Creator: Asbjørnsen and Moe

"The Norwegian folk tales are the best there is . . . They surpass almost any other."

Authors Peter Christian Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe were a pair of Norwegian Fairy Tale collectors. The result of their work is an anthology of roughly 150 tales, properly called "Norwegian Folktales", but more commonly referred to simply as Asbjørnsen and Moe.

Peter Christen Asbjørnsen was the urban one, born in the city of Christiania in 1812. He died in 1885, a vivid hobby scientist and professional zoologist, engaging in social issues, and in collecting of stories. Most of the material collected in and around the Oslo area is written by him, and also many of the legends. Asbjørnsen was the son of a glass maker, and had humble origins. He wrote and edited his own collections of stories before even meeting Jørgen Moe as early as in 1842. In later years, Asbjørnsen ended in a heavy porridge debate (called the "porridge war") with sociologist Eilert Sundt, over the necessity of eating and making porridge. Hilarity ensued.

Jørgen Moe was the son of a farmer from Ringerike, born 1813. He was the rural one of the two. He studied to become a priest, and was also a poet and writer of children`s books. Many of the dialect examples in the texts are his, and also the more lengthy tales from the upper valleys. He sought out story-tellers in remote areas, and collected some of the more rare and extensive tales from them. Regrettably, he was not always there for long, but he laid out some ground work for the next generation of collectors. His son, Moltke Moe, became the first professor of folklore in Norway. Moe had a chance meeting with Henrik Wergeland in 1841, and Wergeland insisted that he should get to the task of collecting more thorougly. In time he became a respected priest in the parish of Krødsherad, and from there, he was able to collect more stories. Jørgen Moe died in 1882.

The "classical" mode of telling the stories derives from the mode of some particular storytellers in the eastern parts of Norway. Folklorist Rikard Berge commented later on that the western modes differed somewhat from the Asbjørnsen/Moe style, and this, he argued, showed some local characteristics in how to present the characters. The "eastern" ashlad is more of a witty trickster, while there is more of a heroic youngster in the "western" one.

The vast majority of these tales originate from three earlier anthologies:
  • Asbjørnsen og Jørgen Moe's "Norske Folkeeventyr" (Norwegian Folktales) published in parts from 1841 to 1844.
  • Asbjørnsen's "Norske Folkeeventyr: Ny Samling" (Norwegian Folktales: New Collection) from 1868.
  • Asbjørnsen's "Norske Huldre-Eventyr og Folkesagn" (Norwegian Hulder-tales and Folk-legends) published in parts from 1845 to 1866.

A handful of other tales by Asbjørnsen and by Moe's son, folklorist Moltke Moe, have also made their way into the collection.

Tales with their own page:

They also have their own variant of The Seven Ravens (called "De tolv villender"; that is "The Twelve Wild Ducks").

A partial translation can be found here. J. R. R. Tolkien singled this one out for discussion in "On Fairy-Stories" when discussing What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: though the translator did not bowlderize, he did forbid children to read the last two stories, under the assumption that they were the natural audience.

Examples of tropes in Asbjørnsen and Moe's folk tales:

