stepped in, and claimed him for a poet; he has dutifully stretched out a hand to the one foster-mother and to the other. Peter Christen Asbjörnsen was born at Christiania on the 15th of January, 1812. Of his life at school his biographers have told us nothing, and yet there must be something worth telling about it, for there, when a very little boy, he met a child still younger than himself, with whom he formed a close friendship that has lasted ever since, and has left strong traces on his intellectual development. This friend was the charming lyrical poet Jörgen Moe, now Bishop of Christianssand. Before they were twenty years of age these boys began to put down in writing the bogie-tales and old-wives' fables which they had heard in the nursery, and as many more as the folks around them would consent to recollect. The pastime became a passion; whenever they went out fishing or made a walking tour up into the mountains, the fondest object of the journey was to coax a story out of every peasant whom they met. Asbjörnsen soon surpassed Moe in the width of his experience; his profession was one which took him habitually from one end of the kingdom to the other, whereas his friend, with a genius perhaps more naturally attuned than his to the music of mountain and cascade, settled down as a country parson into a narrower and more humdrum circle. Yet it is Moe, and specially in that delightful study of his entitled Blind Anne, who has given us the most complete and vivid sketch of the mode in which the friends collected the materials for their books. In 1838 Asbjörnsen first made public the results of his investigations, very shyly and timorously, in a little publication for children, called Nor. Not until 1842 did the first authorised edition of Norwegian Folk and Fairy Tales, collected by Peter Christen Asbjörnsen and Jörgen Moe, see the light at Christiania; it gradually became widely successful, and was followed in 1871 by a new selection, from the pen of Asbjörnsen alone. In the mean time, as early as 1845, Asbjörnsen had published his well-known volume of Huldreeventyr, or stories about the nymphs or sirens which haunt the high, sparse woods and mountain dairies. Of these also a second selection was printed in 1848. The present gathering of tales, therefore, is a nosegay plucked from these four gardens of the imagination, wild plots full of strange Alpine blossoms, and perfumed with the wind from the pine-forest.

Until the generation now lately passed away, almost the only mode in which the Norwegian peasant killed time in the leisure moments between his daily labour and his religious observances, was in listening to stories. It was the business of old men and women who had reached the extreme limit of their working powers, to retain and repeat these ancient legends in prose and verse, and to recite or sing them when called upon to do so. Such minstrels were held in great respect, and were found in every parish. Moe has observed that there was a certain distinction in the themes selected by the two sexes; from the old women there was required a grim or melancholy class of story, while the old men were called upon for more humorous tales and staves. Asbjörnsen and Moe were only just in time to preserve the stories from extinction; in many districts they had already ceased to exist, in others they remained solely in the memories of a few very aged persons. One or two valleys in Thelemarken, the Assynt of Norway, that district at the back of Kongsberg where the scanty population still shrinks from the transforming touch of modern life, supplied the richest treasure in folklore; wherever the explorers could hear of belt-fights within the memory of man, there they were sure of being on the edge of the more ancient civilization, and safe to find the rare product they were seeking. On the other hand, in modernised and Europeanised provinces like Hardanger, where much intercourse by sea with strangers had destroyed the antique isolation, the stories were less abundant, less genuine, and less characteristic. It was from minstrels at bridal-feasts, from boatmen on the fjords, from old blind vagabonds and the household paupers who form so strange a feature of a Norse peasant community, that they obtained most of their best stories; and it is a significant fact that almost all these professional reciters are now dead. Had Asbjörnsen and Moe neglected the duty of preserving the ancient legends, they would now, in all probability, be lost beyond the chance of restoration.

The stories must now be left to speak for themselves. Of the wonderful links that comparative mythology has found in them, chains that bind Norway in one brotherhood with Ireland and Germany, with Wallachia and Hindustan, nothing needs be said in a popular selection like the present. The stories are charming as tales of primitive Norse life, and if mythologists can find by dissecting them an under-growth of ancient history, that is an additional pleasure for them. It is difficult to doubt that though Asbjörnsen is himself a learned saw in this species of science, it is mainly the tale that has delighted him, the quaint wit, the savage pathos, the intimate and tender sympathy with all that is wild and solitary in the nature of his fatherland. And as a literary artist this is his highest praise, that he has contrived to lay the peculiarities of Norwegian landscape before his readers with a subtlety of touch such as no other poet or proseman has achieved—not by description so much as by a series of those sympathetic and brilliant touches which make us forget the author, and fancy that we are walking in the body through the country of his affection. In Asbjörnsen's tales the English reader will find, in its quintessence, the genius and temper of the Norwegian peasant.

Oscar J. Falnes (essay date 1933)

SOURCE: Falnes, Oscar J. "The Folk and Fairy Tales." In National Romanticism in Norway, pp. 214-36. New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1933.

[In the following essay, Falnes addresses the significance of nationalism and the "language controversy" in the folk tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe.]

When Asbjørnsen and Moe began in 1841 to publish their Norske Folke-eventyr (Norwegian Folk Tales ) which later attained such importance, they had been intermittently at work on the folk tales for several years. Which of the two had the prior interest in these stories has been a matter of argument among the historians of literature. It seems that, independently of each other, both became interested during the middle 'thirties; their new interest may have been matured by the prospect of helping Faye who was considering a new edition of his Norske Sagn. In 1837 Moe and Asbjørnsen laid plans to publish jointly some of the folk tales they had been collecting, and they agreed pretty well on the main principles that should guide their editing. There has been considerable discussion also concerning the question which of the two men had the largest influence in determining these principles, but Krogvig has gone over the whole subject rather carefully and ascribes the decisive influence to Moe.1

Moe's concern for the popular traditions was inspired in no small measure by the stimulus of patriotism. It is true that his first interest in them had been personal and literary; his earliest model as an editor had been Tieck, the German romanticist.2 But soon he found that stories like those of Tieck and Oehlenschlæger were too general. Their style had no "Norwegianness"; none of them seemed of any importance for his own nationality. Might not the Norwegian tales which he was learning to know acquire this importance if they were given the right treatment? From Ringerike he wrote in October, 1836, "If I ever get well again I am going to start telling folk tales. I have just read those edited by Adam.3 By Jove! That's real business (" Død og Plage, det er Greier ")! Yet his stories certainly are not Norwegian." "If ever I become entirely well again you shall hear about 'the seven foals,' and that shall be Norwegian!"

The joint project of the two collectors took shape slowly, but in 1840 Moe prepared a prospectus,4 in which he referred to the scientific importance of the stories. It was his belief that these accounts sprang from the innermost life of a people; hence they enshrined its traditional thought and phantasy and revealed its unique character. With the aid of the comparative method, he thought that the folk tale could be used to throw light upon the relationships of early peoples. "No cultivated person," he wrote,5 "now doubts the scientific importance of the folk tales;… they help to determine a people's unique character and outlook." The editors announced that in retelling the stories they meant to follow carefully the phraseology of the peasant informants, with no embellishment and no changes save in passages that might offend the sense of decency.6 "Our plan," closed the prospectus, "coincides with that of the Grimms in their excellent Kinder und Haus-Märchen. "7

The outlook for a venture of this sort was not encouraging. Neither of the editors was publicly known, and a group of juvenile stories8 would hardly be of interest to adults. Meanwhile the preparatory work went forward and in 1841 appeared the first installment of stories.9 The public received them with some hesitation. Critics who should have led the way, were more or less puzzled, and while they faltered, the stories independently proved their popularity. As early as January of 1842 Moe could report from Christiania that they were making "a big success, almost a furore."10

The little collection elicited two enthusiastic and important reviews. Monrad lent the prestige of his newly-assumed position at the University to a favorable notice in Morgenbladet,11 in which he lapsed immediately into an abstract, Hegelian reverie during the course of which he pointed out how the music and the poetry of a people helped to disclose the connection between its nationality and the Idea.12 These Folke-eventyr were a wholesome sign, he thought, for an interest in popular folklore would facilitate the "rebirth" of the national Idea.

A less philosophical but equally flattering review was that by Rolf Olsen,13 who liked the Folke-eventyr because they were so national. They had a "national ring," agreeably "free from all the dissonances" that usually accompanied national productions in Norway. Their style was juvenile and naïve, indeed its very naïveté was "Norwegian." Like most of his contemporaries, Olsen felt that a national literature must be fashioned from the raw material of popular folklore for therein was enshrined the national "soul." In the future, littérateurs would find it easier to make the nation conscious of its soul—another way of saying that ere long there must appear a national literature.

The literary form of the collection was vulnerable, for in trying to capture the narrative style of the people the editors had made use of provincialisms and popular idioms. Olsen justified what had been done in this respect on national grounds! The editors, he explained, had undertaken to elicit what in each narrative was truly national, and to "translate" the rough idiom of each story in a manner to lose none of its uniqueness. In pursuit of the last aim it was inevitable that many provincialisms should be taken along, and in their task, he thought the editors had done well. But among the circles of literary taste, the purists were repelled by what they considered the barbarisms in the stories. When the accounts proved popular these circles wavered, nodding a reserved approval here, frowning a sincerer disapproval there. Their final capitulation was hastened by voices of appreciation from abroad. Jacob Grimm gave the stories unstinted praise and an anonymous review in the authoritative Leipziger Allgemeine Zeitung assigned the Folke-eventyr a place even above those of the Grimms because they mirrored better what was characteristically national.14

By 1844 Asbjørnsen and Moe had added three more installments to their Folke-eventyr and then further printing stopped; both editors were much occupied otherwise. Moe moved back to the capital to begin his teaching career and Asbjørnsen was absorbed in the Huldre-eventyr. All further attempt to continue the series was finally given up and the four pamphlets became known collectively as the first edition.

Peter Christen AsbjØrnsen

The next advance in the task of Norwegian folklore collecting was the publishing of the fairy tales, a venture undertaken by Asbjørnsen alone.15 Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (1812-1885), whose family's ancestral roots reached back to the provinces of Guldbrandsdalen and Søndmøre, was born in Christiania and, unlike Jørgen Moe, grew up in an urban environment. His father's glazier shop was a popular gathering place for apprentices and travelers from the country. Here were exchanged entertaining gossip and repertoires of folk and fairy tales. Among those who listened was young Peter; later in life he was to display his own brilliant gifts for story-telling. Peter did poorly in his studies and in 1827 he was sent to the secondary school at Norderhov, where, as we have seen, he met Jørgen Moe. As there was little improvement in his school work he was taken home and not until 1833 did he enter the University.

As a student Asbjørnsen scattered his energies. He devoted himself somewhat to journalism and dabbled in geology—enough to edit later in discontinuous fashion A Natural History for Young People (1838-48). Eventually he deserted his chosen course, medicine, for the natural sciences and in this field he later displayed a varied activity. He accompanied a scientific cruise to the Mediterranean in 1849-50, studied forestry in Germany (1856-58), and in 1860 became a government inspector of forests. At various times he was called into public service in technical capacities, on one occasion, for instance, to help investigate the peat-making industry.

It is something of a surprise to see a student of the natural sciences and a practical man of affairs make a notable contribution to the imaginative and "impractical" study of folklore. But Asbjørnsen combined a strong sense for the real and the concrete with a jovial interest in the art of story-telling. The one attracted him to the picturesque and the realistic in peasant life, the other easily directed his interest to the popular folklore. He could, of course, give only intermittently of his time to the popular traditions.

When first interested in the stories Asbjørnsen apparently had no very definite plan in mind for utilizing them. Some of his first tales served to accommodate Andreas Faye who was thinking of a new edition of his Norske Sagn, and at that time he referred to himself as Faye's "legend ambassador extraordinary."16 After a bit he came to think of collecting and editing for himself; he was not entirely satisfied with Faye's didactic editing and we have noted how, with others, he considered the feasibility of thwarting Faye's second edition.17 It turned out that Asbjørnsen's first collection of fairy tales was ready in 1845, the year after the appearance of Faye's revised Norske Folke-Sagn.

In preparing for publication his Norske Huldreeventyr og Folkesagn (Norwegian Fairy Tales and Folk Legends ) Asbjørnsen had adopted a literary stratagem which added much to their popularity. It was his idea that the stories should be presented as part of the locale from which they had sprung.18 He "framed" the fairy tales, that is, placed one or more stories within a portrayal of contemporary rural life.19 In this way he was able to give them a true rustic setting by having them told ostensibly by a peasant narrator whose circle he described as part of his "frame." In this arrangement only the fairy tales proper were genuine, while the "frames" or sketches by Asbjørnsen embodied his own impressions of peasant life. But he imparted such charm to his sketches that his reading public admired them even more than the fairy tales proper.

While the more fastidious, especially within the circles which carried on the traditions of Intelligentspartiet, had been very hesitant about the folk tales, they greeted the Huldre-eventyr with surprising whole-heartedness, largely because, in the interval, they had fully joined in the romantic enthusiasm for the peasant traditions. That their surrender was quite complete is suggested by Collett's very favorable review.20 Where three years earlier this coryphaeus of taste had been most concerned over the barbarisms and the rawness in the folk tales, he now welcomed the folk literature most enthusiastically as a "greeting" from "our wild, fresh, yet ever youthful nature"—a greeting conveying all the winsomeness of the Norwegian Huldre21 to whose "kingdom" he was attracted by the deep mysterious longing which her charm engendered, meaning by her "kingdom" "the magnificent nature of our fatherland."

Collett pointed out that the Huldre-eventyr had a deep national significance, and rested his contention on the premise that the stories were important for their nature symbolism. According to this view, it will be recalled,22 the phenomena of nature were represented symbolically in the stories. Thus, in Norway, the wild majestic terrain of the western fjord country was personified in Jutulen, an ugly, proud, malicious, imperious and demonic figure. Likewise, nature's dreamier aspects—the undulating hills of the south and east with their leafy thickets of birch and their shady forests of deep green pine—were symbolized in the wood-nymph, Huldren. She was a dainty sprite, refreshing and alluring, delicate and diaphanous, with golden hair set off by eyes of deep blue, and frequently she wore a blue petticoat and a white snood. Her temperament was melancholy and those who listened to her song and stringed music were moved to sadness and tears.23 The most striking thing about her (suggesting the gap between Man and nature, said Collett)24 was her lack of a soul and the circumstance that she had grown a cowtail. The romanticists became thoroughly infatuated with her and she assumed a central place in their nature symbolism. More vividly than any other figure she personified national traits (in nature symbolism there was postulated an intimate relationship between folklore, natural phenomena and national character), and Collett praised Asbjørnsen's collection because it pointed so clearly to what was truly national in Norwegian character and folk life.

Only one reviewer of the Huldre-eventyr spoke unfavorably of them and he too was judging according to the standard of national importance.25 He much preferred the Folke-eventyr where an "unmixed, harmonious naïve narration" revealed the genuine "national stuff" in its pristine clarity; no editor was needed here to rework the style of the original composer, that is, of the people. The folk tales retained a freshness that was lacking in the Huldre-eventyr where the national element had been obscured; between the "original composer" and the modern reader there had intervened a cultivated personality—"a searching, ruminating, yes partly blasé, personality."

In his second collection of Huldre-eventyr (dated 1848 but apparently appearing late in 1847) Asbjørnsen placed even more emphasis on his sketches of contemporary folk life, and now that romanticism was at high tide, popular acclaim was proportional. In a very eulogistic review, Andreas Munch pronounced Asbjørnsen exactly the right person to do this work and praised in highest terms his poetic temperament, his use of the "frames," and his unique ability as a narrator.26 It pleased him to see that Asbjørnsen had not treated the stories in "a comparative, analytical and scientific manner," that he had not stopped, for instance, to formulate abstract laws on the historical development of the fairy tales, or to make didactic comparisons with the old heathen mythology or with the traditions of neighboring peoples. The pressing need had not been a scholarly edition—that could be taken care of at leisure—but a salvaging operation to save the remnants of folk-literature with what they contained of the "national element."

From the outset, Asbjørnsen and Moe believed that the folk tales had a scholarly importance,27 and as their first printing was discontinued they took up plans for a definitive edition. If this were to have the completeness they envisaged, its preparation would involve the expenditure of much time and money, for the distant parts of the country would also have to be exploited since, like pioneers who preempt first the richest and most convenient homesteads, leaving less fertile areas to be taken up later, the two collectors had first gathered up what they had easiest access to in the nearby regions of Ringerike, Hallingdal and Christiania.

The editors cast about for financial aid ere the first printing came to an end. Moe thought the Norske Videnskabers Selskab in Trondhjem, which was liberal enough in its support of "crazy" projects, might well lend its aid to folklore collecting,28 and he planned a trip in 1844 to the districts about Bergen and Trondhjem. This plan did not materialize but in the second half of the decade both collectors turned to the University. From this institution, Moe received grants-in-aid to the extent of fifty Spd. in 1846 and ninety Spd. the following year, when Asbjørnsen was given 110 Spd. for the same purpose. In 1849 Asbjørnsen received 160 Spd. to be divided between a zoological investigation in the Christianiafjord region and a folklore collecting trip to Østerdalen and the diocese of Trondhjem.

The University in a sense gave its formal benediction to this work in 1849 when, on Moe's application, it established a fellowship obligating him to collect, and lecture on, folklore. This action was taken in the face of considerable opposition. Some thought this collecting too intangible a project to be subsidized by the University and urged the technicality that it deserved no aid, for it could not be classified under any existing branch of learning29 and thus the recipient would never be able to offer instruction in it. Moe's first application was successful mainly through the intercession of P. A. Munch,30 but when a year later the fellowship had to be renewed, Munch was in England and Moe turned to Jacob Grimm, asking only for an opinion on the general importance of folklore collecting without any commitment on Moe's qualifications. Grimm's reply, in which he paid a brief tribute to the previous work of Asbjørnsen and Moe,31 brought a half year's renewal of the fellowship, but there all public support ended.

Moe took up the work of collecting in a spirit of patriotism. Regarding his intention to visit the western part of the country in 1844, he wrote to his father that he entertained "with warmth the plan to exalt (fremhæve) the poetic treasures which our folk life possesses."32 In one of the applications to the University he argued that the intended edition must have a long introduction to show two things: first, the relationship of the native folklore to corresponding stories among other peoples, and second, the Norwegian folk tale's uniqueness.33

With the public aid they had received the two collectors visited various parts of the country. Moe in 1846 set out for Hardanger through Telemarken in the south central part of the country. There the people had preserved an unusually large number of traditions and Moe added materially to his ballad collection. His enthusiasm for this province grew as he came to realize that in other areas he would find relatively little. The next year on his way to Setesdalen in the south he again loitered through Telemarken, once more struck by the tenacity and fidelity with which the people clung to their traditions.34

Asbjørnsen investigated areas more to the north and east, though on his first trip, like Moe, he started for Hardanger, where his returns were little better. In Læsø he found some traditions still flourishing, and made something of a discovery. He came upon two abnormal types of Huldre and the abnormality in both cases pertained to the tail! One type, a satyr-like creature, wantonly urged her love on huntsmen and fisher folk alike, but instead of the usual cowtail she brandished a horsetail. The other resembled the normal Huldre in form and dress but she quite lacked that which was considered "the absolutely necessary national[!] attribute, a cowtail."35 It was not easy to say why this region should have run so strong to abnormalities. On his second trip, which he did not make before 1851, Asbjørnsen passed through the heart of the great lumber district along the middle and upper Glommen valley, visiting Østerdalen, Elverum, Trysil and the neighboring Swedish border; only the lateness of the season prevented him from crossing over into the Trondhjem area.36 He had expected, with some reason, that in the shady ravines and woody hillsides mantling the eastern ranges he would find a well-preserved lore. But he was badly disappointed. Here and there he came upon vestiges but they were mere reminders of what once had been, and there were no capable narrators left. A bit farther north in Kvikne he found some stories in better condition, but there as in Lærdal on the west coast, "pietism" had blanched a once colorful lore.37

By and large the expeditions undertaken at public expense had not netted the anticipated results in new stories. But they had been worth while in giving the collectors—who had assembled additional versions and pendants from practically "every part of the country except Nordland and Finmarken"38—a sense of completeness and finality, and they could now proceed with confidence to the definitive edition.

The most important feature of the new edition was the long introduction by Moe on the scholarly importance of the folk tales. In fact, his essay proved something of a contribution to the literature on European folklore.39 He had planned such a discourse for the first printing, but by 1841 had given up this idea, feeling that both editors had yet too limited an acquaintance with the folklore of the more distant parts of the country. When he finally wrote the treatise he also intended it partly as a requital for the aid given by the University.40

When first he began to consider such an introduction his purpose was in part patriotic. He wanted to set in relief what was "characteristic of our folk tales" and an essay that did not emphasize their unique traits might just as well be "missing."41 But in the meantime he found it difficult to live up to his original purpose. In common with the students of his day, Moe accepted the Aryan hypothesis, but its acceptance for a time left him in "doubt and perplexity"42 since the comparative method which figured so prominently in the formulation of the hypothesis seemed to point to a common Aryan folklore. This in turn suggested that the rich traditions which Asbjørnsen and he had gathered really were part of a common Aryan possession so that the Norwegian folk tales were really not distinctive. In his dilemma Moe came to doubt if a folk tale could be peculiarly national; everything seemed to indicate that the stories he had helped to collect were common and not distinctive, European or even Eurasian, not national.

After some reflection he got over his difficulty. He harmonized the idea of a common Aryan tradition with his favorite notion of a folklore unique for Norway, by making a distinction between the general themes of the stories and their details in plot or narration. The former, he pointed out, were common to all Aryan peoples but the latter were distinctive with each: The contradiction with which he had wrestled thus proved to be only apparent and when it had been resolved in this way, his earlier conviction, now "strengthened and clarified,"43 made it seem obvious that the Norwegian stories were really distinctive.

Some had suggested that the stories may have spread from one branch of the Aryan family to another, especially in connection with disturbances like the Teutonic migrations or the Crusades. To meet this line of thought Moe found that he needed the Aryan hypothesis. The similarities in the stories among various peoples were due to no such migration but to an ancient dispersal from a common center. Somewhere back in "the deeper stretches of Central Asia, where belong the Indian and Zendian tongues," the Aryan people must have developed a stock of common traditions. In the later tribal dispersals, these must have been carried to very diversified regions, there to be developed in the folk-literature of each people in a way to preserve the "basic thought"; this accounted for the wide similarities.44 Whatever dissimilarities there were—and they concerned merely details of plot and style—had developed after the dispersals. Since no two people had had the same experiences and each acquired its own national character, the differences had been gradually worked into the traditions as minor variations of plot and style. It was to be noted, however, that the variations were in harmony with the character and the history of each folk; they were not borrowed but had "grown organically and from within."45 Another factor which ruled out the possibility of borrowing was their age. They must be very old, since they retained vestiges of the heathen mythology, and since they had developed appreciable variations, for they had been retold with scrupulous fidelity from one generation to the next.46 With the various aspects of the disturbing Aryan hypothesis thus put in their appropriate places, Moe could reaffirm that the folk tales were truly national; the scenery which they mirrored and the folk character which they portrayed were indisputably Norwegian.47

Moe could turn next to the more inviting task of pointing out just what qualities of the Norwegian stories were unique. Compared with other Germanic folk tales, the Norwegian stories presented their comical figures with more "definiteness and assurance." Their humor was a thing apart; springing from a people living in the shadow of a harsh, inclement nature, it was compounded of the comic and the tragic, with one balanced against the other, using the terrifying to support the humorous play of ideas.48 Grimm might be right in claiming humor as an attribute of the Germanic folk tale generally, but, insisted Moe, its quality in the Norwegian stories was something characteristic.

What most distinguished the Norwegian story was its narrative style and tone. The oriental tale, Hindu as well as Arabian, might tempt one with its sensuous scenery, the Italian with its light hurrying style, the French with its prim naïveté, "smelling of eau de cologne," the Danish with its child-like humor, "rounder, lighter, milder." As for the Swedish, it was often lacking in humor, and had a stiff annalistic style. Only the German story resembled the Norwegian; both employed an epic diction and the German might be even more genial and hearty. Yet there was a thoroughgoing difference: the Norwegian story, as compared with the German, seemed told "by a masculine mouth."49

The uniqueness in the style of the Norwegian story was more understandable when one recalled that its diction had a continuity reaching back to the ancient saga. The true kinship between the old saga and the modern folk tale lay not in the preservation of archaic turns and annalistic phrases,50 but in a characteristic diction developed and preserved for centuries by Norwegian narrators. The most distinctive quality of this diction was a direct and "reckless" choice of words.

Since their style was of national significance it was important that the folk tales be told in the proper literary medium. It might seem that their essential qualities would be best reproduced in pure dialect, a medium which Moe thought well adapted to the legends, whose scope was local.51 But the folk tale was common to the whole country and it should be reproduced in the medium prevailing generally. On the other side, Moe paid his respects to the purists who had felt that the earlier edition had conceded too much to the popular idiom. These had quite missed the point that the barbarisms, so-called, were really manifestations of the continuity in style from ancient saga to modern folk tale. The editors had made no attempt to avoid the barbarisms; in fact, they had rather been attracted to them. The folk tales if they were to retain their national significance must be told in a folklike manner; their style, if lifted above the popular range of vision, might easily be deprived of "all that was Norwegian."52 An editor must stand "above the people" and simultaneously maintain "an intimate connection with it."53 If the style employed was not good art—then very well said Asbjørnsen and Moe—but they refused to sacrifice uniqueness [!] for the sake of art.54

We can, of course, understand the misgivings of the purists. From the line of thought just followed, it was not far to the inference that the language became more national when vulgarized, an assumption to which a writer in another connection had objected more than a dozen years earlier.55

The new edition of the folk tales appeared in 1851-2 and contained in addition to the stories and Moe's introduction, a learned appendix, 115 pages long, of critical notes, variant texts, and references to related traditions in neighboring countries. In his review56 of this scholarly edition, P. A. Munch dwelt upon the scientific importance of the stories and warned that they were not "mere pleasure reading." The long introduction and the critical notes, he thought, made contributions to the studies of history, mythology and ethnography,57 but he predicted that the chief merit of the stories would be not scientific but national, for they were clothed in a "superb, national … style, a mode of expression that spoke direct to the childlike mind and heart."

Jørgen Moe took no active part in the editing of the folklore after the scholarly edition of folk tales was finished, but for another generation Asbjørnsen found time, in the midst of various pursuits, to reedit and prepare new printings of the popular traditions. He brought out a new edition of the first volume of Huldre-eventyr in 1859, and of the second in 1866, and then both collections were combined in a third edition in 1870. Likewise he issued the jointly edited Folke-eventyr as a third edition in 1865-66, as a fourth in 1868, and as a fifth in 1873. In 1871 he edited a new set of folk tales58 from materials that Moe and he had left over from the large edition of 1851-2, reediting these in 1876 and supplementing them in 1879 and 1882.

Much of the general interest in these later printings was centered upon their editing, and of that Asbjørnsen spoke at length. In the Huldre-eventyr which he reprinted in 1859, he explained that although he knew that some changes should have been made, he had made very few alterations, pleading a long illness, the popularity of the stories in their existing form, and a lack of time. His notion of literary style had changed much since 1845 and an application of his new ideas would necessitate innumerable changes.59

He recognized that there had been insinuations about the editing of his stories—suggestions that he had treated his texts "frivolously" or had embellished them. These insinuations he sought to meet by pointing out that, save in a few instances, nothing had been added or deleted; the stories were told as they still lived on the "lips of the people," a statement as true then as it had been when first made in 1845.60

Yet Asbjørnsen's explanation was weakened somewhat by the fact that he had to make a disclosure. It so happened that a number of people had aided him in the preparation of the first edition and of this he had said nothing because Mme. Collett, who had given him most assistance, wanted her name withheld and, as a consequence, Asbjørnsen had refrained from mentioning any of the others.61 He thought that this omission helped to account for the aspersion cast upon his editing; in any event he recognized the omission as an error and printed a full acknowledgment,62 protesting meanwhile that his early neglect was not a reason for doubting the authenticity of the stories, and reaffirming that he had personally recorded all but five of them.63

In the printing of 1866, Asbjørnsen pointed out that he had reworked all the stories "painstakingly,"64 and he listed the names of those who had lent their aid in 1848.65 When he reedited both collections in 1870 he assured his critics that he had "painstakingly looked through anew, and occasionally improved" his stories,66 adding, with an eye to the growing language controversy, that this had been done without making any sweeping changes in "linguistic form." Fortunately, in reediting the folk tales, Asbjørnsen had been able to rest his judgments on the earlier joint work with Moe, and it is of interest to note that when he prepared a new collection of folk tales in 1871 he sought support in the sound linguistic advice of "another friend."67

The later printings of folklore did not meet the same unanimous acclaim as their predecessors in the 'forties, when romanticism was in the ascendant. They were thrust into the midst of the language controversy, and because the editors had modeled their style after the popular idiom they proved to be peculiarly vulnerable. It would seem that the new landsmaal might very appropriately have been applied to a material like the popular traditions, but Asbjørnsen showed little or no tendency to employ it, and the cultivated circles of the capital which, in the early 'forties, had objected to the style of the Folkeeventyr, warmly defended his medium and gratefully noted that he had not changed it merely to humor the landsmaal camp. By holding to the accepted Dano-Norwegian and "sanely" incorporating only rural words of general serviceability, he built a bridge between the literary medium and the popular speech, between European culture and the simple morals of the people.68 The cultured especially approved the fact that the folklore editors had caught the essence of what was national in the vernaculars, without endangering the hegemony of the Dano-Norwegian. They had elicited what was truly folklike, and given it form in a language acceptable to the cultured classes.69 These were glad to see that Asbjørnsen had deserted what in the 'sixties they chose to term his recent flirtation with the landsmaal movement;70 they had earlier imputed to him a desire to effect "a cheap purification" of the language. In the 'seventies the conservatives could not praise him enough for the care with which he weighed his words on "scales of gold," and he was pronounced "lord and master" of the language.71 Unlike many others, it was said, he had never adopted the affectation of writing in landsmaal to demonstrate that he had appropriated the form if not the essence of the "folklike."72 It had seemed at times very much as if he really favored the landsmaal, but this had been deceptive for he leaned toward it merely to bring out the Norwegian spirit of the stories.73 It was clear that he intended no concession to that movement, for he had returned to the moderate plan of nationalizing the established literary medium by gradually incorporating only the "suitable Norwegian words."

To a modern reader, it seems almost as if the only thing about the stories that mattered to contemporaries was their style. Their themes, said one writer,74 were common to many peoples but the mode of expression was distinctive with each, and an editor had it in his power to garble or ruin a collection. There had been no danger with Asbjørnsen, for he had understood and performed well the editor's proper function; he had conveyed all the essential folklike qualities, and done it in a language that some considered impotent to express what was genuinely Norwegian—in a medium "now patronizingly called Danish." It would be a long time, said this writer somewhat tauntingly, before the landsmaal literature produced a work in the "royal Norwegian language" which so effectively as the Asbjørnsen collection would express the folk spirit.

From the landsmaal elements, however, came only disapproval. It was, said Vinje, specifically in the medium he had employed that Asbjørnsen had so definitely failed.75 In imitation of the broad descriptions of Walter Scott, he had used a romantic style, "full of emptiness," when he should have written in a "clean," that is, a colloquial Norwegian. It was possible, said another, to present the stories in their "full originality" only in the language of the peasant.76 Asbjørnsen and Moe, said Henrik Krohn,77 had really mutilated the folk tales; they had done no less than "translate" them from the landsmaal in which the people had originally composed them—simply done them into what he called Danish. But Krohn insisted that between the unique Norwegian folk-literature and the linguistic form in which it first had been couched, there was an intimate connection, and any attempt to minimize that connection was "a vicious attack" on the idea of nationality. There could be no release for the people, in having their folk tales printed in "a foreign tongue" and there was need of an edition in the medium (landsmaal) in which they had first been composed. Yet he conceded that in their existing form, they might serve the useful purpose of helping to educate the town youth "in a national direction."

