Every Norwegian, regardless of age, social standing or place of birth, knows the character Askeladden from our fairy tales.
The guy seemingly does not work, just sits by the fireplace all day, digging in the cinders. He is mocked by his two brothers, Per and Pål, for not doing proper work, or even any proper things, but in the end he’s the most clever, he is in the end the hero, always gets the princess and “half the land” which is the prize in all fairy tales of this type. He does it in an original way, that is
also part of the point. Per & Pål are people with commonplace ideas, Askeladden the creative one.
Even if he is the model for “all of us”, from which so much mainstream behaviour is modelled, nowadays Per and Pål are clearly in action, much more than before. Espen Askeladd is maybe committed to life as an art, which is not a way of living that is accepted by whoever is in power today, right now.
The way the authorities tries to organise work these days, squeezing all kinds into a tight time schedule, just as an example, is very Per & Pål, in my opinion.
Carl I. Hagen, our local Jörg Haider, shows a lot of the normal askeladd traits, by doing things in uncommon ways, creating a whole new system, a new kind of politics, a new whatever, fooling them all.
This is the negative side of this role, I would say.
The students and accomplices of Hagen, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, Anders Anundsen, Jon Dale and other rather ruthless types on top of the system, all show some of these characteristics. The selfmade man would maybe be an American or English word for them.
But traditionally, showing off power or wealth was in many connections socially unacceptable. Askeladden as a Norwegian hero was an anti-hero. The lowliest gets to the top. Wealth and power will always be false or pretentious things, the honest, humble and clever man will always win the day, and rightly so.
This is one constituting story of our country’s culture.
It is very typical that monuments, memorials, both in stone and on paper commonly tell stories about the common man, rather than emphasize the role of great heroes or people in position. Both things exist, of course, but there is a tendency, I think opposite to many other European countries.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, definitely not, but as everything it can be taken too far, just as neglecting the role of common men or exaggerating the role of admirals and (good) leaders could be said to be a tradition elsewhere.
The unexpected luck, serendipity, if you like, is also a very common aspect of the Askeladd stories.
If we show off our wealth…well, Lotto millionaires are not like other millionaires.
This principle of coincidence may also appear in opposite circumstances, as the unexpected bad luck. In this case it may free us from the responsibility of making our choices. If they have any bad effect on anything it’s not our fault…it just happened. We had to – there was no other way.
Positive sides of the Askeladden role are obvious to us inborn, I think – some are great improvisers, I actually believe it to be true, and I also believe that we frequently manage to make something out of nothing (you could well believe nature works the same way here, watching spring every year coming out of of – well, it looks and feels almost impossible in winter).
I am not saying we are more clever than others, just seemingly less planned.
And we don’t always need 101 volumes of rules to function or find out what is necessary – we learn what we have to and make it work. Amateurism has been pretty common, but has also worked fairly well.
Those are traditional tendencies. Today all sorts of things are going on in our heads, but these things used to be important, they are part of the backdrop of today’s mentality.
Whatever that is.