Since I live just beside the Fairy Tale Bridge, Eventyrbrua, so popularly named after the sculptures on the bridge, and since obviously the tourist
office didn’t do their job or the Swedish tourists I met on the bridge tonight didn’t know anything about what is there, I’ll tell you.
There are four sculptures there, based on four stories and fairy tales.
The Norwegian parallel to the Grimm brothers and Perrault is Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (1812-85) and Jørgen Moe (1813-82). Asbjørnsen was a natural scientist, Moe a folklorist, and a priest, later bishop. They collected fairy tales around the country, published first in the 1840s. There are three volumes, in addition to some erotic ones that were published first in the 1970’s, I believe, because they were too much for our prim public life. Quite fun for me to read at a young age.
The statues – three of them – are figures from this collection of popular stories which we all grew up with. We still read them, but I must say that my kids knew many of them from kindergarten, there was a girl working there who had quite a talent for reading, so when I came up with the idea to read for them my son usually said “no, I’ve heard that story already”.
But they couldn’t have heard them all, I think, it’s a real stack.
The names of the characters are given on the bases of the statues.
If you come from the city centre, Kvitebjørn kong Valemon, King Valemon, the white bear, is the first figure on the left, a white bear with a princess riding on it (there are no polar bears on our mainland, only in the real arctic, Svalbard and thereabouts, and this one is anyway filled with magic, of course).
I can remember the story pretty well, one of several where the main point is a princess caught by a spell, the prince naturally wanting to rescue her and does so, through a long journey (og de gikk langt, og lenger enn langt. They wandered far, and farther than far).
In English this sentence sounds queer when translated literally, but if you have had any contact with Norwegian nature you will know what distance
means, even today, and so much more way back. I won’t even try to say anything about the northern parts. Go see for yourself, it’s vast.
These words are a stock expression in Norwegian, I hope they are still there. At least they are known in my generation and upwards.
He has to go through a lot of trials, to fool scary creatures and trolls, and this particular story is especially long and beautiful, it was one of my childhood favourites. I can absolutely not recall the details right now, but the feeling remains, not least because of the beautiful illustrations of Theodor Kittelsen and Erik Werenskiold and others. These two, the most famous ones, essentially belong in the 19th century, even if they both lived and worked well into the 20th. There were also, in the third volume, I think, drawings by Per Krohg, Alf Rolfsen and other artists whose style were too realistic for my taste, not as evocative as Kittelsen and Werenskiold, in my mind.
On the other side of the road is Veslefrikk med fela, Little Frikk with the fiddle, born in poverty, but whose playing aquires the magic quality to make everyone dance, every time he plays on it. In the story he gives away
all the little money that he has, to three beggars, which turns out to be the
same man, a spirit who grants him three wishes. He wishes for the fiddle magic, a gun that hits whatever he aims at, and that no one can deny him his first wish.
With these three weapons he manages to get back at all the people that abused him during his years of trial, as it were. In the beginning of the story he works for people who pay him very badly, among others the policeman.
The priest and the policeman, the lensmann, ends up dancing like mad, the policeman tied to a tree and his back then torn to pieces. A familiar theme in many Norwegian stories, in- and outside the fairy tales, also a major key to understand our politics, maybe what it’s all about. Askeladden is the official protagonist which everyone talks about, but this story also has similar traits, even easier to see, the little man against the officials.
On the other side of the bridge is Peer Gynt, not found in Asbjørnsen and Moe, but also a traditional story, which is a starting point for Ibsen’s
Then Kari Trestakk, Kari with the wooden skirt.
It is a Cinderella story, also a long one, in Asbjørnsen og Moe. I had to read it once more. I couldn’t remember this one at all, except the title, of course.
The king in the story is a widower who mourns his wife, the queen, but at last marries another widow, another queen, who is the evil stepmother, with an equally mean daughter.
Kari Trestakk is the king’s daughter.
She is badly treated, of course, and is set to work, she has to shepherd the animals.
A particular blue oxe in the herd is sympathetic towards her, and as the evil
queen makes a scheme to kill him, the bull and the princess run away from their persecutors together.
He is her ally, and guide and protect her in all the difficulties they have to go through. They ride through magic woods, owned by trolls, and the bull has to fight them, one troll worse than the other. The blue bull gets them through. In the end he asks her to kill him, which she reluctantly does. He leaves the story, but tells her that if she needs him, she can knock on the rock with a stick.
Which she does later on.
The aim of this journey is getting to a palace where she finds and wears the wooden skirt and gets work in the kitchen. She is treated really lowly by the prince in the castle during the week, and by the other workers, just like in other Cinderella stories.
In this version the place of her “real” appearance, where the prince falls in love with her, is not a ball in a palace, but the church, where she quite similarly to Cinderella wears a dress, first of bronze, then silver and in the end gold and precious stones. The dresses are all given her out of the rock where she killed the bull who helped her getting there. She acts on his instructions, knocks on the rock with the stick, and the dresses come out, one after the other.
When she meets the prince in all the humiliating situations, it is not the time or the break of dawn that stops him from getting to know her, it is Kari herself who says some kind of magic formula and simply disappears, because she wants to. He then spends a lot of time looking for her, with no
result. This detail is interesting.
The shoe – of gold – is not lost on the way to a carriage, in this version it sticks in tar that the prince has poured out in kirkesvalen, something similar to a cloister, in order to “help her over”. I don’t know quite what this means, it is probably understood that something of the floor in the cloister is broken and maybe wet, leaking.
Anyway, the shoe sticks in the tar, and the rest of the story is as usual, Kari-Cinderella getting the last chance of trying it on, after everyone has mocked her thoroughly, and she is the only one who fits into it.
I think there are other local traits, like the thing that the shoe is filled with blood when the evil stepdaughter is about to marry the prince.
The kirkesvale detail in the story seems to me very old, the only place I can remember having seen anything like that in a Norwegian church is in the wooden stave churches, a Medieval type of building. I may be wrong on that one, but tar was anyway traditionally used for protecting wood in houses against the weather.
These stories are almost the backbone of our heritage. We were brought up on this stuff, in our family or at least in my interest completely parallel to all sorts of “normal” literature, but these things were especially important.
So, if you want to understand Norway, you can’t get past the three volumes of Asbjørnsen og Moe. I think they mean more than the sagas of Snorre or even Håvamål, they are at least much more widely read and cited.
A few illustrations you’ll find on this bridge. Its official name is Ankerbrua, and you go basically Torggata eastward, past Hausmanns gate and towards Søndre gate.