We must understand that behind the incessant disagreement over the style of the later folklore collections was the broader social antagonism between peasantry and upper classes. In the 'sixties the cultured again reacted against the peasant, and against the tendency to identify the popular and folklike with the national. People talked too glibly of patriotism, said one writer, and they too easily equated it with every concern for the folklike;78 the two were not identical and much of the careless talk about things national and things folklike turned out to be mere frothing. Just as there were persons of doubtful piety who misused the name of the Lord, so there were among the patriots, self-styled, those who came near taking in vain the name of "the people"—having, in the meantime, a very poor conception of what was truly folklike. Much of what passed as popular and folklike, said Lassen, really was foreign; it had once come in with the upper classes and had then filtered down to the masses.79 The day was now over, wrote another, when any passing attempt to "toot the national Alphorn moved the public to join in with tones of pompous praise."80


  1. Krogvig, Fra det nationale gjennembruds Tid, pp. 50-65. But regarding Asbjørnsen's early interest cf. also H. Hansen, P. Chr. Asbjørnsen, especially pp. 28, 58, 74, 159.
  2. Krogvig, op. cit., p. 144. Oct. 23, 1836 to Asbjørnsen.
  3. Adam Oehlenschlæger, Eventyr of forskjellige Digtere. The stories were chosen from Tieck, Musæus, Runge, Fouque and Grimm.
  4. Den Const., no. 55. Reprinted in J. Moe, Saml. Skr. (1877), vol. ii, pp. 12-15.
  5. J. Moe, op. cit., vol. ii, p. 12.
  6. Ibid., p. 14.
  7. Ibid., p. 15.
  8. They were announced as Norske Folke- og Barne-eventyr.
  9. The pamphlet appeared without any author's name, foreword, introduction or title.
  10. Krogvig, op. cit., p. 191. Jan. 22, 1842 to Peter Brock.
  11. 1842, no. 39.
  12. Cf. supra, pp. 69-71.
  13. Den Const., 1842, Mar. 22, no. 81. Olsen (1818-1864) was court attorney at Risør and the local Storting representative from 1854 to 1864. In his earlier years he composed several dramas (Den Sidste Viking, 1840) and wrote extensively as a journalist.
  14. It was written by P. A. Munch who may have chosen anonymity to avoid the disapproval of his circle. Gran, Nordm. i. d. nit. Aarh., vol. ii, p. 227.
  15. There is now an adequate survey of his life by H. Hansen, P. Chr. Asbjørnsen. See also Norsk Biog. Leks., vol. i, pp. 264-73; Halvorsen, Norsk Forf-Lex., vol. i, pp. 104-6; Krogvig, Fra det nationale gjennembruds Tid, passim.
  16. O. A. Øverland, Hvorledes P. Chr. Asbjørnsen begyndte som Sagnfortæller (Chra., 1902), p. 19. Letter of April 25, 1835 to Faye.
  17. Supra, p. 203.
  18. Asbjørnsen, Norske Huldre-eventyr og Folkesagn (Chra., 1845), p. iv.
  19. He had the idea from Crofter Crocer's Irish Fairy Tales, published in 1825. Jacob Grimm translated them as Irische Elfenmärchen (1826) and a copy of this translation later fell into the hands of Asbjørnsen. Gran, Nordm. i. d. nit. Aarh., vol. ii, p. 245.
  20. Den Const., 1845, no. 215.
  21. The word Huldre may possibly be derived from hylja, to hide—hence hidden folk or Huldre folk.
  22. Cf. supra, pp. 68-9.
  23. Asbjørnsen, Norske Huldre-eventyr og Folkesagn (1845), p. iv. Huldren took possession of forsaken hillside pasture clearings, and passersby who submitted to her charms were invited into subterranean halls to hear delightful music.
  24. Den Const., 1845, no. 215.
  25. Morgbl., 1845, no. 258, Tillæg.
  26. N. Tids. f. Vid. og Litt., vol. ii, pp. 125-32.
  27. Supra, p. 215.
  28. Krogvig, op. cit., p. 238. August 18, 1843 from Moe to Peter Brock.
  29. Ibid., p. 292.
  30. Jacob and W. K. Grimm, Briefwechsel der Gebrüder Grimm mit nordischen Gelehrten, p. 270. Oct. 12, 1849 from Moe to Grimm.
  31. Krogvig, op. cit., pp. 296-98; printed also in Jacob and W. K. Grimm, op. cit., pp. 269-70.
  32. Krogvig, op. cit., p. 250. Letter of Dec. 31, 1843.
  33. Ibid., p. 291.
  34. Cf. Norske Universitets- og Skole-Annaler, series ii, vol. v, p. 272 et seq.
  35. Ibid., series ii, vol. v, p. 267.
  36. Ibid., series ii, vol. vii, p. 103.
  37. Ibid., series ii, vol. vii, p. 92.
  38. Jacob and W. K. Grimm, Briefwechsel der Gebrüder Grimm mit nordischen Gelehrten, p. 261. Asbjørnsen to Jacob Grimm, Feb. 15, 1851.
  39. Cf. G. W. Dasent, Popular Tales from the Old Norse (Edinburgh, 1859), p. lxxix. Jæger remarks that in his introductory essay Dasent gave himself credit for the material in Moe's treatise of 1851-2. Cf. his Literaturhistoriske Pennetegninger, p. 222, note.
  40. Asbjørnsen and Moe, Norske Folke-eventyr (Chra., 1851-52), p. vii.
  41. Krogvig, op. cit., p. 167. Letter of Dec. 1838 to Asbjørnsen.
  42. Asbjørnsen and Moe, Norske Folke-eventyr (1851-2), pp. xi-xii.
  43. Ibid. (1851-2), p. xii.
  44. Ibid., pp. xxxv-xxxviii.
  45. Ibid., p. xxxv.
  46. Ibid., pp. xli-xlii.
  47. Ibid., pp. l-li.
  48. Ibid., pp. xlix, li. Askeladden, said Moe, was typical of Norwegian confidence in a secret higher power; Smeden man ikke turde slippe ind i Helvede showed Norwegian resourcefulness, while Vesle Per revealed a gruesome, expressionless humor.
  49. Ibid., pp. lxi-lxvi.
  50. Ibid., p. lxvi.
  51. Ibid., p. lxvii.
  52. Ibid., p. lxvii.
  53. Ibid., p. vi.
  54. Ibid., p. lxvii.
  55. Nationality, said he, was not a matter of phraseology but of the unique and characteristic in the thought and action of a people. Maal og Minne, 1924, pp. 94-5.
  56. Morgbl., 1852, no. 41; reprinted in Maal og Minne, 1912, pp. 127-41.
  57. Munch disagreed with some of Moe's conclusions. Folklore, he thought, did not appear after mythology, but preceded it. Where Moe distinguished a northern and a southern type, Munch would rather have the distinction between a masculine and feminine.
  58. Asbjørnsen, Norske Folke-eventyr. Ny Samling (Chra., 1871).
  59. Asbjørnsen, Norske Huldre-eventyr og Folkesagn (1859), p. ix.
  60. Ibid. (1859), p. x; cf. the edition of 1845, p. v.
  61. Ibid. (1859), p. xxviii.
  62. The list included the names of Welhaven, Grötting, the Colletts, Unger, Thaasen, P. Botten-Hansen, Schubeler and P. Schmidt.
  63. Asbjørnsen, Norske Huldre-eventyr og Folkesagn (1859), p. xxx.
  64. Ibid. (1866), Forord, p. v.
  65. Ibid., pp. v-vi. In the list were Aasen, Gram, Grötting, Steensrud, Sundt and Thaasen.
  66. Ibid. (1870), Forord, p. iii.
  67. Asbjørnsen, Norske Folke-eventyr (1871), Forord, p. vi. Moltke Moe says this friend was Jakob Lökke. Gran, Nordm. i. d. nit. Aarh., vol. ii, p. 263.
  68. Ill. Nyhbl., 1859, no. 35, p. 156. Asbjørnsen judged the landsmaal to be impractical. Cf. J. and W. K. Grimm, Briefwechsel der Gebrüder Grimm mit nordischen Gelehrten, p. 264.
  69. Ill. Nyhbl., 1865, no. 30, p. 137; Morgbl., 1865, no. 351, Dec. 20.
  70. Ill. Nyhbl., 1866, no. 47, p. 220.
  71. Adressebladet. Tillæg til Almuevennen, 1872, no. 7.
  72. Aftbl., 1870, no. 296, Dec. 20.
  73. Ibid., 1871, no. 294.
  74. Bergensposten, 1868, no. 15, Jan. 17.
  75. Dølen, 1859, no. 45.
  76. Aftbl., 1859, Tillæg til no. 234.
  77. Bergensposten, 1868, no. 18, Jan. 21.
  78. Morgbl., 1865, no. 351.
  79. H. Lassen, "Norskheden för og nu," For Ide og Virkelighed, 1871, p. 524.
  80. Morgbl., 1871, no. 351 A.

Works Cited

Primary Works

Asbjørnsen, Peter Chr., Norske Huldre-eventyr og Folkesagn. I-II Samling. Chra., 1845-48. Second edition, 1859-66. Third edition, 1870.

Asbjørnsen, Peter Chr, Norske Folke-eventyr. Ny Samling. Chra., 1871. Second edition. Copenhagen, 1876.

Asbjørnsen, Peter Chr. and Jørgen Moe, Norske Folke-eventyr. Chra., 1841-44. Second edition, with an introduction by Jørgen Moe and a long appendix of notes and variants. Chra., 1851-52. Third edition, 186[5-] 6. Fourth edition, 186[7-] 8. Fifth edition, 187[3-] 4. Note: The folk and fairy tales have been republished a number of times since the authors died; most recently as Folke og Huldre-eventyr. Norske kunstneres Billedutgave. 2 vols. Oslo, 1932.

Dasent, Sir George Webbe, Popular Tales from the Norse. Edinburgh, 1850. Second edition, 1859.

Grimm, Jakob and W. K. Grimm, Briefwechsel der Gebrüder Grimm mit nordischen Gelehrten. Edited by Ernst Schmidt. Berlin, 1885.

Krogvig, Anders, Fra det nationale gjennembruds Tid. Chra., 1915.

Periodicals and Newspapers

Adressebladet. Tillæg til Almuevennen. Chra., 1855-.

Aftenbladet. Successor to Krydseren. Chra., 1855-1881.

Bergensposten. 1854-. Merged with Bergens Tidende, 1894.

Den Constitutionelle. Chra., 1836-1847. Merged with Den norske Rigstidende from 1847.

Dølen. Chra., 1858-1870.

Illustreret Nyhedsblad. Edited by P. Botten-Hansen (to 1861). Chra., 1851-1866.

Maal og Minne. Utgit af Bymaalslaget. Chra., 1909-.

Morgenbladet. Chra., 1819-.

Norsk Tidsskrift for Videnskab og Litteratur. Edited by C. C. A. Lange (6th and 7th vols. by Monrad and Winter-Hjelm). 7 vols. Chra., 1847-55.

Norske Universitets—og Skole-Annaler. Chra., 1834-. Series 2, vols. I-VII appeared in 1842-57.

Secondary Works and Works of General

Gran, Gerhard (editor), Nordmænd i det nittende Aarhundrede. 3 vols. Chra., 1914.

Halvorsen, Jens Braage, Norsk Forfatter-Lexikon 1814-1880. Chra., 1885-1908.

Hansen, Hans, P. Chr. Asbjørnsen: Biografi og Karakteristikk med supplerende Oplysninger om hans Samtidige. Oslo, 1932.

Lassen, H., Afhandlinger til Literaturhistorien. Chra., 1877.

Moe, Moltke, Samlede Skrifter. Edited by Knut Liestøl. 3 vols. Oslo, 1925-27.

Norsk Biografisk Leksikon. Chra., 192[1-]3-. The fifth volume has reached the name Helkand.

Sir George Webbe Dasent (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: Dasent, Sir George Webbe. "Translator's Introduction to the Second Edition." In Popular Tales from the Norse, pp. 295-369. London, England: The Bodley Head, 1969.

[In the following excerpt, Dasent—the primary English translator of Asbjørnsen and Moe's works—explores the origins and themes of Norse mythology and their manifestation in the tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe.]

Norse Popular Tales

The preceding observations will have given a sufficient account of the mythology of the Norsemen, and of the way in which it fell. They came from the East, and brought that common stock of tradition with them. Settled in the Scandinavian peninsula, they developed themselves through Heathenism, Romanism, and Lutheranism, in a locality little exposed to foreign influence, so that even now the Daleman in Norway or Sweden may be reckoned among the most primitive examples left of peasant life. We should expect, then, that these Popular Tales, which, for the sake of those ignorant in such matters, it may be remarked, had never been collected or reduced to writing till within the last few years, would present a faithful picture of the national consciousness, or, perhaps, to speak more correctly, of that half consciousness out of which the heart of any people speaks in its abundance. Besides those world-old affinities and primaeval parallelisms, besides those dreamy recollections of its old home in the East, which we have already pointed out, we should expect to find its later history, after the great migration, still more distinctly reflected; to discover heathen gods masked in the garb of Christian saints; and thus to see a proof of our assertion above, that a nation more easily changes the form than the essence of its faith, and clings with a toughness which endures for centuries to what it has once learned to believe.

In all mythologies, the trait of all others which most commonly occurs, is that of the descent of the gods to earth, where, in human form, they mix among mortals, and occupy themselves with their affairs, either out of a spirit of adventure, or to try the hearts of men. Such a conception is shocking to the Christian notion of the omnipotence and omnipresence of God, but we question if there be not times when the most pious and perfect Christian may not find comfort and relief from a fallacy which was a matter of faith in less enlightened creeds, and over which the apostle, writing to the Hebrews, throws the sanction of his authority, so far as angels are concerned.1 Nor could he have forgotten those words of the men of Lystra,—'The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men;' and how they called 'Barnabas Jupiter', and himself Mercury, 'because he was the chief speaker'. Classical mythology is full of such stories. These wanderings of the gods are mentioned in the Odyssey, and the sanctity of the rites of hospitality, and the dread of turning a stranger from the door, took its origin from a fear lest the wayfaring man should be a Divinity in disguise. According to the Greek story, Orion owed his birth to the fact that the childless Hyrieus, his reputed father, had once received unawares Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes, or, to call them by their Latin names, Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury. In the beautiful story of Philemon and Baucis, Jupiter and Mercury reward the aged couple who had so hospitably received them by warning them of the approaching deluge. The fables of Phaedrus and Æsop represent Mercury and Demeter as wandering and enjoying the hospitality of men. In India it is Brahm and Vishnu who generally wander. In the Edda, Odin, Loki, and Hoenir thus roam about, or Thor, Thialfi, and Loki. Sometimes Odin appears alone as a horseman, who turns in at night to the smith's house, and gets him to shoe his horse,—legend which reminds us at once of the Master-Smith.2 Sometimes it is Thor with his great hammer who wanders thus alone.

Now, let us turn from heathen to Christian times, and look at some of these old legends of wandering gods in a new dress. Throughout the Middle Age, it is our blessed Lord and St Peter that thus wander, and here we see that half-digested heathendom to which we have alluded. Those who may be shocked at such tales in this collection [Popular Tales from the Norse ] as 'The Master-Smith' and 'Gertrude's Bird', must just remember that these are almost purely heathen traditions, in which the names alone are Christian; and if it be any consolation to any to know the fact, we may as well state at once that this adaptation of new names to old beliefs is not peculiar to the Norsemen, but is found in all the popular tales of Europe. Germany was full of them, and there St Peter often appears in a snappish ludicrous guise, which reminds the reader versed in Norse mythology with the tricks and pranks of the shifty Loki. In the Norse tales he thoroughly preserves his saintly character.

Nor was it only gods that walked among men. In the Norse mythology, Frigga, Odin's wife, who knew beforehand all that was to happen, and Freyja, the goddess of love and plenty, were prominent figures, and often trode the earth; the three Norns or Fates, who sway the weirds of men, and spin their destinies at Mimir's well of knowledge, were awful venerable powers, to whom the heathen world looked up with love and adoration and awe. To that love and adoration and awe, throughout the Middle Age, one woman, transfigured into a divine shape, succeeded by a sort of natural right, and round the Virgin Mary's blessed head a halo of lovely tales of divine help, beams with soft radiance as a crown bequeathed to her by the ancient goddesses. She appears as divine mother, spinner, and helpful virgin (vierge sécourable). Flowers and plants bear her name. In England one of our commonest and prettiest insects is still called after her, but which belonged to Freyja, the heathen 'Lady', long before the western nations had learned to adore the name of the mother of Jesus.3

The reader of these Tales will meet, in that of 'The Lassie and Her Godmother', No. 27, with the Virgin Mary in a truly mythic character, as the majestic guardian of sun, moon and stars, combined with that of a helpful, kindly woman, who, while she knows how to punish a fault, knows also how to reconcile and forgive.

The Norseman's god was a god of battles, and victory his greatest gift to men; but this was not the only aspect under which the Great Father was revered. Not victory in the fight alone, but every other good gift came down from him and the Æsir. Odin's supreme will was that treasure-house of bounty towards which, in one shape or the other, all mortal desires turned, and out of its abundance showers of mercy and streams of divine favour constantly poured down to refresh the weary race of men. All these blessings and mercies, nay, their very source itself, the ancient language bound up in a single word, which, however expressive it may still be, has lost much of the fullness of its meaning in its descent to these later times. This word was 'Wish', which originally meant the perfect ideal, the actual fruition of all joy and desire, and not, as now, the empty longing for the object of our desires. From this original abstract meaning, it was but a step to pass to the concrete, to personify the idea, to make it an immortal essence, an attribute of the divinity, another name for the greatest of all gods himself. And so we find a host of passages in early writers,4 in every one of which 'God', or 'Odin' might be substituted for 'Wish' with perfect propriety. Here we read how 'The Wish' has hands, feet, power, sight, toil, and art. How he works and labours, shapes and masters, inclines his ear, thinks, swears, curses, and rejoices, adopts children, and takes men into his house; behaves, in short, as a being of boundless power and infinite free-will. Still more, he rejoices in his own works as in a child, and thus appears in a thoroughly patriarchal point of view, as the lord of creation, glorying in his handiwork, as the father of a family in early times was glad at heart when he reckoned his children as arrows in his quiver, and beheld his house full of a long line of retainers and dependents. For this attribute of the Great Father, for Odin as the God of Wish, the Edda uses the word 'Oski', which literally expresses the masculine personification of 'Wish', and it passed on and added the word osk, wish, as a prefix to a number of others to signify that they stood in a peculiar relation to the great giver of all good. Thus, we have oska-steinn, wishing-stone, i.e. a stone which plays the part of a divining rod, and reveals secrets and hidden treasure; oska-byrr, a fair wind, a wind as fair as man's heart could wish it; osk-barn and oska-barn, a child after one's own heart, an adopted child, as when the younger Edda tells us that all those who die in battle are Odin's choice-bairns, his adopted children, those on whom he has set his heart,—an expression which, in their turn, was taken by the Icelandic Christian writers to express the relation existing between God and the baptized; and, though last, not least, oska-moer, wish-maidens, another name for the Valkyries—Odin's corse-choosers,—who picked out the dead for him on the field of battle, and waited on the heroes in Valhalla. Again, the Edda is filled with 'choice things', possessing some mysterious power of their own, some 'virtue', as our older English would express it, which belong to this or that god, and are occasionally lent or lost. Thus, Odin himself had a spear which gave victory to those on whose side it was hurled; Thor, a hammer which destroyed the Giants, hallowed vows, and returned of itself to his hand. He had a strength-belt, too, which, when he girded it on, his god-strength waxed one-half; Freyr had a sword which wielded itself; Freyja a necklace which, like the cestus of Venus, inspired all hearts with love; Freyr, again, had a ship called Skithblathnir.

She is so great, that all the Æsir, with their weapons and war gear, may find room on board her; and as soon as the sail is set, she has a fair wind whither she shall go; and when there is no need of faring on the sea in her, she is made of so many things, and with so much craft, that Freyr may fold her together like a cloth, and keep her in his bag.5

Of this kind, too, was the ring 'Dropper' which Odin had, and from which twelve other rings dropped every night; the apples which Idun, one of the goddesses, had, and of which, so soon as the Æsir ate, they became young again; the helm which Œgir, the sea giant had, which struck terror into all antagonists like the Ægis of Athene; and that wonderful mill which the mythical Frodi owned, of which we shall shortly speak.

Now, let us see what traces of this great god 'Wish' and his choice-bairns and wishing-things we can find in these Tales, faint echoes of a mighty heathen voice, which once proclaimed the goodness of the great Father in the blessings which he bestowed on his chosen sons. We shall not have long to seek. In tale No. 20, when Shortshanks meets those three old crook-backed hags who have only one eye, which he snaps up, and gets first a sword 'that puts a whole army to flight, be it ever so great'. We have the 'one-eyed Odin', degenerated into an old hag, or rather—by no uncommon process—we have an old witch fused by popular tradition into a mixture of Odin and the three Nornir. Again, when he gets that wondrous ship 'which can sail over fresh water and salt water, and over high hills and deep dales', and which is so small that he can put it into his pocket, and yet, when he came to use it, could hold five hundred men, we have plainly the Skithblathnir of the Edda to the very life.

So also in the 'Best Wish', No. 36, the whole groundwork of this story rests on this old belief; and when we meet that pair of old scissors which cuts all manner of fine clothes out of the air, that tablecloth which covers itself with the best dishes you could think of, as soon as it was spread out, and that tap which, as soon as it was turned, poured out the best of mead and wine, we have plainly another form of Frodi's wishing-quern,—another recollection of those things of choice about which the old mythology has so much to tell. Of the same kind are the tablecloth, the ram, and the stick in 'The Lad Who Went to the North Wind', No. 34, and the rings in 'The Three Princesses of Whiteland', No. 26, and in 'Soria Moria Castle', No. 56. In the first of those stories, too, we find those 'three brothers' who have stood on a moor 'these hundred years fighting about a hat, a cloak, and a pair of boots', which had the virtue of making him who wore them invisible; choice things which will again remind the reader of the Nibelungenlied, of the way in which Siegfried became possessed of the famous hoard of gold, and how he got that 'cap of darkness' which was so useful to him in his remaining exploits. So again in 'The Blue Belt', No. 22, what is that belt which, when the boy girded it on, 'he felt as strong as if he could lift the whole hill', but Thor's 'choice-belt'; and what is the daring boy himself, who overcomes the Troll, but Thor himself, as engaged in one of his adventures with the Giants? So, too, in 'Little Annie the Goose-Girl', No. 59, the stone which tells the Prince all the secrets of his brides is plainly the old Oskastein, or 'wishing-stone'. These instances will suffice to show the prolonged faith in 'Wish', and his choice things; a belief which, though so deeply rooted in the North, we have already traced to its home in the East, whence it stretches itself from pole to pole, and reappears in every race. We recognize it in the wishing-cap of Fortunatus, which is a Celtic legend; in the cornucopia of the Romans; in the goat Amalthea among the Greeks; in the wishing-cow and wishing-tree of the Hindoos; in the pumpkin-tree of the West Indian An-ansi stories; in the cow of the Servian legends, who spins yarn out of her ear; in the Sampo of the Finns; and in all those stories of cups, and glasses, and horns, and rings, and swords, seized by some bold spirit in the midst of a fairy revel, or earned by some kind deed rendered by mortal hand to one of the 'good folk' in her hour of need, and with which the 'luck'6 of that mortal's house was ever afterwards bound up; stories with which the local traditions of all lands are full, but which all pay unconscious homage to the worship of that great god, to whom so many heathen hearts so often turned as the divine realizer of their prayers, and the giver of all good things, until they came at last to make an idol out of their hopes and prayers, and to immortalize the very 'Wish' itself.

Again, of all beliefs, that in which man has, at all times of his history, been most prone to set faith, is that of a golden age of peace and plenty, which had passed away, but which might be expected to return. Such a period was looked for when Augustus closed the temple of Janus, and peace, though perhaps not plenty, reigned over what the proud Roman called the habitable world. Such a period the early Christian expected when the Saviour was born, in the reign of that very Augustus; and such a period some, whose thoughts are more set on earth than heaven, have hoped for ever since, with a hope which, though deferred for eighteen centuries, has not made their hearts sick. Such a period of peace and plenty, such a golden time, the Norseman could tell of in his mythic Frodi's reign, when gold or Frodi's meal, as it was called, was so plentiful that golden armlets lay untouched from year's end to year's end on the king's highway, and the fields bore crops unsown. Here, in England, the Anglo-Saxon Bede7 knew how to tell the same story of Edwin, the Northumbrian king, and when Alfred came to be mythic, the same legend was passed on from Edwin to the West Saxon monarch. The remembrance of 'the bountiful Frodi' echoed in the songs of German poets long after the story which made him so bountiful had been forgotten; but the Norse Skalds could tell not only the story of Frodi's wealth and bounty, but also of his downfall and ruin. In Frodi's house were two maidens of that old giant race, Fenja and Menja. These daughters of the giant he had bought as slaves, and he made them grind his quern or hand-mill, Grotti, out of which he used to grind peace and gold. Even in that golden age one sees there were slaves, and Frodi, however bountiful to his thanes and people, was a hard task-master to his giant hand-maidens. He kept them to the mill, nor gave them longer rest than the cuckoo's note lasted, or they could sing a song. But that quern was such that it ground anything that the grinder chose, though until then it had ground nothing but gold and peace. So the maidens ground and ground, and one sang their piteous tale in a strain worthy of Æschylus as the other worked—they prayed for rest and pity, but Frodi was deaf. Then they turned in giant mood, and ground no longer peace and plenty, but fire and war. Then the quern went fast and furious, and that very night came Mysing the Sea-rover, and slew Frodi and all his men, and carried off the quern; and so Frodi's peace ended. The maidens the sea-rover took with him, and when he got on the high seas he bade them grind salt. So they ground; and at midnight they asked if he had not salt enough, but he bade them still grind on. So they ground till the ship was full and sank, Mysing, maids, and mill, and all, and that's why the sea is salt.8 Perhaps of all the tales in this volume, none could be selected as better proving the toughness of a traditional belief than No. 2, which tells 'Why the Sea Is Salt'.

The notion of the Arch-enemy of God and man, of a fallen angel, to whom power was permitted at certain times for an all-wise purpose by the Great Ruler of the universe, was as foreign to the heathendom of our ancestors as his name was outlandish and strange to their tongue. This notion Christianity brought with it from the East; and though it is a plant which has struck deep roots, grown distorted and awry, and borne a bitter crop of superstition, it required all the authority of the Church to prepare the soil at first for its reception. To the notion of good necessarily follows that of evil. The Eastern mind, with its Ormuzd and Ahriman, is full of such dualism, and from that hour, when a more than mortal eye saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven,9 the kingdom of darkness, the abode of Satan and his bad spirits, was established in direct opposition to the kingdom of the Saviour and his angels. The North had its own notion on this point. Its mythology was not without its own dark powers; but though they too were ejected and dispossessed, they, according to that mythology, had rights of their own. To them belonged all the universe that had not been seized and reclaimed by the younger race of Odin and Æsir; and though this up-start dynasty, as the Frost Giants in Promethean phrase would have called it, well knew that Hel, one of this giant progeny, was fated to do them all mischief, and to outlive them, they took her and made her queen of Niflheim, and mistress over nine worlds. There, in a bitterly cold place, she received the souls of all who died of sickness or old age; care was her bed, hunger her dish, starvation her knife. Her walls were high and strong, and her bolts and bars huge; 'Half blue was her skin, and half the colour of human flesh. A goddess easy to know, and in all things very stern and grim.'10 But though severe, she was not an evil spirit. She only received those who died as no Norseman wished to die. For those who fell on the gory battlefield, or sank beneath the waves, Valhalla was prepared, and endless mirth and bliss with Odin. Those went to Hel, who were rather unfortunate than wicked, who died before they could be killed. But when Christianity came in and ejected Odin and his crew of false divinities, declaring them to be lying gods and demons, then Hel fell with the rest; but fulfilling her fate, outlived them. From a person she became a place, and all the Northern nations, from the Goth to the Norseman, agreed in believing Hell to be the abode of the devil and his wicked spirits, the place prepared from the beginning for the everlasting torments of the damned. One curious fact connected with this explanation of Hell's origin will not escape the reader's attention. The Christian notion of Hell is that of a place of heat, for in the East, whence Christianity came, heat is often an intolerable torment, and cold, on the other hand, everything that is pleasant and delightful. But to the dweller in the North, heat brings with it sensations of joy and comfort, and life without fire has a dreary outlook; so their Hel ruled in a cold region over those who were cowards by implication, while the mead-cup went round, and huge logs blazed and crackled in Valhalla, for the brave and beautiful who had dared to die on the field of battle. But under Christianity the extremes of heat and cold have met, and Hel, the cold uncomfortable goddess, is now our Hell, where flames and fire abound, and where the devils abide in everlasting flame.

Still, popular tradition is tough, and even after centuries of Christian teaching, the Norse peasant, in his popular tales, can still tell of Hell as a place where firewood is wanted at Christmas, and over which a certain air of comfort breathes, though as in the goddess Hel's halls, meat is scarce. The following passage from 'Why the Sea Is Salt', No. 2, will sufficiently prove this:—

'Well, here is the flitch,' said the rich brother, 'and now go straight to Hell.'

'What I have given my word to do, I must stick to,' said the other; so he took the flitch and set off. He walked the whole day, and at dusk he came to a place where he saw a very bright light.

'Maybe this is the place,' said the man to himself. So he turned aside, and the first thing he saw was an old, old man, with a long white beard, who stood in an outhouse, hewing wood for the Christmas fire.

'Good even,' said the man with the flitch.

'The same to you; whither are you going so late?' said the man.

'Oh! I'm going to Hell, if I only knew the right way,' answered the poor man.

'Well, you're not far wrong, for this is Hell,' said the old man. 'When you get inside they will be all for buying your flitch, for meat is scarce in Hell; but mind you don't sell it unless you get the hand-quern which stands behind the door for it. When you come out, I'll teach you how to handle the quern, for it's good to grind almost anything.'

This, too, is the proper place to explain the conclusion of that intensely heathen tale, 'The Master-Smith', No. 16. We have already seen how the Saviour and St Peter supply, in its beginning, the place of Odin and some other heathen god. But when the Smith sets out with the feeling that he has done a silly thing in quarrelling with the Devil, having already lost his hope of heaven, this tale assumes a still more heathen shape. According to the old notion, those who were not Odin's guests went either to Thor's house, who had all the thralls, or to Freyja, who even claimed a third part of the slain on every battle-field with Odin, or to Hel, the cold comfortless goddess already mentioned, who was still no tormentor, though she ruled over nine worlds, and though her walls were high, and her bolts and bars huge; traits which come out in 'The Master-Smith', No. 16, when the Devil, who here assumes Hel's place, orders the watch to go back and lock up all the nine locks on the gates of Hell—a lock for each of the goddess's nine worlds—and to put a padlock on besides. In the twilight between heathendom and Christianity, in that half-Christian half-heathen consciousness, which this tale reveals, heaven is the preferable abode, as Valhalla was of yore, but rather than be without a house to one's head after death, Hell was not to be despised; though, having behaved ill to the ruler of one, and actually quarrelled with the master of the other, the Smith was naturally anxious on the matter. This notion of different abodes in another world, not necessarily places of torment, comes out too in 'Not a Pin to Choose between Them', No. 24, where Peter, the second husband of the silly Goody, goes about begging from house to house in Paradise.

For the rest, whenever the Devil appears in these tales, it is not at all as the Arch-enemy, as the subtle spirit of the Christian's faith, but rather as one of the old Giants, supernatural and hostile indeed to man, but simple and easily deceived by a cunning reprobate, whose superior intelligence he learns to dread, for whom he feels himself no match, and whom, finally, he will receive in Hell at no price. We shall have to notice some other characteristics of this race of giants a little further on, but certainly no greater proof can be given of the small hold which the Christian Devil has taken of the Norse mind, than the heathen aspect under which he constantly appears, and the ludicrous way in which he is always outwitted.

We have seen how our Lord and the saints succeeded to Odin and his children in the stories which told of their wanderings on earth, to warn the wicked, or to help the good; we have seen how the kindliness and helpfulness of the ancient goddesses fell like a royal mantle round the form of the Virgin Mary. We have seen, too, on the other hand, how the procession of the Almighty God degenerated into the infernal midnight hunt. We have now to see what became of the rest of the power of the goddesses, of all that might which was not absorbed into the glory of the blessed Virgin. We shall not have far to seek. No reader of early medieval chronicles and sermons, can fail to have been struck with many passages which ascribe majesty and power to beings of woman's sex. Now it is a heathen goddess as Diana; now some half-historical character as Bertha; now a mythical being as Holda; now Herodias; now Satia; now Domina Abundia, or Dame Habonde.11 A very short investigation will serve to identify the two ancient goddesses Frigga and Freyja with all these leaders of a midnight host. Just as Odin was banished from day to darkness, so the two great heathen goddesses, fused into one 'uncanny' shape, were supposed to ride the air at night. Medieval chroniclers, writing in bastard Latin, and following the example of classical authors, when they had to find a name for this demon-goddess, chose, of course, Diana the heathen huntress; the moon-goddess; and the ruler of the night. In the same way, when they threw Odin's name into a Latin shape, he, the god of wit and will, as well as power and victory, became Mercury. As for Herodias—not the mother, but the daughter who danced—she must have made a deep impression on the mind of the early Middle Age, for she was supposed to have been cursed after the beheading of John the Baptist, and to have gone on dancing for ever. When heathendom fell, she became confounded with the ancient Goddesses, and thus we find her, sometimes among the crew of the Wild Huntsman; sometimes, as we see in the passages below, in company with, or in the place of Diana, Holda, Satia, and Abundia, at the head of a bevy of women, who met at certain places to celebrate unholy rites and mysteries. As for Holda, Satia, and Abundia, 'the kind', 'the satisfying', and 'the abundant', they are plainly names of good rather than evil powers; they are ancient epithets drawn from the bounty of the 'Good Lady', and attest the feeling of respect which still clung to them in the popular mind. As was the case whenever Christianity was brought in, the country folk, always averse to change, as compared with the more lively and intelligent dwellers in towns, still remained more or less heathen,12 and to this day they preserve unconsciously many superstitions which can be traced up in lineal descent to their old belief. In many ways does the old divinity peep out under the new superstition—the long train, the midnight feast, 'the good lady' who presides, the bounty and abundance which her votaries fancied would follow in her footsteps, all belong to the ancient Goddess. Most curious of all is the way in which all these traditions from different countries insist on the third part of the earth, the third child born, the third soul as belonging to the 'good lady', who leads the revel; for this right of a third, or even of a half, was one which Freyja possessed. 'But Freyja is most famous of the Asynjor. She has that bower in heaven hight Fólkvángr, and whithersoever she rideth to the battle, then hath she one half of the slain, but Odin the other half.' Again 'when she fares abroad, she drives two cats and sits in a car, and she lends an easy ear to the prayers of men'.13

We have got then the ancient goddesses identified as evil influences, and as the leader of a midnight band of women, who practised secret and unholy rites. This leads us at once to witchcraft. In all ages and in all races this belief in sorcery has existed. Men and women practised it alike, but in all times female sorcerers have predominated.14 This was natural enough. In those days women were priestesses; they collected drugs and simples; women alone knew the virtues of plants. Those soft hands spun linen, made lint, and bound wounds. Women in the earliest times with which we are acquainted with our forefathers, alone knew how to read and write, they only could carve the mystic runes, they only could chant the charms so potent to allay the wounded warrior's smart and pain. The men were busy out of doors with ploughing, hunting, barter, and war. In such an age the sex which possessed by natural right book-learning, physic, sooth-saying, and incantation, even when they used these mysteries for good purposes, were but a step from sin. The same soft white hand that bound the wound and scraped the lint; the same gentle voice that sung the mystic rune, that helped the child-bearing woman, or drew the arrow-head from the dying champion's breast; the same bright eye that gazed up to heaven in ecstasy through the sacred grove and read the will of the gods when the mystic tablets and rune-carved lots were cast—all these, if the will were bad, if the soothsayer passed into the false prophetess, the leech into a poisoner, and the priestess into a witch, were as potent and terrible for ill as they had once been powerful for good. In all the Indo-European tribes, therefore, women, and especially old women, have practised witchcraft from the earliest times, and Christianity found them wherever it advanced. But Christianity, as it placed mankind upon a higher platform of civilization, increased the evil which it found, and when it expelled the ancient goddesses, and confounded them as demons with Diana and Herodias, it added them and their votaries to the old class of malevolent sorcerers. There was but one step, but a simple act of the will, between the Norn and the hag, even before Christianity came in. As soon as it came, down went Goddess, Valkyrie, Norn, priestess, and soothsayer, into that unholy deep where the heathen hags and witches had their being; and, as Christianity gathered strength, developed its dogmas, and worked out its faith; fancy, tradition, leechcraft, poverty, and idleness, produced that unhappy class, the medieval witch, the persecution of which is one of the darkest pages in religious history.

It is curious indeed to trace the belief in witches through the Middle Age, and to mark how it increases in intensity and absurdity. At first, as we have seen in the passages quoted, the superstition seemed comparatively harmless, and though the witches themselves may have believed in their unholy power, there were not wanting divines who took a commonsense view of the matter, and put the absurdity of their pretensions to a practical proof. Such was that good parish priest who asked, when an old woman of his flock insisted that she had been in his house with the company of 'the Good Lady', and had seen him naked and covered him up, 'How, then, did you get in when all the doors were locked?' 'We can get in,' she said, 'even if the doors are locked.' Then the priest took her into the chancel of the church, locked the door, and gave her a sound thrashing with the pastoral staff, calling out, 'Out with you, lady witch.' But as she could not, he sent her home, saying, 'See now how foolish you are to believe in such empty dreams.'15 But as the Church increased in strength, as heresies arose, and consequent persecution, then the secret meetings of these sectarians, as we should now call them, were identified by the hierarchy with the rites of sorcery and magic, and with the relics of the worship of the old gods. By the time, too, that the hierarchy was established, that belief in the fallen angel, the Arch-Fiend, the Devil, originally so foreign to the nations of the West, had become thoroughly ingrafted on the popular mind, and a new element of wickedness and superstition was introduced at those unholy festivals. About the middle of the thirteenth century, we find the mania for persecuting heretics invading the tribes of Teutonic race from France and Italy, backed by all the power of the Pope. Like jealousy, persecution too often makes the meat it feeds on, and many silly, if not harmless, superstitions were rapidly put under the ban of the Church. Now the 'Good Lady' and her train begin to recede, they only fill up the background while the Prince of Darkness steps, dark and terrible, in front, and soon draws after him the following of the ancient goddess. Now we hear stories of demoniac possession; now the witches adore a demon of the other sex. With the male element, and its harsher, sterner nature, the sinfulness of these unholy assemblies is infinitely increased; folly becomes guilt, and guilt crime.16

From the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century the history of Europe teems with processes against witches and sorcerers. Before the Reformation it reached its height, in the Catholic world, with the famous bull of Innocent the Eighth in 1484, the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, the first of the long list of witchfinding books, and the zeal with which the State lent all the terrors of the law to assist the ecclesiastical inquisitors. Before the tribunals of those inquisitors, in the fifteenth century, innumerable victims were arraigned on the double charge of heresy and sorcery—for the crimes ran in couples, both being children and sworn servants of the Devil. Would that the historian could say that with the era of the Reformation these abominations ceased. The Roman Hierarchy, with her bulls and inquisitors, had sown a bitter crop, which both she and the Protestant Churches were destined to reap; but in no part of the world were the labourers more eager and willing, when the fields were 'black' to harvest, than in those very reformed communities which had just shaken off the yoke of Rome, and which had sprung in many cases from the very heretics whom she had persecuted and burnt, accusing them, at the same time, of the most malignant sorceries.17 Their excuse is, that no one is before his age. The intense personality given to the Devil in the Middle Age had possessed the whole mind of Europe. We must take them as we find them, with their bright fancy, their earnest faith, their stern fanaticism, their revolting superstition, just as when we look upon a picture we know that those brilliant hues and tones, that spirit which informs the whole, could never be were it not for the vulgar earths and oil out of which the glorious work of art is mixed and made. Strangely monotonous are all the witch trials of which Europe has so many to show. At first the accused denies, then under torture she confesses, then relapses and denies; tortured again she confesses again, amplifies her story, and accuses others. When given to the stake, she not seldom asserts all her confessions to be false, which is ascribed to the power which the fiend still has over her. Then she is burnt and her ashes given to the winds. Those who wish to read one, unexampled perhaps for barbarity and superstition, and more curious than the rest from the prominence given in it to a man, may find it in the trial of Dr Fian, the Scotch wizard, 'which doctor was register to the Devil, that sundry times preached at North Baricke (North Berwick, in East Lothian) Kirke, to a number of notorious witches.'18 But we advise no one to venture on a perusal of this tract who is not prepared to meet with the most unutterable accusations and crimes, the most cruel tortures, and the most absurd confessions, followed as usual by the stoutest denial of all that had been confessed; when torture had done her worst on poor human nature, and the soul re-asserted at the last her supremacy over the body.19 One characteristic of all these witch trials, is the fact, that in spite of their unholy connection and intrigues with the Evil One, no witch ever attained to wealth and station by the aid of the Prince of Darkness. The pleasure to do ill, is all the pleasure they feel. This fact alone might have opened the eyes of their persecutors, for if the Devil had the worldly power which they represented him to have, he might at least have raised some of his votaries to temporal rank, and to the pomps and the vanities of this world. An old German proverb expresses this notorious fact, by saying, that 'every seven years, a witch is three halfpence richer'; and so with all the unholy means of Hell at their command, they dragged out their lives, along with their black cats, in poverty and wretchedness. To this fate at last, came the worshippers of the great goddess Freyja, whom our forefathers adored as the goddess of love and plenty; and whose car was drawn by those animals which popular superstition has ever since assigned to the 'old witch' of our English villages.