  • Action Girl: The most prominent example is Tatterhood, the ugly Badass Princess who fights hordes of trolls and witches while riding on a goat. There are quite a few other female protagonists who, while not as action-y as Tatterhood, are steadfast Determinators who will go to Hell and back to reach their goal.
  • An Aesop: Most of the stories have a clear moral to them — though a fair few (especially the more comedic ones) don't.
  • All the Little Norways: Unlike the brothers Grimm's Germany however, Norway was united when these tales was collected, so this is just a cultural artifact.
  • All Trolls Are Different: We get a lot of different ones here; some bigger than mountains with trees growing on their noses, some human-sized, some with multiple heads (the more heads, the more powerful the troll, in some stories), some violent and temperamental and some more good-natured. Some of them burst or turn to stone when exposed to sunlight, others don't seem bothered by the sun at all. Most of them are Too Dumb to Live but a few are surprisingly clever and cunning. Most of them are villains but you do occasionally find honorable or even benevolent trolls. Though, thanks to the illustrations by Theodor Kittelsen, the Norwegian public image of the troll is pretty consistent: Big, shaggy and ugly, with big noses, often shaggy beards, with plain and tattered clothes and long tails that look like cow's tails.
  • Author Tract: Asbjørnsen, when he decided to make a frame for his legends. Thus, he also presented his sources, wise women, hunters, grave diggers, blacksmiths and so on. He usually placed himself in their environment, passing time with hunting or fishing, and thus stumbling over storytellers on the way. Asbjørnsen was an enthusiastic hobby fisherman himself, and this was a great excuse for him to get to people. He even lampshaded this: "when the world goes against me, something it seldom declines to do when it has an opportunity to do so, i take my fishing gear and walk away..."
  • Baleful Polymorph: Happens to a lot of the Damsels in Distress and Distressed Dudes in the story. The lucky ones are transformed into animals and are often still capable of speaking and aiding the hero — the unlucky ones are turned into stone or inanimate objects.
  • Batman Gambit: Tricksters and Guile Heroes often pull these off, even if a lot of them only make sense if the trickster knew how the story was supposed to go right down to the exact words someone would say in a given situation.
  • Beast Fable: A number of the stories; the most popular ones being the stories about the fox and the bear.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: Used as a Soul Jar in "The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body".
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Both played straight and defied/subverted as An Aesop.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Most of the stories don't exactly shy away from violence and killings, but all of them pale to the story of "Peik," possibly the most gory tale in the entire collection.
  • Bright Castle: Soria Moria.
  • Bowdlerise: To make the stories more likable for the higher classes, the tales were amended somewhat. The name "Ashlad" stands out, as the rural name for the lad is "ash fart" (Askefisen), more to the point on blowing/"farting" on the embers. But the upper classes would never accept it, hence the Ashlad. In the very first edition, his name was "Askepot", a name more commonly associated with Cinderella.
    • Some versions and translations of the stories further removed objectionable material. The English translation of Peik, for instance, removes the part where he, while Disguised in Drag, gets the two princesses pregnant and such clues the king in that he's not actually a girl; in the softer version his disguise is revealed when an old friend of his family comes by and recognizes him.
  • The City vs. the Country: "The House-mouse and the Mountain-mouse" follows this formula. The usual message is interesting enough subverted however as the Country Mouse is no better portrayed than the City Mouse.
    • The Norwegian version states a classical social criticism when the Country Mouse leaves for the hills. The Cat is associated with the tax collector, a person who were thoroughly disliked by the farmers. Country Mouse says that she`d rather be at home, than be pestered by "such a hawk".
    • Pragmatic Adaptation: The tale is actually called "Home Mouse and Mountain Mouse", setting the story outside of town altogether. Home Mouse (City Mouse) represents the well to do farmer in the valleys and flatlands, while the Mountain Mouse (Country Mouse) represents the mountain farmer, usually poorer and not so well off (but seemingly more free and far away from the cat).
  • Classic Villain: Mostly the tax collector, sometimes the Beadle or the Sheriff. Those guys are prone to be taken by the Devil, or to make deals with him. (Interestingly enough, the Devil isn't always portrayed as such a bad person.)
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Whenever a fox shows up in the stories, it's going to be portrayed as a wily trickster, sometimes helpful and sometimes just out for itself. If a bear appears in the same story, ten to one the fox is going to take on a Gadfly role towards said bear.
