A. The role played by folktales in contemporary Norwegian society
B. A description of the major types of Norwegian folktales
C. A comparison of Norwegian folktales and Norwegian folk legends
D. An illustration of the differences between oral literature and written literature
NARRATOR:Listen to part of a lecture in a literature class.
MALE PROFESSOR:Alright, so now we've talked about folk legends, and seen that they're, that one of their key features is, there's usually some real history behind them. They're often about real people.So you can identify with the characters. And that's what engages us in them.The particular stories might not be true, and some of the characters or events might be made up, but there's still a sense that the story could have been true, since it's about a real person.
That's a distinct contrast from the other main branch of popular storytelling, which is folktales.
Folktales are imaginative stories that um, like folk legends, they've been passed down orally, from storyteller to storyteller, for, since ancient times.But with folktales, you don't ever really get the sense that the story might have been true.They're purely imaginative, and so quite revealing- I think, anyway- about the culture, and uh, the connection between folktales and the culture, which we'll talk about.But first let's go over the various types of folktale, and focus specifically on Norwegian folktales since they illustrate the variety pretty well.
There are, in general, three main types of Norwegian folktales.One is animal stories, where animals are the main characters.They can be wild animals or uh, domestic, and a lot of times they can talk and behave like humans, but at the same time they retain their animal characteristics too.They tend to involve animals like bears, wolves, and foxes.
The point of these stories, their, their internal objective, so to speak,is usually to explain some feature of the animal, how it arose.So there's one about a fox who fools a bear into going ice fishing with his tail.When the bear puts his tail into the water through a hole in the ice, to try to catch a fish, the ice freezes around it, and he ends up pulling his tail off!So that's why bears to this day have such short tails.
The second category of Norwegian folktale is the supernatural.Uh, stories about, giants and dragons and trolls, and humans with supernatural powers or gifts. Like invisibility cloaks.Or where people are turned into animals and back again into a person.Those are called transformation stories.There's a well-known Norwegian supernatural folktale, a transformation story called "East of the Sun and West of the Moon". Which we'll read.It involves a prince who's a white bear by night and a human by day.And he lives in a castle that's east of the Sun and west of the Moon- which the heroine of the story has to try to find.Besides being a good example of a transformation story, this one also has a lot of the common things that tend to show up in folktales.You'll find the standard opening "Once upon a time...,".And it has stock characters like a prince and a poor but beautiful peasant girl, she's the heroine I mentioned.And um... it has a very conventional form, so no more than two characters are involved in any one scene.And it has a happy ending.
And it's, the story is presented as though, well, even though a lot of the actions that occur are pretty fantastic,so you'd never think of it as realistic, the characters still act like, they resemble real people.They're not real, or even based on historical figures-but you might have a supernatural story involving a king, and he'd act like you'd expect a Norwegian king to act.
Ok, the third main kind of folktale is the comical story.We'll say more later about these but for now, just be aware of the category and that they can contain supernatural aspects,but they're usually more playful and amusing overall than supernatural stories.
Now, as I said, traditionally folktales were just passed down orally.Each generation of storytellers had their own style of telling a story.But um... in Norway, before the nineteenth century, folktales were just for kids, they weren't seen as worthy of analysis or academic attention.But this changed when the Romantic movement spread throughout Europe in the mid-nineteenth century.The romantics looked at folktales as sort of a reflection of the soul of the people, so there was something distinctly Norwegian in folktales from Norway.And there was renewed pride in the literature and art forms of individual countries.As a result, the first collection of Norwegian folktales was published in 1852.And there've been many new editions published since then.For the people of Norway, these stories are now an important part of what it means to be Norwegian.