The North was not free, any more than the rest of the Protestant world, from this direful superstition, which ran over Europe like a pestilence in the sixteenth century. In Sweden especially, the witches and their midnight ridings to Blokulla, the black hill, gave occasion to processes as absurd and abominable as the trial of Dr Fian and the witch-findings of Hopkins. In Denmark, the sorceresses were supposed to meet at Tromsoe high up in Finmark, or even on Heckla in Iceland. The Norse witches met at a Blokolle of their own, or on the Dovrefell, or at other places in Norway or Finmark. As might be expected, we find many traces of witchcraft in these Tales, but it may be doubted whether these may not be referred rather to the old heathen belief in such arts still lingering in the popular mind than to the processes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which were far more a craze and mania of the educated classes acting under a mistaken religious fanaticism against popular superstitions than a movement arising from the mass of the community. Still, in 'The Mastermaid', No. 11, the witch of a sister-in-law, who had rolled the apple over to the Prince, and so charmed him, was torn to pieces between twenty-four horses. The old queen in 'The Lassie and Her Godmother', No. 27, tries to persuade her son to have the young queen burnt alive for a wicked witch, who was dumb, and had eaten her own babes. In 'East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon', No. 4, it is a wicked stepmother who has bewitched the prince. In 'Bushy Bride', No. 45, the ugly bride charms the king to sleep, and is at last thrown, with her wicked mother, into a pit full of snakes. In 'The Twelve Wild Ducks', No. 8, the wicked stepmother persuades the king that Snow-white and Rosy-red is a witch, and almost persuades him to burn her alive. In 'Tatterhood', No. 48, a whole troop of witches come to keep their revels on Christmas eve in the Queen's Palace, and snap off the young Princess's head. It is hard, indeed, in tales where Trolls play so great a part, to keep witch and Troll separate; but the above instances will show that the belief in the one, as distinct from the other, exists in the popular superstitions of the North.

The frequent transformation of men into beasts, in these tales, is another striking feature. This power the gods of the Norseman possessed in common with those of all other mythologies. Europa and her Bull, Leda and her Swan, will occur at once to the reader's mind; and to come to closer resemblances, just as Athene appears in the Odyssey as an eagle or a swallow perched on the roof of the hall,20 so Odin flies off as a falcon, and Loki takes the form of a horse or bird. This was only part of that omnipotence which all gods enjoy. But the belief that men, under certain conditions, could also take the shape of animals, is primaeval, and the traditions of every race can tell of such transformations. Herodotus had heard how the Neurians, a Slavonic race, passed for wizards amongst the Scythians and the Greeks settled round the Black Sea, because each of them, once in the year, became a wolf for a few days, and then returned to his natural shape. Pliny, Pomponius Mela, and St Augustine, in his great treatise, De Civitate Dei, tell the same story, and Virgil, in his Eclogues, has sung the same belief.21 The Latins called such a man, a turnskin,—versipellis, an expression which exactly agrees with the Icelandic expression for the same thing, and which is probably the true original of our turncoat. In Petronius the superstition appears in its full shape, and is worth repeating. At the banquet of Trimalchio, Niceros gives the following account of the turnskins Nero's of time:—

It happened that my master was gone to Capua to dispose of some second-hand goods. I took the opportunity, and persuaded our guest to walk with me to the fifth milestone. He was a valiant soldier, and a sort of grim water-drinking Pluto. About cock-crow, when the moon was shining as bright as mid-day, we came among the monuments. My friend began addressing himself to the stars, but I was rather in a mood to sing or to count them; and when I turned to look at him, lo! he had already stripped himself and laid down his clothes near him. My heart was in my nostrils, and I stood like a dead man; but he 'circumminxit vestimenta', and on a sudden became a wolf. Do not think I jest; I would not lie for any man's estate. But to return to what I was saying. When he became a wolf, he began howling, and fled into the woods. At first I hardly knew where I was, and afterwards, when I went to take up his clothes, they were turned into stone. Who then died with fear but I? Yet I drew my sword, and went cutting the air right and left, till I reached the villa of my sweetheart. I entered the courtyard. I almost breathed my last, the sweat ran down my neck, my eyes were dim, and I thought I should never recover myself. My Melissa wondered why I was out so late, and said to me,—"Had you come sooner you might at least have helped us, for a wolf has entered the farm, and worried all our cattle; but he had not the best of the joke, for all he escaped, for our slave ran a lance through his neck." When I heard this, I could not doubt how it was, and, as it was clear daylight, ran home as fast as a robbed innkeeper. When I came to the spot where the clothes had been turned into stone, I could find nothing except blood. But when I got home, I found my friend the soldier in bed, bleeding at the neck like an ox, and a doctor dressing his wound. I then knew he was a turn-skin; nor would I ever have broke bread with him again; No, not if you had killed me.22

A man who had such a gift or greed was also called lycanthropus, a man-wolf or wolf-man, which term the Anglo-Saxons translated literally in Canute's Laws verevulf, and the early English werewolf. In old French he was loupgarou, which means the same thing; except that garou means man-wolf in itself without the antecedent loup, so that, as Madden observes, the whole word is one of those reduplications of which we have an example in lukewarm. In Brittany he was bleizgarou and denvleiz, formed respectively from bleiz, wolf, and den, man; garou is merely a distorted form of wer or vere, man and loup. In later French the word became waroul, whence the Scotch wroul, wurl, and worlin.23

It was not likely that a belief so widely spread should not have extended itself to the North; and the grave assertions of Olaus Magnus in the sixteenth century, in his Treatise de Gentibus Septentrionalibus, show how common the belief in were-wolves was in Sweden so late as the time of Gustavus Vasa. In mythical times the Volsunga Saga24 expressly states of Sigmund and Sinfjötli that they became were-wolves,—which, we may remark, were Odin's sacred beasts,—just in the same way as Brynhildr and the Valkyries, or corse-choosers, who followed the god of battles to the field, and chose the dead for Valhalla when the fight was done, became swan-maidens, and took the shape of swans. In either case, the wolf's skin or the swan's feathery covering was assumed and laid aside at pleasure, though the Völundr Quidr, in the Edda, and the stories of 'the Fair Melusina', and other medieval swan-maidens, show that any one who seized that shape while thus laid aside, had power over its wearer. In later times, when this old heroic belief degenerated into the notion of sorcery, it was supposed that a girdle of wolfskin thrown over the body, or even a slap on the face with a wolfskin glove, would transform the person upon whom the sorcerer practised into the shape of a ravening wolf, which fled at once to the woods, where he remained in that shape for a period which varied in popular belief for nine days, three, seven, or nine years. While in this state he was especially ravenous after young children, whom he carried off as the were-wolf carried off William in the old romance, though all were-wolves did not treat their prey with the same tenderness as that were-wolf treated William.

But the favourite beast for Norse transformations in historic times, if we may judge from the evidence afforded by the Sagas, was the bear, the king of all their beasts, whose strength and sagacity made him an object of great respect.25

This old belief, then, might be expected to be found in these Norse Tales, and according we find men transformed in them into various beasts. Of old these transformations, as we have already stated, were active, if we may use the expression, as well as passive. A man who possessed the gift, frequently assumed the shape of a beast at his own will and pleasure, like the soldier in Petronius. Even now in Norway, it is matter of popular belief that Finns and Lapps, who from time immemorial have passed for the most skilful witches and wizards in the world, can at will assume the shape of bears; and it is a common thing to say of one of those beasts, when he gets unusually savage and daring, 'that can be no Christian bear.' On such a bear, in the parish of Oföden, after he had worried to death more than sixty horses and six men, it is said that a girdle of bearskin, the infallible mark of a man thus transformed, was found when he was at last tracked and slain. The tale called 'Farmer Weathersky', No. 41, in this collection, shows that the belief of these spontaneous transformations still exists in popular tradition, where it is easy to see that Farmer Weathersky is only one of the ancient gods degraded into a demon's shape. His sudden departure through the air, horse, sledge, and lad, and all, and his answer, 'I'm at home, alike north, and south and east, and west'; his name itself, and his distant abode, surrounded with the corpses of the slain, sufficiently betray the divinity in disguise. His transformation, too, into a hawk answers exactly to that of Odin when he flew away from the Frost Giant in the shape of that bird. But in these tales such transformations are for the most part passive; they occur not at the will of the person transformed, but through sorcery practised on them by some one else. Thus the White Bear in the beautiful story of 'East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon', No. 4, is a Prince transformed by his stepmother, just as it is the stepmother who plays the same part in the romance of William and the Were-wolf. So the horse in 'The Widow's Son', No. 44, is a Prince over whom a king has cast that shape.26 So also in 'Lord Peter', No. 42, which is the full story of what we have only hitherto known in part as 'Puss in Boots', the cat is a princess bewitched by the Troll who had robbed her of her lands; so also in 'The Seven Foals', No. 43, and 'The Twelve Wild Ducks', No. 8, the Foals and the Ducks are Princes over whom that fate has come by the power of a witch or a Troll, to whom an unwary promise had been given. Thoroughly mythic is the trait in 'The Twelve Wild Ducks', where the youngest brother reappears with a wild duck's wing instead of his left arm, because his sister had no time to finish that portion of the shirt, upon the completion of which his retransformation depended.

But we should ill understand the spirit of the Norsemen, if we supposed that these transformations into beasts were all that the national heart has to tell of beasts and their doings, or that, when they appear, they do so merely as men-beasts, without any power or virtue of their own. From the earliest times, side by side with those productions of the human mind which speak of the dealings of men with men, there has grown up a stock of traditions about animals and their relations with one another, which forms a true Beast Epic, and is full of the liveliest traits of nature. Here, too, it was reserved for Grimm to restore these traditions to their true place in the history of the human mind, and to show that the poetry which treats of them is neither satirical nor didactic, though it may contain touches of both these artificial kinds of composition, but, on the contrary, purely and intensely natural. It is Epic, in short, springing out of that deep love of nature and close observation of the habits of animals which is only possible in an early and simple stage of society. It used to be the fashion, when these Beast traditions were noticed to point to Æsop as their original, but Grimm has sufficiently proved27 that what we see in Æsop is only the remains of a great world-old cycle of such traditions which had already, in Æsop's day, been subjected by the Greek mind to that critical process which a late state of society brings to bear on popular traditions; that they were then already worn and washed out and moralized. He has also shewn how the same process went on till in Phaedrus nothing but the dry bones of the traditions, with a drier moral, are served up to the reader; and he has done justice on La Fontaine, who wrote with all the wanton licentiousness of his day, and frittered away the whole nature of his fables by the frivolity of his allusions to the artificial society of his time. Nor has he spared Lessing, who, though he saw through the poverty of Phaedrus as compared with Æsop, and was alive to the weakness of La Fontaine, still wandered about in the classical mist which hung heavy over the learning of the eighteenth century, and saw in the Greek form the perfection of all fable, when in Æsop it really appears in a state of degeneracy and decay. Here too, as in so many other things, we have a proof that the world is older than we think it. The Beast-Fables in the Panchatantra and the Hitopadesa, the Indian parallels to Æsop, reveal, in the connection in which they occur, and in the moral use to which they are put, a state of society long past that simple early time in which such fictions arise. They must have sprung up in the East in the very dawn of time; and thence travelling in all directions, we find them after many centuries in various shapes, which admit of no mistake as to their first origin, at the very ends of the earth, in countries as opposite as the Poles to each other; in New Zealand and Norway, in Central Africa and Servia, in the West Indies and in Mongolia; all separated by immense tracts of land or sea from their common centre.

To the earnest inquirer, to one who believes that many dark things may yet be solved, it is very satisfactory to see that even Grimm, in his 'Reynard the Fox', is at a loss to understand why the North, properly so-called, had none of the traditions which the Middle Age moulded into that famous Beast-Epic. But since then the North, as the Great Master himself confesses in his later works, has amply avenged herself for the slight thus cast upon her by mistake. In the year 1834, when Grimm thus expressed his surprise on this point, the North had no such traditions to show in books indeed, but she kept them stored up in her heart in an abundance with which no other land perhaps can vie. This book at least shows how natural it seems to the Norse mind now, and how much more natural of course it seemed in earlier times, when sense went for so much and reflection for so little, that beasts should talk; and how truly and faithfully it has listened and looked for the accents and character of each. The Bear is still the King of Beasts, in which character he appears in 'True and Untrue', No. 1, but here, as in Germany, he is no match for the Fox in wit. Thus Reynard plays him a trick which condemns him for ever to a stumpy tail in No. 23. He cheats him out of his share of a firkin of butter in No. 57. He is preferred as Herdsman, in No. 10, before either Bear or Wolf, by the old wife who wants some one to tend her flock. Yet all the while he professes immense respect for the Bear, and calls him 'Lord', even when in the very act of outwitting him. In the tale called 'Well Done and Ill Paid', No. 38, the crafty fox puts a finish to his misbehaviour to his 'Lord Bruin', by handing him over, bound hand and foot, to the peasant, and by causing his death outright. Here, too, we have an example, which we shall see repeated in the case of the giants, that strength and stature are not always wise, and that wit and wisdom never fail to carry the day against mere brute force. Another tale, however, restores the bear to his true place as the king of beasts, endowed not only with strength, but with something divine and terrible about him which the Trolls cannot withstand. This is 'The Cat on the Dovrefell', No. 12. In connection with which, it should be remembered that the same tradition existed in the thirteenth century in Germany,28 that the bear is called familiarly grandfather in the North, and that the Lapps reckon him rather as akin to men than beasts; that they say he has the strength of ten and the wit of twelve men. If they slay him, they formally beg his pardon, as do also the Ostjaks, a tribe akin to the Lapps, and bring him to their huts with great formalities and mystic songs. To the Wolf, whose nickname is 'Graylegs',29 these tales are more complimentary. He is not the spiteful, stupid, greedy Isengrim of Germany and France. Not that Isengrim, of whom old English fables of the thirteenth century tell us that he became a monk, but when the brethren wished to teach him his letters that he might learn the paternoster, all they could get out of him was lamb, lamb; nor could they ever get him to look to the cross, for his eyes, with his thoughts, 'were ever to the woodward'.30 He appears, on the contrary, in 'The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body', No. 9, as a kindly grateful beast, who repays tenfold out of the hidden store of his supernatural sagacity the gift of the old jade, which Boots had made over to him.

The horse was a sacred animal among the Teutonic tribes from the first moment of their appearance in history, and Tacitus31 has related, how in the shade of those woods and groves which served them for temples, white horses were fed at the public cost, whose backs no mortal man crossed, whose neighings and snortings were carefully watched as auguries and omens, and who were thought to be conscious of divine mysteries. In Persia, too, the classical reader will remember how the neighing of a horse decided the choice for the crown. Here, in England, at any rate, we have only to think of Hengist and Horsa, the twin-heroes of the Anglo-Saxon migration, as the legend ran,—heroes whose name meant 'horse,'—and of the vale of the White Horse in Berks, where the sacred form still gleams along the down, to be reminded of the sacredness of the horse to our forefathers. The Eddas are filled with the names of famous horses, and the Sagas contain many stories of good steeds, in whom their owners trusted and believed as sacred to this or that particular god. Such a horse is Dapplegrim in No. 40 of these tales, who saves his master out of all his perils, and brings him to all fortune, and is another example of that mysterious connection with the higher powers which animals in all ages have been supposed to possess.

Such a friend, too, to the helpless lassie is the Dun Bull in 'Katie Woodencloak', No. 50, out of whose ear comes the 'Wishing Cloth', which serves up the choicest dishes. The story is probably imperfect, as we should expect to see him again in human shape after his head was cut off, and his skin flayed; but, after being the chief character up to that point, he remains from that time forth in the background, and we only see him darkly in the man who comes out of the face of the rock, and supplies the lassie's wants when she knocks on it. Dun, or blue, or mouse-colour, is the favourite colour for fairy kine. Thus the cow which Guy of Warwick killed was dun. The Huldror in Norway have large flocks of blue kine. In Scotland runs the story of the Mouse-coloured Elfin Bull. In Iceland the colour of such kine is apalgrár, dapple grey. This animal has been an object of adoration and respect from the earliest times, and we need only remind our readers of the sanctity of cows and bulls among the Indians and Egyptians, of 'the Golden Calf' in the Bible; of Io and her wanderings from land to land; and, though last, not least, of Audhumla, the Mythic Cow in the Edda, who had so large a part in the creation of the first Giant in human form.32

The dog, to which, with all his sagacity and faithfulness, something unclean and impure clings, as Grimm well observes, plays no very prominent part in these Tales.33 We find him, however, in 'Not a Pin to Choose between Them', No. 24, where his sagacity fails to detect his mistress; and, as 'the foe of his own house', the half-bred foxy hound, who chases away the cunning Fox in 'Well Done and Ill Paid', No. 38. Still he, too, in popular superstition, is gifted with a sense of the supernatural; he howls when death impends, and in 'Buttercup', No. 18, it is Goldtooth their dog, who warns Buttercup and his mother of the approach of the old hag. In 'Bushy Bride', No. 45, he appears only as the lassie's lap-dog, is thrown away as one of her sacrifices, and at last goes to the wedding in her coach; yet in that tale he has something weird about him, and he is sent out by his mistress three times to see if the dawn is coming.

In one tale, No. 37, the Goat appears in full force, and dashes out the brains of the Troll, who lived under the bridge over the burn. In another, 'Tatterhood', No. 48, he helps the lassie in her onslaught on the witches. He, too, was sacred to Thor in the old mythology, and drew his thundering car. Here something of the divine nature of his former lord, who was the great foe of all Trolls, seems to have been passed on in popular tradition to the animal who had seen so many adventures with the great God who swayed the thunder. This feud between the Goat and the Trolls comes out curiously in 'The Old Dame and Her Hen', No. 3, where a goat falls down the trap-door to the Troll's house. "Who sent for you, I should like to know, you long-bearded beast," said the Man o' the Hill, who was in an awful rage; and with that he whipped up the Goat, wrung his head off, and threw him down into the cellar.' Still he belonged to one of the heathen gods, and so in later Middle-Age superstition he is assigned to the Devil, who even takes his shape when he presides at the Witches' Sabbath.

Nor in this list must the little birds be forgotten which taught the man's daughter, in the tale of 'The Two Step-Sisters', No. 17, how to act in her trials. So, too, in 'Katie Woodencloak', No. 50, the little bird tells the Prince, 'who understood the song of birds very well', that blood is gushing out of the golden shoe. The belief that some persons had the gift of understanding what the birds said, is primaeval. We pay homage to it in our proverbial expression, 'a little bird told me'. Popular traditions and rhymes protect their nests, as in the case of the wren, the robin, and the swallow. Occasionally this gift seems to have been acquired by eating or tasting the flesh of a snake or dragon, as Sigurd, in the Volsung tale, first became aware of Regin's designs against his life, when he accidentally tasted the heart-blood of Fafnir, whom he had slain in dragon shape, and then all at once the swallow's song, perched above him, became as intelligible as human speech.

We now come to a class of beings which plays a large part, and always for ill, in these Tales. These are the Giants or Trolls. In modern Norse tradition there is little difference between the names, but originally Troll was a more general expression for a supernatural being than Giant,34 which was rather confined to a race more dull than wicked. In the Giants we have the wantonness of boundless bodily strength and size, which, trusting entirely to these qualities, falls at last by its own weight. At first, it is true, that proverbial wisdom, all the stores of traditional lore, all that could be learnt by what may be called rule of thumb, was ascribed to them. One sympathises too with them, and almost pities them as the representatives of a simple primitive race, whose day is past and gone, but who still possessed something of the innocence and virtue of ancient times, together with a stock of old experience, which, however useful it might be as an example to others, was quite useless to help themselves. They are the old Tories of mythology, as opposed to the Æsir, the advanced liberals. They can look back and say what has been, but to look forward to say what will be and shall be, and to mould the future, is beyond their ken. True as gold to the traditional and received, and worthless as dross for the new and progressive. Such a nature, when unprovoked, is easy and simple; but rouse it, and its exuberant strength rises in a paroxysm of rage, though its clumsy awkward blows, guided by mere cunning, fail to strike the slight and lissom foe who waits for and eludes the stroke, until his reason gives him the mastery over sheer brute force which has wearied itself out by its own exertions.35

This race, and that of the upstart Æsir, though almost always at feud, still had their intervals of common intercourse, and even social enjoyment. Marriages take place between them, visits are paid, feasts are given, ale is broached, and mirth is fast and furious. Thor was the worst foe the giants ever had, and yet he met them sometimes on good terms. They were destined to meet once for all on that awful day, 'the twilight of the gods', but till then, they entertained for each other some sense of mutual respect.

The Trolls, on the other hand, with whom mankind had more to do, were supposed to be less easy tempered, and more systematically malignant, than the Giants, and with the term were bound up notions of sorcery and unholy power. But mythology is a woof of many colours, in which the hues are shot and blended, so that the various races of supernatural beings are shaded off, and fade away almost imperceptibly into each other; and thus, even in heathen times, it must have been hard to say exactly where the Giant ended and the Troll began. But when Christianity came in, and heathendom fell; when the godlike race of the Æsir became evil demons instead of good genial powers, then all the objects of the old popular belief, whether Æsir, Giants, or Trolls, were mingled together in one superstition, as 'no canny'. They were all Trolls, all malignant; and thus it is that, in these tales, the traditions about Odin and his underlings, about the Frost Giants, and about sorcerers and wizards, are confused and garbled; and all supernatural agency that plots man's ill is the work of Trolls, whether the agent be the arch enemy himself, or giant, or witch, or wizard.

In tales such as 'The Old Dame and Her Hen', No. 3, 'The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body', No. 9, 'Shortshanks', No. 20, 'Boots and the Troll', No. 32, 'Boots Who Ate a Match with the Troll', No. 5, the easy temper of the old Frost Giants predominates, and we almost pity them as we read. In another, 'The Big Bird Dan', No. 55, we have a Troll Prince, who appears as a generous benefactor to the young Prince, and lends him a sword by help of which he slays the King of the Trolls, just as we sometimes find in the Edda friendly meetings between the Æsir and this or that Frost Giant. In 'Tatterhood', No. 48, the Trolls are very near akin to the witches of the Middle Age. In other tales, as 'The Mastermaid', No. 11, 'The Blue Belt', No. 22, 'Farmer Weathersky', No. 41, a sort of settled malignity against man appears as the direct working and result of a bad and evil spirit. In 'Buttercup', No. 18, and 'The Cat on the Dovrefell', No. 12, we have the Troll proper,—the supernatural dwellers of the woods and hills, who go to church, and eat men, and porridge, and sausages indifferently, not from malignity, but because they know no better, because it is their nature, and because they have always done so. In one point they all agree,—in their place of abode. The wild pine forest that clothes the spurs of the fells, but more than all, the interior recesses of the rocky fell itself, is where the Trolls live. Thither they carry off the children of men, and to them belongs all the untold riches of the mineral world. There, in caves and clefts in the steep face of the rock, sits the Troll, as the representative of the old giants, among heaps of gold and silver and precious things. They stride off into the dark forest by day, whither no rays of the sun can pierce; they return home at nightfall, feast themselves full, and snore out the night. One thing was fatal to them,—the sight of the sun. If they looked him full in the face, his glory was too great for them, and they burst, as in 'Lord Peter', No. 42, and in 'The Old Dame and Her Hen', No. 3. This, too, is a deeply mythic trait. The old religion of the North was a bright and lively faith; it lived in the light of joy and gladness; its gods were the 'blithe powers'; opposed to them were the dark powers of mist and gloom, who could not bear the glorious face of the Sun, of Baldr's beaming visage, or the bright flash of Thor's levin bolt.

In one aspect, the whole race of Giants and Trolls stands out in strong historical light. There can be little doubt that, in their continued existence amongst the woods, and rocks, and hills, we have a memory of the gradual suppression and extinction of some hostile race, who gradually retired into the natural fastnesses of the land, and speedily became mythic. Nor, if we bear in mind their natural position, and remember how constantly the infamy of sorcery has clung to the Finns and Lapps, shall we have far to go to seek this ancient race, even at the present day. Between this outcast nomad race, which wandered from forest to forest, and from fell to fell, without a fixed place of abode, and the old natural powers and Frost Giants, the minds of the race which adored Odin and the Æsir soon engendered a monstrous man-eating cross-breed of supernatural beings, who fled from contact with the intruders as soon as the first great struggle was over, abhorred the light of day, and looked upon agriculture and tillage as a dangerous innovation which destroyed their hunting fields, and was destined finally to root them out from off the face of the earth. This fact appears in countless stories all over the globe, for man is true to himself in all climes, and the savage in Africa or across the Rocky Mountains, dreads tillage and detests the plough as much as any Lapp or Samoyed. 'See what pretty playthings, mother!' cries the Giant's daughter, as she unties her apron, and shows her a plough, and horses, and peasant. 'Back with them this instant,' cries the mother in wrath, 'and put them down as carefully as you can, for these playthings can do our race great harm, and when these come we must budge.' 'What sort of an earthworm is this?' said one Giant to another, when they met a man as they walked. 'These are the earthworms that will one day eat us up, brother,' answered the other; and soon both Giants left that part of Germany. Nor does this trait appear less strongly in these Norse Tales. The Giants or Trolls can neither brew nor wash properly, as we see in 'Shortshanks', No. 20, where the Ogre has to get Shortshanks to brew his ale for him; and in 'East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon', No. 4, where none of the Trolls are able to wash out the spot of tallow. So also in 'The Two Step-Sisters', No. 17, the old witch is forced to get human maids to do her household work; and, lastly, the best example of all, in 'Lord Peter', No. 42, where agriculture is plainly a secret of mankind, which the Giants were eager to learn, but which was a branch of knowledge beyond their power to attain.

'Stop a bit,' said the Cat, 'and I'll tell you how the farmer sets to work to get in his winter rye.'

And so she told him such a long story about the winter rye.

'First of all, you see, he ploughs the field, and then he dungs it, and then he ploughs it again, and then he harrows it', and so she went on till the sun rose.

Before we leave these gigantic natural powers, let us linger a moment to point out how heartily the Winds are sketched in these Tales as four brothers; of whom, of course, the North wind is the oldest, and strongest, and roughest. But though rough in form and tongue, he is a genial, kindhearted fellow after all. He carries the lassie to the castle, 'East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon', whither none of his brothers had strength to blow. All he asks is that she won't be afraid, and then he takes a good rest, and puffs himself up with as much breath as ever he can hold, begins to blow a storm, and off they go. So, too, in 'The Lad Who Went to the North Wind', No. 34, though he can't restore the meal he carried off, he gives the lad three things which make his fortune, and amply repay him. He, too, like the Grecian Boreas, is divine, and lineally descended from Hraesvelgr, that great giant in the Edda, who sits 'at the end of the world in eagle's shape, and when he flaps his wings, all the winds come that blow upon men'.

Enough surely has now been said to shew that the old religion and mythology of the Norseman still lives disguised in these popular tales. Besides this internal evidence, we find here and there, in the written literature of earlier days, hints that the same stories were even then current, and current then as now, among the lower classes. Thus, in King Sverri's Saga we read, 'And so it was just like what is said to have happened in old stories of what the king's children suffered from their stepmother's ill-will.' And again, in Olof Tryggvason's Saga by the monk Odd, 'And better is it to hear such things with mirth than step-mother's stories which shepherds tell, where no one can tell whether anything is true, and where the king is always made the least in their narrative.' But, in truth, no such positive evidence is needed. Anyone who has read the Volsung tale as we have given it, will be at no loss to see where the 'little birds' who speak to the Prince and the lassie, or the 'pit of snakes' into which folk are cast, in these tales, come from; nor when they read in 'The Big Bird Dan', No. 55, about 'the naked sword' which the Princess lays by her side every night, will they fail to recognize Sigurd's sword Gram, which he laid between himself and Brynhildr when he rode through the flame and won her for Gunnar. These mythical deep-rooted germs, throwing out fresh shoots from age to age in the popular literature of the race, are far more convincing proofs of the early existence of these traditions than any mere external evidence.36


  1. Heb. xiii. 1: 'Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.'
  2. One of Odin's names, when on these adventures, was Gangradr, or Gangleri. Both mean 'the Ganger, or wayfarer'. We have the latter epithet in the 'Gangrel carle', and 'Gangrel loon', of the early Scotch ballads.
  3. So also Orion's Belt was called by the Norsemen, Frigga's spindle or rock, Friggjar rockr. In modern Swedish, Friggerock, where the old goddess holds her own; but in Danish, Marioerock, Our Lady's rock or spindle. Thus, too, Karlavagn, the 'car of men', or heroes, who rode with Odin, which we call 'Charles' Wain', thus keeping something, at least of the old name, though none of its meaning, became in Scotland 'Peter's-pleugh', from the Christian saint, just as Orion's sword became 'Peter's-staff'. But what do 'Lady Landers' and 'Lady Ellison' mean, as applied to the 'Lady-Bird' in Scotland?
  4. D. M. pp. 126 ff. where they are cited at length.
  5. Snorro's Edda, Stockholm, 1842, translated by the writer.
  6. See the well-known story of the 'Luck of Eden Hall'.
  7. Hist. ii. 16.
  8. Snor. Ed. Skaldsk. ch. 43.
  9. St Luke, x. 18.
  10. Snor. Edda. ch. 34, Engl. Transl.
  11. Here are a few of these passages which might be much extended:—Burchard of Worms, p. 194, a. 'credidisti ut aliqua femina sit quæ hoc facere possit quod quædam a diabolo deceptæ se affirmant necessario et ex præcepto facere debere; id est cum dæmonum turbâ in similitudinem mulierum transformatâ, quam vulgaris stultitia Holdam vocat, certis noctibus equitare debere super quasdam bestias, et in eorum se consortio annumeratam esse.'

    'Illud etiam non ommittendum, quod quædam sceleratæ mulieres retro post Sathanam conversæ, dæmonum illusionibus et phantasmatibus seductæ credunt se et profitentur nocturnis horis cum Dianâ paganorum dea, vel cum Herodiade et innumera multitudine mulierum equitare super quasdam bestias, et multa terrarum spatia intempestæ noctis silentio pertransire, ejusque jussionibus velut Dominæ obedire et certis noctibus ad ejus servitium evocari.'—Burchard of Worms, 10, 1.

    'Quale est, quod noctilucam quandam, vel Herodiadem, vel præsidem noctis Dominam concilia et conventus de nocte asserunt convo-care, varia celebrari convivia, etc.'—Joh. Sarisberiensis Polycrat, 2, 17, died 1182.

    ' Herodiam illam baptistæ Christi interfectricem, quasi reginam, immo deam proponant, asserentes tertiam totius mundi partem illi traditam. '—Rather. Cambrens, died 974.

    'Sic et dæmon qui prætextu mulieris cum aliis de nocte, domos et cellaria dicitur frequentare, et vocant eam Satiam a satietate, et Dominam Abundian pro abundantia, quam eam præstare dicunt domibus quas frequentaverit; hujusmodi etiam dæmones quas dominas vocant, vetulæ penes quas error iste remansit et a quibus solis creditur et somniatur.'—Guilielmus Alvernus, 1, 1036, died 1248.

    So also the Roman de la Rose (Méon line 18, 622.)—

    'Qui les cinc sens ainsinc deçoit
    Par les fantosmes, qu'il reçoit,
    Dont maintes gens par lor folie
    Cuident estre par nuit estries,
    Errans aveques Dame Habonde
    ; Et dient, que par tout le monde
    Li tiers enfant de nacion
    Sunt de ceste condicion. '

    And again, line 18686.—

    'Dautre part, que li tiers du monde
    ainsinc avec Dame Habonde. '
  12. See the derivation of pagan from paganus, one who lived in the country, as opposed to urbanus, a townsman.
  13. Snorro's Edda, Dasent's translation, p. 29. Stockholm 1842.
  14. Keisersberg Omeiss, 46 b., quoted by Grimm, D. M. p. 991, says: 'Wen man ein man ver-brent, so brent man wol zehen frauen.'
  15. See the passage from Vincent, Bellov. Spec. Mor. iii. 2, 27, quoted in Grimm, D. M., pp. 1012-13.
  16. The following passage from 'The Fortalice of Faith' of Alphonso Spina, written about the year 1458, will suffice to show how disgustingly the Devil, in the form of a goat, had supplanted the 'Good Lady':—'Quia nimium abundant tales perversæ mulieres in Delphinatu et Guasconia, ubi se asserunt concurrere de nocte in quâdam planitie deserta ubi est caper quidam in rupe, qui vulgariter dicitur el boch de Biterne et quod ibi conveniunt cum candelis accensis et adorant illum caprum osculantes eum in ano suo. Ideo captæ plures earum, ab inquisitoribus fidei et convictæ ignibus comburuntur.'

    About the same time, too, began to spread the notion of formal written agreements between the Fiend and men who were to be his after a certain time, during which he was to help them to all earthly goods. This, too, came with Christianity from the East. The first instance was Theophilus, vicedominus of the Bishop of Adana, whose fall and conversion form the original of all the Faust Legends. See Grimm, D. M. p. 969, and Theophilus in Icelandic, Low German, and Other Tongues, by G. W. Dasent, Stockholm, 1845, where a complete account of the literature of the legend may be found. In almost all these early cases the Fiend is outwitted by the help of the Virgin or some other saint, and in this way the reader is reminded of the Norse Devil, the successor of the Giants, who always makes bad bargains. When the story was applied to Faust in the sixteenth century, the terrible Middle Age Devil was paramount, and knew how to exact his due.