  • Curse: They flourish in these tales, most of them involving some form of Baleful Polymorph.
  • Damsel in Distress: Plenty. The number of fair maidens and princesses who are kidnapped by trolls, under weird curses or similar is high — though interestingly enough they're seldom portrayed as completely helpless; they usually aid in their own rescue by giving the hero good advice or present him with some kind of magical aid to make the task easier.
  • Debut Queue: "The Ashlad and the Good Helpers".
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Ashlad has his moments of this. The Narrator joins in occasionally.
  • Deal with the Devil: In a couple of stories, like in the very short story The Devil and the Tax Collector, in which the tax collector makes a deal with the Devil; if the Devil can find someone else that is damned, he'll take that person instead. What happens, after a few false starts because the Devil won't accept it as legit when a mother says "damn you" to her child, is that they meet two farmers who see the tax collector and mutter "damn that tax collector." The story only lasts a couple more sentences after that.
  • Determinator: If the protagonist of a story is female, she is going to be this, especially if you take her lover from her — she'll go anywhere and do anything, no matter how impossible the odds, to get him back. Male heroes, unless they are Guile Heroes like the Ashlad, tend to be more flighty, often straying from their paths and needing help to get back on track.
  • Distressed Dude: Not as common as the Damsel in Distress, but still shows up fairly often. If the hero is male, the Distressed Dude is usually one or more of his older brothers; if the hero is female, the Distressed Dude is her Love Interest (and probably a prince).
  • The Dividual: The Ashlad's older brothers, usually named Peter and Paul, are only important as contrasts to him — being the older, more favored brothers who think themselves better than him but end up falling flat on their faces. Usually they don't even get individual spoken lines but share all dialogue.
    • Several adaptations have tried to individualize them to a bigger degree; in these the most common one seems to be to make Peter, the oldest, the bragging Small Name, Big Ego while Paul, the middle child, is a dull-witted Yes-Man who just follows Peter's lead but is often portrayed as more sympathetic. When Peter W. Cappelen adapted many of the fairy tales for stage, he gave the two brothers distinct characterizations; one was a food-obsessed glutton while the other was a penny-pinching and money-obsessed miser... though it varied from play to play which was which.
  • Dub Name Change: In English Askeladden is sometimes translated as "the Ashlad" or "the Cinderlad," and sometimes just called "Boots". Likewise, his brothers Per and Pål have had their names anglicized to "Peter and Paul."
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Oh yes, especially in the longer fairytales. The protagonists have to go through quite a lot and face many harshships before they can live Happily Ever After.
  • Engagement Challenge: Quite often the one who sets the challenge deliberately makes it impossible to do, so the hero(ine) won't have a chance of succeeding... when (s)he inevitably does anyway, additional impossible tasks are set. One of the more notable versions of this is in The Ashlad and the Good Helpers, where the King really doesn't want the Ashlad to marry his daughter and comes up with one impossible task after the other to stop the wedding from taking place.
  • Fairy Godmother: Virgin Mary takes this role in one story.
  • Fairy Tale: Duh.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Ritter Red, who shows up in a few stories, always tries to step in to take the glory (and the princess) after the hero has done all the work. There are a few other characters like this; usually they're military officers who have cowered in the background while the lower-ranked hero has faced all the tasks. They're always exposed and usually executed for their crimes.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: There sure are a lot of beheadings in these stories.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: There sure are a lot of beheadings in these stories.
  • Folk Hero: The Ashlad.
  • Forbidden Fruit: In some stories the protagonist is explicitly told that there is one thing (s)he absolutely must not do — anything from opening a certain door, to look at their lover's true face before a certain amount of time has passed, or to sit on the edge of a well. Normally the protagonist means it when promising to refrain from that one thing, but then the temptation gets too great, or the promise is forgotten in a careless moment, and you can guess the rest.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Herding the king`s hares". A rare example of a rather direct fairy tale when coming to the actual "fooling around" done by the hero. The queen in the story is shamelessly hinting that there was "more than kissing" involved.
