Cultural context & social interaction

Tiina Nunnally’s translation of Asbjørnsen and Moe speaks to us anew

Asbjørnsen and MoeEricka Michael
Puyallup, Wash.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbjørnsen and Moe is a beautiful new translation from the orignal Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally (2019, University of Minnesota Press).

The context lent by the inclusion of the forewords and introduction by Asbjørnsen and Moe puts us back in the folklorists’ methods of collection, giving insight to the tasks undertaken and their challenges.

It was asked of me when I received the book why a new translation was necessary. As we witness from the original writing down of these folktales, painstakingly gathered from storytellers remembering stories passed down through generations of oral tradition, without a retelling of the tales themselves, a translation for today’s book would not necessarily be possible. However, why are these tales so important?

Recently at Pacific Lutheran University, I met an international student from China named Jessica. She came to my table looking for vintage items, and I explained where the items were from and the meaning behind them. She was interested, and we sparked a good conversation, exchanged numbers, and have messaged about cultures, stories, and society.

At this same sale, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Inga McAdams, was in attendance, and the memories flooded back. These two ladies and I represent three generations in one place of people, sharing curiosity of culture, things, and social interaction. We all attended Pacific Lutheran University and love a good story.

I had a plethora of books out on display. Some were discarded books in Norwegian, Danish, English, and Swedish from the Mortvedt Library, where they were placed up for 25 cents a book when I attended PLU from 2010-2015. Even libraries must make way for new books by discarding books not seen to be of interest to the library patrons any longer. This doesn’t necessarily make the book less relevant or desirable, but it means it is not in the forefront of the current readership, and sadly, the discarded book faces an unknown future of sharing its tales or wisdom.

Sharing culture, any culture, is seen in the interaction between characters in folktales, stories deemed necessary to remember, revive, retell, and cherish. Every time the next translation into the more modern language of the day or society is made available in a new publication, then the anticipation of the old friends coming to visit in the form of stories becomes exciting and fresh once again for a new batch of readers.

Culture is passed down yet again, and in Tiina Nunnally’s translation, Asbjørnsen and Moe speak to us across the centuries, alongside Neil Gaiman, a folklorist and storyteller of renown in our day and time. Inga can read the tales and compare them to what she may have read, I can learn about the context in greater detail from the original folklorists’ words recently given to us in English, and Jessica can hear them and potentially carry them with her to China.

I cannot think of a more perfect gift than the wonderments and happenings of Norway through the ages; either this Christmas, a birthday, or for a lover of tales in need of a story to read. This book keeps Norwegian folktales current, modern, and contextual.

For more information on the new translation, with the University of Minnesota Press website:

This article originally appeared in the December 13, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.