  17. How strangely full of common sense sound the following article from the Capitularies of Charlemagne, De part. Sax. 5: 'Si quis a diabolo deceptus crediderit secundum morem Paganorum, virum aliquem aut fœminam strigam esse et homines comedere, et propter hoc ipsum incenderit, vel carnem ejus ad comedendum dederit, capitis sententiâ punietur.' And this of Roth-arius, Lex. Roth., 379: 'Nullus præsumat aldiam alienam aut ancillam quasi strigam occidere, quod Christianis mentibus nullatenus est credendum nec possible est, ut hominem mulier vivum intrinsecus possit comdere.' Here the law warns the common people from believing in witches, and from taking its functions into their own hands, and reasons with them against the absurdity of such delusions. So, too, that reasonable parish priest who thrashed the witch, though earlier in time, was far in advance of Gregory and his inquisitors, and even of our wise King James.
  18. The following is the title of this strange tract,—'Newes from Scotland, declaring the damnable life of Doctor Fian, a notable Sorcerer, who was burned at Edenbrough, in Januarie last 1591, which Doctor was register to the devill, that sundrie times preached at North Baricke Kirke to a number of notorious Witches. With the true examinations of the said Doctor and witches, as they uttered them in the presence of the Scottish king. Discovering how they pretended to bewitch and drowne his Majestie in the sea, comming from Denmarke, with such other wonderfull matters as the like, hath not bin heard at anie time. Published according to the Scottish copie. Printed for William Wright.' It was reprinted in 1816 for the Roxburghe Club by Mr. H. Freeling, and is very scarce even in the reprint, which, all things considered, is perhaps just as well.
  19. The following specimens of the tortures and confessions may suffice; but most of the crimes and confessions are unutterable. One Geillis Duncane was tortured by her master, David Seaton, dwelling within the town of Tranent, who, 'with the help of others, did torment her with the torture of the Pilliwinkes (thumb-screws), upon her fingers, and binding and wrinching her head with a cord or roape, which is a most cruel torment also'. So also Agnes Sampson, 'the eldest witch of them all, dwelling in Haddington, being brought to Haleriud House before the kinge's majestie and sundry other of the nobilitie of Scotland, had her head thrawne with a rope according to the custom of that countrie, beeing a payne most greevous.' After the Devil's mark is found on her, she confesses that she went to sea with two hundred others in sieves to the kirk of North Berwick in East Lothian, and after they had landed they 'took handes on the lande and daunced, this reill or short daunce, saying all with one voice,—
    Commer goe ye before, Commer goe ye,
    Gif ye will not goe before, Commer let me.

    'At which time she confessed that this Geillis Duncane did goe before them playing this reill or daunce upon a small trumpe called a Jew's trump, until they entered into the kirk of North Barrick.' 'As touching the aforesaid Doctor Fian,' he 'was taken and imprisoned, and used with the accustomed paine provided for these offences, inflicted upon the rest, as is aforesaid. First by thrawing of his head with a rope, whereat he would confesse nothing! Secondly, he was persuaded by faire means to confesse his follies, but that would prevaile as little. Lastly, he was put to the most severe and cruell paine in the world, called the Bootes, who, after he had received three strokes, being inquired if he would confesse his damnable actes and wicked life, his toong would not serve him to speake.' This inability, produced no doubt by pain, the other witches explain by saying that the Devil's mark had not been found, which, being found, 'the charm' was 'stinted,' and the Doctor, in dread probably of a fourth stroke, confessed unutterably shameful things. Having escaped from prison, of course by the aid of the Devil, he was pursued, and brought back and re-examined before the king. 'But this Doctor, notwithstanding that his own confession appeareth remaining in recorde, under his owne handewriting, and the same thereunto fixed in the presence of the King's majestie and sundrie of his councell, yet did he utterly deny the same, whereupon the King's majestie, perceiving his stubborne wilfulness … he was commanded to have a most strange torment, which was done in this manner following,—His nailes upon all his fingers were riven and pulled off with an instrument called in Scottish a Turkas, which in England wee call a payre of pincers, and under everie nayle there was thrust in two needels over even up to the heads. At all which torments, notwithstanding the Doctor never shronke anie whit, neither would he then confesse it the sooner for all the tortures inflicted upon him.

    'Then was he with all convenient speed, by commandement convaied againe to the torment of the Bootes, wherein hee continued a long time, and did abide so many blowes in them, that his legges were crusht and beaten together as small as might bee, and the bones and flesh so brused that the bloud and marrow spouted forth in great abundance, wherby they were made unserviceable for ever. And notwithstanding all these grievous paines and cruel torments, he would not confesse aniething, so deepely had the Devill entered into his heart, that hee utterly denied all that which he had before avouched, and would saie nothing therunto but this, that what he had done and sayde before, was onely done and saide for fear of paynes which he had endured.' Thereupon as 'a due execution of justice' and 'for example sake,' he was tried, sentenced, put into a cart, strangled and 'immediately put into a great fire, being readie provided for that purpose, and there burned in the Castle Hill of Edenbrough on a saterdaie, in the ende of Januarie last past, 1591.' The tract ends significantly: 'The rest of the witches which are not yet executed remayne in prison till further triall and knowledge of his majestie's pleasure.'

  20. Od. iii. 372; and xxii. 239.
  21. Ecl. viii. 97.—
  22. 'His ego sæpe lupum fieri et se condere silvis Mærin—vidi.'
  23. See Grimm's D. M., pp. 1047 ff.; and for this translation from Petronius, a very interesting letter prefixed to Madden's Ed. of the old English Romance of 'William and the Werewolf', 1832, one of the Roxburgh Club Publications. This letter, which was by the hand of Mr Herbert of Petworth, contains all that was known on this subject before Grimm; but when Grimm came he was, compared with all who had treated the subject, as a sober man amongst drunkards.
  24. Bisclavaret in the Lais of Marie de France, 1, 178, seems to be a corruption of Bleizgarou, as the Norman garwal is of garwolf. See also Jamieson Dict. under warwolf.
  25. Fornald Sög. i., 130, 131.
  26. See Landnama in many places. Egil's Sag. Hrolf Krak. Sag.
  27. Troldham, at kaste ham paa. Comp. the old Norse hamr, hamför, hammadr, hamrammr, which occur repeatedly in the same sense.
  28. Reinhart Fuchs, Introduction.
  29. Grimm, Irisch. Elfenm. pp. 114-19, and D. M. p. 447.
  30. Comp. Vict. Hug. Nôtre-Dame de Paris, where he tells us that the gipsies called the wolf piedgris. See also Grimm, D. M. p. 633 and Reinhart, pp. lv, ccvii, and 446.
  31. Douce, Illust. to Shakespeare, pp. ii. 33, 344, quoted in Reinhart Fuchs, p. ccxxi.
  32. Germania, pp. 9, 10.
  33. Snorro's Edda, ch. vi., English translation. Stockholm, 1842.
  34. Thus from the earliest times 'dog', 'hound', has been a term of reproach. Great instances of fi-delity, such as 'Gellert' or the 'Dog of Montargis', both of which are Eastern and primaeval, have scarcely redeemed the cringing currish nature of the race in general from disgrace. M. Francisque Michel, in his Histoire des Races Maudites de la France et de l'Espagne, thinks it probable that Cagot, the nickname by which the heretical Goths who fled into Aquitaine in the time of Charles Martel, and received protection from that king and his successors, were called by the Franks, was derived from the term Canis Gothicus or Canes Gothi. In modern French the word means hypocrite, and this would come from the notion of the outward conformity to the Catholic formularies imposed on the Arian Goths by their orthodox protectors. Etymologically, the derivation is good enough, according to Diez, Romanisches Worterbuch; Provençal ca, dog; Got, Gothic. Before quitting Cagot, we may observe that the derivation of bigot, our bigot, another word of the same kind, is not so clear. Michel says it comes from Vizigothus, Bizigothus. Diez says this is too far-fetched, especially as 'Bigot', 'Bigod', was a term applied to the Normans, and not to the population of the South of France. There is, besides, another derivation given by Ducange from a Latin chronicle of the twelfth century. In speaking of the homage done by Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, to the King of France, he says,—

    'Hic non dignatus pedem Caroli osculari nisi ad os suum levaret, cumque sui comites illum admonerent ut pedem Regis in acceptione tanti muneris, Neustriæ provinciæ, oscularetur, Anglicâ linguâ respondit "ne se bi got", quod interpretatur "ne per deum". Rex vero et sui illum deridentes, et sermonem ejus corruptè referentes, illum vocaverunt Bigottum; unde Normanni adhuc Bigothi vocantur.'

    Wace, too, says, in the Roman de Rou, that the French had abused the Normans in many ways, calling them Bigos. It is also termed, in a French record of the year 1425, 'un mot tres injurieux'. Diez says it was not used in its present sense before the sixteenth century.

  35. The most common word for a giant in the Eddas was Jötunn (A. Sax. eoten), which, strange to say, survives in the Scotch Etin. In one or two places the word Ogre has been used, which is properly a Romance word, and comes from the French Ogre, Ital. orco, Lat. orcus. Here, too, we have an old Roman god of the nether world degraded.
  36. These paroxysms were called in Old Norse Jötunmodr, the Etin mood, as opposed to Asmodr, the mood of the Æsir, that diviner wrath which, though burning hot, was still under the control of reason.
  37. It may be worth while here to shew how old and widespread this custom or notion of the 'naked sword' was. In the North, besides being told of Sigurd and Brynhildr, we hear it of Hrôlf and Ingigerd, who took rest at night in a hut of leaves in the wood, and lay together, 'but laid a naked sword between them'. So also Saxo Grammaticus says of King Gorm, 'Cæterum ne inconcessum virginis amorem libidinoso complexu præripere videretur, vicina latera non solum alterius complexibus exuit, sed etiam districto mucrone secrevit'. Lib. 9, p. 179. So also Tristan and Isolt in Gottfried of Strasburg's poem. Line 17, 407-17.
    Hierüber vant Tristan einen sin,
    Si giengen an ir bette wider,
    Und leiten sich dâ wider nider,
    Von einander wol hin dan,
    Reht als man und man,
    Niht als man und wîp;
    Dâ lac lîp und lîp,
    In fremder gelegenheit,
    Ouch hât Tristan geleit
    Sîn swert bar enzwischen si.

    And the old French Tristan in the same way:

    Et qant il vit la nue espee
    Qui entre eus deus les deseurout.

    So the old English Tristram, 3, 20. 21. 22:

    His swerd he drough titly
    And laid it hem bitvene.

    And the old German ballad in Des Knaben Wunderhorn, 2. 276—

    Der Herzog zog aus sein goldiges schwert,
    Er leit es zwischen beide hert
    Das schwert soll weder hauen noch schneiden,
    Das Annelein soll ein megedli bleiben.

    So Fonzo and Fenizia in the Pentamerone, 1, 9—

    'Ma segnenno havere fatto vuto a Diana, de non toccare la mogliere la notte, mese la spata arrancata comme staccione 'miezo ad isso ed a Fenizia.'

    And in Grimm's story of 'The Two Brothers', where the second brother lays 'a double-edged sword' at night between himself and his brother's wife, who has mistaken him for his twin brother. In fact, the custom as William Wackernagel has shewn in Haupt's Zeitschrift fur Deutsches Alterthum was one recognised by the law; and so late as 1477, when Lewis, County Palatine of Veldenz represented Maximilian of Austria as his proxy at the betrothal of Mary of Burgundy, he got into the bed of state, booted and spurred, and laid a naked sword between him and the bride. Comp. Birkens Ehrenspiegel, p. 885. See also as a proof that the custom was known in England as late as the seventeenth century, 'The Jovial Crew', a comedy first acted in 1641, and quoted by Sir W. Scott in his Tristram, p. 345, where it is said, Act v. sc. 2, 'He told him that he would be his proxy, and marry her for him, and lie with her the first night with a naked cudgel betwixt them.' And see for the whole subject, J. Grimm's Deutsche Rechts-Alterthümer, Göttingen, 1828, p. 168-70.

Margaret Hodges (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Hodges, Margaret. "Asbjørnsen and Moe." In Writers for Children: Critical Studies of Major Authors since the Seventeenth Century, edited by Jane Bingham, pp. 21-8. New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988.

[In the following essay, Hodges offers a critical history of Asbjørnsen and Moe's's lives and careers, presenting commentary on the genesis, impact, and translations of their popular Norwegian folk tales.]

In the mid-nineteenth century northern Europe enjoyed a cultural renaissance nourished in large part by the deep roots of national folk life. By 1815 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm had already collected and published Kinder-und Hausmärchen, later published in English as German Household Stories and more popularly known as Grimm's Fairy Tales, which encouraged the romantic revival of folklore elsewhere. In Norway, newly independent after centuries of domination by Denmark and Sweden, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe collaborated on four volumes of Norske folkeeventyr (Norwegian Folk Tales, 1841-1844 ). Asbjørnsen and Moe were inspired by the Brothers Grimm and by the research of Ivar Aasen into Norwegian rural dialects. Previously, literate Norwegians had written in Danish, but now patriotic linguists campaigned for a written language to reflect current Norwegian popular speech. As a result, the importance of Asbjørnsen and Moe lay not only in their collection of folktales but also in their pioneer work to develop a Norwegian written language with its own character, independent of Danish. Newly awakened pride in their native land brought the tales a wide audience at home, and this was followed by international success in Europe and America.

The Norwegian tales were added to the literature of English-speaking children when the eminent Oxford scholar George Webbe Dasent published his English translation of the Asbjørnsen and Moe collection, Popular Tales from the Norse, in 1859. This translation was soon being read and loved by American as well as English children. Dasent had sensed the homely, vigorous, humorous flavor of Norwegian storytelling and put the texts into what he called "mother English, which anyone that runs may read." The two Norwegian writers considered Dasent's translation "the best and happiest rendering … that has appeared.… The translator has understood and grasped the relation in which these tales stand to Norse nature and the life of the people, and how they have sprung out of both." Later translations of the tales into English usually follow the tone of Dasent's renderings.

When Asbjørnsen and Moe spoke of Norse nature and the life of the people, they did so from intimate knowledge of Norwegian folk language and folk music, the scenic beauty of Norway, and Norwegian peasant life. Jørgen Moe spent his boyhood in an inland region of eastern Norway, Ringerike, where the country people still kept to their old ways and knew a phenomenal number of traditional tales. Jørgen heard these as a child. Like a true folklore hero, he was a younger son who had to leave home to seek his fortune in some other career than the management of family property. Showing academic promise, he was sent to school at Norderhof, north of Christiania (now Oslo), and there in 1826 met Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, who at the age of fifteen had shown no academic inclinations whatever and had been sent to Norderhof in the hope of improvement. In spite of their different habits and temperaments, the two boys hit it off at once and formed a friendship that was to last a lifetime.

Asbjørnsen was soon sent home to Christiania, but in 1833 the two young men met again at the university there. This was the year when Andreas Faye's Norske Sagn (Norwegian Legends) appeared, modeled after the Grimms' tales. Faye's collection was small, but it was the first serious effort to publish traditional Norwegian stories. Faye was a pastor who hoped that the tales would help to root out superstition among his parishioners as well as to entertain children; he said that superstition exposed to the light would burst as trolls do in the sunshine. Both Asbjørnsen and Moe were attracted to the project and offered to add to Faye's collection.

The following year Moe was forced to leave Christiania because of poor health, returning from time to time until 1842 to pursue his studies. Although he had now decided on a career in the church, he had already written to Asbjørnsen, "If I can ever get well again I am going to start telling folk tales … that shall be Norwegian!" At Christmastime 1837 public interest in Norwegian folklore was given an impetus by a little picture book of traditional stories called Nor: En Billedbog for den norske Ungdom (Nor: A Picture Book for Norwegian Youth ). The first part had been collected by Bernt Moe, Jørgen's cousin, who wanted to give children models of Norwegian virtues—courage, simplicity, fairness. The second part of the book, arranged by Asbjørnsen, was full of tales with rollicking action. These were even more well received than the moralizing tales. Jørgen Moe contributed an anonymous poem as introduction. At the same time, he and Asbjørnsen were planning a joint publication of some of the stories they had collected.

By 1840 Moe was writing a prospectus for the new book, proclaiming that the soul of a people shone forth in their national tales. Furthermore, he said, "No cultivated person now doubts the scientific importance of the folk tales;… they help to determine a people's unique character and outlook." This was a potent idea, forcefully stated: the old tales not only reflected national character but also were a strong influence in forming that character.

Within a year after the collection's publication in 1841, Moe claimed that the book was "a great success, almost a furor." The announced title, Norske folke- og børne-eventyr (Norse Folk and Children's Stories ), suggested a child audience, but the book was reviewed as a serious piece of significant literature. A controversy developed. Were these primitive tales, told in a peasant dialect, really worthy to represent the soul of Norway? Romanticists enthusiastically championed the stories as symbols of true Norwegian identity. But in the view of academic conservatives such childish, naive tales could not be accepted as typical of Norway's best heritage. Some considered the language and style offensive, objectionably full of colloquialisms—the idiom of illiteracy. It was not until Jacob Grimm and other acknowledged German authorities praised the collection to the skies that critics at home were silenced. By 1844 three supplements had completed the first edition of Norske folke-eventyr.

Following its publication the university gave grants-in-aid to both collaborators to enable them to travel farther afield through the remoter parts of Norway to look for more stories. Few were found, but Asbjørnsen and Moe could now fairly claim that their collection was as complete as possible, and they could prepare a definitive edition. For this Moe wrote a long and scholarly introduction that proved to be a substantial contribution to the literature of international folklore. The university gave the stamp of its approval by asking Moe to lecture on folklore. His concept was that similar themes and motifs appeared in the folktales of many nations, and were probably disseminated very early by the invasions of nomadic Aryans of Indo-European origin. However, once these stories had crossed the borders of Norway, they had taken on a Norwegian identity to a remarkable degree, embodying national traits—humor in the face of difficulties and sturdy common sense in the round of daily life. In their folktales the Norwegian people were saying clearly and unforgettably, "This is who we are." The new edition appeared in 1851-1852 with critical notes and variant texts, relating the stories to those of other countries. A glowing review by P. A. Munch in the Christiania Morgenbladet (1852) called attention to the importance of this work for future studies in history, ethnic research, and comparative mythology. Most of all the style was praised—that very style which had been the thorniest point of controversy. Munch called it a "superb, national … style, a mode of expression that spoke directly to the childlike mind and heart." Not childish, it should be noted, but childlike; the tales were ageless and for all ages.

During the first years of his work on the folktales, Jørgen Moe showed an unlimited admiration for the traditions of the Norwegian peasant, but he was not sympathetic when in 1848 these same peasants began to stir with the rising tide of democracy throughout northern Europe and to make political demands. Moe was, in fact, a conservative by nature. Speaking to a student audience he exalted not the folktales but the sagas of Norway's glorious past as a spur to youth in "the noblest of all struggles, the battle to secure the full, free, and true development of our folk character." By 1853 he had turned entirely to the duties of his work in the church; he spent the last five years of his career in the honored position of bishop in the diocese of Kristiansand on the south coast. His son, Moltke Moe, collaborated with Asbjørnsen as a folklorist in his own right. One of his special interests was the mythical concepts of Norse folklore.

Jørgen Moe's temperament was serious and high-minded. During the folklore years he suffered from an inner tension and wrote to Asbjørnsen, "I need what you in your unobstructed perception of life's phenomena do not need—a system [of thought, a philosophical attitude]." Moe's work on the folktales evidently helped him to achieve an emotional equilibrium. His portrait as an older man appears with one of Asbjørnsen in The Fairy World, translated by H. L. Braekstad in the 1890's. Here Moe is seen in his role as pastor, calm and restrained, wearing a formal cravat and tightly fitting coat; he is smooth shaven, with a long upper lip and firm mouth. He could be a brother of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In the eyes of Jørgen Moe, his friend Peter Christen Asbjørnsen had an enviable natural equilibrium. Asbjørnsen's portrait shows a bush of curly hair and a short beard framing his round face; he looks out through spectacles with a relaxed, benign expression. The son of a glazier in Christiania, in his early years he spent his free time in his father's workshop listening to the talk of the apprentices and their friends, who were usually from the country. Some were great storytellers, and Peter Christen became a gifted storyteller himself. He wasted his time at school in Norderhof and later at the university, showing some interest now in journalism, now in geology, and tentatively choosing medicine as a career, but never focusing his energies enough to succeed at anything. Studies in natural science and forestry occasionally brought him a position with the government forest service or other similar work, and meanwhile he was collecting folktales. In a letter to Andreas Faye written in 1835 he called himself Faye's "legend ambassador extraordinary." But Asbjørnsen soon became dissatisfied with the moralistic tone of Faye's treatment of the tales and began collaborating with Moe on a separate publication. When Moe later retired from that role to devote his energies to the church, Asbjørnsen went on to edit Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn (Norwegian Fairy Tales and Folk Legends, 1845-1848 ), framing each story with a sketch of peasant life in the region where the tale was told. These sketches had great appeal, even for the intelligentsia who had been dubious about the original work of the two folklorists. The Huldreeventyr went through many editions comprising various combinations of stories and notes and giving credit to all who had helped compile them. Asbjørnsen had accomplished a remarkable feat, the creation of a written language that employed the Dano-Norwegian words already in use by men of letters as well as words from Norwegian popular speech, giving acceptable spellings. By keeping to a middle path and demonstrating his sensitivity to what was appropriate, he had managed to please both literary conservatives and patriotic romanticists. Even those who thought that Asbjørnsen had made too many concessions to the Danish usage of literary circles conceded that Norwegian youth would be well served by the tales.

Sigrid Undset's introduction to True and Untrue and Other Norse Tales (1945) tells how children looked on Asbjørnsen's house in a suburb of Christiania almost as a shrine. The house was old and rambling. He had lived there in an apartment, a bachelor all his days, surrounded by the gifts of many friends, whom he loved to entertain. He was also a fine cook and writer of cookbooks in a day when a man who "minded the house" was a rarity.

Children have little or no interest in the sources, parallels, and variants of folktales; they simply want to hear the stories. The tales give pleasure like wild flowers. But like wild flowers, folktales have roots that give them life, and storytellers like to be aware of the roots. In this regard we owe a debt to Dasent, later knighted for his contributions to literature; he wrote a long introduction for his translation of Popular Tales from the Norse, basing his work on Moe's introduction to the definitive Norwegian edition of Norske folkeeventyr. Dasent pays tribute to Jacob Grimm for raising all folktales "to a study fit for the energies of grown men, and to all the dignity of a science." He makes two striking analogies to explain the resemblances of stories told in different countries, though coming from a common Aryan tribal source. "They are like as sisters of one house are like.… They are like the sleeping thoughts of many men upon one and the same thing."

Dasent then shows how the eddas and sagas, the ancient tales preserved "incorrupt" in isolated Iceland, evolved into the folktales of Norway, which were nourished by the same primal needs, hopes, and fears. The battles of the old Norse gods against the Frost Giants become the combats of mortal men against the giants and trolls. The mantle of the gods falls on the shoulders of the Norse hero Cinderlad; the magic sword of the Volsungs is in his hand. The kings of the sagas had descended from the gods; now the king stands on the porch of his farmstead palace at the end of the day, surveying his crops and herds. The word "wish," which once meant the perfect ideal, realized in the godhood of Odin, "the actual fruition of all joy and desire," comes to mean a longing for blessings unobtainable except by magic, by way of a "wishing stone," or an adopted "luck child," or a mill that grinds out anything one's heart desires. The fearsome Norns, who dispensed fate in the ancient eddas, become the hags of folktales, giving bane or blessing according to the deserts of adventuring boys or girls. In Dasent's translation of "Shortshanks," three hags each have one eye, which Shortshanks steals; here the genealogy can be traced back even farther than the Norns to the three Graeae of Greek mythology, the "Gray Sisters," whose eye Perseus stole.

The eddas and sagas had no Devil in the Christian sense; instead, Loki's daughter, Hel, presided over a cold world of the unheroic dead. In the Norse tales of the Christian era, Hel becomes a place where fires are lit at Christmastime to dispel the cold, and the Devil is as slow-witted and easy to deceive as the old Frost Giants. In the far north live great numbers of witches, the Devil's consorts, who have the malevolent intelligence ascribed to witches worldwide. They are killed with savage ruthlessness: torn to pieces, burned alive, or thrown into a snake pit. A wicked stepmother is often a witch in disguise.

Less frightening than the transmogrified gods and monsters are humans transformed into beasts and birds by witches or wizards or by their own eerie powers. The great white bear of "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" is a prince bewitched by a troll stepmother and her ugly troll daughter. (The heroine of this famous tale, a Norse Psyche, is "so lovely that there was no end to her loveliness" and performs the difficult tasks necessary for the release of the prince.) The horse in "The Widow's Son" is a prince under a spell. In "Lord Peter," a parallel for "Puss in Boots," the cat is a bewitched princess. The princes transformed into "The Twelve Wild Ducks" are saved by their brave and beautiful sister, who is very nearly burned as a witch.

Animals abound in Norse fables and beast tales; the horse, the bull, the fox, the dog, the cock, and the hen play parts. Perhaps the best loved of all Norse folk animals are "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," the heroes of a brief, tightly constructed, exciting, and rib-tickling little drama that is an all-time favorite of children. In her 1957 picture book The Three Billy Goats Gruff Marcia Brown brilliantly portrays the troll as the darkness of the forest and the roar of water over rocks in a mountain brook; he loses his power when the biggest billy goat boldly confronts him on the bridge. The moral is typical of Norse folktales: use your wits; face up to your fear and it will vanish. With the exception of two exclusively British terms—"curling stones" and "burn" ("brook")—Dasent's text has become the most popular version of the story for American as well as for English children. And change from his translation of "Gruff" (for bruse) will not do. Other titles, such as "The Three Billikins Whiskers" or "The Three Bushy Billy Goats," have been used and may be closer to the Norwegian original, but they put us off as much as we would be if someone changed the name of Yankee-Doodle.

Most often the protagonist of Norse folktales is human. If young and feminine, she is seen as the men of Norway pictured their ideal golden girls; Moe wrote in his introduction to Norske folkeeventyr that the stories are told "with a manly mouth." As in "The Mastermaid," the heroine may be as wise as she is beautiful, outwitting all comers with the courage of a British Mollie Whuppie or Kate Crackernuts. Occasionally she may be a proud shrew who must be tamed by a "Hakon Grizzlebeard" or, as the wife of "Gudbrand on the Hillside," she may be laughably complacent. Typically she shows the quality of mercy toward all things in nature, and all things respond to her tenderness; little birds guide her in her hour of need.

But the most familiar protagonist met in the tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe is Askelad (Norwegian Askefis), Cinderlad, or Boots, as Dasent calls him. He is the male counterpart of Cinderella, the Norse parallel of Jack of England, Hans of Germany, or Ivan of Russia, always considered a fool by his arrogant older brothers. He sits by the hearth, poking among the ashes, stupidly idling away his days—or so his brothers think. But in the fullness of time he will catch up with them as they go along the road to fame and fortune. They will be put to shame, and he will win the princess and half the kingdom through his quick wits and resourcefulness in making use of everything that comes his way. For him the ax or shovel heard at work in the forest are tools of magic. For him a walnut shell pours out an unfailing stream of pure water. He never turns a hair, no matter what betides, and only says, "Well, if it isn't worse than this, I can stand it well enough." Whenever he returns home, he has such fine clothes on his back that his old parents do not know him as the lazy boy who once sat in rags among the ashes. In his introduction to Popular Tales from the Norse (1912), Dasent says of this Norse hero:

He is the man whom heaven helps, because he can help himself; and so, after his brothers try and fail, he alone can watch in the barn, and tame the steed, and ride up the glass hill, and gain the princess and half the kingdom.… In this way the consciousness of a nation, and the mirror of its thought, reflect the image and personification of a great moral truth, that modesty, endurance, and ability will sooner or later reap their reward, however much they may be degraded, scoffed at, and despised by the proud, the worthless, and the overbearing.

But as Moe well knew and stated, it is not only by noting the plots and characters that we see what is essentially Norwegian in Norse tales; it is the manner of telling, forthright and wryly humorous, that goes to the heart of the matter. It is true that the Norwegian texts contained occasional obscenities or other coarse details that most translators have deleted. But the general tone, in any translation, is unmistakably that of a decent, kindly people who learned to survive through all hardships and to laugh at themselves while they waited for the dawn of a day of independence after a long night of national humiliation.

The work of Asbjørnsen and Moe had a quick impact both at home and abroad. Henrik Ibsen, their contemporary, found in their texts a language in which he could speak for Norway; his Peer Gynt (1867) was written in response to the rediscovery of folk legends.

Ole Bull, a Norwegian world famous as a violin virtuoso, was associated with Jørgen Moe in evoking the rising flood of enthusiasm for Norwegian folk arts, and came to the United States with a wealth of lore. He was admired and entertained by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and other eminent literary Americans. Ole Bull is the musician who tells Norse legends in Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863). Howard Pyle read the Norse tales as a child and in his early twenties wrote to his mother, "Some of the stories of trolls and kaboutermannekins are funny in the extreme and could be woven with some shaping into amusing and quaint stories." The Norwegian influence can be detected in the plots and style of Pyle's Pepper and Salt (1885) and The Wonder Clock (1888). "How Boots Befooled the King" shows this most clearly. Peter and Paul are the two older brothers, as in Norse tales; Boots is the youngest:

Nobody thought anything of him except that he was silly, for he did nothing but sit poking in the warm ashes all of the day.… Boots asked if he might have the old tattered hat that hung back of the chimney. Oh yes, he might have that if he wanted it, for nobody with good wits was likely to wear such a thing.

This is pure Asbjørnsen and Moe, out of Dasent.

In 1889 Andrew Lang's famous Blue Fairy Book appeared, the first of his series of "Color Fairy Books," comprising the stories that Lang considered the best from all over the world; The Blue Fairy Book included four from Asbjørnsen and Moe—"East of the Sun and West of the Moon," "The Master Maid," "Why the Sea Is Salt," and "The Princess on the Glass Hill." The collection came out at a time when critics and educationists were inveighing against fairy tales in favor of real-life stories, proclaiming that children neither enjoyed nor should be allowed to escape into fantasy. The success of Lang's Color Fairy Books reinstated the realm of imagination in the world of children's literature on both sides of the Atlantic, incidentally establishing the tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe as perennial favorites.

The popularity of Norwegian folklore was again given impetus at about the time of World War I, when storytelling by children's librarians came into its own. Frances Clarke Sayers, a writer and storyteller par excellence, had a lifelong memory of "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" as told by a teacher to introduce the course in storytelling at Carnegie Library School in Pittsburgh. The great event of the library school year was the arrival of Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen, who was at the University of Chicago with her husband in the School of Education under John Dewey. Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen lectured and taught seminars throughout the country in the uses of folklore and storytelling. She was a small, intense woman, with luminous dark eyes, ash-blond hair, and a richly musical and moving voice. From her childhood days she remembered Ole Bull and became, like him, the voice of Norway. Her American students were enchanted. When they left library school to head children's services across the United States, they enthusiastically carried to young readers and story-hour audiences the Norwegian tales to which Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen had introduced them. Her arrangements of East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, with Other Norwegian Folk Tales (1912) were already in use in schools. The American Library Association made recordings of her storytelling. Pleasure in the Norwegian tales continued through library recommendations; the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's eighth edition of Stories to Tell to Children (1974) still listed twenty-one of the Norwegian stories as "tested with children for interest, popularity, and quality."

Among the many editions of the Norwegian tales collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe, a few deserve mention for their illustrations. In 1879 the first illustrated edition of Norske folkeeventyr employed the talents of a number of well-known Norwegian artists and of one who was as yet unknown. This was Erik Werenskiold, who had grown up in southeastern Norway and was steeped in the Norse myths, sagas, and folk-tales told to him by his father. At twenty-two he had drawn an illustration that Asbjørnsen saw and liked. When asked to submit more of his work for the proposed new edition, Werenskiold traveled to the Gudbrandsdal valley to draw pictures of farms and country people. In Pat Shaw Iversen's introduction to Norwegian Folk Tales (1960), he is quoted as saying:

Behind this primitive life, behind these vigorous, strongly pronounced human types, and this unique architecture, one could sense the Middle Ages; and behind the large forest lay the Troll world of the Jotunheim mountains. I have never since found anything that seemed more Norwegian to me.

For the second illustrated edition, Werenskiold recommended that Theodor Kittelsen, another unknown artist, be asked to join him. He wrote to Asbjørnsen, "[Kittelsen] should be the man to do that side of your eventyr which none of the rest of us has yet been able to accomplish, namely the purely fantastic creations!" Between the two of them, Werenskiold found exactly the right style for each story in the collection to show how the storytellers and listeners of mid-nineteenth-century Norway pictured the tales, putting themselves in the leading roles, encompassing both workaday farm life and all the bright or dark fancies of the folk mind. A charming folktale picture by Kittelsen hung, and perhaps still hangs, in most Norwegian schools. It is reproduced in full color as the frontispiece for Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen's East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon.

The cultural and educational offices of both Norway and the United States made possible the Viking Press edition of Norwegian Folk Tales (1960), initiated by Carl Norman and translated by him in collaboration with Pat Shaw Iversen from Asbjørnsen and Moe in an effort to come closer than Dasent to the original Norwegian text. For this important work the heirs of Kittelsen and Werenskiold made available the plates of the original drawings, which are reproduced with admirable clarity. Shaw Iversen's introduction for this edition opens with a resounding statement:

If Norway were to show the world a single work of art which would most truly express the Norwegian character, perhaps the best choice would be the folk tales, published for the first time more than a hundred years ago and later illustrated by Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelsen.

Totally different are the illustrations by Kay Nielsen for his East of the Sun and West of the Moon (1917). Nielsen's work is aptly described as bizarrerie; the sophisticated figures are attenuated, often dressed in exotic costumes of no recognizable nationality. Far from childlike, they are posed in attitudes of extreme tension, in moods ranging from ecstasy to anguish. The insights are psychoanalytical, international, and ageless. The simple folk who told the tales would not recognize themselves. Yet so skillful is Nielsen's artistry and so rich are his colors that his illustrations for the chosen stories are well received and never to be forgotten by children who come upon them.

Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire have made a splendid contribution to the list of Asbjørnsen and Moe editions. Ingri Parin d'Aulaire was born and spent her childhood in Norway; her husband, who was half American, had painted murals there. Between them they knew Norwegian and the idiom of modern English very well, and in childhood both had loved the folktales of Asbjørnsen and Moe. They had a reverence for Dasent's translation and adapted their own translations from his. To prepare for their East of the Sun and West of the Moon (1938) they went to live on a little hillside farm surrounded by forests and at the foot of the mountains. It is possible to quibble with a few of the changes that the d'Aulaires made in Dasent's text, such as "The Maid on the Glass Mountain" for the familiar "Princess of the Glass Hill," and changes throughout the text in their "Three Bushy Billy Goats" ; but the genius of the d'Aulaires lies in the illustrations, which reveal the motifs of Norse folk art and the architectural detail of the Norwegian domestic settings in a way no other edition has attempted. The tales are interpreted in a manner addressed to the tastes and understanding of children, yet are worthy to be judged by the most discriminating critic. The choice of stories too is admirable; only those most typically Norwegian are included. As a result, this handsome collection seems to be as quintessentially Norse as anything that is likely to be published for children in our time.

Asbjørnsen and Moe were born at the right time and in the right place to render an inestimable service to Norway and the world. The old storytellers who had sat telling tales by the hearth in the long dark northern nights were about to disappear. Another few years and their words would have been irretrievably lost. Ole Bull and Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen also came at the right time to carry the live spark from their home-land hearth to America and to make it shine again with the warmth of their personalities.

In recent times the audience of children listening to folktales has dwindled in the big cities, where the gadgets of technology hold sway. But in small-town libraries children still look forward each week to the story hour. Meanwhile, a new generation of storytellers has risen, finding big audiences of adults as well as children in the city park or the community hall. Here is where the Norwegian tales still flourish along with those of all the world. The northern United States, Canada, and Alaska saw Norwegian emigrants coming to till new farmlands, and those vast spaces should be fertile fields for the continuing spread of tales gathered by Asbjørnsen and Moe, whose names may now be unknown to the descendants of those emigrants. For those who do know, the names are linked together for all time.

