Folklore and folktales have deep cultural roots in Norway as a popular way of oral storytelling. These tales and myths, along with folksongs, have shaped the identity and cultural landscape of this country and make up the bulk of ancient literature. While the rest of Europe was writing down poetry and prose during the Middle Ages, Norway relied on oral traditions to preserve their history and culture.
The most famous collections of folktales in Norway was by Peter Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. They set across Norway in the 1800s to collect the stories of the people and in doing so, helped create an autonomous Norwegian written language and an internationally recognized collection of folktales.
Below, you’ll find a handful of tales from Asbjørnsen and Jørgen’s collections as well as a story from Men fra havet “Men from the Sea”. There are so many wonderful tales and lore to choose from, but here’s a start to set the mood for these colder months. I’ve included links so you can access the tales as desired. (As these are third party links, I cannot guarantee the correct translations or quality of the storytelling)
If you wish to explore more stories on your own, look for these collections:
- Norske Folkeeventyr by Peter Asbjørnsen & Jørgen Moe:
- The Poetic Edda – Old Norse poems
- Sagn og Huldre Eventyr by Astrid and Olaf Thalberg
- Huldre og annen Trollskap by Eivin Heide
- Norske Huldre-Eventyr og Folkesagn by Peter Asbjørnsen
So, grab a blanket and a warm drink and settle by the fire to read or listen to old Norwegian tales of mystery, magic, and mayhem.
10 Norwegian Tales to Read by the Fire
- Gutten med øldunken “The boy with the beer keg ”
In this tale, a boy requests and is given a keg with beer as payment for the work he does. He goes on his journey, but the keg becomes heavier and heavier and he looks for someone to drink with to relieve him of the weight. Along the way, he meets God then Satan and finally Death. After rejecting to drink with the first two, he decides to drink with Death since Death is neutral and fair, giving everyone the same thing. Death enjoys it so much that he blesses the boy with a keg that never empties and an ale that can heal the sick better than any doctor can.
To read in English: https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0332.html#norway
To listen in Norwegian: https://podtail.com/en/podcast/eventyrstund/gutten-med-oldunken/
2. En aften i nabogården “An evening at the neighbors”
One neighbor’s yard (tenement) was one of the most loved areas to gather and play. In this tale, we follow the narrator’s story as he looks back on his time playing there and of the tales of nisses, trolls, huldre, and other creatures that he and his friends are told about as they sit by the fire.
To listen in Norwegian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aI1BtpqKJ4g
To read in Norwegian: http://runeberg.org/folkeven/138.html
3. Kvernsagn “Legends from the Mill”
In this story, the narrator stops to fish but catches very little until a messenger boy passes by and advises his technique. As the evening turns cold, the two of them withdraw to the warmth of a nearby sawmill and begin conversing with the old man who works there. The narrator, after understanding the old man has some tales to tell, shares a story about the mill-snarl. This leads to the others sharing their tales. The story ends with the final tale of how a group of witches turned themselves into cats and tried to burn down the sawmill.
To watch in Norwegian: https://tv.nrk.no/serie/eventyrstund/1968/FBUA06001467
To listen in Norwegian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9VHsUajtwM
To read in English: https://app.box.com/s/mgkat7zvq3ma2w4k98ob80auyu6od250
4. Østenfor sol og vestenfor måne “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”
In this well-known tale, a white bear knocks on the door of a poor, but large family. The bear asks the father for his prettiest and youngest daughter in return for riches. It takes a little persuasion, but eventually the daughter goes away with the bear to his enchanted castle. At night, he sheds his bear form to come to her bed as a man. The story continues as the bear is forced to return to his wicked stepmother at her castle east of the sun and west of the moon to marry her hideous daughter, a troll princess. The youngest daughter heads on a quest to save the bear prince.
To listen in Norwegian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ra3ApzHt0j0
To read in Norwegian: http://runeberg.org/folkeven/034.html
To read in English: https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/norway034.html
5. Makrelldorg “Mackerel Trolling”
In this story, the narrator reminisces about one of the trips he had taken to go mackerel trolling. He shares tales from his friend at sea; in particular, the one about the three wives who were bored of their husbands and wished for their demise. Turns out they were witches disguised as ravens. It was the cabin boy who overheard them and was able to trick them so they could not carry out their deeds.
To read in Norwegian: http://runeberg.org/folkeven/029.html
To read in English: https://norwegianfolktales.blogspot.com/2017/06/mackerel-trolling.html
6. Folket på Saltsteinen “The people from Saltsteinen”
I was recommended this story by my friend who produces Norwegian sea salt from the area this story is based on. The story is found in a book called Men fra havet by Odd M. Ljone. In this tale, two lovers row out to Saltsteinen, between Ona and Bjørnsund, to start their lives together. Here, the life is harsh and they must battle the elements as well as heartache as they lose each of their children to the sea. This is a fascinating tale, but not one with a happy ending.
To watch in Norwegian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPzci-0uW8o
7. Askeladden som stjal sølvendene til trollet “Askeladden who stole the Troll’s silver ducks”
Askeladden is the archetypal folk hero of many tales. In this particular story, to impress and follow the King’s orders, Askeladden takes the troll’s seven silver ducks, his bedquilt with silver and golden squares in, and his golden harp. Then he tricks the troll’s daughter into giving him the knife with which he cuts her head off and feeds her to the troll, who thinks he is eating Askeladden.
To read in Norwegian: http://runeberg.org/folkeven/112.html
To listen in Norwegian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-gkCQHH0nQ
8. Kvernen som står og maler på havsens bunn “Why the sea is salt”
A poor man begged from his brother on Christmas Eve and so the brother promised him meat if he would do anything for him. The poor brother promised and so the rich brother handed over the food and told him to go to Hell. His travels lead him to obtaining a hand-mill that produces whatever is asked of it. As the poor brother gains wealth from it, others don’t succeed, and in the end we come to learn why the sea is salty.
To listen in Norwegian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtIRj4Y2PEo
To read in Norwegian: http://runeberg.org/folkeven/056.html
To read and listen in English: https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/134/stories-from-around-the-world/5302/why-the-sea-is-salt/
9. Smeden som de ikke torde slippe inn i helvete “The Smith they dared not let into Hell”
In this short, parable-like tale, we read the complicated interaction between mankind and spiritual beings. A blacksmith makes a bargain with the devil to become the greatest blacksmith on earth for a period of time. He encounters Christ and the Apostles and while boastful, is granted three wishes which he chooses to use to avenge himself on the devil. His actions toward both Christ and the devil may affect his chances in the afterlife and so he travels to both heaven and hell.
To listen in Norwegian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTEW_ztt4W0
To read in Norwegian: http://runeberg.org/folkeven/020.html
To read in English: https://app.box.com/s/oisb5g7ez0lk03emtaq0m1nkxn3j60qg
10. Graverens fortellinger “The Gravedigger’s Tales”
Here, the narrator seeks out to meet with Per Gravedigger. He eventually finds him digging a grave and Per proceeds to share various tales of witches.
To listen in Norwegian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boq3lvkRefc
To read in Norwegian: http://runeberg.org/folkeven/136.html
To read in English: https://norwegianfolktales.blogspot.com/2016/10/the-gravediggers-tales.html