The master of crime meets the supernatural
Leslee Lane Hoyum
Norwegian author Vidar Sundstøl took Norwegian-Americans by storm with his Minnesota Trilogy, a series full of family drama, murder mystery, Native American culture, and dream interpretation. Fans follow Lance Hansen, a U.S. Forest Service officer of Norwegian descent, who discovers the body of a young Norwegian along Lake Superior. He finds common threads that are nearly supernatural between the young man’s death and the disappearance of Swamper Caribou, an Ojibwe Indian, who lived in northeastern Minnesota more than 100 years before, a story related to Hansen by his Ojibwe father-in-law, Willy Dupree.
Recently, Sundstøl visited Minnesota on a book signing tour and was willing to talk about the past, present, and future. He was quick to share that he wasn’t always a writer. He has been a postal carrier, highway crew laborer, and forestry worker, to name a few. Although his interest in writing and literature developed while he was in high school, it was two decades before he was published.
In 1987 he had a life-changing experience. He applied to and was accepted in a creative writing class at the college at Bø. “The class boosted my self-confidence, and I said to myself, ‘maybe I can write.’” He finally found his mojo. Shortly thereafter he wrote a book that was accepted by four publishers, allowing him to choose the best one. At about the same time he moved to northeastern Minnesota, where his wife began a new job. His interest in Norwegian emigration, American Indian culture, and today’s Norwegian-American sensibility began and grew. After two years he returned to Norway and the Minnesota Trilogy emerged.
Sundstøl said he feels much like Hansen about the mystical power that forests and water offer. “My grandfather lived one kilometer deep in the dark forest of Telemark and I often visited him,” said Sundstøl. “He looked at the forest as fishermen look at the sea. He had a very close relationship with nature and its often unworldly spirit. As I read about Ojibwe culture and thought about Willy Dupree, I saw my grandfather. Willy’s personality is my grandfather’s; both are old men who shared their stories.”
A native of Telemark County, Sundstøl was born in Drangedal and now lives in Bø. When most Norwegian-Americans think of Telemark, Morgedal comes to mind. After all, it is the cradle of modern Norwegian ski sports. However, belief in trolls and other supernatural beings is prevalent in Telemark, according to Sundstøl, and has helped shape the heart of Norwegian folklore and superstition. It has existed alongside Christianity for hundreds of years. Medieval ballads, songs and tales that still exist today, were passed on from one generation to another throughout the isolated Telemark valleys and farms.
Telemark folklore influenced many of its native sons, such as Theodor Severin Kittlesen of Kragerø and Henrik Ibsen of Skien. Kittlesen is famous not only for his nature paintings but also his trolls. And how about Henrik Ibsen? His early play, Peer Gynt, has strong surreal elements. It will soon become evident that Sundstøl, too, is deeply affected by his home’s mystical folklore as readers explore his next endeavor.
Due to be released in Norway in September, the first book in Sundstøl’s new series is called Djevelens giftering (The Devil’s Wedding Ring). Readers will befriend a 50-something Telemark man who has lived in the United States for 30 years and returns to Norway, and a 34-year-old single mom, who is a librarian at Bø College, with a keen interest in the days of Norwegian Catholicism and pagan mysticism. “You might say that it’s a mystery where ancient Norwegian folklore and superstition meet modern crime,” said Sundstøl. “Even the Eidsborg Stave Church at Tokke will be drawn in.”
Unlike the Minnesota Trilogy, where it took three books to discover the murderer, each book in the new series will reveal the villain and solve the mystery. Sundstøl is optimistic that the new book will be translated into English in the near future.
By the way, if you’re wondering when a Minnesota Trilogy movie or TV series will surface, it’s hard to tell. Sundstøl has sold the rights, but he will have no further oversight. He does hope, however, that since Ojibwe folklore is at the heart of the book, its integrity will be maintained. We will all just have to wait and see.
This article originally appeared in the May 1, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.