Selected Bibliography

Nor: En Billedbog for den norske Ungdom. With illustrations. Christiania: n.p., 1837. 2nd ed. Christiania: Guldberg and Dzwonkowski, 1843.

Norske folkeeventyr. Christiania: n.p., 1841-1844. Rev. ed., Christiania: n.p., 1851-1852.

Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn. Christiania: W. C. Fabritius, 1845-1848.

Popular Tales from the Norse. Translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent. With an introductory essay by Dasent on the origin and diffusion of popular tales. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1859; New York: D. Appleton, 1859. New edition, with a memoir by Arthur Irwin Dasent. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1903.

Tales from the Fjeld: A Second Series of Popular Tales from the Norse of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen. Translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent. With illustrations by Moyr Smith. London: Gibbings, 1896; New York: G. P. Putnam, 1896.

The Fairy World. Translated by H. L. Braekstad. With an introduction by Edmund W. Gosse. Boston: De Wolfe, Fiske, n.d.

East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, with Other Norwegian Folk Tales. Retold by Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen, with some new translations and adaptations from Sir George Webbe Dasent. Chicago: Row, Peterson, 1912.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North. Translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent. With illustrations by Kay Nielsen. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914; New York: George H. Doran, 1917.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Twenty-one Norwegian Folk Tales. Edited and adapted from the Sir George Webbe Dasent translation by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. With illustrations by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. New York: Viking Press, 1938.

True and Untrue and Other Norse Tales. Edited and compiled by Sigrid Undset. With illustrations by Frederick C. Chapman. New York: Knopf, 1945.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff. From the translation of Sir George Webbe Dasent. With illustrations by Marcia Brown. New York: Harcourt, 1957.

Norwegian Folk Tales, from the Collection of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. Translated by Pat Shaw Iversen and Carl Norman. With illustrations by Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelson. New York: Viking Press, 1960.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon and Other Tales. Translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent. After-word by Clifton Fadiman. With illustrations by Tom Vroman. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

A Time for Trolls: Fairy Tales from Norway. Translated by Joan Roll-Hansen. With illustrations by Kai Øvre. Oslo: Johan Grundt Tanum Forlag, 1962; Vero Beach, Fla.: Arthur Vanous, 1982.

Merrill Kaplan (essay date winter 2003)

SOURCE: Kaplan, Merrill. "On the Road to Realism with Asbjørnsen and Moe, Peer Gynt, and Henrik Ibsen." Scandinavian Studies 75, no. 4 (winter 2003): 491-508.

[In the following excerpt, Kaplan asserts that Asbjørnsen and Moe employ the literary convention of eventyrstil throughout their stories and, accordingly, to invite their readers to become participants in the oral tradition.]

Ibsen demonstrates a firm and subtle understanding of the distinction between the real and the realistic in the final act of Peer Gynt, when Peer tells the curious story of how the Devil tried to impress a crowd with his skills of pig-imitation. Thinking to ensure his success through trickery, he hides an actual pig on his person. The Devil pinches the pig, the pig squeals, and the Devil takes the credit. But the ruse fails: the audience pans him. They say his squeals are overdone.

The Devil and the pig seem to be acting out a theoretical prologue to Ibsen's realist plays despite the fact that their scene takes place in a verse play that predates Ibsen's entire realist corpus. My aim here is to dispel the cloud of apparent anachronism by showing that the critique of realist techniques in Peer Gynt can be understood in the context of Ibsen's earlier involvement with publishing Norwegian folklore. Mid-nineteenth-century modes of presenting folklore to a reading public involved many of the same problems of theatricality and authenticity that complicate dramatic realism, the same problems that undermine the Devil's performance. What looks in Peer Gynt like foreshadowing of realism are, when viewed historically, condemnations of popularizers of folklore who, like the Devil with his pig, appropriate the oral performance of others as their own and use it to buttress their own constructed identities as purveyors of the authentic. Peer Gynt himself is a teller of other people's tales, and the issues his performances raise have as much to do with presenting folklore as with dramatic realism.

This essay is an attempt to sketch in a line of continuity stretching from Herder to Hedvig. The first section explores the printed Norwegian folktale collection as the site of multiple modes of performance and negotiations with the authentic. The second section takes up Ibsen's own collection and publication of folklore and his use of those same conventions to achieve the translation of the oral into written form. The third treats the satire of those conventions as it surfaces in Peer Gynt. That such conventions could be satirized indicates that they had become visible to Ibsen, perhaps acutely so, and thus available for exploitation in his subsequent work. In conclusion, some solutions are briefly suggested for extending the line of development through to the very self-consciously realist Vildanden [The Wild Duck].

By far the most famous collectors and publishers of folk literature in Norway were and are Per Chr. Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. Norske Folke-Eventyr, their first collection of many, appeared in several volumes between 1841 and 1844. Asbjørnsen and Moe's role models in folk narrative publication were the Grimms, whose epoch-opening collection of German tales, Kinder-und Hausmärchen, had been published from 1812 to 1814. Both pairs of partners as well as the entire contemporary surge of interest in folklore of which they were a part owe much to the thought and writings of Johann Gottfried Herder. Herder solidified the concept of folkness as it was beginning to emerge in contrast to the modern and the industrial. In folkness resided a romantic notion of authenticity, which was rural, ancient, original, natural, and unmediated by reflection, at least in degree. The kernel of that authenticity lay in the folk poetry (Naturpoesie) of the peasantry, and it was recoverable by the urban reading public through consumption of that folk poetry in printed collections like Herder's own Volkslieder: Stimmen der Völker in Liedern (1778-79).1

Herder's thought, especially the idea of Volksgeist, had enormous and well-known ramifications for mid-century European nation building. In the case of Norway, exploring the contours of its own nationhood, the Herderian identification of the oral with the authentic was if anything amplified by the local linguistic situation. Several centuries of rule from Copenhagen had arrested the formation of Norwegian as an independent national written language. The literary language was Danish, a state of affairs that deeply offended some factions of budding nationalists who demanded a more authentically Norwegian language and literature. Both linguistic grails were sought in the countryside, where the peasantry still toiled in the valleys and cultivated dialect and traditional oral literature while shielded from corrupting Danish influence by high mountains and the their own illiteracy. M. B. Landstad, for example, found "den nordiske Folkeaand frisk og ufordærvet" (iv) [the Nordic folk-spirit healthy and unspoiled] in his isolated parish in Øvre Telemark, where "med sin Hardangerfedle, sine Slaatter, sine Stev og andre Viser staar vort Fjeldfolk paa sin egen Grund ganske isolert fra den dannede Kreds" (v) [with their Hardanger fiddles, their tunes, their stanzas and other songs, our mountain folk stand on their own soil, completely isolated from educated circles].2

In actual fact, a great number of nineteenth-century Norwegian farmers were literate, as were a great many of the informants who supplied folklore collectors with material,3 but far more important for the present purpose is the fact that they were conceived of as illiterate and, hence, stewards of the authentic. It should be stressed that this authenticity is in no wise that of Polonius's exhortation to his son, but rather the dream of the unmediated experience that so entranced the romantics. This notion of authenticity, most especially its role in the development and practice of folkloristics in the United States and Germany, has been radically deconstructed by scholars such as Regina Bendix, and her work has provided formative inspiration for the analysis undertaken in this essay. If my own deep skepticism of the term makes itself visible in the following, it is because I agree with Bendix that the very notion of authenticity, by automatically implying its opposite, offers all too fertile a ground for the rampant growth of the politics of exclusion. But before the rhetoric of the authentic and the efficiency of industrialized modernity combined in forms of particular horror in the wars of the twentieth century and long before the authentic itself became subject to careful dissection by scholars able to look back on that horror, it was still a meaningful category for Asbjørnsen and Moe and their contemporaries. It is with this undeconstructed sense of the authentic, one which would have been familiar to mid-century Norwegian intellectuals, that this paper is concerned.

This was the authentic that Asbjørnsen and Moe were trying to present to the literate bourgeoisie by publishing collections of folktales. In order to do so, they had to represent in writing material whose authenticity resided in its oral transmission. Asbjørnsen and Moe had their choice of a number of ways of negotiating this difficult shift of medium. They did not print their stories in dialect, though they did introduce some dialect words. Nor did they print anything like transcripts, preserving pauses, interruptions, and other aspects of natural speech. Instead, they sought to give the impression of orality in written form. To do so, they modeled their literary style on that used by the Grimms and thereby created Norwegian eventyrstil.

Eventyrstil does not aspire to mimesis of oral delivery. Its intended use is different from that of the elaborate and unwieldy transcriptions of words, silences, gestures, pitch changes, et cetera with which folklorists experimented in the 1970s. The performance school folklorists, in striving for a total and accurate written representation of the actual performative event, were attempting written representation so perfect that reading the text could replace having been present at the performance. The medium is designed to be transparent for the convenience of folklorists who might wish to recover from the text the actual details of a specific performance.

Eventyrstil is a different kind of medium offering a different solution to the problem of mediation. The elements of eventyrstil—artful repetition, grandfatherly explanation, leisurely-seeming parataxis, discrete use of dialect—are like the details which produce Barthes's Reality Effect. They stand not for their putative signifieds, but for the reality of having been there. The reader of Norske Folke-Eventyr is presumed not to be interested in recovering the actual details of a particular performance of folklore, but rather to be seeking the sense of having been there and having heard a folkloric performance. The medium is designed to give the impression of an un-mediated experience, to produce an oral traditional effect.

The particular illusion of unmediated experience offered by eventyrstil occludes a significant shift in medium by creating the impression in the reader that he is in fact a listener. Collections of folk literature of this period in any style promised a more generalized access to the realm of the spoken word. Bendix (herself quoting Susan Stewart) notes: "In rendering the oral and experiential into something material and readable, the early collectors assisted their social class in acquiring 'a fragment of a larger whole … of the entire aura of the oral world—such a world's imagined presence, immediacy, organicism, and authenticity'" (48). My point here is that eventyrstil allows the impression of such access on the level of the medium itself. The overall practice of producing folklore collections is a process of artifactualization and commodification (see Bendix 48), but eventyrstil attempts to hide the artifactual nature of its content. Accordingly, the readership of collections like Norske Folke-Eventyr could imagine themselves as participants in the oral tradition, not just distant spectators, collectors, and consumers. As participants, they became authentic members of the Norwegian folk, all without ever leaving the comfort of their drawing rooms.

Asbjørnsen certainly presents himself as a disseminator of the authentically oral to just that drawing-room audience when he claims in the introduction to the 1845 collection that the included stories "ere fortalte som de endnu leve i Almuens Mund; der er Intet sat til eller taget fra" (v) [are told as they still live in the mouth of the people; nothing is added or removed]. The vocabulary of the original and unmediated experience also surfaces in the explanation he offers of his method:

Det paatrængte sig mig som en Nødvendighed at meddele disse Naturdigtninger under de Forhold, jeg tildeels havde modtaget dem, i Relief af den Natur, i hvis Skjød de syntes oprundne og nærede; jeg ønskede derhos at meddele dem i sin oprindelige Duft og Farve. Dette troede jeg lettest at opnaae ved at lade Folket selv optræde fortællende.


(It impressed itself on me as a necessity that I pass on these folk narratives under the conditions in which, in part, I received them, in the relief against that nature, in whose lap they seemed to have originated and been nourished; I wished to pass them on in their original scent and color. This I thought most easily achieved by letting the folk themselves appear in the role of storyteller.)

What Asbjørnsen actually does in allowing the Folk to fortælle is to erase all traces of his informants—the actual people who told him the stories—and then write frame narratives around the stories in which the stories are told by peasants of Asbjørnsen's own literary invention. The descriptions of the narrators of the sagn and eventyr thus do not represent any specific informant, but function rather as details producing an oral traditional effect. The frames in turn are narrated in first person by an educated male figure suspiciously like Asbjørnsen. He strolls about the Norwegian countryside interacting with the peasantry and even (as in "Kværnsagn") telling stories himself in the hope that his audience will reciprocate. Part and parcel of having the Folk perform the role of narrator is having the publisher/collector perform the role of the folk.

The same assumption of roles and voices is visible in the full titles of both the 1841-44 collection, Norske Folke-Eventyr fortalte af P. Chr. Asbjørnsen og Jørgen Moe [told by P. Chr. Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe], and Asbjørnsen's 1845 solo collection, Huldreeventyr og Folkesagn fortalte af P. Chr. Asbjørnsen [told by P. Chr. Asbjørnsen].4 No such claim to authorial orality appears in the title of Andreas Faye's earlier, less popular collection, Norske Folke-Sagn,5 written in a stiff, literary style which earned him harsh criticism even from friends and sponsors. Moe admonished Faye for his stylistic shortcomings in 1840, urging him to "Fortæl som Folket!" (Hodne 12) [Tell as the folk (do)!]—a phrase implying not only speaking like the folk, but also in the person of the folk.

In all these instances, Asbjørnsen and Moe consistently cast themselves as tellers, not writers, and advocate that any publisher of folk material should do the same. They write themselves into the role of storyteller, the bearer of tradition in an authentic oral culture, in print, by means of the literary convention of eventyrstil. That style simultaneously provides the means by which the urban, literate classes could read themselves into the role of the illiterate custodians of the national culture. Both processes imply a kind of appropriation even if the appropriated voice is to a great degree a construction of the appropriating culture. Such issues of legitimacy aside, this talk of roles and performance hints that something theatrical is going on across the boundary between the oral and the written.

The theatrical comes into play for this discussion both in the sense of something ripe for exploitation on stage and in a more restricted, theoretical sense. The more restricted sense is taken from Michael Fried's work on Diderot's art and theater criticism and, closer to home, from Erik Østerud's article on Vildanden. The theatrical in either painting or theater, as I understand it, is the medium's overt revelation of its relationship to the spectator. The figures rendered in oil strike heroic poses and gaze out at the viewer foregrounding the idea that the whole is arranged for viewing; the actors on stage declaim their lines to the audience saying, in effect, that the whole is designed for hearing. Reducing theatricality gives the impression that the scene being presented takes place spontaneously and without any relationship to the spectator; it involves hiding the role of the medium and allowing the spectator privileged (and somewhat inexplicable) access to the content of the message. On stage, this access takes place through realism's fourth wall. The illusion of transparency so produced is another illusion of an unmediated experience. Eventyrstil, as a literary convention for creating the effect of authenticity, is directly analogous to the conventions of realist drama, which create the impression of spontaneous speech in carefully rehearsed and scripted dialogue. All these conventions reduce theatricality.

Fried's term (or more properly Diderot's) for the action of such conventions in painting is absorption. Absorption occurs when the scene is made to seem so self-contained and self-involved as to be totally independent of and incorruptible by the viewer, who is isolated from the action. Paradoxically, this isolation simultaneously works to invite the spectator into the scene, but no longer as an alien and disruptive element. The fundamental paradox of absorption, isolating yet incorporating, seems to me to ally itself most closely with the vexed and shifting relationship between the folklorist and the folk, scholarly Self and informant Other, which arises again and again in fieldwork.6 The careful position Asbjørnsen and Moe take up with regard to their subject embodies just this paradox. They hold to their claim to scientific—and class—distance from their informants while simultaneously donning the mantle of the folk as their own. The successful re-teller of folktales must have "et nøiagtigt Kjendskab til Folket, fuld Fortrolighed med dets Leveviis og Udtryksmaade" (Asbjørnsen and Moe iv) [a precise knowledge of the folk, complete familiarity with its mode of life and expression]; he must "staa over Folket, og han maa dog have bevaret en inderlig Forbindelse med dette" (iv) [stand above the folk, and yet he must have maintained an intimate connection with it]. Metaphorically, it would seem there is some kinship between absorption and the assumption of roles by the producers and consumers of folklore collections that play at being oral performances. Still, I hesitate to import a term so bound to specific compositional techniques in painting wholesale into this discussion. Without overburdening the terminology, we can satisfy ourselves with saying that the effect of authenticity sought in such collections relies on the reduction of theatricality within the form thought the conventions employed to that end are bound to the medium of written language.

Having spent time with the medium through which the essence of folkness was purveyed to the mid-nineteenth-century Norwegian reading public, this essay must now turn to matters of content. The content so conveyed is itself an image of performance. The one is nested within the other, and the inner performance, in contrast to the outer, is of a totally theatrical nature. The storyteller addresses his audience directly instead of pretending that it is not there. There is no question of any attempt to make the recitation of the actual eventyr seem like something independent of the presence of the audience. The inner and outer performances are most overt in Asbjørnsen's elaborately framed stories from 1845, where in part they occupy physically distinct space on the page. For example, in "Huldreæt," the first person narrator begins, and seven pages later his interlocutor introduces the embedded tale with: "Nu, det var da rart at Moer, som har fortalt dem saa mange Eventyr og Historier ikke har fortalt dem det!… Nu skal de høre" (Asbjørnsen 87) [Really, how strange that Mother, who has told you so many fairytales and stories has not told it to you!… Nowyou shall hear]. A more performative, declamatory signal could scarcely be imagined unless it were Det var engang … [Once upon a time …]. Even when that famous phrase is the first of the story, the eventyr and the image of its narration by an authentic member of the folk take place within the collector/publisher's anti-theatrical performance of that narrating role. Two performance modes occupy a very tight space: one, played on paper, in writing designed to seem like a transparent medium through which the reader is invited to perceive the other: the clichéd image of the traditional peasant storyteller declaiming his tale to his audience. This layering makes mid-century collections of folklore the site of collision between two very different modes of performance. It also makes them a likely site for Ibsen's having discovered the theoretical underpinnings of realism while he was still working with folkloric subjects. It remains now to attempt some account of his transition from national romantic themes and interests to his writing of a realist drama which interrogates the very conventions of realism.


  1. For Herder's involvement with folklore, see Poltermann; for a closer look at Herder's version of authenticity, see Bendix 34.
  2. Thanks go to Lisbet Oxfeldt for advice on translations from the Norwegian; both they and any infelicities are my own.
  3. Including Peder Fylling, Ibsen's own source and an amateur local historian. But see the introduction to his field notes in Hundreårsutgave (19:81) for a line of argument taking conspicuous pains to prove that Ibsen was told the tales by Fylling and not merely handed a manuscript.
  4. Two stories in this collection, "Huldreæt" and "Plankekjørerne," have already been the subject of debate in connection with the putative boundary between romanticism and realism, particularly in the work of Asbjørn Aarseth (in Realismen som myte [43-55 and included references]). Aarseth is chiefly concerned with showing that romantic elements survived in works praised by earlier critics for their naturalism using the term realistic. The realism this essay involves is more that of Barthes.
  5. First edition printed in 1833.
  6. For a multivocalic exploration of that relationship, see the epilogue in Bendix, 219-28.

Works Cited

Aarseth, Asbjørn. Realismen som myte: Tradisjonskritiske studier i norsk litteraturhistorie. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1981.

Asbjørnsen, P. Chr. Huldreeventyr og Folkesagn fortalte av P. Chr. Asbjørnsen: Første Samling. Christiania: W. C. Fabritius, 1845.

——, and Jørgen Moe. Norske Folke-Eventyr fortalte af P. Chr. Asbjørnsen og Jørgen Moe. Christiania: Jac. Dybwad, 1866.

Barthes, Roland. "The Reality Effect." The Realist Novel. Ed. Dennis Walder. London: Routledge, 1995. 258-61.

Bendix, Regina. In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies. Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1997.

Faye, Andreas. Norske Folke-Sagn. 1844. Norsk folkeminnelags skrifter 63. Oslo: Norske folkeminnelag, 1948.

Fried, Michael. Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot. Berkely: U California P, 1980.

Hodne, Ørnulf. Det nasjonale hos norske folklorister på 1800-tallet. Kults skriftserie 24. Nasjonal identitet 2. Oslo: Norges forskningsråd, 1994.

Ibsen, Henrik. Hundreårsutgave: Henrik Ibsens samlede verker. Vols. 6, 15, 19. Eds. Francis Bull, Halvdan Koht, and Didrik Arup Seip. Oslo: Gyldendal, 1930-52.

Landstad, M. B. Norske Folkeviser samlede og udgivne af M. B. Landstad. Christiania: Chr. Tönsberg, 1853.

Poltermann, Andreas. "Herder, Johann Gottfried." Enzyklopädie des Märchens. Vol. 6.2-3. Eds. Kurt Ranke et al. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989. 832-41.

Stewart, Susan. "Scandals of the Ballad." Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation. Durham: Duke UP, 1994. 102-31.

Østerud, Erik. "Henrik Ibsens teatermaske: Tablå, absorpsjon og teatralitet i Vildanden." Edda 3 (1993): 242-60.



Marte Hvam Hult (essay date 2003)

SOURCE: Hult, Marte Hvam. "From the Supernatural to the Human Other: The Marginalized Storytellers of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn. "In Framing a National Narrative: The Legend Collections of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, pp. 119-40. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

[In the following essay, Hult examines how the portrayals of an ethnic Other and a supernatural Other in the folk tales "A Wise Woman" and "The Gypsies" from the collection Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn illustrate widely held beliefs and stereotypes in mid-nineteenth-century Norway.]

The Changelings: Legends of a Wise Woman

A few huldreeventyr in Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn deviate from the established pattern of a frame narrator, a performance context, and internal folk narrators to whom are assigned the tasks of disseminating the traditional material. While all of the tales in the collection of 1845, except "The King of Ekeberg," conform to this pattern, several important stories in the collection of 1848 are written as short stories, without the interaction of a frame narrator with a created informant. While there may be several reasons why Asbjørnsen chose to vary the format which had been so successful, it may be possible that in two cases he did so because he did not want the reputation of his fictional frame narrator, that urbane and supercilious fellow who is the reader's boon companion, to be sullied by association! It simply would not have been believable to insert the enlightened personage of the frame narrator into the context of a dim and dark hovel where a peasant woman waits for a wise woman to perform lead casting to diagnose her baby's illness, or into a county jail where Gypsies are planning their escape. Asbjørnsen was simply not able to imagine his frame narrators in this context, because, in addition to dealing with the supernatural Other of trolls and nisser, the frame narrator would have to descend into the world of the human Other, the Gypsy wise woman.1

This character, Gubjør Langelår, is a central figure in the two huldreeventyr to be discussed in this chapter, "A Wise Woman" and "The Gypsies," both of which will be examined in turn to reveal how Asbjørnsen uses the widely held beliefs about the magic of an ethnic Other to elucidate practices in the Norway of his time. It is obvious that "from the very first, notions of ethnicity and social boundaries have been associated with the supernatural.… People tended to ascribe supernatural abilities to those who were different" (Lindow 1995, 11-12). Lindow traces the relationship between the supernatural and the ethnic Other from the earliest Old Norse literature to show how "the supernatural is assigned to the ethnic others." Lindow suggests that early Scandinavians selected certain "emblems of contrast" to differentiate themselves from "Others" of ethnic origin, the most obvious of which being skin color. "The supernatural beings of folk belief constitute social groups created by tradition participants and marked with the same emblems of contrast" (22, 22). Some of the emblems of contrast that Lindow discusses include shape-changing, an animal characteristic such as a cow's tail, and Christianity.

In the stories "A Wise Woman" and "The Gypsies" the reader is confronted with two Others, a created ethnic Other who narrates the legends and acts within the assigned established realm of magic and folk belief, and the supernatural Other, the stories of whom the ethnic Other can manipulate. I would suggest that the elements of contrast between these two are deliberately blurred by Asbjørnsen to demonize the Gypsy and form a "breakdown of the distinction between ethnic and supernatural beings" (Lindow, 21). That this is highly relevant to the cultural work of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn goes without saying, because the stories not only reflect stereotypes about an ethnic minority who had long been seen as possessors of supernatural powers, but also codify these same attitudes for the mid-nineteenth-century reader. In discussing the need for stereotyping Sander Gilman explains: "Stereotypes, like commonplaces, carry entire realms of associations with them, associations that form a subtext within the world of fiction. In the case of works claiming to create a world out of whole cloth, such a subtext provides basic insight into the presuppositions of the culture in which the work arises and for which it is created" (Gilman 1985, 27). The ostensibly homogenous Norwegian society has always had an ethnic Other, and in these two huldreeventyr it is possible to read the subtext of racism and fear which existed for the society in which Asbjørnsen lived and wrote.2

While "A Wise Woman" and "The Gypsies" do not contain a frame narrator, they nonetheless feature the same enlightened urban voice with which the reader has become familiar. "A Wise Woman" begins:

Several years ago there was a shack on a hill a short distance off a country road in one of the mid regions of Gudbrandsdal—Maybe it's still there. There was mild April weather outside; the snow was melting; brooks were rushing down the hillsides, bare spots were showing on the ground; the thrushes were scolding in the woods; the groves were full of the peeping of birds, signs of an early spring.… Inside the closed-up smoke-filled shanty it was dismal and gloomy. A middle-aged peasant woman of a very common and slow-witted appearance was in the process of breathing life into some branches and green wood she had laid under the coffeepot on the low hearth.

(A 2: 128)3

This story, in marked contrast to most of the huldreeventyr, is not localized except in a very general sense. The events of "A Wise Woman" can and do take place anywhere a gullible and undereducated mother worries about a sick child, and there can be no doubt that the folk beliefs that dealt with child care were very slow to lose their power over the people. In a history of medicine in Norway, Fredrik Grøn notes that "a great many situations from our medical reports throughout the nineteenth century testify to the unbelievable tenacity by which traditional child care remained unchanged" (Reichborn-Kjennerud and Grøn and Kobro 1936, 118). Grøn mentions particularly the many deaths of infants due to the belief that they should be baptized as soon as possible after birth. Too early baptism is cited as a cause of infant mortality in a report from Ryfylke in 1863. Of course Christian baptism was seen as a defense against evil powers of all kinds.4

The narrator of "A Wise Woman" immediately establishes the contrast between the fine spring day outside and the mood inside the shack. The sinister atmosphere is reinforced by the mother's first words, spoken to her visitor, a traveling wise woman healer, "People say that it's no use casting, because the child doesn't have rickets, they say, but is a changeling; there was a blanket maker here one day and he said the same thing, because he had seen a changeling in Ringebu when he was little, and it was as weak bodied and loose jointed as this one" (A 2: 128).5 The mother is speaking to a wandering Gypsy, who survives by moving from bygd to bygd treating the ailments of the peasantry with a variety of methods, including casting, incantations, and an assortment of folk medicines. The narrator's description of this woman indicates a meeting with the ethnic Other:

The one she spoke to was a big-boned woman of nearly sixty. She was unusually tall in stature, but while she sat down, she looked small, and to this peculiarity she owed her nickname, since to her given name, Gubjør, people had added Long-thigh. In the band of Gypsies she had rambled around with, she went by other names. Grey hair stuck out from under the scarf, which surrounded a dark face with bushy eyebrows and a long, irregular nose. The original dim-wittedness, intimated by the low forehead and by the width of the face over the cheekbones, was in contrast to the unmistakable expression of cunning in her small sparkling eyes and to the incarnate shrewdness which was marked by the wrinkles and play of the muscles of her face. Her clothing characterized her as an emigrant from a more northerly village; her face and her whole appearance suggested the wise woman, or at the very least, a wandering Gypsy woman, who could be impudent and brazen or humble and ingratiating, depending on the circumstances.


It is clear that Gubjør is a wandering signekjerring who survives by moving from village to village treating the ailments of the peasantry with a variety of methods, including casting, incantations, and the dispensing of various folk medicines; hence, she is also a member of the feared ethnic Other. Her dark face and wide cheekbones clearly show that Asbjørnsen intended to cast her in this role, and the fact that her clothing marks her as coming from a more "northerly" village is, of course, highly significant, since the north was the realm of the Finn. As Lindow points out, "The 'Finns' are the outsiders and the dangerous ones. In fact, the 'Finns,' imbued with magical powers, are stock figures of Old Norse-Icelandic literature" (Lindow, 11).7 The older Borgarthing law flatly prohibited belief in "Finns."

The peasant woman, Marit Rognehagen, is afraid that her child may be a changeling, but the wise woman assures her that such is not the case. "I know about changelings because I have seen enough of them" (130).8 And then Gubjør tells two legends about changelings, which she relates as memorats, even including the names of the mothers, Brit Briskebråten from Fron and Siri Strømhogget. In both cases, the mothers are able to get their own children back by following the established procedures to deal with this calamity.

The belief that trolls or evil spirits are capable of exchanging human infants with their own offspring is a widely held belief in primitive societies and is certainly not confined to Scandinavia. In his notes to "A Wise Woman," Knut Liestøl summarizes the characteristics of a changeling and the methods believed to protect a child from this fate and also what could be done if an exchange had already taken place:

Commonly it is the male children that are exchanged. The changeling always lies in the cradle and won't stand up, doesn't learn how to talk, but cries all the time and is insatiable. It is very ugly with a large head and skinny limbs. The descriptions which Gubjør gives of change-lings in the narrative corresponds to the usual conception of them. The child is in danger of being exchanged so long as it is unnamed and unbaptized. The exchange preferably takes place at night, most often when the mother falls asleep without taking the necessary precautions.… As protection against an exchange, one leaves a lit candle or an open fire. Or one should place steel in the cradle, especially effective would be a pair of scissors, which forms a cross when left open.… To rid oneself of a changeling, it is necessary to get it to talk or to laugh by presenting it with something strange or extraordinary to excite its astonishment. When, by these means, one knows for certain that it is a changeling, then one can get the correct child back by mistreating the changeling.

(Liestøl, notes to A 2: 336)

That the belief in changelings to explain stunted growth in seemingly normal children was a true folk belief is documented in many sources. There are Swedish court records of a case from a trial in Gotland in 1690 in which parents set their ten-year-old child, who had always been sickly and frail, out on the garbage heap on Christmas Eve, in the belief that the underjordiske would return the rightful child and take the changeling. The child froze to death, and the parents were sentenced to a month in jail on a diet of bread and water (Arens and Klintberg 1979, 91). Martin Luther's advice when he saw a supposed change-ling in Dessau was that it should be thrown into the water and drowned (Liestøl, notes to A 2: 337). Certainly a child who did not develop in a normal fashion would be a frightening example of Otherness within a family who believed the folk beliefs about changelings.

But in "A Wise Woman," Gubjør concludes her legends of changelings by remarking that "this child here is no more a changeling than I am" (131) and how could the exchange have taken place anyway, as careful as Marit has been with the child?9 Then the wise woman is reminded of another story, which she relates, about an attempted theft of a child which was unsuccessful due to the precautions which were taken.

But if the child is not a changeling, then he is suffering from svekk of which there could be as many as nine different types. This illness, which we know is actually rickets and caused by a vitamin D deficiency, was believed to take several forms and be caused in several ways. Throughout the recitation of the tales by the signekjerring and in the subsequent preparations for the casting of lead to determine the type of svekk, the peasant mother exhibits nervousness about the probable return of her husband, who does not believe in the efficacy of the wise woman's actions and has, in fact, offered to send the child to the doctor. "'To the doctor? Ha!' said the wise woman and spit … 'no, going to the doctor for such a child who has svekk would be a hell of a thing'" (134).10 Gubjør continues by telling Marit that doctors do not understand treating svekk because it is not in their books, and that casting is the only solution for diagnosis and treatment.11

The signekjerring has been at Marit's on two previous Thursdays to perform her magic diagnosis. She recapitulates the results of the previous efforts:

The child has svekk, but there are nine kinds of svekk. Well, I have told you before, and you saw yourself, that he was exposed to troll svekk and water svekk; because the first Thursday it came up a man with two big horns and a long tail. That was troll svekk. Last time it came up a mermaid. Well, you saw it as plainly as I described it. That was water svekk. But now it's Thursday again, and now I wonder what it will be, when we cast now. As you know, it's the third time that counts. Here is the child," she said, and handed it to the woman, "Just let me have this last sip of coffee and I'll get started.


There is a certain chilling normalcy in Asbjørnsen's description of Gubjør as she goes about her daily routine of separating the incredulous peasantry from their meager savings by performing her magic. As she prepares her equipment for the casting, the conversation with the peasant woman illustrates the strict procedures to which the gullible peasants adhered at the advice of the signekjerring:

"Since last Thursday," she said, "I have been in seven parishes and have scraped lead from the church windows at night, because the lead was used up the last time. That is nerve racking for both soul and body," she mumbled to herself as she shook out some of the toilsomely obtained lead from a snuffbox into the casting ladle.

"You have, of course, gotten the north-running water at midnight?" she asked.

"Yes, I was at the mill stream night before last; that is the only water that runs north anywhere around here," answered the crofter's wife and took out a tightly covered pail from which she poured water into an ale bowl. Over this was placed a piece of barley flatbread, which had had a hole made in it with a needle. When the lead was melted, Gubjør went over to the door, looked up at the sun, picked up the casting ladle and slowly poured the molten lead through the hole into the water as she muttered some words.


The results of the third casting for Marit Rognehagen's child are disastrous. The wise woman studies the lead figures in the water for quite some time, then exclaims, "Corpse svekk, Corpse svekk !—first troll svekk, then water svekk, then corpse svekk. One of them would have been enough!" She goes on to explain, "Yes, now I see how it happened.… First you traveled through a woods and past a mountain, while the trolls were out; you said Jesus' name there. Then you passed over a body of water; there too you said Jesus' name over the child; but when you came past the churchyard, it was before cockcrow, and you forgot it, and there the child caught corpse svekk" (136, 137).14 There is but one possibility to save the child. Gubjør will make a doll replica of the child and bury it in the churchyard. Then the dead will believe that the child is dead, but "they ask for inherited silver. Do you have any inherited silver?" The mother searches for two old silver coins she had gotten from a godparent. She had not had the heart to use them before, but "when it's a matter of life and death, then …" (138, 138).15

The wise woman quickly sews a doll from some rags and then announces that she will return again in three weeks, but that the mother will be able to tell if the child will live by looking into its eyes. "If the child is going to die before the leaves fall, then you will see only black, and nothing else but black" (138).16 The signekjerring then tells another changeling story, but it is evident that Marit Rognehagen is becoming more and more anxious that her husband will return to find the wise woman there. In the story as it appears today, and in all editions except the first edition, the huldreeventyr ends in this fashion:

During this story, the housewife showed unmistakable signs of anxiety. Towards the end of the tale this became so conspicuous that even the storyteller, who seemed to be caught up in her own account, became aware of it. "What's the matter?" asked the wise woman. "Oh, it's your husband who's coming," she went on with a glance out the door, and then she added formally, "Gubjør cannot be staying here on your bench; but don't be afraid, I will go down past the churchyard, then he won't see me."


It has been noted before that very few actual changes in content were made in the three editions of huldreeventyr which Asbjørnsen himself edited, except for a continual Norwegianizing of the language and rephrasing. But "A Wise Woman" is an exception. In the first edition, the story does not end with these words of the wise woman. After she promises to leave so the husband will not see her, there follows an exchange between Marit and her husband:

Shortly afterwards the husband came in. He wiped the sweat from his brow on the sleeve of his shirt, looked searchingly around the room, his eyes followed his wife, who was misleadingly busying herself at the hearth; then the casting ladle, which had been left lying under the table, caught his attention.

"Is there any food, woman?" he asked.

"Oh, God help me," she answered, "I had fried a little pork, but this thieving cat stole it while I was taking care of the baby."

"Well, I never!" said the man, "Pork for a poor man on Thursday? God knows we're lucky to have it on Sunday. No, I suppose it's gone with Gubjør Long-thigh; I thought I saw one of her long legs behind the church wall."

"I thought she would be back with that casting of hers, but let me tell you this, if she comes back again, I'm going to have her thrown in jail! And you, woman, you will hear a tale of a different color!"

