Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Trouble in Paradise: Revising Identity in Two Texts by Thor Heyerdahl

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Trouble in Paradise: Revising Identity in Two Texts by Thor Heyerdahl

Article excerpt

Heyerdahl er den mest beremte nalevende nordmannen.... Han er arhundrets nordmann. Det tyvende arbundrcts nordmann. Man bar karet ham til det. Han bar seilt pa mange hav. Bevist bade det enc og det andre. Hans teorier er kontroversielle. Og beromte. Heyerdahl bar vort itng en gang. Han bar vort som meg. Var ban silk som jeg er nd da ban var 29?

--Erlend Loe, L (1)

(Heyerdahl is the most famous Norwegian living today.... He is the Norwegian of the century. The Norwegian of the twentieth century. People voted him that. He has sailed many seas. Proved this and that. His theories are controversial. And famous. Heyerdahl was young once. He was once like me. Was he like I am now when be was 29?) (2)

Every on e advised usaga instgoing in to open seas. Everybod vsa id tba t Thor wouldn't make it, and everybody said that this is going to be too difficult, but we believe that this unique challenge will also make a unique movie.

--Espen Sandberg, director of Kon-Tiki, "KON-TIKI--Behind the Scene"

[YouTube video] (3)

The above quotations illustrate the enduring national mythology that surrounds Thor Heyerdahl. In the first, from the novel L by another Norwegian author, Erlend Loe, the protagonist measures the accomplishments of his own generation against those of Heyerdahl and the generation that "built Norway" (Loe 1999, 17-20). The novel is hardly a tribute to Heyerdahl, however, but a postmodern retelling of Kon-Tiki that parodies both the genre of travel literature and the ideological struggles of Generation X. (4) But the novel's effectiveness as parody demonstrates that Heyerdahl's 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition and its accompanying popular account have established a template for the national heroic narrative. (5)

This was also apparent in 2012, when Kon-Tiki was adapted as a feature film with versions in both English and Norwegian. In a behind-the-scenes video ("KON TIKI--Behind the Scene" 2011), the directors, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, discuss their decision not to film a replica of the Kon-Tiki raft on a soundstage, but on the Mediterranean Sea, which they called the "Open Sea Operation." In the above quotation, the directors identify with Heyerdahl: They see their filming strategy as bold, opposed by the establishment, and ultimately the triumph of an underdog. By insisting on filming on open sea, they attempt both to emulate Heyerdahl and to lend authenticity to their production.

These two examples demonstrate how younger generations have continued to retell Heyerdahl's story, using it as a model for their own heroic journeys and identities. This is fitting not only because of the cultural significance of Heyerdahl, but also because Heyerdahl's own authorship is characterized by retelling. Although most famous for his memoir Kon-Tiki: Ekspedisjonen (1948; Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft, 1950), Heyerdahl recounts his time on the Polynesian island of Fatu Hiva, (6) which pre dated the expedition, at least four times, adjusting the issues this episode speaks to and refining the lessons learned each time. (7) The journey to Fatu Hiva was made on the pretext of a research project in the biological sciences, but, in tact, Heyerdahl and his wife Liv attempted to "return to nature" by living without access to modern technology for 1 year. Before the year was through, however, the couple succumbed to illness, isolation, and poor relationships with the islanders, and were forced to abandon the project. In Kim-Tiki, Heyerdahl mentions the trip briefly as the inspiration behind his migration theory, but he published the first version, Pa jakt efter pamdiset (In Search of Paradise), in 1938 in Norwegian for a national audience. (8) According to Ragnar Kvam, while the book received positive reviews, sales in Scandinavia dwindled, perhaps due to overexposure, as Heyerdahl had already given a number of lectures and interviews on the subject (Kvam 2005, 219). …

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