    • A storyteller in the western part of Norway actually mocked Jørgen Moe when he came around collecting stories, by telling him the rudest stories he could think of. Naturally, those stories were never published. But they were left over for later amusement.
  • Guile Hero: The Ashlad.
  • Happily Ever After: "...og de levde lykkelig alle sine dager."
  • Hitchhiker Heroes: The helpers in "The Ashlad and the Good Helpers".
  • Impossible Task
  • Involuntary Shapeshifter
  • The Lost Woods
  • Meaningful Name: The Ashlad, Butterbuck, Mumble-Gooseegg and more.
  • Moving the Goalposts: Kings are prone to this.
  • Nameless Narrative
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: A pretty common tactic to prolong the hero's trial, usually combined with Forbidden Fruit: The protagonist breaks a promise never to do something, and this results in a lot of extra hardships and trials.
  • Once Upon a Time: "Det var en gang..."
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Ashlad's real name is "Espen" ("John" or "Jack" in some English translations), but he's nicknamed "Ashlad" because he sits in the ashes by the fireplace.
  • Parental Favoritism: Clear in the stories with the Ashlad. Ashlad is always the youngest son and The Unfavorite, while his older brothers are adored by the parents and get all the best stuff, the best food and the greatest benefits, while Ashlad has to make due with their leftovers.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: The last of the sevcn helpers in the "Good Helpers" tale has "seven summers and fifteen winters in his body". Thus, he constantly keeps his hand over his mouth, because, as he says: "If I let them all out, they would end the world in an instant..."
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: The ending of "The Ashlad and the Good Helpers".
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Why many Norwegian tales differ from the German ones. The social environment is vastly different in the Norwegian Cinderella versions, as far as the meeting with the prince is concerned. In Germany or England, the king holds a ball for the Prince attended by the heroine in disguise. In Norway, the girl in question rides to church three Sundays in a row and turns heads there. Churches were the common meeting place in the old days, and Norway had few castles, if any. (In fact, while the English translations often make references to the "King's Palace," the original refers to it as the "King's farm" and has the king live more like a grand, rich farm-owner.)
  • The Promise
  • The Quest
  • Rags to Royalty: The Ashlad stories almost always follow this — and even in the stories where he doesn't marry a princess and become royalty he at least becomes rich.
  • Royal Brat: Most princesses are this. It won't stop the main characters from trying to marry them however.
  • Rule of Three
  • Rule of Seven
  • Shapeshifting Lover: White-Bear-King Valemon is the most famous example, being the version where the man takes on the form of an animal thanks to a curse, and has to leave the princess when she sees his true form — leading to the bulk of the story where the princess searches for her lover and has to save him from the hag who cursed him.
  • Standard Hero Reward "I'll give you the princess and half my kingdom."
  • Soul Jar: The titular heart in "The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body".
  • Take That: The officials, like the tax collectors, sheriffs, well to do farmers (big shots), and quarrelsome husbands and wives. Sometimes the priests also get it. The stories were told by farmers to other farmers, and the officials were their natural enemies.
  • Talking Animal: It's actualy more common for the animals to talk in these stories than it is for them not to talk.
  • The Trickster: The Ashlad, Foxes, and quite a few one-off character.
  • The Unreveal: Subverted, "The Casket with the Strange Content" (Skrinet med det rare i) is basically the same as the Grimm's "The Golden Key" except the contents of the box is actually reveled to be a calf's tail. The narrator snarkingly remarks that had the tail been longer the story might have been so too.
  • Villain Protagonist: Peik, in his story. He starts off fairly innocently; he doesn't want to get a job, so he decides to make a living as a trickster and con man. He tricks the king into giving him a horse, then makes the same king believe he has a magic cooking-pot and selling it to him at a high price — but then it escalates when he tricks the king into believing he can call the dead back to life, resulting in the king killing his wife and eldest daughter. Then he dresses up as a girl and gets himself adopted by the same king, gets both the surviving princesses pregnant while in disguise as a girl, and when the king then tries to execute him for his crimes, Peik tricks an old man into getting executed in his stead, and for an encore tricks the king into killing himself, so Peik can become king in his stead. Good luck finding An Aesop that isn't Family-Unfriendly in all this.
  • Wealthy Ever After: The common reward for getting rid of trolls is the chance to loot all their gold afterwards.
  • Youngest Child Wins: The Ashlad and quite a few others.