(Liestøl, notes to A 2: 248)18

One can assume that the desperate mother will pay for her disobedience with a black eye or worse. Why did Asbjørnsen remove this ending from the editions of 1859 and 1870? It seems clear that artistically the narrative is more balanced without the entrance of the crofter. His presence, in a sense, undermines the sinister mood of the story, and the almost fatalistic chain of events that end when the wise woman scurries off to avoid meeting the disapproving husband. His entrance is anti-climatic, and there is no doubt that the story is a better one without the original ending. However, I would argue that the original ending was, in effect, a failed mediation attempt between the world of the superstitious housewife and the enlightened worldview of the narrator.

Not content merely to describe the procedure of casting, and dissemination of the changeling legends, Asbjørnsen wanted to leave the reader in no doubt about the sometimes dire consequences which the old folk beliefs could have. That the crofter was to represent the enlightened worldview is foreshadowed early in the story when the housewife admits that her husband has offered to have the child see a doctor. His actual appearance confirms his superiority over the rustic women. No mention here of the low forehead or shrewd little eyes of the peasant.19 "He wiped the sweat from his brow … and looked searchingly around the room." A hard-working, alert and enlightened fellow, seemingly. But then he speaks, and his language is the language of the peasant. In the final analysis, Asbjørnsen cannot turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. "A Wise Woman" can and does have to stand on its own as an example of the existing folk beliefs of a large segment of the populace without the comforting frame narrator or an inauthentic enlightened peasant to offer explanations. The magic world of the ethnic Other is simply too far removed from us to be successfully mediated by Asbjørnsen's usual narrative devices.

Deceiving the Buro: The Legends of Tatere

"The Gypsies" was one of the last huldreeventyr written for the collection of 1848. In this story Asbjørnsen creates a context in which his urbane frame narrator would have been distinctly uncomfortable. The setting is a small and cramped country jail, really just an appendage to the sheriff's house. It is February and the snow is flying outside, but inside the glow from embers of a fire throw illumination on two quite disreputable personages:

In a shadowy corner on the innermost bed or stall of the barrack a man lay stretched out on a sheepskin blanket. Behind the low forehead, which leaned against a swelling muscular and hairy arm, coursed thoughts whose shadows played over a face as dark as the sooty wall, and which flashed out in glances so piercing, glaring, and sinister that even the apathetic watchman felt uneasiness when they chanced to fall on him. But no word betrayed the turmoil within. His wiry, coal-black hair, sharp features, the long face, whose lower part was covered by a short black beard, and this distinctive cast of eye showed that he belonged to the itinerant Gypsies or long-tramps, as the peasants in some parts of the country call them. His eerie appearance had given him the name Black-Bertel. He was a horse gelder by profession, but also dabbled with varying success in curing horses.

The other man seemed to be of a more carefree nature, and had a lighter skin color; but the low forehead, sharp face, deep-set eyes of the Gypsy race, and this indescribable cast of the eye, at once searching, staring, stabbing with its unpleasant phosphorus glance, marked him too.

(A 2: 171)20

The sheriff soon brings several more Gypsies to the jail, among them Gubjør Long-thigh, but the Gypsies pretend not to know each other, the better to plan an escape.

Asbjørnsen met a group of Gypsies on one of his collecting trips and even learned a few words of their language, which he includes in snippets throughout the story; but most of his information about the Gypsies was supplied by Eilert Sundt, who in 1850 would publish his comprehensive study of the Norwegian Gypsies and itinerant travelers.21 There can be no doubt that there was considerable fear of these tatere among the rural peasantry, and it appears that at least some of these fears were founded on experience. An excerpt from Eilert Sundt's work indicates the difficulties which the small, isolated landholder had with some of these roving bands of Gypsies:

One must follow the Gypsy bands into the houses to see the excesses of brutality and violence with which they disrupt the people's peace! In Værdal, right at the point where the Jæmteland road swings off from the main road along the Trondheimsfjord, lies a neat crofter's cottage. There, I thought, one probably had a good opportunity to observe the journeys of the "wanderers," and I was not deceived. The crofter, supplemented by his wife, told the following story, which was corroborated by some neighbors who happened to be there: Late one evening—it was early in the spring, right after the Levanger market—there was a pounding on the door, which was naturally opened in a hurry by the inhabitants, who were awakened from a sound sleep, and a Gypsy company of two men and a woman asked and threatened and forced their entry and demanded night lodging. The inhabitants could do nothing else but stay awake and pay heed. The contents of a bottle of spirits soon brought the ferocity of the travelers to the highest level, and the two men started fighting with each other. The crofter did not dare restrain them; everything, both living and dead, had to give way for their kicks and punches. Finally the man put his wife and children in a side room, shoved a bed against the door and ran—one can imagine how fear and anger hastened his steps—for "the King," the village watchman, who lived quite far away.

(Sundt 1852, 228)

Although the Gypsies broke the door and knocked over a cabinet, when the sheriff was consulted the next day he advised it best to let them go, since they had not committed violence against the inhabitants of the house. According to Sundt, this was by no means an isolated incident. And, although begging was illegal, farmers and small landholders continued to give food and other items to the itinerant Gypsies, partly from a conviction that it was the Christian thing to do, but perhaps more because of a lingering fear of what the Gypsies might do in revenge if their requests were not met. Most probably the majority of these traveling bands of Gypsies were peaceful and wished only to be left alone to live their nomadic lives, but there is no doubt that they did nothing to dissuade the general populace from the belief that they were "Finns." Sundt, summarizing the various theories on the origin of the Gypsies writes that

most often one hears the opinion of the common people, that the Gypsies are Finns … since they have not only made the practice of magic arts a main occupation, as shall be demonstrated later, but have also found it advantageous being taken for Finns, inheriting all of the superstitious prejudice against them, that was already rooted in the people. This has also been very successful for them in many places, as shall be seen, and maybe partly explains that in Lister and Jæderen, for example, where a Finn has certainly not been seen for hundreds of years, the memory of the Finns and belief both in their helpful and revengeful power is quite fresh and alive to this day.


Sander Gilman explains that "when a group makes demands on a society, the status anxiety produced by those demands characteristically translates into a sense of loss of control. Thus a group that has been marginally visible can suddenly become the definition of the other." Writing about this created image of the Other, Gilman observes that "various signs of difference can be linked without any recognition of inappropriateness, contradictoriness, or even impossibility. Patterns of association are most commonly based, however, on a combination of real-life experience (as filtered through the models of perception) and the world of myth, and the two intertwine to form fabulous images, neither entirely of this world nor of the world of myth" (Gilman 1985, 20, 21). In "The Gypsies," Asbjørnsen links reality with myth to create characters and stories that reflect the perceptions of the ethnic Other in the Norway of his time.

The Gypsies begin to tell stories. Their intent is to engage the watchman to win his confidence and to keep him occupied while two members of the group plan an escape and also a burglary at a neighboring farm. The stories revolve around the methods used by the Gypsies, in this case Gubjør, to fool the farmers into payment of goods or money. It was widely believed that the Gypsies had a power over the health of the farm animals and could either heal or harm them. Gubjør relates one such encounter which involves the construction of a "troll-cat."22

"Wicked neighbors have sent out a troll-cat to suck the blood and marrow out of your cows," I said, "I see that; but if I am allowed to, I will uncover it and I will help you, so that it doesn't get the power to hurt other cows."

"If you can do that, my dear woman, then I will pay you generously, and you will get food and clothing too," said the farmer. "Come along to the barn and I will show you the one who sucks blood and breaks bones," I said to the farmer; "but bring along your hoe and shovel." He took his hoe and shovel, and his wife followed after him like a dog. "I have never been here," I said, "but I have a good sense of smell and am familiar with hidden things; go to the black and white cow," I said.—"There has been digging here before," said the farmer. "Dig again!" I said, "that which is hidden shall be revealed." "The man dug, and as he was digging, a cat sprang out of the stall and across the floor, shrieking terribly. At the same time the eyes of the farmer and his wife were sparking like fire."

Here she nodded meaningfully to her listeners and a secretive expression appeared on her face.… "For this I got coffee and tobacco, wool and linen, pork and cured meat, six silver spoons, and lots of money."

(A 2: 180-81)23

In "The Gypsies," as in "A Wise Woman," it is evident that Asbjørnsen is not only relating legends but also describing actual practices and belief systems that were still extant in the countryside of his time. It does not seem likely that the elaborately staged deception described by Gubjør in this story could have been a common occurrence, but it seems evident that for the majority of people in the countryside, it seemed best to be safe rather than sorry in dealings with the Gypsies. Obviously, by the time Eilert Sundt made his study of the life and habits of the Gypsies, there had been a weakening of the belief in supernatural agents; but Sundt's investigations make clear that much remained to be done. On this very issue he writes that

When one bends the ear low to hear the thoughts of the people, one must often be startled over how prejudice and superstition still in the nineteenth century guards itself against the clearer light which is advancing everywhere. Superstition can be clever in its battle with common sense. A farmer's wife confessed to me her belief in the magic power of the Gypsies' words; she related an incident as proof and transgressed thereby; a Gypsy woman—so went the myth—came late one evening to a farm and asked to spend the night, but was turned away. She left then, but with these words, "If you will not house people, neither shall you house cattle," and since that time some of the farm's cows and horses died every year, a misfortune that continued even after the owner sold his farm to another man for this very reason. "Is it still like that?" I asked, "Oh no," was the answer, "it is now over thirty years since Big-Serina died, so by now her bones must be rotted in the ground, and with that the witchcraft ends."—It is certainly true that such stories about the people's reliance on the Gypsies' magic help in all kinds of trouble as I mentioned above is more rare than it was, but the belief that they can cause harm by their evil eye and wicked words has held up better and one considers it most advisable to gain their friendship by charity or other willingness. "I don't believe in their power, but it is probably best to give them something anyway, when they ask," is a common expression used particularly by the farmer's wife, concerned for her animals, as a justification for her great indulgence of the Gypsies' impudence. It is therefore a kind of half belief, which rests on what the ancient Dogmatics would have called argumentum de tuto.

(Sundt 1852, 278-79)24

After Gubjør's story about fooling the farmer with the troll-cat, another Gypsy tells a story about a character named the wooden-legged Finn, who was able to travel by flying through the air. This tale engages the watchman, who relates a story of his own. While this is transpiring, Black Bertel and another Gypsy named Svolke-Per complain bitterly about the treatment of the Gypsies at the hands of the Buro (the Gypsies' term for non-Gypsies), and continue with plans to escape, rob a neighboring farm, and flee to Sweden, where things are said to be more peaceful.

The sheriff stops by to check on his prisoners and to confiscate any alcohol they may have hidden but is unable to find any contraband, since Gubjør has concealed the flasks carefully. The sheriff refuses to lend the Gypsies a deck of cards and tells them they may return to their stories, which they do, telling two very uncomplimentary tales about the clergy, whom the Gypsies found to be extremely meddlesome. These stories, as most of the stories in huldreeventyr, deal with subject matter consistent with the worldview and interests of the storytellers, but in "The Gypsies" as in "A Wise Woman," the stories are not localized to the extent that they are in most of the huldreeventyr, and the traditional material is often more fantastic in many instances. The gruesome tale of the skinned bailiff could perhaps not have been related by any other narrator than the despised Gypsy:

There was a bailiff, north in the valley, he was so grossly depraved that he didn't care what he did, and he got a restless death. At the viewing of the body, he lay still when nobody was there, but when people came in, he would stand up and take their hands and greet them. When he was going to be buried, they put him in the mausoleum under the church floor. Then he was quiet for a while, but then suddenly he started to walk again every single night. One day a shoemaker came to a farm close by the church; he didn't believe in ghosts, so he bet he could sit in the church by the coffin the whole night and sew a pair of shoes. They agreed to this. They took the coffin out of the cellar and the shoemaker sat down on the floor, but first he drew a circle around himself with chalk. Late in the night, the very devil came flying in, tore the lid off the coffin, knocked the head off the bailiff and started flaying the skin off him. He was so occupied with this that he didn't see the shoemaker, who pulled the skin into the circle as the devil was removing it from the bailiff, and when the last piece came loose, he pulled it all inside the circle. When the devil was going to pick it up, he couldn't because of the circle. Then he got so angry and furious that he could have committed both murder and fire, and he screamed and swore. He wanted the skin back.

"You shan't have it," said the shoemaker.

"What in the devil do you want with the worthless skin?" asked the devil.

"I want to tan it and make shoes from it," said the shoemaker.


The storytelling continues and as the night wears on, the Gypsies are able to ingratiate themselves with the watchman, little by little; finally they are able to convince him to swallow Gubjør's concoction to aid his upset stomach. "Before an hour had passed, the watchman felt overcome by an overpowering heaviness and drowsiness. The fire died down; finally it only glowed in the embers of the big pine root, whose resinous remains sometimes burst into flames, which for an instant cast a dark red light over the Gypsies' sly faces. Finally the watchman's heavy breathing and deep snores proclaimed that he could not hinder their flight" (198-99).26 The Gypsy faces lit by fire to a dark red hue continue the demonization of the ethnic Other. Asbjørnsen reinforces the connection between the supernatural Other and the ethnic Other in the conclusion to the story. The neighboring farm is indeed robbed while the inhabitants are away at a wedding celebration, and the Gypsy company cannot be found. "It was as if it had sunk into the ground" (200). The Gypsies become the underjordiske.

Of course, Asbjørnsen cannot allow the Gypsies to profit from their nefarious dealings. In the last paragraph of "The Gypsies," the narrator explains that much later certain facts came to light about some members of the company. One was killed in a fight, another is in prison and

there is a trace of the wise woman Gubjør Long-thigh. Last autumn a reindeer hunter, who was following a wounded deer in a remote region of Illmann Mountain, where you can see over to the wild peaks of Rondane, found the remains of a human skeleton, which had been gnawed to pieces by wolverines and mountain foxes. Between the rocks lay a copper snuffbox, filled with small pieces of lead. In addition was found a rolled up row of skate teeth, some skulls of a venus mussel and different other sea animals—odds and ends that no one in the valley had seen or knew the use for, but things that the Gypsies make use of in their potions,—plus some small bottles, one of which contained a brownish or golden-red liquid which the district doctor said was opium.


Gubjør is severely punished with a gruesome death for her sins against the incredulous common people, and the lesson is clear for the nineteenth-century reader as the ethnic Other blurs into the supernatural Other, both of whom pose a threat to the well-being of the insider group.

The Scandinavian Worldview of the Other
in Norske Huldreeventyr og Folkesagn

In the pre-industrial Norway of the mid-nineteenth-century and long before, the inside group, the "us," would have been a very small one indeed in many cases. People speaking various dialects from valley to valley, even within fairly close proximity to each other, would be likely to view anyone even slightly different with suspicion. It is evident that "the line between the supernatural and merely ethnically different enemies must have been difficult to draw and difficult to keep" (Lindow, 16). Writing about particularly Scandinavian conditions of an earlier time, Lindow says:

By populating the mountains and forests, the rivers and streams, even the land under their farms and the days long ago with supernatural beings and by assigning to them the same emblems of contrast they assigned to the human groups and individual strangers they encountered, I submit that people created other social groups and categories and thought about them in the same terms they used to think about the other outside groups we would term ethnic groups. Let us make no mistake about this point: supernatural beings enjoyed an empirical existence and were probably—we can only guess about this—more real to many than, say, Hottentots or Bushmen or the King of England would have been. Similarly, the supernatural aspects of such ethnic groups as Saamis and Finns and of such disadvantaged individuals as those accused of witchcraft were also empirically demonstrated. In other words, the distinction on which we insist, between "natural" and "supernatural" or "human" and "supernatural" was not terribly important in the relatively fixed stable system of Scandinavian (here we could probably just as easily say "European") worldview.

(20-21. Lindow's italics)

Lindow goes on to argue that what mattered was simply the distinction between one's own group and everything outside of it, and that "the logical consequence of this line of thought is a breakdown of the distinction between ethnic and supernatural beings" (21).

Assuming that Lindow's argument is essentially correct, it may be intriguing to juxtapose his conclusions with an observation of Julian Kramer, the South African immigrant to modern Norway, who states that

one problem faced by many foreigners in Norway, is the Norwegian's lack of understanding of the possibility of people being multicultural. That is to say, that it is possible to master several cultures, and "shift" between them depending upon the situation. For example, being Vietnamese at home with the family but Norwegian out among one's co-workers. It seems like it is difficult for Norwegians to accept that this is possible without the concerned party becoming schizophrenic. I think that Norwegians experience this as problematic because they have been raised to believe that one is either Norwegian or something else. That it is impossible to be "in-between" or "two things at once."

(Kramer 1984, 90)

Kramer believes that this "either-or" axis of Norwegian ethnicity is due to Norway's long anti-colonial struggle, in which it became necessary to value similarity and disdain differences, as well as a tribal mentality, where one is Norwegian because one is from Trøndelag or Telemark, for example. Therefore, it is impossible for foreigners as ethnic groups to be accepted as Norwegians: "There have also not developed any so-called 'hyphenated identities' in Norway either, as the case is in countries where the largest part of the population consists of immigrants. The Norwegian counterpart to Irish-American, Afro-American, Italian-American would be an absurdity. One is either Norwegian or not. There is nothing in-between" (96). Although one could point out to Kramer that hyphenated identities are most probably uniquely American (and perhaps Canadian) phenomena, it is nevertheless true that his observations are intriguing. But if Norwegians are raised in the belief that one is either Norwegian or not Norwegian, as Kramer says, with no possible multicultural gradations, then is this not a reflection of the Scandinavian worldview as it developed over hundreds of years? If Lindow is correct about the blurring of Otherness in the historic Scandinavian worldview, then it becomes evident that no possible compromise can exist since a plurality of cultural identity would be conterminous with the supranormal, a situation which will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter. Of course, it could be argued that it is a giant leap from Lindow's analysis of an archaic worldview to the modern Scandinavian conception of the world, but it must be remembered that modernization came late to Norway; it is perhaps not surprising, as Tord Larsen asserts, that Norwegians are not yet comfortable living in the city (Larsen 1984, 36-37).28 Urban Norwegians have brought the rural to town, and can they not have brought a rural worldview as well? A world-view is shaped by so many factors; is it so easily reformulated by industrialization and urbanization?29

But what do the Scandinavian worldview of the Other, the difficulties of assimilation of contemporary immigrants to Norway, and a contemporary Norwegian either/or reaction to ethnicity have to do with the cultural work of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn ? I would suggest that the blurring of the supernatural Other with the ethnic Other as represented in "The Gypsies" and "A Wise Woman," and to a lesser extent in other of the huldreeventyr, more or less accurately illustrates the prevailing Norwegian worldview of ethnic minorities at mid-nineteenth century; and that this portrayal, when committed to print, helped to legitimize this worldview for the generation of Norwegians who were forming the new Norwegian national identity. It has been noted that Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn has not been considered a creative literary text, despite its obvious literary characteristics. If "the literary and philosophical canons … cannot tolerate pluralism" (Jusdanis, 58), then these liminal characters, the Gypsies of "A Wise Woman" and "The Gypsies," with their blurred identities, were as truly marginalized out of a literary canon that demanded the homogenous as they were out of the society that they moved through, wandering from place to place, as demonized in life as they were in the pages of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn.

  1. Of course the huldreeventyr contain plenty of women folk narrators, but they are all people whom an urbane story collector could be expected to meet more or less naturally. If Asbjørnsen cannot conceive of a plausible meeting between his frame narrator and the Gypsy wise woman, neither will he place him in the roadside tavern with the drunken card players of "The Lumber Haulers." Undoubtedly a wise decision! I will not use the usual translation of signekjerring as "witch" in this discussion, since it is not an accurate translation; but since the more accurate meaning of "a woman who heals with magic and incantations," is too cumbersome, I will use "wise woman." A witch in Norwegian is "heks."
  2. There has been some discussion about whether the Norwegian term tater is an ethnic designation or simply a derogatory designation attached to a poor and itinerant segment of the population. See Bengt af Klintberg's review of Kvideland and Sehmsdorf's Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend (Journal of American Folklore 103) in which Klintberg cautions against assuming that the term tatere in general refers to Gypsies. With some trepidation, I insist that in the stories "A Wise Woman" and "The Gypsies," Asbjørnsen was indeed discussing the ethnic Other, based on the physical descriptions of his characters. See also Eilert Sundt's Beretning om fante-eller landstrygerfolket i Norge [An Account of the Gypsy- or Tramp-Populace in Norway] in which Sundt gives the conflicting meanings of the word fant and also distinguishes, based upon conversations with actual Gypsies, between storvandringer, who claimed a foreign origin and the smaavandringer, who simply were itinerant workers of one kind or another. Sundt seems to use fant and tater more or less interchangeably. The epigraph to this chapter is from this work.
  3. Et stykke fra bygdeveien i en av de mellemste egner av Gudbrandsdalen lå det for noen år siden en hytte på en haug—Kanskje den ligger der ennu. Det var et mildt aprilvær utenfor; sneen smeltet; bekker bruste ned igjennem alle lier, marken begynte å bli bar; trostene skjentes i skogen; alle lunder var fulle av fuglekvitter, kort det tegnet til en tidlig vår … Inne i den røkfulle sperrestue var det uhyggelig og skummelt. En middelaldrende bondekone av et meget alminnelig og innskrenket utseende var i ferd med å puste ild i noen grener og rå trestykker, hun hadde lagt under kaffegryten på den lave skorsten.
  4. Why early baptism should lead to death is not entirely clear from Grøn's text; but in the particularly harsh winter of 1755, all thirty infants born in Volda died, evidently because they were taken out in the cold conditions to be baptized in church.
  5. "Folk sier det nytter ikke med denne støypinga, for barnet har ikke svekk, sier de, men er en bytting; der var en skinnfellmaker her om dagen og han sa det samme, for da han var liten, hadde han sett en bytting ute i Ringebu, og den var så blaut i kroppen og så lealaus som denne."
  6. Den hun henvendte sin tale til, var et sværlemmet fruentimmer, der syntes å nærme seg de seksti. Hun var usedvanlig høy av vekst;;men mens hun satt, syntes hun kun liten, og denne egenhet hadde hun å takke for, at man til hennes navn, Gubjør, hadde føyet økenavnet Langelår. I det taterfølge hun hadde flakket om med, førte hun andre navn. Grå hår stakk frem under skautet, der omgav et mørkt ansikt med buskede bryn og en lang ved roten bulket nese. Det opprinnelig innskrenkede, som antydedes ved en lav panne og ved ansiktets bredde over kinnbenene, stod i motsetning til det umiskjennelige uttrykk av list i hennes små, spillende øyne og til den inkarnerte bondefulhet, der utpreget seg i rynker og muskelspill. Hennes kledning betegnet henne som utvandrer fra et nordligere bygdelag; hennes ansikt og hele fremtreden antydet signekjerringen, eller i det minste den omstreifende, efter omstendighetene snart frekke og uforskammede, snart ydmyke og smiskende fantekjerring.
  7. Liestøl notes that in nineteenth-century Norwegian literature, the word "Finn" can usually be considered synonymous with "Lapp" or "Sami" (Liestøl, notes to A 2: 352).
  8. "… jeg skjønner meg på byttinger, for jeg har sett nok av dem."
  9. "dette barnet er ikke mer en bytting, enn jeg er bytting."
  10. "Til dokteren? Tvi!" sa signekjerringen og spyttet … "nei, gå til dokteren for slikt et barn, som har svekk, det skulle vel Fanden."
  11. Casting involved dripping molten lead into cold water and then "reading" and interpreting the figures that were formed.
  12. "Barnet har svekk, men der er ni slag svekk i verden. Ja, ja, det har jeg sagt deg, og du såg jo det, at han hadde vært ute både for trollsvekk og vassvekk; for den første torsdagen så blei det en mann med to store horn og ei lang rumpe. Det var trollsvekk. Sist så blei det ei havfrue. Ja, du såg den jo så skjellig, som den var skildra. Det var vassvekken. Men nå er det torsdag igjen, og nå spørs det hva det blir, når vi støyper nå. Det er den tredje gangen det kommer an på, måvite. Der har du barnet," sa hun, og rakte det til konen, "La meg nå få i meg denne kaffedråpen, så skal jeg til."
  13. "Sia sist torsdag," sa hun, "har jeg vært i sju kjerkesogn og skrapt vindusbly av kjerkevinduene ved natteleite; for det blei forbi med kjerkeblyet den gangen. Det kan leite på både sjel og kropp," mumlet hun hen for seg, mens hun av snushornet rystet ut i støpeskjeen noe av det efter sigende så møysomt innsamlede bly. "Du har vel henta nordenrennendes vatn høgstnattes?" spurte hun videre. "Ja, jeg var ved kvernbekken i gårnatt; det er det eneste vatn, som et nordrennendes på lang lei," svarte husmannskonen og tok frem et veltillukket spann, hvorav hun helte vannet i en ølbolle. Over denne ble lagt en byggbrødleiv, som der med en stoppenål var boret hull i. Da blyet var smeltet, gikk Gubjør hen i døren, så opp på solen, tok derpå støpeskjeen og helte det smelt-ede bly gjennem hullet langsomt ned i vannet, mens hun mumlet noen ord derover.
  14. "Liksvekk, liksvekk!—først trollsvekk, så vassvekk, så liksvekk. En av dem kunne vært nok!"… "Ja, nå ser jeg, hvorledes det er gått til," vedble hun høyt og vendte seg til konen i huset: "Først har I reist gjennom en skog og forbi et berg, mens trolla var lause; der sa du Jesu navn. Så kom I over et vatn; der sa du også Jesu navn over barnet; men da du kom forbi kjerkegarden, var det før hanegal, så glømte du det, og her fanga barnet liksvekk."
  15. "der spørs etter arvesølv. Har du arvesølv?"… "når det gjelder liv, så…"
  16. "Skal barnet dø, før lauvet faller, så ser du bare svart, og ikke anna enn svart." Liestøl explains that from earliest times there was considered to be a special relationship between the eyes and life, and that impending death could be seen in the eyes (Liestøl, notes to A 2: 339).
  17. Under denne fortelling viste der seg hos husmoren de umiskjenneligste tegn på engstelse. Mot slutningen ble de så påfallende, at selv fortellersken, der syntes å være grepet av sin egen fremstilling, ble oppmerksom derpå. "Hvad er på ferde?" spurte signekjerringen. "Å, det er mannen, som kommer" vedble hun med et blikk ut av døren og tilføyet høytidelig: "det er ikke blivendes for hun Gubjør ved pallen din; men vær ikke bange, mor; jeg skal gå nedenom kjerkegarden, så ser han meg ikke."
  18. Kort efter kom Manden. Han tørrede Sveden af Panden med Trøieærmet, saa sig forskende om i Stuen, og fulgte med Øinene Konen, der forlegen gav sig noget at bestille ved Skorstenen; dernæst syntes Støbeskeen, som var bleven liggende under Bordet, at tiltrække sig hans Opmærksomhed. "Har du Noget Mad, Kjærring?" spurgte han. "Aa, Gud hjælpe mig," svarede Konen, "jeg havde stegt lidt Flæsk; men det stjal denne Tyvekatten, mens jeg stelte Ungen." "Skulde En hørt saa galt," sagde Manden, "Flæsk til Fattigmandskost om Thorsdagen? Takke Gud, En kan faae det til Helgekost! Nei, det er vel gaaet med i Sørpen til Gubjør Langelaar; jeg syntes jeg saa det ene af de lange Benene hendes bag om Kirkemuren. Ja, jeg kunde tænke det, hun skulde komme igjen med Støbningen sin; men det siger jeg dig, at kommer hun igjen engang til, saa skal jeg see om jeg kan faae støbt hende ind i et Hul med Jernsprinkler for! Aa, dig Kjærring, dig skal jeg ogsaa tale lidt anderledes med!" The man threatens to report Gubjør for quackery, which was forbidden from an ordinance of 1794. See Olav Bø's article on wise women and country doctors in vol. 5 of Norges kulturhistorie for an enlightening overview of the medical situation in Norway of the nineteenth century. Considering the primitive state of knowledge and lack of doctors, it was perhaps not surprising that the people relied on age-old folk medicines.
  19. Liestøl explains that Asbjørnsen was, of course, very interested in zoology and had heard the Swedish anthropologist Anders Adolph Retzius speak at a conference in Christiania in 1844. Retzius was the first to distinguish between "long" and "short" skull types. There was great interest in phrenology at this time.
  20. I krokens halvskygge på den innerste seng eller bås av barakken lå en mann henstrakt på en skinnfell. Bak den lave panne, som han støttet mot en av muskelfylde svulmende håret arm, ferdedes tanker, hvis skygger svevet over et ansikt, like så mørkt som den sotete vegg, og hvis lyn glimtet frem i blikk så stikkende, stirrende og skumle, at selv den sløve vaktkar ble uhyggelig til mote, når de hendelsesvis falt på ham. Men intet ord røpet, hva der veltet seg i hans indre. Hans strie kullsorte hår, skarpe trekk, det lange ansikt, hvis underdel nu var bedekket med et kort sort skjegg, og dette egne blikk viste, at han hørte til de omvankende tatere eller langfantene, som vår almue i noen egner av landet kaller dem. Hans skumle utseende hadde skaffet ham navnet Svarte-Bertel. Av profesjon var han hesteskjærer, men fusket også med forskjellig hell på å kurere hester. Den annen lot til å være av en mere sorgløs natur, og hadde en lysere hudfarve; men taterstammens lave panne, skarpe ansikt, dyptliggende øyne og dette ubeskrivelige, på en gang utforskende, fikserende, stikkende blikk med dets uhyggelige fosforglans, utmerket også ham.
  21. Of course Asbjørnsen and Sundt would later become the main antagonists in the famous "porridge war" which was waged in the newspapers. Asbjørnsen, who had written a cookbook under a pseudonym, insisted that the Norwegian peasant women made porridge in an inefficient manner while Sundt took the part of the housewives and insisted that they did not. Sundt was later proven to be correct.
  22. The Gypsies evidently took advantage of the farmer's fear of this creature, which was supposed to be the familiar of witches. The troll-cat would steal milk from the farmer. See Bente Alver's Heksetro og Trolddom for a discussion of troll cats. Asbjørnsen includes a long footnote explaining how the Gypsies fool the un-suspecting farmer. First, the Gypsy poisons the cattle and buries the troll-cat, made of a bladder filled with red water surrounded by a cat-skin and including some kind of mechanism, in the barn. The next day, when the cattle are sick, the Gypsy appears and offers to cure the animals. This is done by digging up the troll-cat and chasing it from the barn. The Gypsy then gives the cows an antidote to the poison, unobserved by the farmer. The Norwegian novelist Johan Bojer writes of the troll-cat: "But the troll cat still lives. I remember that in 1914, when I was a lieutenant at Agdaness fortress, which is on the Tröndelagen seacoast, one day the housewives with whom my men were quartered resolved to raise the rent. Since the soldiers received only a few öre a day, and I could not see where the additional sums were coming from, I opposed the scheme. This naturally angered the women, and they warned me that I would regret it. And to be sure I was laid up in bed for the next three days with the very ailment that the troll cat is said to put upon one. The next time I marched by with my platoon, there stood a woman in each doorway, delightedly shouting, 'So you got what was coming to you!' There was not a doubt in their minds that one of them had got vengeance by setting a troll cat on me" (Bojer 1929, 724-725).
  23. "Onde naboer har utsendt en trolldomsmaskan for å suge marg og blod av kuene dine," sa jeg, "det ser jeg; men får jeg råde, skal jeg vise den fram, og jeg skal hjelpe deg, så at den ikke får makt til å forderve fler." "Kan du det, min gode kone, skal jeg betale deg rundelig, og mat og klær skal du få attpå," sa bonden—"Følg med i fehuset, så skal jeg vise den, som suger blod og bryter bein," sa jeg til bonden; "men ta med hakke og spade." Han tok hakke og spade, og kona til bonden gikk etter han som en hund. "Jeg har aldri vært her," sa jeg, "men jeg værer godt og kjenner skjulte ting; gå til den svarte og kvite kua," sa jeg.—"Her er gravd før," sa bonden.—"Grav igjen!" sa jeg; "det som er skjult skal åpenbares." "Mannen grov, og best han grov, sprang der fram av båsen en katt og bort over golvet og skreik så fælt. I det samme gnistra det om øyene både på bonden og på kona hans som eld og luer." Her nikket hun betydningsfullt til tilhørerne og satte en hemmelighets-full mine opp … "For det fikk jeg kaffe og tobakk, ullent og linnet, flesk og spekemat, seks sølvskeier og mange penger."
  24. And how many enlightened citizens of the twenty-first century still may go out of their way to avoid walking under a ladder? It must also be mentioned that the short excerpts from Eilert Sundt's work cited here should not lead the reader to believe that Sundt found the Gypsies totally culpable for their sometimes sorry treatment by the peasants. Sundt was just as likely to see the Gypsy as a victim of the society as he was to see him as a villain or a scapegoat. In all of his writings, Sundt does not allow his previous assumptions to interfere with later conclusions if changes are warranted.
  25. "Der var en fut nord i dalen, han var så grovt ugudelig, at han ikke vørte hva han gjorde; men han fekk en urolig død. Når der ikke var folk i likstua, låg han stille; men når der kom folk inn, stod den døde mannen opp og tok dem i handa og takka for sist. Da han skulle begraves, satte de han i likkjelleren under kjerkegolvet. Nå var han rolig ei stund, men rett som det var, tok han til å spøke hver evige natt. En dag kom der en skomaker til en av gardene ved kjerka; han trudde ikke på spøkeriet, men vedda han skulle sitte på kjerkegolvet ved sida likkista ei heil natt og sy et par sko. De satte imot på det. Kista tok de opp av kjelleren, og skomakeren satte seg på golvet; men først kritta han en ring om seg. Da det leid ut på natta, kom sjølve Fanden flygende, reiv lokket av kista, slo hue av futen og flådde skinnet av han. Det dreiv han på med så hardt, at han ikke sanste skomakeren, som drog huden inn i ringen, ettersom Fanden fikk den av futen, og da det siste holdet slapp, drog han den til seg heil og holden. Da Fanden skulle ta den, kunne han ikke for ringen. Da blei han så arg og sint, som om han ville verpe både mord og brann, og han streik og bante, han ville ha igjen futeskinnet. 'Du får den ikke,' sa skomakeren. 'Men hva fanden vil du med skarvehuden?' spurte Fanden. 'Jeg vil barke den og gjøre sko av,' sa skomakeren."
  26. Innen en time var førløpet, følte vaktkaren seg betatt av en uimotståelig tyngde og døsighet. Ilden ble svakere og svakere; til sist glødet den kun i levningene av den store tyrirot, hvis harpiksaktige deler undertiden utsendte en oppblussende flamme, som for et øyeblikk kastet et mørkerødt lys over taternes lurende ansikter. Endelig forkynte vaktkarens tunge åndedrag og dype snorken, at han ikke kunne legge noen hindring i veien for deres flukt.
  27. Dog er der et spor av signekjerringen Gubjør Langelår. Forrige høst fant en renskytte, der forfulgte et skadeskutt dyr i en avsides bott oppe i Illmannshøen, hvorfra man ser nord over til Rondenes ville topper, levninger av et menneskelig skjelett som jerv og fjellrakk hadde søndergnaget. Mellem stenene lå et kobbersnushorn, fylt med småskåret bly. Dessuten fantes der et sammenrullet tanngjerde av en rokke, noen skaller av en venus og forskjellige andre sjødyr—rakerier, som ingen i dalen hadde sett eller kjente hensikten og bruken av, men som taterne anvender i sin ragusta—samt noen små flasker, hvorav en inneholdt en brunlig eller gullrød væske, der efter distriktslægens sigende var opium.
  28. Anne Cohen Kiel has written a fascinating account of the way many Norwegians behave on public transportation and in crowds. See "Confessions of an Angry Commuter: Or Learning How to Communicate the Non-Communicating Way" in Continuity and Change: Aspects of Contemporary Norway.
  29. Nina Witoszek in Norske naturmytologier gives a convincing argument that the Norwegian worldview rests on a holistic cosmology and relationship to nature which still exists.
Works Cited and Consulted

Alver, Bente Gullveig. 1971. Heksetro og trolddom. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Arens, Ilmar, and Bengt af Klintberg. 1979. "Bortbytingssägner i en gotländsk dombok från 1690." In Rig 62: 89-97.

