U of M Reissues Sigrid Undset's Norwegian Tales

By Goetzman, Amy | MinnPost.com, September 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

U of M Reissues Sigrid Undset's Norwegian Tales


Goetzman, Amy, MinnPost.com


Before Thor hung out with the Hulk and Iron Man, he starred in a blockbuster series of Norwegian folk tales that nearly every child in Norway, from the Viking era onward, knows. But Thor is not just an entertaining figure in Norse mythology, he's a keeper of Norwegian identity. Over the centuries, as Norway endured occupations by other nations and cultures, its people hung onto Thor and other figures as an emblem of their own, distinct heritage.

During the Christianization of Norway, images of Mjolnir, Thor's hammer, were worn on clothing or hung on doors as a sign that its owners were holding on to their native belief systems. Scandinavian pagans continue to use Mjolnir as a symbol; in May 2013, the Veteran's Administration approved Thor's hammer for use on official headstones and grave markers. The Thor stories are only a part of Norway's folklore tradition, but the importance of folklore to Norway's identity in the world is much greater.

The University of Minnesota Press has reissued three significant volumes by Norwegian novelist Sigrid Undset. "True and Untrue and Other Norse Tales" is a collection of popular folk tales, some purely funny, others with instructive intents. The volume begins with a warm, chatty introduction that explains the significance of the tales to a non-Norwegian audience; during World War II, as Norway fell under Germany's occupation, Undset fled to the United States, where she lived in homesick exile for 5 years. (Her criticism of Hitler led to her work being banned by Nazi Germany. Undset, who died in 1949, lost a son during the German invasion of Norway.)

"She's writing for Americans who know nothing about Norway and may not have even heard many folk tales," says Claudia Berguson, a professor of Norwegian language and Scandinavian literature at Pacific Lutheran University (she previously taught at Concordia in Moorhead and hails from Minnesota). "She's saying, 'I want to explain to you what it's all about, why these are special.' And they really are. …

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