Norwegian Fairy Tales

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

Norway has a rich history of storytellers, folk tales told on little farms in the darkness of winter evenings with only a blazing fire for light and warmth. These tales were full of trolls, elves, nisse folk, witches and other creatures lurking in the darkness of the deep forests. In the tales these creatures are either wicked, luring people into harm, or wise and helpful aiding humans through challenges and helping them solve mysterious riddles and seemingly impossible tasks.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

Typical for Norwegian fairy tales is that the hero is always the underdog, the youngest son or daughter, the one who is humble, honest, kind, helpful, quiet, and often a little different than others. The villain, often a troll or a witch is the opposite, dumb-witted, loud, greedy, and selfish.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

The hero of the tale has to go through different challenges or tasks to prove himself worthy of the prize or reward promised to the one who solves the quest. This prize is often the princess and half the kingdom. The challenges include tests of the hero’s kindness, cleverness, perseverance, humility and bravery.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

Our favorite hero is the “Ashlad”, who bears similarities to Cinderella. He is the youngest son of three brothers, he sits by the hearth poking the fire with a face full of soot and ash. He is unappreciated by his family who often judge him as a little stupid and a “good-for-nothing” kind of lad. He is the eternal dreamer, never caring much about money or material possessions.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

Norwegian fairy tales also features talking animals, like polar bears, foxes, brown bears, hares, mice and birds. Some of the most famous fairy tales are: Soria Moria Castle, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and the Polar Bear King or White-bear King Valemon.

TheodorKittelsen-KvitebjørnKongValemon(1912)
Art by Theodor Kittelsen

The Norwegian fairy tales are full of folk humor, and they are not as romantic and fantastical as many of the other fairy tales from more southern countries. Many of the tales are made to solve everyday problems or explain things in nature. The tales belong to the people, and rather than celebrate kings and queens, they honor the ordinary folk, farmers and cottagers. People who live ordinary lives but who have extraordinary things happen to them.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

It was two men called Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe who, during the national renaissance in the middle of the nineteenth century, decided to embark on the gigantic task of collecting these folk tales, tales that up till now had only been perserved orally, told to children by parents and grandparents through generations, into one big volume. The first volume of Norwegian folk tales, collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe, was published in 1848.
The book became so popular that Asbjørnsen and Moe ended up publishing several additional volumes of tales.

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Jørgen Moe. Image credit: skoletorget.no

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Peter Christen Asbjørnsen. Image credit: skoletorget.no

One of the most popular as well as loved illustrator of Norwegian fairy tales is the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen. He is still the most popular fairy tale illustartor today, even 100 years after his death.

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Theodor Kittelsen

Asbjørnsen and Moe’s volumes of Norwegian folk tales can be found in almost every Norwegian home, and Norwegian children still grow up with these magical tales of trolls, elves, witches and brave kind heroes who always win the prize at the end of the tale, not just because they are the hero of the tale, but because they have proved themself worthy by showing extraordinary kindness, wit, and generosity.

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An old volume of fairy tales

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A modern collection of the same folk tales. Image credit: dagbladet.no

All the images, unless informed otherwise, are sourced from wikimedia

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16 thoughts on “Norwegian Fairy Tales

  1. Pingback: A little taste of Norwegian culture | Paths of the spirit

  2. As a fellow Norwegian I really appreciate this post on Norwegian fairytales… I love them and they inspire me in my own writing! Thank you and I’ll be sure to follow your blog 😉

    • Thank you so so much for taking time to read and appreciate my writing! 🙂 It means the world to me! 🙂 🙂
      See you later! 🙂 Have a lovely lovely day! 🙂

  3. What a wealth of information. I can picture the long cold evenings by the fire, before electronics, where the storytellers and musicians held sway. Our culture has lost something by losing the folktales. Television homogenizes tales, suppresses the natural storytelling. Thanks for reminding us of our roots.

    • I so agree with you Brenda!! 🙂 There are two cottages I used to go to, one on an island in Ireland and one on an island in norway, none of them had electricity, but both had big fireplaces. I used to sit staing into the fire, listnening to the roar of the ocean, making up stores 🙂 It was magical! 🙂

  4. Every time I visit your blog , I myself am again a little girl and want to read all the stories you talk about , my grand daughter is looking forward to your blog also, we were supposed to look at it yesterday but did not get time , I had not heard of the Ash lad so I shall be adding this to my repertoire when we sit down to explore the blog together , I shall make sure I have a good fire burning and plenty of hot chocolate to drink, you see I am just as excited as a child . Wonder filled blog and so informative this post, thank you. Kind Regard and Happy Days to You .Kathy.

    • Oh, thank you so so much!! 🙂 I just adore your comment, and it made my morning so sweet and lovely! 🙂 I picture you and your grandaughter drinking hot chocolate by the fire and reading fairy tales! 🙂 That makes such a lovely picture! 🙂 I remember my granny reading fairy tales to me! 🙂 It was so magical! I love writing these stories, poems and fairy tales, so it warms my heart so much when someone loves to read them! 🙂 Your words mean the world to me! 🙂 Thank you from the bottom of my heart! 🙂 ❤ ❤ ❤

  5. Trini, thank you for sharing this with us. What I really love about Norwegian fairy tales, is that they value the underdog. That is wonderful. It makes me think of when the prophet Samuel went to anoint David as King of Israel. Nobody would have ever considered him to be the son of Jesse that would be chosen. He was the youngest and tended sheep. But God said, “Man looks that outer appearance, but I look at the heart”. I love that.
    🙂

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