Asbjørnsen, Peter Christen. 1845. Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn. 1st collection. Christiania: W. T. Fabritius.

——. [1870] 1949. Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn. Edited and with an introduction and notes by Knut Liestøl. 2 vols. Oslo: Tanum.

Bø, Olav. 1980. "Folkemedisinen: signekjerringar og bygdedokterar." In Brytningsår-blomstringstid. Vol. 5 of Norges kulturhistorie. Edited by Ingrid Semmingsen, Nina Karin Monsen, Stephan Tschudi-Madsen, and Yngvar Ustvedt. Oslo: H. Aschehoug and Co. (W. Nygaard).

Gilman, Sander L. 1985. Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Jusdanis, Gregory. 1991. Belated Modernity and Aesthetic Culture: Inventing National Literature. Theory and History of Literature Series, no. 81. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kiel, Anne Cohen. 1993. "Confessions of an Angry Commuter: or Learning How to Communicate the Non-Communicating Way." In Continuity and Change: Aspects of Contemporary Norway. Edited by Anne Cohen Kiel. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Klintberg, Bengt af. 1990. Review of Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend, edited by Reimund Kvideland and Henning Sehmsdorf. In Journal of American Folklore 103: 232-233.

Kramer, Julian. 1984. "Norsk identitet: et produkt av underutvikling og stammetilhørighet." In Den norske væremåten. Edited by Arne Martin Klausen. Oslo: J. W. Cappelens Forlag.

Larsen, Tord. 1984. "Bønder i byen—på jakt etter den norske konfigurasjon." In Den norske væremåten. Edited by Arne Martin Klausen. Oslo: J. W. Cappelens Forlag.

Lindow, John. 1995. "Supernatural Others and Ethnic Others: A Millenium of World View." In Scandinavian Studies 67: 8-31.

Reichborn-Kjennerud, I., Fr. Grøn, and I. Kobro. 1936. Medisinens historie i Norge. Oslo: Grøndahl and Søns Forlag.

Sundt, Eilert. 1852. Beretning om fante-eller landstrygerfolket i Norge. Christiania: Abelsted.

Witoszek, Nina. 1998. Norske naturmytologier: Fra Edda til økofilosofi. Oslo: Pax Forlag A/S.

Marte Hvam Hult (essay date 2003)

SOURCE: Hult, Marte Hvam. "Spirits of the Woods, Fields, and Mountains: The Tradition Content of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn. "In Framing a National Narrative: The Legend Collections of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, pp. 141-65. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

[In the following essay, Hult contends that the "study of the human/Other relationships" in Asbjørnsen and Moe's Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn "may very well offer an insight into the ongoing process of Norwegian self identification."]

Legend as a Reflection of Worldview

If the boundary between the ethnic and the supernatural Other is blurred in stories such as "The Gypsies" and "A Wise Woman," the majority of the stories in Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn do not deal with Gypsies or Finns, but with the supernatural, and here, also, the line is often difficult to draw and difficult to keep. "Every ethnic group defines itself by positioning itself in opposition to an Other which, in turn, is always attributed nonhuman characteristics" (Tangherlini 1995, 60). The negotiation of this boundary between the insider group and the Other is the primary theme of the stories of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn, and it is a negotiation that is fraught with ambiguity. A study of the human/Other relationships in some of the stories may very well offer an insight into the ongoing process of Norwegian self identification because it is probable that the egalitarian worldview of contemporary Norwegian society, with its roots in a long non-hierarchical tradition, may itself contribute to that society's difficulty in self-definition.

When one considers the vast array of possible legendary material which Asbjørnsen could have incorporated within the repertoires of the fictive storytellers in huldreeventyr, it may be enlightening to briefly survey the types of legendary material he chose not to include, since such a comparison offers an illustration of the very different focus of this text compared to many nineteenth-century legend collections. Rather than recovering the splendor of an heroic past, Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn examines the negotiation of identity in a more prosaic present.

Legends have traditionally been subdivided by folklorists for purposes of classification into categories of mythical, historical, and etiological, but these are by no means hard and fast divisions. In fact, legends have been "one of the most difficult" genres to define (Kvideland and Sehmsdorf 1988, 18). Often, the belief factor is cited as an identifying element of legend: legends are supposedly believed to be true by either the teller and/or part or all of the audience. In his introduction to Folktales of Norway Reidar Christiansen divides the Norwegian legends into only two subcategories, the historical and the mythical. It is intriguing to realize that one can search the huldreeventyr in vain for any example of the vast corpus of legends which Christiansen terms historical, those concerning St. Olaf, Norway's patron saint, or any of the legend cycles that describe the ravages of the Black Death of the fourteenth century. Missing also are the popular stories about Sinclair, the mercenary Scot whose troops were killed by the legendary exploits of the brave Gudbrandsdal farmers during the Kalmar War of 1611 to 1613, or, for that matter, legends of war of any kind. Since it is unlikely that Asbjørnsen would have failed to collect such legends on one or more of his numerous collecting trips throughout a long life, it becomes clear that in Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn, as the title indicates, Asbjørnsen consciously and consistently selected those tales which Christiansen would term mythical legends, those dealing with human encounters with the inexplicable, legends in which "non-human elements play a decisive part" (Christiansen 1964, xxiv. Trans. Pat Shaw Iversen). Included in this category must be the dozen stories dealing with the trollkjerring, in which human becomes the Other. In addition to his omission of historical legend within the stories of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn, Asbjørnsen also omitted two huldreeventyr from the 1870 edition, the last which he personally edited; these omissions have been perpetuated in later editions of the work up to and including the definitive 1949 edition edited by Knut Liestøl. Asbjørnsen felt that "A Forest Valley in Western Norway," which was first published in 1869, was artistically weak. "A Christmas Visit to the Parsonage" appeared in the second edition of the first collection in 1859, but because it was still his intention to write an overview of the folk beliefs of the people, Asbjørnsen omitted this story in its original form from the 1870 edition because it "really contains more reflections over legends and fairy tales than actually recounts them" (Asbjørnsen 1870, iii). Two narratives which were originally part of "A Christmas Visit to the Parson-age," "The Goblins on Sandflesen," and "Trolling for Mackerel" appeared as independent huldreeventyr in the 1870, and subsequent, editions.

By his almost exclusive selection of legends dealing with the human encounter with spirits of the woods, fields and mountains, and by his technique of casting these stories into a contemporary milieu, Asbjørnsen was creating a picture of the mid-nineteenth-century Norwegian peasant that was far from flattering, not at all historical, and out of step with romanticism's infatuation with great deeds of antiquity. While Asbjørnsen was certainly not consciously trying to create a national narrative in our modern sense of the term, as explicated by Jusdanis and others, he was elucidating for the educated how very far many rural Norwegians had to progress before they could take their place in a modern society. Although he was primarily interested in the legends for their own sake, he was very much aware of the scope of the problem that those who wished to "enlighten" the peasant would face and was throughout his life concerned by the tenacious hold that the old beliefs continued to exert among the almue. Even as late as 1874 he would lament that lives were being lost because "people mistake the cries for help of a drowning man for the alluring, deadly call of the nøkk and the draug" (Asbjørnsen 1874).1 His hope was that the publication of the folk beliefs within the legends of huldreeventyr would help lead to eradication of beliefs and practices that were injurious to the people.

The legends Asbjørnsen retells in his text belong mostly to an agrarian population struggling to define the boundaries between the inner and outer realms, the self and the Other. A history of past greatness or events, as might be fitting in construction of a national narrative in Germany or Sweden, could not define identity for the Norwegian on several grounds, primarily because true political independence was not yet a reality. Could not this colonial consciousness in some respects have forced the nineteenth-century Norwegian to identify himself by what he was not, rather than by what he was? It should be remembered that the Norwegian constitution of 1814, which did give more autonomy to Norway in her union with Sweden than she had had under Danish rule, still expressly forbade certain religious groups in Norway: "§ 2. The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State. The inhabitants professing it are bound to bring up their children in the same. Jesuits and Monastic Orders must not be tolerated. Jews are still excluded from admission to the Realm" (Andenæs 1989, 125. Trans. Ronald Walford).2

Perhaps it is not surprising that a colonial population with such a terror of others' beliefs would have to begin its own self-construction of an identity with an attempt to clarify its relationships with the metaphysical, with an evaluation of its worldview, and with an evaluation of its position with respect to the Other. I would suggest that the modern egalitarian, non-hierarchical nature of Norwegian society can at least partly be traced back to this nineteenth-century society, which had little to define itself against. After all, if Jews and Jesuits are not allowed and ethnic minorities are marginalized into a shadowy quasi-supernatural realm, then it is easy to see how the ubiquitous tenets of the "Jante Law" could have been codified as a type of societal "Ten Commandments" of identity (or lack thereof).3

But, in fact, the Norwegian bonde had been negotiating the boundary between self and Other for hundreds of years, and his folklore is a reflection of that ongoing process. It is my premise that the line between human and Other has always been difficult to determine in Scandinavian tradition, as is evident from the numerous examples of complicated shape-shifting, human/Gods interactions, and returns from the dead that are staples of Scandinavian mythology, and that this very ambiguity with respect to identity, in which the humanlike huldrefolk (so difficult to recognize) came to represent the ambiguity of Otherness, has evolved into a modern worldview which still struggles with identity.4

Since the folkloristic content of the stories in Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn reflects a nineteenth century representation of how that worldview interpreted events of the inexplicable, a study of this content will reveal not only how the mid-century peasants viewed the Other, but also how they viewed themselves. In this scrutiny of the traditional material of the narratives, the schism between the constructed, idealized picture to be presented by the Norwegian literary canon of the proud and independent bonde, as typified by the work of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and the representation of huldreeventyr, where the belief systems of this bonde are consciously critically evaluated and mediated by the frame narrator, should become even more evident.

It would certainly be possible to identify the traditional stories told by the folk narrators of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn by their tale type or motif index, as developed by Aarni/Thompson, and for the Norwegian migratory legends, by Reidar Christiansen, and many studies of Scandinavian texts which deal with traditional materials take precisely this structuralist approach; classifying by tale or motif type can be a helpful tool, however: "Without a clear understanding of the literary context in which these motifs function, such listings remain empty bits of information" (Bottigheimer 1987, x). If one agrees that Asbjørnsen was recreating narratives which reflected a worldview prevalent at his time, then a more useful approach would seem to be one in which the legendary material is examined to determine the integration of legend into the daily lives of the people to whom the folklore belonged.5 Simply, why and how were these legends useful for the people who told them and listened to them? Reidar Christiansen echoes two of William Bascom's classic "four functions of folklore" elements when he writes about mythical legends. "They were told not as entertainment but as constantly renewed proof of the necessity not to deviate from the traditional code of behavior" (Christiansen, xxxv. Trans. Iversen). If this is so, which traditional codes of behavior did the legends reinforce for the mid-nineteenth-century Norwegian?6

While it could legitimately be argued that it is not possible to determine the content or function of the legendary material in Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn precisely because Asbjørnsen recast the materials within a literary frame, it must be remembered that any telling or rendition of an oral narrative is simply one rendition, which will nevertheless conform to the basic skeletal structure of the story, the tale-type. Asbjørnsen, for example, however he may have embellished the style of a legend, or fused variants together for a better story, would never have changed a nisse to a hulder. "Folk narratives tend to exist in multiple versions" (Oring 1986, 123) and therefore a study of the manner in which Asbjørnsen utilizes the traditional material he collected can also reveal a great deal about the attitude of a representative of his station towards the almue. In the descriptions of the human interaction with the Other as recorded in huldreeventyr, it should be possible to isolate elements of a worldview, and while few would disagree with Lauri Honko's assertion that "tales cannot be used as primary material for the study of folk beliefs" (Honko 1989a, 105), it should nevertheless not be necessary, paraphrasing an old saying, to throw the changeling out with the bath water! Stories are remembered and told for a reason or reasons, and since legends change in response to history,7 then the legendary material within Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn represents tradition that was current in the mid-nineteenth century, and will reflect, if not a unified worldview, at least elements of an orientation to the world that can be studied both through the traditional material itself and through Asbjørnsen's use of it.

Who Tells the Stories?
Do Class and Gender Matter?

In his article on supernatural and ethnic others, which was cited earlier, John Lindow concludes that, in Scandinavian legend tradition, "two of the major factors of intellectual discourse of the last century, class and gender, were apparently not much of an issue." Lindow continues:

I cannot see that the supernatural beings or ethnic others of Scandinavian rural legend tradition or folk belief highlighted their social class or a class system or showed any particular interest in gender roles. This is not to say that these matters were not at issue. As Bengt Holbek verified (1987), they were probably central to fairy tales. How then could they be so absent from the emblems of identity? The reasoning followed here would suggest that crofters and peasants, day laborers and housewives, found in their situations more in common than in contrast. Only in the psychologically more expressive form of the fairy tale could they ventilate their differences.

(Lindow, 27-28)

Could Lindow's conclusions apply to the stories of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn as well? Most of the huldreeventyr contain more than one legend, many contain three, four, or more. Since the narratives are retold by internal folk narrators, fragments also appear occasionally, much as in real storytelling situations, in which members of an audience may already be familiar with a story and only require hearing certain parts. As Kvideland and Sehmsdorf point out:

Legends and folk beliefs were shared by everyone and were told and talked about under many different circumstances as an integral part of everyday life. This meant that stories were usually referred to or told only in an abbreviated form—everybody knew what they were all about.… It is often said that the legend has a firm, stereotyped form, but in fact the complete form is transmitted only in certain situations, for example, when the legend is told to someone who is not familiar with it, as mentioned earlier. More often the legend is referred to only summarily. According to Linda Dégh, the recital of the legend usually takes the form of a conversation.

(Kvideland and Sehmsdorf 1988, 14, 18)

But because Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn is a literary text, by far the largest number of legends in the stories are complete narratives, with a beginning, middle, and end. They are told by the created oral informant for the outsider, the frame narrator. Based on this criterion of a beginning, middle, and end, the twenty-seven huldreeventyr contain 117 distinct narratives, and when these narratives are examined based on selected criteria, several patterns emerge and questions of class and gender can be addressed.8

When he created the frames for the stories he had collected, Asbjørnsen selected characters and a milieu that would correspond to the type of legendary material that was being presented. Lauri Honko writes that

tradition is not maintained by individuals but by social roles. The tradition of a fisherman is different from that of a cattle breeder; in learning a profession or role, people also learn the supernatural tradition connected with it. The same individual can occupy several social positions and roles, but only one is active at a time while others remain latent. Similarly a person can know various kinds of supernatural traditions, but the tradition that comes to mind in a situation is determined by his or her active role at the moment.

(Honko 1989a, 105-106)

Asbjørnsen created folk narrators to tell the stories in the context in which they would be told naturally, and because the majority of the frame narrator's experiences take place in the world of the Norwegian countryside, in a masculine world of hunting, fishing, and outdoor life, it is not surprising to find that the majority of the folk narrators Asbjørnsen created are male. Of the 117 narratives studied, eighty-five (seventy-three percent) are told by male folk narrators, and the protagonists of these stories are also overwhelmingly male. Do male folk narrators tell stories about male protagonists? Of the eighty-five stories told by male folk narrators, eighty-six percent deal primarily with male protagonists. Male folk narrators tell only seven stories with a female protagonist.9 Of the twenty-seven stories told by female folk narrators, seventeen are about female main characters, while ten are about men. These are only statistics and do not in and of themselves offer any interpretive information because many of the stories, as previously indicated, take place primarily in the traditionally male-dominated environment of hunting and fishing. When stories are given an indoor setting, there is more likelihood of a female narrator. Some stories, such as "A Wise Woman" and "Berthe Tuppenhaug's Stories" include only female folk narrators. Legend shows that the woman's sphere is often, although not exclusively, in the private realm of the home. But what is of more interest is the relationship, or lack of one, between Asbjørnsen's created folk informants and the original source material, either oral or written, and the interrelationships between the human and the Other as reflected in the legends.

In his notes to huldreeventyr Knut Liestøl often discusses the provenance of legends included in each story, particularly if there is a question about the origin or if the legend is a compilation of several variants, which is sometimes the case. Liestøl's notes show that Asbjørnsen did not seem to be overly concerned with gender differentiation when creating his folk informants. The story "Legends of the Mill," contains three legends, all of which are narrated by male folk narrators. One of these legends, the story about a miller who defeats a mill spirit who has stopped his waterwheel by throwing hot pitch and tar into its mouth, is actually derived from a printed version which appeared in Andreas Faye's collection of Norwegian legends in 1833, while the second and third legends were told to Asbjørnsen by, respectively, "a girl from Drammen" and Camilla Collett. The story of a witch's daughter forced to demonstrate her dark powers by a Gudbrandsdal minister, related by the gravedigger in "The Gravedigger's Stories" was actually one that Asbjørnsen had heard from his mother, and the last legend in "A Summer Night in the Krok Forest," about a man who had been to the Bærum plant to pick up an enormous iron griddle, told by a lumberjack in the story, was transmitted to Asbjørnsen in one variant by Jørgen Moe's sister, Maren. Liestøl relates that Asbjørnsen was never able to record it exactly as she told it because "before she got halfway through the story, he was laughing so hard that he lost both the pen and the paper" (Liestøl, notes to A 2: 349). Lest one believe that Asbjørnsen was in some way deliberately marginalizing the women in his stories, or "silencing" the female voice, there is also an example of a story in "From the Mountains and the Dairies" that Asbjørnsen places in the mouth of Brit, a milkmaid, although he actually heard the tale from a Jakob Pladsen Brække (Liestø, notes to A 1: 261). Examples abound of legends which Asbjørnsen heard from male informants that he attributes to different fictional male characters in the text. There are also other examples of legends that Asbjørnsen may have read in various written renditions, including one that appears in a play by Holberg (255). If Asbjørnsen was not particular about changing the gender of the storytellers, neither did he care much about class differences so far as the chain of transmission of the legends was concerned, so long as they had ultimately originated with the broad and encompassing "folk." While the overwhelming number of legends in Asbjørnsen's literary text are told by folk narrators of the working classes—although even this term hardly seems appropriate to a pre-industrial society such as Norway was—some of the legends were actually told or sent to Asbjørnsen by friends in the same literary circles as himself. What seems evident is that Asbjørnsen was primarily concerned with creating a plausible performance context for the legends he was preserving and creating a literary unity within each huldreeventyr; he was not particularly interested in class or gender issues except for the very clear contrast between the frame narrator and the folk narrators, a division that was actually based more on educational differences than on economic factors.10 Does the folklore itself reflect a similar disinterest in class and gender?

"May God Help Us, It 's the Pixie!"

If the crofters and peasants, day laborers and housewives, of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn found more in common than in contrast in their lives, it may have been because they were conscious of inhabiting one side of a sort of parallel universe with the folkloristic creatures of the Norwegian woods, fields, and mountains, the huldre, nisser and underjordiske inhabiting the other side. In his introduction to Folktales of Norway, Reidar Christiansen gives concise and helpful background information on the Norwegian "invisible" folk. Some of his observations may be helpful in understanding the various types of supernatural entities with which the people of huldreeventyr have to contend.

Christiansen explains that the legends which deal with man and unseen powers comprise the largest number of legends recorded in Norway and continues:

Some kind of systematic arrangement is necessary for a survey of this mass of legends, and usually these beings—the term spirits may be misleading, as there is very little that is spiritual about them—are grouped according to the sphere of their activities, as spirits of the sea, of the air, of the hills and wilderness, and household spirits. An arrangement of this kind is similar to a zoologist's classification of animals, but does not take into sufficient account the fluidity, the interchange, of stories and motifs among these groups.… The classification of such "spirits" according to the sphere in which they operate is open to the qualification that the classes often overlap, so that one is left with the impression that all these beings belong to the same family. In the Norwegian tradition this family group is covered by the term huldre-folk, meaning the "hidden people." Equally common is the term underjordiske, meaning "those under the ground." They are also called hauge-folk, "people of the mounds, berg-folk"… meaning "people of the hills" and by other names as well.

(Christiansen 1964, xxix, xxxiii. Christiansen's italics. Trans. Pat Shaw Iversen)

Although he stresses that there never was a systemization of beliefs, Christiansen also discusses the various theories of origin of these "invisible ones" such as that they

were the children of Adam and his first wife or they were the children of Eve. Once, when our Lord came to see her, after they had been driven out of Eden, she had only washed some of her children. She hid the rest away. Our Lord knew this and decreed: "Those not revealed shall remain concealed." (huldre, from the verb hylja, meaning "to cover or conceal"). A third explanation is that they belonged to the party of angels that rebelled against our Lord and were driven out of Heaven. Some of them were not as bad as the rest and remained in the air between Heaven and Hell. Their ultimate salvation is an open question, but they are also said to have churches and clergymen of their own, and some of them are said to be so strict that they cannot stand to hear cursing or swearing.

(xxxviii. Trans. Iversen)

It is evident that these explanations are of relatively recent date, as Christianity arrived in Norway around the year 1000, and they do not resolve the ultimate origin of belief in the spirits of the woods, fields, and mountains. Christiansen resolves this dilemma nicely by stating that "the problem is very difficult; no attempt can be made here to enter upon this discussion" (xxxviii. Trans. Iversen). And, indeed, neither need it concern the present one since we are interested in the nineteenth-century Norwegian rather than his pagan ancestor.11 But one clue to the origin of the nineteenth-century view is clearly enunciated by Matthias in "Matthias the Hunter's Stories" when he responds to a question by the frame narrator regarding his belief in the underjordiske, "'Well shouldn't I believe what can be read in the Scriptures?' he answered. 'When Our Father cast out the fallen angels, some fell to Hell, but those who hadn't sinned as badly, they are in the air and under the ground and in the sea, I know. And besides, I have often both heard and seen such in the forests and fields'" (A 1:42). The belief in the underjordiske is, ironically enough, authorized and sanctified by the church!12 Complicating the cast of characters of the Otherworldly, or perhaps we should say under-worldly, inhabitants—is, as Christiansen notes, "the persistence of the ancient pagan conception of the nature of man. He is not conceived of as consisting of two elements, the one surviving on the destruction of the other, but remains himself, continuing in some way to live on and on, to remain live and active" (xxxviii. Trans Iversen). But in only a few legends of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn are humans confronted with these "living corpses." The men and women in Asbjørnsen's texts are much more likely to encounter a hulder or a nisse than they are ghosts. Who are the participants in these human versus Other encounters, and what are the outcomes of the interactions for both human actant and Other?

Of the 117 narratives told by the created folk informants in Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn, all but eleven deal with some type of encounter with either an underjordiske of one kind or another, a magical item belonging to an underjordiske, shape-changing animals and humans, or the "living corpse."13 Asbjørnsen, of course, was aware that all of these liminal creatures were called by various names throughout different parts of the country, and this is reflected in the stories. He makes no attempt to classify these beings at all, content to let the folk narrator simply tell the tale, using terms which would be used in the locale where the story is placed; hence, some tales will refer to underjordiske, others to haugfolk. Regardless of name, their situations are similar: they live under or in the stable, in a mountain, or under a farmhouse; they move with their livestock into the mountain dairies in the fall when the humans leave. They have, for the most part, a similar family structure as the human (except for the nisse, who lives alone in close proximity to people, either guarding the stable animals or making sure that proper schedules are kept in the house); they have parties and weddings and church services, reflecting the interests and occupations of the human as if in a mirror. But there is something "not quite right" about them. And, traditionally, they are normally unseen unless the human in some fashion violates their "space" or in some other way interferes with their activities, or, conversely, when the Other deliberately tries to lure the human into his world, for there is evidently nothing more desirable for the Other than a sexual relationship with the human, and the human in turn is often fatally attracted to the lures of the beautiful hulder.

As has been noted, the vast majority of the human beings who encounter the supernatural in the stories of huldreeventyr are the rural, relatively uneducated men of the fields and forests, workmen of all types. The creatures they encounter, however, are a more varied assortment. Gender designations of the Other are very specific in most instances. A nisse is always male, while the term hulder generally refers to a female. The devil and troll are male, but the trollkjerring is female. The underjordiske or haugfolk as a collective comprise both male and female members, and, in some cases, the human encounter is with an entire group of underjordiske, either on their way to a mountain pasture or a wedding. Sometimes the underjordiske are encountered inside the mountain or under the ground where they have their dwellings.

Fully a third of the encounters between the human and the Other in the 117 narratives of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn result in an escape from danger by the human, or no particular outcome at all; a man may see a hulder, or a milkmaid may see the nisse, but nothing happens, except for this human recognition that the Other has been in his/her midst. The recognition is not usually instantaneous. On the other hand, when harm of one kind or another is inflicted, the Other is equally as likely to be injured in some fashion by the encounter with the human as the human is to suffer at the hands of the Other. Usually the injury is of a minor nature; a person may be huldrin [driven half-witted] for a period of time, or a hulder may have her tail pulled off. In many cases, a symbiotic relationship seems to exist between the human and the Other, with benefit to both parties.

The truly serious consequences are visited upon the human-turned-Other: the witch or trollkjerring. Transgressing this boundary is one which must be severely punished, and this group of legends distinguishes itself by the dire consequences faced by the trollkjerring when her true identity is made known.14 It is evident that these stories rely on the memories of the witch trials of the seventeenth century, since the witches are often burned. What is particularly interesting in the trollkjerring stories, however, is the identity of the witch; she is nearly always a woman of some consequence in the community, often the wife of the minister.15 This feature of the witch legends illustrates the ambivalent attitude in Norwegian tradition towards the teachings of the Lutheran church; the minister himself may very well have learned how to exorcize the devil, according to legend, from the "Black Book" school in Wittenburg.16 While there appear a certain resentment and suspicion within the legend tradition on the part of the almue towards any members of the government-appointed embets class, which would include the clergy, this suspicion and resentment are greatly outweighed by the primary concern, which is outwitting the Other.

Because of the sheer volume of stories in Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn it is not feasible to consider more than a few narratives in detail, and since one of the most intriguing elements in the Scandinavian legend tradition is the remarkable fluidity of the boundary between the inner and outer groups, the difficulty which the human often has in recognizing the Other in his midst, we will concentrate on several examples that illustrate this characteristic, some related stories that show the integration of the Other into the inner group, and finally on what behaviors these stories may have reinforced for the nineteenth-century population. If the modern Norwegian has difficulty in defining what it means to be norsk, it may be because his national narratives, including Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn, have taught the Norwegian that making the distinction between self and Other, the inner and outer realm, is fraught with complexity, and that things are never quite the way they may seem.

The boundary between the human and the Other is remarkably fluid in Norwegian legend tradition, due to the ability of the underjordiske to shape-shift, even taking on the semblance of the human, and the corresponding ability of the human trollkjerring to change her shape as well. In addition, changelings and marriage with the hulder bring the Other into the inner realm, just as bergtakning brings the human into the realm of the Other. In one of the legends told in "Berthe Tuppenhaug's Stories," a young man arrives just in time to save his intended bride, who is at the mountain dairy, from being married to an underjordiske man. As

she was sitting in the cabin one afternoon, it seemed to her that her sweetheart came and sat down with her and started to talk about that it was time to have the wedding. But she sat quite still and did not answer at all, because she felt rather queer. By and by more and more people arrived, and they started to set the table with silverware and food, and bridesmaids carried in a crown and finery and a fine wedding gown, which they dressed her in, and they put the crown, which they used at that time, on her head, and they put rings on her fingers.

But, just in time, the proper bridegroom arrives, "'What is the meaning of all this?' he said, 'Why you're sitting here dressed as a bride!' 'Why would you ask me that?' said the girl. 'You've been sitting here all afternoon talking about the wedding.' 'No, I just came,' he said, 'but it must have been someone who assumed my appearance'" (A 1: 59, 60, italics in original).17 This legend is widespread in Norway. In this variant, the young man is alerted by the girl's dog that something is amiss. Animals were thought to recognize the Other more easily than humans could do so, but, at the same time, the Other, particularly the devil and witches, could appear in the guise of animals as well. Most often the underjordiske, however, looks just like everyone else. It is in its actions that the Other is recognized. In "Legends of the Mill," a poor woman is allowed access to a mill at night in order to grind a small amount of grain. As she is sitting there, another woman arrives and greets her. There is no indication that anything is amiss until the underjordiske woman begins raking the coals around on the hearth to put out the fire. Even ghosts, which appear rarely in huldreeventyr, are not immediately recognizable. The old woman in "An Old-fashioned Christmas Eve" observes the other worshippers and thinks that "the people all looked so pale and strange, exactly as if they all could have been dead. There wasn't anyone she knew, but there were many she thought she had seen before, but she couldn't remember where she had seen them. When the minister climbed to the pulpit, it wasn't any of the ministers in the town, but rather a tall, pale man, whom she also thought she should know" (A 1: 118). Only when the woman beside her on the pew speaks to her does the old woman recognize her as a neighbor who had died long ago.

If the supernormal creatures can be difficult to recognize, they nevertheless sometimes carry Lindow's "emblems of contrast" by which they can be identified by the alert human being. The hulder normally has the tail of a cow, which she tries to conceal beneath her skirt;18 the nisse usually wears a red stocking cap and has furry hands with no thumbs; the devil wears gloves to hide his claws. Sometimes the human is able to recognize the Other in time to avert calamity, at other times elaborate tricks are involved in order to get the supernatural to show his true colors. The changeling legends, for example, often stress the difficulty of determining whether or not an infant is truly a changeling. Only when this has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, usually by getting the creature to talk or to laugh by means of some trickery, can the proper steps, involving mistreatment of some kind, be taken to gain the return of the real child.

If the changeling legends illustrate situations of an unwilling human/Other relationship, the opposite is true in those legends in which the human falls in love with a hulder and marries her.19 While the hulder is often very beautiful at first sight, this illusion does not usually persist after the wedding, at least in the variants that Asbjørnsen utilizes. The hulder, however, has another and more permanent attribute: she is terribly strong. In "An Evening in the Squire's Kitchen," the last story told by the blacksmith concerns a young man who has heard of the great beauty of a hulder girl who moves into his family's mountain dairy in the fall, after the people leave. One year he determines to see the girl and rides back to the seter after the underjordiske have moved in. He is mesmerized by her beauty and is determined to have her, so shoots a shot over her head, which should put her in his power. Her beauty disappears at once, but he is ordered by her parents to take her and marry her, and promised that he shall not want for anything. They are married and whenever her parents visit, he always finds a great quantity of money, but "ugly she was and ugly she stayed, and he was fed up with her, and it can't be denied that he was a little mean to her once in a while, in that he hit her and gave her a thrashing" (A 1: 80).20 One day the man is attempting to shoe a horse, but try as hard as he may, he is unable to get the shoe to fit, and most of the day passes by. Finally his wife says that she will fit the shoe, and if it is too big or too little, he can correct it. The story concludes:

She went to the smithy, and the first thing she did was grab the shoe with both hands and straighten it out.

"Look here," she said, "This is how you do it." Then she bent it together, as if it had been made of lead. "Hold up the foot," she said, and the shoe fit so perfectly that the very best blacksmith could not have done it better.

"You've got pretty strong fingers," the husband said, and looked at her.

"Do you think so?" she said, "What do you think had happened to me, if your hands had been as strong? But I love you too much to use my strength against you," she said.

From that day on, he was a different man towards her.


Another story of marriage to a hulder is told in "The Hulder Clan" when the frame narrator attempts to woo the young folk narrator. She discourages his advances by claiming descent from the hulder; as she exclaims, "'What do you want of me? My God! Do you know what you are risking?' she said. 'You know my family! Surely you know that I am descended from hulderfolk, and that the blood of trolls runs in my veins?'" The girl then begins her story, "My great grandmother or great-great grandmother was a real hulder, you know" (A 1: 88).22 Again in this story, the husband has not always treated his hulder wife as well as he could have, and he also receives a demonstration of her remarkable strength:

When it was almost autumn and the cabbages were big, then the wife was going to chop and prepare for slaughtering, but she didn't have a chopping board or a chopping trough. She asked her husband to take the axe and go up the mountain and chop down the big pine tree that stood beside the bog on the way to the mountain dairy; she wanted it for a chopping trough.

"I think you're nuts, woman," the man said. "Should I chop down the best tree in the logging woods to make a trough? And how would I get it down from the mountain at this time of year, it's so enormous that no horse would be able to drag it?"

She asked him to do it anyway, but when he absolutely refused, she took the axe, went up into the woods, chopped down the tree and carried it home on her back. When her husband saw this, he was so frightened that he never again dared to oppose her, or do anything other than what she asked, and from then on there was complete harmony between them.


These stories illustrate the need to be cautious in dealings with the Other, whether known or unknown; this is a trait which some might claim to recognize in the modern Norwegian, but do they not also reflect a typically Nordic sensibility of gender equality and egalitarian ideals?

The amorous advances of the frame narrator in this story are effectively quelled when the girl concludes her story, "You can figure out what to expect if you really make me angry" (92)24 The frame narrator is unable to enter into the magic world of the hulder and the nisse except as an observer. The negotiation of the boundary between the human and the Other must be constructed by those to whom the stories belong, and since this boundary is so fluid and flexible, it must be vigilantly guarded. It can be argued that the hulder marriage stories indicate situations where the Other holds the upper hand over the human, but I would suggest instead that in a society where the Other is often hard to identify, and where the boundary between human and supernatural is fluid and shifting, legend serves as a cautionary device. When one considers that in legend the Black Death is often personified as an old woman sweeping or raking, it is certainly not too far-fetched to conjecture that the hulder with her cow's tail but great strength can also represent the forces of a nature domesticated but still dangerous and unpredictable. The hulder bride's emblems of contrast are contradictory. Her tail is that of a domestic animal generally considered to be gentle and unthreatening. Here is nature at its most tranquil. When the hulder demonstrates her other emblem of contrast, she takes the man by surprise with her great strength. A cautionary reminder to the human that one must be ever vigilant in dealing with the natural world, even when domesticated. So the hulder marriage legends exert a reinforcement of the non-hierarchical Norwegian worldview and maintain harmony in a society where the division of labor and community stability depends on a cooperation between the physically stronger and the "keeper of the keys."

Øystein Holter writes of the comparative lack of authoritarianism in personal relationships in Norway and traces this lack to the fact that Norway was never a feudal country with a feudal social order. He writes that

Norwegians lived spread out across the land, with each farm or gård as a self-owned and (to a great extent) self-governing unit. This had been the case also in Viking times, and in other Germanic areas as well, but in Norway the pattern survived. Local political authority retained the sense of "first among peers" typical of kinship societies—again very different from the feudal sense of authority deriving from pope or king.… The relatively "public" character of the Norwegian family can probably be connected to the relative importance of the household, compared to other institutions of society. In one sense the household was everywhere the main institution, up until the industrial revolution, since it was the primary producing unit.… In the Norwegian tradition, the power of the household and of women as main producers within the household was symbolized by the gård wife's key to the stabbur [store house]. This power was usually connected to a comparative lack of strong male institutions surrounding the household. Here is another pattern with modern-day connections: German men visit the Bierstube, the British go to the pub, etc.—Norwegians, however, go home.

(Holter 1993, 151-52)

It appears that the behavior being reinforced in the legendary material in Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn for the most part is that which stabilizes the rural society, particularly through emphasis on the importance of the institution of marriage and the rite of baptism. Several examples illustrate how legend underscores the importance of the home in pre-industrial Norwegian society.25 After the farm girl was rescued by her boyfriend from the mountain dairy wedding, "he took her right down to the settlement, and so that she wouldn't be subject to any more foolishness, they had the wedding right away, while she was still wearing the wedding finery of the underground people. The crown and all the other finery was hung up at Melbustad and it is said to be there to this day" (A 1: 61).26 A new family is formed and the stability of the community against the wiles of the Other is restored. Women were in danger from other-worldly forces at any time they were on the boundary between one stage of life and another, especially in the liminal states of engagement, pregnancy, and birth. A legend in the story "The Lund Family" reinforces the importance of a public and concrete manifestation of intention on the part of a man when he has decided to marry. In this story, the woman was taken by the underjordiske during childbirth:

It was the underground people who took her, and they had been after her for a long time before that too, because when they had the engagement party for her at Lier, they took her and set her head-down in a water vat, but there were so many people out in the farmyard that she didn't come to any harm; and then a voice from the mound over by the storehouse said that it happened because she didn't have an engagement ring. But since that time, every worthless wench who has a fellow walks around with an engagement ring.

(A 1: 104)27

Ostensibly a symbol of protection against the Other, in actuality an engagement ring takes a private agreement into the public sphere, thereby reinforcing the stability of the community.

As has already been noted in the discussion of "The Wise Woman," it was considered imperative that a child be baptized as soon as possible. While legend reinforces this rite as a safeguard against a child being exchanged by the underjordiske, it had long been a requirement of early Scandinavian church law. An unbaptized child was a heathen, and, in times of high infant mortality, it was imperative that an infant not die in this state. Baptism was considered so critical in the early church that in the Christian Laws section of the early laws of Iceland, the Grágás, the first section gives detailed instructions on how, when, and by whom baptism can be performed, with penalties of outlawry if the baptism is not performed correctly. But whether as a defense against the powers of the Other or as a church ritual, what really happens with baptism, of course, is a public and official recognition of paternity—a critical stabilizing factor in most societies. It appears likely that Lindow is correct when he says that class and gender were apparently not much of an issue in rural Scandinavian legend tradition; of importance was "resolution of conflict, the elimination of the threat and restoration of the status quo" (Lindow 1995, 28). In the legends of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn what was important was the recognition of, and negotiation with, the Other.

The Modern Norwegian and the Legend

Can we draw any conclusions about modern Norwegian society, and the difficulty Norwegians have defining norskhet, from this brief survey of the problems nineteenth-century rural peasants sometimes had in recognizing friend and foe? Is there a continuity in worldview?

In his study of the modern Danish urban legend as it has evolved from earlier legend tradition, Timothy Tangherlini asserts that the distinction between inside/outside was easily made in agrarian nineteenth-century Denmark. Outside consisted of areas outside the immediate farm house and buildings, and community membership was easy to ascertain. I would suggest that, in agrarian Norway, nothing could be further from the truth, and that Tangherlini's assertion bears reconsidering in Danish legend tradition as well. In a time when natural forces were poorly understood, living conditions quite primitive, and things were often not quite what they seemed, it must have appeared as though the Other was never far away, and that the boundary was not nearly so easily determined as Tangherlini says. A child would fall ill, a woman would disappear, a man would perhaps go "berserk" and the frightened on-lookers would find themselves looking into the eyes of the Other.28 It would seem evident, contrary to Tangherlini's observation, that the distinction between the insider and the outsider is far easier to make in modern society than in a time when the supernatural was an integral element. Tangherlini shows how the supernatural Other has been replaced with the ethnic Other in contemporary Danish urban legend:

With the advent of scientific scepticism, universal education and the move away from rural lifestyles, folk belief concerning trolls, elves, and witches declined. Concomitantly, the need for actants to assume the newly vacated legend functions appeared. With the marked change in Danish demographics, primarily the influx of large numbers of Asians and southern Europeans in the 1960s and 1970s (Danmarks statistik 1961-1984), the immigrants and minority populations were the logical culturally relevant replacement.

(Tangherlini 1995, 34)

It is likely that a similar process is occurring within the Norwegian legend tradition. The ethnic Other has also replaced the supernatural Other in contemporary Norwegian society: "Today a Norwegian living in Oslo is likely to ride to work in a tram-car driven by an Indian man, buy fruit for lunch from a Vietnamese woman, have his office cleaned by an Albanian family, and shop for daily provisions from his local Pakistani grocer. In many ways, it can be said that immigrants are integrated in Norwegian society" (Long 1993, 191). Integrated, perhaps, but not considered really norsk, if Julian Kramer is correct in his assessment that Norwegian identity depends on regional origin, a type of tribal identity marker in a society with a long colonial history where it is impossible for ethnic groups of foreigners to be accepted as Norwegian especially if

they insist upon cultural symbols which emphasize their non-Norwegian origins. It has become possible for individual Sami to be accepted as quasi-Norwegian despite their Sami background. But being Sami will never be a variant of being Norwegian along the same lines as being a trønder, a hedmarking, a telemarking and so on. This is even more forcefully so for ethnic minorities with a skin color that identifies non-Norwegian ancestry. In other words, there cannot exist a category of black Norwegian—at least not the way Norway is today with Norwegian identity tied to origin.

(Kramer 1984, 95-96)

But Kramer sees reason for optimism: more people are growing up in cities and seeing them as their hometowns, it will soon be possible to speak of a generation of Norwegians who have not experienced a colonized or occupied Norway, more third-world children are being adopted and brought up as Norwegians. A more cosmopolitan definition of norskhet is possible.29

It is intriguing to consider that had the Norwegian nineteenth-century literary canon tolerated pluralism, perhaps the national narrative could have grown to include all the voices, the voices of the Other inhabitants who have always occupied Norway along with the Norwegian bonde: the Sami and the Finn, the wise-woman and the Gypsies, the Germans of the Hanseatic League, the immigrants in the mines, Danes and Swedes, and other early immigrants. Norwegian identity need not have been the narrowly defined construct it somehow became, based on a tribal regionalism, because the real Norwegian is, after all, not a bonde in a lusekofte, a mythical figure created by a small group of nation-builders, but rather a complex human being who has struggled with his harsh natural world and with its demons, real and imagined, for hundreds of years. If the modern Norwegian is facing an identity crisis, it may very well be because he is finally confronted with the Other, against whom identity is shaped, in a concrete human representation, with readily recognizable emblems of contrast, rather than by the often murky illusiveness of an ambiguous supernatural Other as represented by the hulder and her relatives that one meets in the Norwegian legend tradition and in the pages of Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn.

  1. The nøkk is a water spirit who tries to lure people into rivers and lakes. He can shift shape to that of a horse. Theodor Kittelsen has drawn nøkken in both forms in some very famous paintings. The draug is a similar spirit who inhabits the sea. See Troll i Norge by Eli Ketilsson for examples of Kittelsen's work.
  2. The ban against Jews was repealed in 1851 and that against monastic orders in 1897. The ban against Jesuits was not repealed until 1956.
  3. The Jante Law, a formulation of the novelist Aksel Sandemose, consists of a series of maxims for conformity, the most often cited is perhaps "You shall not believe that you are something." See En flyktning krysser sitt spor: fortelling om en morders barndom.
  4. It must be remembered that what is known of pagan Nordic belief systems is suspect, since what is known was committed to writing after the conversion to Christianity by those who no longer believed and had an agenda of their own. A good overview of Scandinavian mythology, sources, and research is John Lindow's "Mythology and Mythography" in Old Norse—Icelandic Literature.
  5. That legend does reflect worldview is a point on which there is not complete agreement. Niels Ingwersen, for example, writes that "legend tends to contradict legend and defies the notion that texts from a certain region present a uniform worldview," but at the same time he states that the function of counter-legends was to challenge an accepted worldview as reflected in conservative texts. If legends dealing with the inexplicable are contradictory, this does not necessarily mean that certain elements within those legends cannot still be consistent with majority thought. Variations may also simply mean that a particular worldview may be in transition. See Scandinavian Studies 67 for Ingwersen's article, "The Need for Narrative: The Folktale as Response to History."
  6. Bascom's article, "Four Functions of Folklore" appeared in Journal of American Folklore 67 in 1954 and has been reprinted numerous times. Bascom asked, "What does folklore do for people who tell it and listen to it?" He identified the functions of amusement, education, validation of culture, and the function of maintaining conformity to accepted patterns of behavior. All of these maintain the stability of culture.
  7. As Ingwersen demonstrates in the article cited above.
  8. Asbjørnsen himself counted only ninety, but this discrepancy can be accounted for by assuming that he may have considered all stories about one particular person to be one legend, while I have considered a narrative, as before indicated, to consist of a beginning, middle, and end, regardless of whether or not several stories in succession deal with the same character, with the exception of the Peer Gynt episodes, which are connected by the oral narrator into what can only be considered one long story.
  9. Four stories have both a male and female protagonist and one story is a fable with an animal protagonist.
  10. Asbjørnsen spent large portions of his youth evading creditors and was never a wealthy man. It seems likely that the lack of a true feudal system, the land-owning farmer, and the virtual elimination of an aristocracy in the ravages of the fourteenth-century created in Norway a society that was and is in many ways more egalitarian than in many other countries. This does not negate the fact that the world of the cultured people, the kondisjonerte, was very different from that of the bonde.
  11. That Asbjørnsen himself was very interested in this question is evident in the story "A Christmas Visit to the Parsonage," omitted from the 1870 edition, in which various characters discuss probable origins of the stories they relate. It seems likely that personification of natural phenomena could be the origin of at least some of the underjordiske characters, given human penchant for symbolization. Edvard Brandes writes of the nisse: "Who is not familiar with the various stories about the nisse, that little fellow in grey dress with the red pointed cap on his head, which has given the opportunity for so many symbolic stories; but who, on the other hand, knows the origin and original meaning of this little mischief-maker? Still, it has long been shown that the nisse is just a later form of fire, worshipped as a house god (agni grihapati), explaining his red cap.… Then his pranks and characteristics become clear. A man moves in order to get rid of him, but no sooner does he get to his new house before the fire god shows up there also: Fire always belongs to the hearth and the home. One still gives offerings to him as in the old days, and what he gets is porridge, but what the nisse cares about is that there is plenty of butter in it. For liquid butter (havis, ghrita) is the oldest offering that is thrown in the fire" (Brandes 1877, 335).
  12. Or perhaps it is not so ironic after all. There is ample evidence that the Norwegian cosmology has integrated the pagan and the Christian to a remarkable extent. Speaking of the differences between the representation of the dragon image in the Old Norse Fåvnesmål, as opposed to the representation in Beowulf, Nina Witoszek writes, "[T]he Norsemen offered a remarkable resistance to the Christian diabolisation of Nature. It is as if their affinity and kinship with the natural world was so strong that it never succumbed to theological cleansing. In the Nordic Middle Ages crosses and dragons are compatible, the ancient gods of nature co-exist with the transcendent Christian deity. Stave churches, adorned as they are with dragon heads, call to mind Vedic pagodas and perpetuate a dialogue of Christian and pagan memes. And the fact that King Olav Trygvasson, the apostle of Christianity, did not hesitate to call his ship "The Long Serpent" at a time when the serpent was the sworn enemy rather than the ally of saints seems to indicate not so much his secret adherence to paganism but the remarkable coexistence of two seemingly irreconcilable cosmologies" (72).
  13. The eleven narratives that do not deal with the supernatural are for the most part hunting and fishing stories, or stories of search for treasure.
  14. It is interesting that the opposite boundary shift, from Other to more nearly human, as is shown in the hulder marriage legends, does not carry these dire consequences.
  15. The witch often appears in the shape of a black cat and may lose a hand when the human cuts off a paw. This bodily damage persists when the witch returns to human shape and is one way of identifying the witch. It would be intriguing to speculate on why cats are often seen as evil in legend, while in fairy tales they are usually helpful. See Jack Zipes' article, "Of Cats and Men: Framing the Civilizing Discourse of the Fairy Tale" in Out of the Woods: The Origins of the Literary Fairy Tale in Italy and France. Zipes writes, "It is said that a man's best friend is his dog, but those of us who read fairy tales know better. Time and again, cats have come to the aid of poor suffering young men" (176). But, of course, it is not only cats who are helpful to poor suffering young men. The animal helper is a widely spread motif which appears in a great many fairy tales.
  16. See Kathleen Stokker's article "Between Sin and Salvation: The Human Condition in Legends of the Black Book Minister" in Scandinavian Studies 67.
  17. Som hun satt i setra en ettermiddag, tykte hun, at kjæresten hennes kom og satte seg hos henne og begynte å tale om, at nå skulle de til å holde bryllup. Men hun satt ganske stille og svarte ingenting; for hun syntes hun blei så rar av seg. Litt om litt kom der flere og flere folk inn, og de begynte å dekke opp bord med sølvtøy og mat, og brurepiker bar inn krone og stas og en gild brurekjole, som de kledde på henne, og krona satte de på hue, som de brukte den gang, og ringer fikk hun på fingrene … "Hva betyr alt dette?" sa han, "du sitter jo pynta her som ei brur?" "Kan du spørre om det?" sa jenta. "Du har jo sittet her og talt til meg om bryllup i heile ettermiddag." "Nei, nå kom jeg," sa han; "men det må vel hav vært noen, som har tatt på seg min liknelse."
  18. Jenny Jochens writes in Old Norse Images of Women that "at some point in the nordic perceptual development, apparently, women and animals were grouped together" (Jochens 1996, 37).
  19. It was possible for humans and the Other to marry, and the tail would normally fall off a hulder when she was baptized or blessed by a minister. In this sense, just as the human woman becomes the Other as a trollkjerring, the Other woman, the hulder, becomes nearly human through her acceptance of the sacraments of the church. No wonder that the line between the supernatural and the merely ethnic other was difficult to draw and difficult to keep. This tale type, called "Marriage to a Fairy Woman," 5090 in Christiansen's type index and Motif F 302 in Thompson's motif index, is known nearly all over the world and has been the subject of a considerable amount of study. In his massive study of the Norwegian mountain dairy folklore, Norsk sætertradisjon, Svale Solheim differentiates variants of this legend which end with a "happier ever after" scenario, right after the wedding, from those which he calls the full version of the legend, in which a show of strength from the hulder is required in order to bring the husband in line. It is of interest that Asbjørnsen selects only variants in which the show of strength is included, in order to integrate the tale with the frame story of the young girl dissuading a suitor in the case of "The Hulder Clan," and most probably for dramatic effect in the other versions.
  20. stygg var hun og stygg blei hun, og kei var han av henne, og det var ikke fritt for, at han var litt slem iblant, så at han baud til å slå og denge henne.
  21. Hun gikk til smia, og det første hun gjorde, var å ta skoen med begge never og rette den ut. "Se her," sa hun, "så skal du gjøre." Så bøyde hun den sammen, som om den hadde vært av bly. "Hold nå opp beinet," sa hun, og skoen passa så akkurat, at den beste smed ikke kunne gjort den bedre. "Du er nok stiv i finrene du," sa mannen og såg på henne. "Synes du det?" sa hun. "Hvordan meiner du det var gått med meg, dersom du hadde vært så stiv i fingrene? Men jeg holder for mye av deg, til at jeg skulle bruke kreftene mine på deg." sa hun. Fra den dag var han en aparte mann imot henne.
  22. "Hva vil de meg? Min Gud! vet De hva De våger?" sa hun. "De kjenner jo min slekt! De vet vel, at jeg stammer fra huldrefolk, og at der rinner trollblod i mine årer?"… "Min oldemor eller tipoldemor var jo en virkelig hulder."
  23. Da det led til høsten igjen og kålen ble stor, og kona skulle til å hakke og stelle til slaktingen, så hadde hun ikke noe hakkebrett og ikke heller noe hakketrau. Hun bad da mannen ta øksa og gå opp i fjellet og hugge ned den store fura, som stod ved myra på seterveien; hun skulle ha den til et hakketrau. "Jeg mener du er styren, kjerring," sa mannen. "Skulle jeg hogge ned det beste tre i tømmerskogen til å gjøre hakketrau av? Og hvorledes skulle jeg få den hjem fra fjellet på denne tid, den er jo så diger, at ingen hest orker å dra den?" Hun bad mannen likevel; men da han slett ikke ville gå, så tok hun øksa, gikk opp i skogen, hogde furua ned og kom hjem med den på ryggen. Da mannen så det, ble han så forskrekket, at han aldri siden torde si henne imot, eller gjøre annet enn hun bad om, og fra den tid var der aldri uenighet mellom dem.
  24. "De kan altså slutte Dem til hva De kan vente, hvis De for alvor gjør meg vred."
  25. Marianne Gullestad writes that "a particular sign of Norwegian culture is that it is especially home-centered" (Gullestad 1989, 54). See also Nina Witoszek's discussion of the Norwegian home in Norske naturmytologier.
  26. Han tok henne straks med ned til bygda, og for at der ikke skulle komme mere fanteri til henne, holdt de bryllup med det samme, og mens hun ennå hadde på brurestasen til de underjordiske. Krona og heile stasen blei hengt opp på Melbustad, og den skal være der den dag i dag er.
  27. "Det var de underjordiske som tok henne, og de hadde vært etter henne lenge før også, for da der var festerøl for henne på Lier, tok de henne og satte henne på hue i et vasskar, men da var der så mange folk, som stod ute på tråkka, at hun ikke kom til skade; og så sa det borte i bakken ved stabburet, at det kom av hun ikke hadde festering. Men sia den tid går hver skarvejente, som har seg en fant, med festering."
  28. It is interesting in this context that the concept of "going berserk," from the old norse word beserkr, includes the element of shape-shifting.
  29. At this writing, it is now possible to speak of that Norwegian generation which has not experienced a colonized or occupied Norway.
Works Cited and Consulted

Andenæs, Tønnes M., editor. [1949] 1989. Grunnloven vår. N.p.: Universitetsforlaget.

Asbjørnsen, Peter Christen. 1845. Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn. 1st collection. Christiania: W. T. Fabritius.

——. 1870. Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn. 1st and 2nd collection. 3rd edition. Christiania: P. F. Steensballes Forlag.

——. [1870] 1949. Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn. Edited and with an introduction and notes by Knut Liestøl. 2 vols. Oslo: Tanum.

——. 1874. "Om Overtroens Væsen og Betydning." In Morgenbladet. 15 March.

Bascom, William R. 1954. "Four Functions of Folklore." In Journal of American Folklore 67: 333-349.

Bottigheimer, Ruth. 1987. Grimms' Bad Girls and Bold Boys. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Brandes, Edvard. 1877. "Nye Samlinger af Folkepoesi." In Det nittende Aarhundrede. Maanedsskrift for Literatur og Kritik. (January-March): 319-336. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandels Forlag.

Christiansen, Reidar Th. 1964. Folktales of Norway. Translated by Pat Shaw Iversen. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Gullestad, Marianne. 1989. Kultur og hverdagsliv. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Holter, Øystein Gullvåg. 1993. "Norwegian Families." In Continuity and Change: Aspects of Contemporary Norway. Edited by Anne Cohen Kiel. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Honko, Lauri. [1964] 1989a. "Memorates and the Study of Folk Belief." In Nordic Folklore: Recent Studies. Edited by Reimund Kvideland and Henning K. Sehmsdorf, in collaboration with Elizabeth Simpson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Originally published in Journal of the Folklore Institute.

Ingwersen, Niels. 1995. "The Need for Narrative: The Folktale as Response to History." In Scandinavian Studies 67: 77-90.

Jochens, Jenny. 1996. Old Norse Images of Women. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Ketilsson, Eli. 1989. Troll i Norge. Oslo: J. M. Stenersens Forlag.

Kvideland, Reimund, and Henning K. Sehmsdorf. eds. 1988. Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lindow, John. 1985. "Mythology and Mythography." In Old Norse-Icelandic Literature. Edited by Carol J. Clover and John Lindow. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

——. 1995. "Supernatural Others and Ethnic Others: A Millenium of World View." In Scandinavian Studies 67: 8-31.

Oring, Elliot. 1986. "Folk Narratives." In Folk Groups and Folklore Genres. Edited by Elliot Oring. Logan: Utah State University Press.

Sandemose, Aksel. [1933] 1996. En flyktning krysser sitt spor: fortelling om en morders barndom. Oslo, Gyldendal.

Solheim, Svale. 1952. Norsk sætertradisjon. Oslo: Aschehoug; Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Stokker, Kathleen. 1995. "Between Sin and Salvation: The Human Condition in Legends of the Black Book Minister." In Scandinavian Studies 67: 91-108.

Tangherlini, Timothy. 1995. "From Trolls to Turks: Continuity and Change in Danish Legend Tradition." In Scandinavian Studies 67: 32-62.

Witoszek, Nina. 1998. Norske naturmytologier: Fra Edda til økofilosofi. Oslo: Pax Forlag A/S.

Zipes, Jack. 1991a. "Of Cats and Men: Framing the Civilizing Discourse of the Fairy Tale." In Out of the Woods: The Origins of the Literary Fairy Tale in Italy and France. Edited by Nancy L, Canepa. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.


Times Literary Supplement (review date 26 June 1969)

SOURCE: Review of Popular Tales from the Norse, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent. Times Literary Supplement, no. 3513 (26 June 1969): 688.

George Webbe Dasent began taking an interest in Scandinavian myths and legends while serving in the diplomatic corps in Sweden. His Popular Tales from the Norse, translations of the stories collected in the 1840s by Asbjörnsen and Moe, was published in 1859. The present reissue by the Bodley Head, complete except for the West Indian Anansi stories included by Dasent for purposes of comparison, and embellished with a headpiece to each tale showing that overworked artist William Stobbs at his distinguished best, is something of a landmark. Anything less like the conventional image of the Victorian diplomat would be hard to imagine. Dasent's outright refusal to bowdlerize, his ear for language and above all the ruthless gusto of the whole proceedings make these tales as tough and fresh as if they had been taken down today.

That these tales are tough is beyond a doubt. If folk tales belong to the childhood of a race, this is no sheltered Enid Blyton childhood where Little Noddy can run to a policeman to establish order. Each must depend on his own wits and courage for survival, and weakness is as punishable as wickedness. It is a world of violence, too, where eyes are plucked out, trolls burst from looking on the sun and maids can be torn to pieces by the hero in the guise of a bear ("'Stuff and nonsense', said the king: 'she's only a maid, besides it's more my affair than yours.'"), though the damage is often reparable by magic, and veins run more with sawdust than with blood. As Dasent says in his introduction, readers may find on second thoughts "not only that the softening process would have spoilt these popular traditions for all except the most childish readers, but that the things which shocked them at first blush are, after all, not so very shocking".

There is, in fact, little that even the most childish could not stomach. While as for bowdlerization of another kind, the weddings and beddings that abound are of such practical kind as to defy the most determined attempt to read anything undesirable into them. The only sign of age in the whole book is the translator's pious hope that "good children" will refrain from reading the last two stories—surely a direct invitation to do so even in 1859—but the reader who turns to these first will be sadly disappointed.


New York Herald Tribune (review date 12 May 1957)

SOURCE: Review of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent, illustrated by Marcia Brown. New York Herald Tribune 33, no. 40 (12 May 1957): 24.

From the enameled and mosaic brilliance of Persian pictures for "The Flying Carpet," Marcia Brown turns, in her latest picture book, to the sparse greens and prickly silhouettes of the spruce forests of the north. She also chooses not a long tale but one of the simplest, youngest, and most beloved of the folk stories, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. One glance at the Gruff family on the title page and one knows that her pictures are going to be exactly right. They are a sly and knowing trio, quite convincingly able to take care of themselves, trolls or no trolls. The biggest one is a triumph of goat portraiture, magnificently horned, bearded and bony, eyes alert for danger as he chews young green leaves. He'll need all his assurance when he meets the troll—a menacing monster, his head almost filling the page. Every little child will love this book and savor the fierce fight at the bridge with pieces of troll flying all about.

The version used is that of Asbjørnsen and Moe in the Dasent translation, simple and beautiful. We can almost hear the lilt in the voice of the born storyteller as the tale unfolds. Could that be why Marcia Brown has dedicated the book to "Anne Carroll Moore and the Troll"?

Joy Fleishhacker (review date June 1993)

SOURCE: Fleishhacker, Joy. Review of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent, illustrated by Glen Rounds. School Library Journal 39, no. 6 (June 1993): 93.

[The Three Billy Goats Gruff is a] kinetic retelling of a beloved tale. Using no-nonsense language and his trademark minimalist drawings, Rounds strips the story down to the bare essentials, recapturing its time-tested appeal. With hairy, scratchy-looking skin, a huge wart on a pickle-shaped nose, bloodied extremities, and poor posture, the Troll makes the perfect bad guy. Splatters of brown-gray charcoal color float around the outline of his body, giving him an offensive aura. When the biggest Billy Goat Gruff appears on the scene, a face-forward drawing featuring a bristly goatee beard, ornery eyes, and a set of broad shoulders lets everyone know that this is not some cud-chewer. A dramatic double-page spread, filled with movement and emotion, captures the conflict as the two foes charge one another. After the goat butts his enemy with "hard horns" and tramples him with "sharp hooves," another striking illustration shows the troll's grasping hands as he slips below the bridge. Readers are left with the reassuring image of the three goats grazing peacefully on a hillside. While carefully preserving the essence of the Norwegian tale, Rounds freshens it up with his unique perspective and style. Make room for this one next to the classic versions by Paul Galdone (Houghton, 1979) and Marcia Brown (Harcourt, 1957).


Horn Book Magazine (review date June 1961)

SOURCE: Review of Norwegian Folk Tales, from the Collection of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, translated by Pat Shaw Iversen and Carl Norman; illustrated by Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelson. Horn Book Magazine 37, no. 3 (June 1961): 268.

This new translation of thirty-six of the old tales collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe [Norwegian Folk Tales ] seems to have all the flavor of the classic translation by George Dasent and is even smoother reading for the present day. An excellent introduction gives background for the tales, their first collectors, and these two illustrators who were chosen by Asbjørnsen himself. Werenskiold traveled in the regions which were the settings for the tales and once remarked, "Here on the great farms there were still small kings, and the tenant farmers were their serfs. Behind this primitive life, behind these vigorous, strongly pronounced human types, and this unique architecture, one could sense the Middle Ages; and behind the large forest lay the Troll world of the Jotunheim mountains.…"The "power and originality" of Kittelsen's work impressed Asbjørnsen, and the two artists began working together to illustrate the stories in 1881. A good collection of the Norwegian tales has always been indispensable for the storyteller or for anyone who would appreciate the cultural inheritance of Norway. This edition, with pictures—as vigorous and earthy as the stories—on almost every page, will be invaluable in the browsing collections of those libraries fortunate enough to have them, as well as on their circulating shelves.


Booklist (review date 1 March 1975)

SOURCE: Review of The Squire's Bride, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, illustrated by Marcia Sewall. Booklist 71, no. 13 (1 March 1975): 689.

[The Squire's Bride is a] delightful joke-tale about a potbellied squire who receives his comeuppance from the spunky farm girl he wants to marry. "No, thank you all the same," says the girl to the squire, "that's not at all likely," so the squire goes home and plans to trick the maiden into attending the wedding at his house. She sends a horse instead which, having been hauled upstairs and dressed in bridal finery, prances femininely down to the parlor and the hopeful groom. In her pencil drawings, Sewall makes a personal interpretation that enhances, never contradicts, the effect of the words. Her delicate touch creates mirthful action scenes in which robust, highly individual characters assert their presence.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 March 1975)

SOURCE: Review of The Squire's Bride, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, illustrated by Marcia Sewall. Kirkus Reviews 43, no. 5 (1 March 1975): 233.

[The Squire's Bride is a] little joke of a tale from Norwegian tradition, illustrated with suitable reserve by the artist who did so well with Master of All Masters (KR, 1972). The squire, if he had his way, would make the neighboring farmer's independent daughter his bride, and as her father owes the squire money the two men plan a wedding without her consent. However, when the time comes and the squire sends his boy to fetch "what his neighbor promised," the girl catches on and sends the bay mare in her place. And so it ensues that a horse is dressed by the servants in wedding finery and sent into the parlor to the grinning and tittering of all assembled. Obviously nonessential, though Sewall's black and white sketched cast abounds in sauce and country slyness.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review
date November 1975)

SOURCE: Review of The Squire's Bride, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, illustrated by Marcia Sewall. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 29, no. 3 (November 1975): 38.

[The Squire's Bride, a] version of a Norwegian folk-tale is based on the H. L. Broekstad translation and is illustrated with pencil drawings that have warmth, vitality, and a great sense of the comic. The pictures suit the tale admirably, since the story of an obdurate peasant girl who outwits an equally determined elderly suitor ends on a note of comedy. The story, which is as good for storytelling as it is for reading aloud or alone, gives the reader that special pleasure of being in on the joke, since only the squire assumes that the bride who is being forcibly summoned and dressed for the wedding is the girl; everyone else knows it's a horse.


Publishers Weekly (review date 7 November 1980)

SOURCE: Review of The Runaway Pancake, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, illustrated by Svend Otto S. Publishers Weekly 218, no. 19 (7 November 1980): 62.

A winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, Otto S. has painted droll, animated and colorful pictures with extremely realistic people and animals to illustrate and decorate the familiar Scandinavian tale [The Runaway Pancake ]. Tate's translation bounces along like the pancake invented by jovial Asbjørnsen and Møe from the minute the great big taste treat jumps off the stove and races down the road. Chasing the pancake are the countrywoman who cooked the runaway, her seven children and their grandfather, but they are too slow. The pancake dashes on, escaping a hen, a rooster, a man and others until a wily pig fools it and "Sshloomph," gobbles it down. This is the kind of cumulative, rollicking tale that little children love.

Barbara Elleman (review date 1 January 1981)

SOURCE: Elleman, Barbara. Review of The Runaway Pancake, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, illustrated by Svend Otto S. Booklist 77, no. 9 (1 January 1981): 622.

In this Danish variant on the cumulative fleeing pancake tale [The Runaway Pancake ] (most familiar as the Gingerbread Boy) Svend Otto S.'s sparkling illustrations enliven the story about the pancake that runs away, cheerfully eluding those who would eat him until he is outwitted by a pig. The artist's interpretation is executed with verve—energetic, sketchy lines outline the solid, hearty colors. The barefooted running children, the hopeful black-and-white chicken, the aggressive multicolored rooster, and the stately white goose are all depicted in simple, large drawings that leap from the page to claim a response. Children will enjoy chiming in on the tagline: "As I've managed to escape from Mother-Pruther, Grandfather, seven squealing children, from Manny-Panny, Henny-Penny, Rooster-Pooster, Ducky-Lucky and from Goosey-Poosey.…"A robust rendition that will be especially effective read aloud.


Denise Anton Wright (review date September 1992)

SOURCE: Wright, Denise Anton. Review of East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent, illustrated by P. J. Lynch. School Library Journal 38, no. 9 (September 1992): 262-63.

Outstanding illustrations, top-notch page design, and a marvelous story make [East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon ] the definitive picture book version of this beloved Norwegian folktale. When a poor girl becomes the reluctant guest of a white bear, she discovers he's actually a prince under a spell. But her discovery has dire consequences—now he must marry a troll princess. It is only through the girl's love and persistence that he is saved from this disastrous marriage. With its language both economic and evocative, Dasent's translation is the ideal text for Lynch's sumptuous watercolor illustrations. Using layer upon layer of transparent washes, he has produced highly detailed, realistic illustrations that complement but never overwhelm the story. The easily read text is set on top of a warm pink wash and there's a pleasing balance of illustration, type, and white space. Earthy browns, golds, and greens dominate the paintings and it's obvious from the first page that few contemporary illustrators possess Lynch's mastery and control of watercolor. Whether it be the helpful North Wind, a forbidding forest, or slobbering trolls, his renderings are utterly believable and compelling. An introduction by the respected historian and critic Naomi Lewis provides a fascinating background to the story. An ideal teaming of folklore and illustration.


Publishers Weekly (review date 9 November 1992)

SOURCE: Review of The Man Who Kept House, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, illustrated by Svend Otto S. Publishers Weekly 239, no. 49 (9 November 1992): 83.

In this timely tale, [The Man Who Kept House, ] a married couple agrees to exchange each of their daily routines when the grumbling husband criticizes his wife's housekeeping. With a scythe over her shoulder, the wife heads off with the harvesters the following morning, leaving her husband to a day of domestic calamities. As he begins to churn the butter, he grows thirsty; just as he unstops the beer keg, the family's pig drops in to the kitchen. In a scenario worthy of the Marx Brothers, one disaster follows another, until the wife returns just in time to rescue her harried spouse from a particularly awkward spot. Softly focused colored pencil drawings lend this old folktale a gemutlich charm, deftly capturing every (increasingly) farcical development. The expressions of the enraged husband and the several agitated animals will easily provoke chuckles, as a new generation of readers discovers the delights of a cautionary tale whose comedy remains as up-to-date as ever.

Denise Anton Wright (review date January 1993)

SOURCE: Wright, Denise Anton. Review of The Man Who Kept House, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, illustrated by Svend Otto S. School Library Journal 39, no. 1 (January 1993): 90.

To prove how easy it is to keep house, a man trades places with his wife [in The Man Who Kept House ]. When disaster ensues, he realizes that housework is much more difficult than he thought. First collected in the mid-19th century, this lighthearted tale of role reversal has remained a favorite and can be found in most collections of Scandinavian folklore. Fairly faithful to the early English translation by Sir George Webbe Dasent, this version is told in an understated manner. The artist utilizes a combination of charcoal pencil and watercolor on paper. Slightly reminiscent of Marcia Sewall's work, his figures are drawn in a loose style with broad washes of transparent color. At times, their sketchiness makes them appear to be more like rough drafts than finished illustrations, which is the main weakness of the book. While most drawings include backgrounds, several figures are set against white paper as if floating in thin air. Even though the illustrations and overall page design lack consistency, this is an enjoyable and accessible book. The large format, brief text, and disastrous outcome make it a good title to share aloud.


School Library Journal (review date June 1993)

SOURCE: Review of Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins: A Norwegian Folktale, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, illustrated by Lauren Mills. School Library Journal 39, no. 6 (June 1993): 95-6.

Attractive, softly colored illustrations decorate and enhance this competent retelling [of Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins: A Norwegian Folktale ]. Common folkloric elements, such as an unhappy childless queen, unheeded advice, and magical transformations, are eventually capped by the expected happily-ever-after ending. The unexpected aspect here is the active role taken by its hoydenish heroine. The elder of twins magically born to the previously barren queen, Tatterhood, dresses in rags and rides upon a goat. Yet it is she who sets out to restore her sister, Isabella, to health when vengeful hobgoblins steal her head and replace it with the head of a calf. Tatterhood successfully vanquishes the hobgoblins and the two sisters then enjoy three more years of unspecified adventures, finally meeting a handsome king and his brother. This precipitates the happy ending of a double wedding and a triumphant journey home. The text flows smoothly, retaining enough of the original language to convey the flavor of the tale, but Mills changes some details to make the story more accessible to modern readers. The appealing illustrations are slightly reminiscent of Michael Hague's work and suit the exotic charm of the unusual story well. The cover illustration is particularly attractive and, along with the feisty heroine, should ensure that the book finds an enthusiastic audience.



A. T. E. "The New Books for Younger Readers." New York Times Book Review (13 November 1938): 3.

Comments on the impressive range of the stories collected in East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

Cimino, Maria. Review of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, illustrated by Marcia Brown. Saturday Review 40, no. 19 (11 May 1957): 51.

Compliments the "brilliant and vigorous" illustrations in Brown's illustrated version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Roll-Hansen, Joan. "Introduction." In A Time for Trolls: Fairy Tales from Norway by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, translated by Joan Roll-Hansen, pp. vii-x. Oslo, Norway: Johan Grundt Tanum Forlag, 1966.

Notes the major characters and themes present in Asbjørnsen and Moe's fairy tales.

Additional coverage of Asbjørnsen and Moe's lives and careers is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Something about the Author, Vol. 15; and Writers for Children.