New edition, old tales

This classic collection from the authors and illustrators of Leif the Lucky is back in print

Linda Warren
Washington, D.C.

d’Aulaires’ Book of Norwegian Folktales is a collection of 21 stories adapted and illustrated by the husband and wife team of Ingri d’Aulaire (1904-1980) and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire (1898-1986). This 2016 edition is a reprint of the original, published in 1938.


Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire, immigrants from Eastern Europe, settled in New York and Connecticut. In their life together, they wrote 27 children’s books. Inspired by their heritage, they wrote Children of the North Lights, Norse Gods and Giants, and Leif the Lucky.

The classic folktales in this reprint pull the reader into an imaginary world where good behavior guarantees rewards and magical characters appear when the hero and heroine are at their wit’s end.

A consistent hero in the Norwegian folk tradition is the Cinderlad or Ash Lad (Norwegian: Askeladden). This character is a classic underdog. He starts life with no education or opportunities and opposition from his own family. Because of his courage, hard work, and perseverance, he wins the princess and half the kingdom. d’Aulaires’ Book of Norwegian Folktales contains two Cinderlad tales.

Even a brave and persevering hero or heroine needs a little magic now and then.

In “Kari Woodenskirt,” a hard-working young woman escapes her wicked step-mother on the back of a magic bull who keeps her alive with food from a cloth he pulls out of his ear. The bull fights the troll with nine heads and brings Kari safely to the prince’s palace. When Kari, radiant in the golden gown the bull provided, steps into the matching shoes, the prince at once recognizes her as a true princess, and “then came the wedding feast.”

Like Kari, the young woman in “The Three Aunts” finds her future at the palace. Leaving home because her kind but poor father cannot take care of her, this character, called the daughter or the lassie, takes a job in the king’s kitchen.

The other servants, jealous of her beauty and goodness, tell the queen that the daughter can sew beautiful garments in 24 hours.

This is not true. Alone, the daughter cries in despair. Three ugly old women come to her aid, completing the tasks. As she promised the old women, the daughter claims the work as her own. The queen is so pleased, she offers her son the prince in marriage. “So as the lassie was willing and the prince liked her, the wedding came soon.”

Keeping her second promise to the old women, her benefactors, the daughter, now the prince’s bride, calls the old women her aunts and welcomes them to her wedding feast and a new life of ease at the palace.

There are several treats in store for the reader of d’ Aulaires Book of Norwegian Folktales: A chance to be immersed in a simple and satisfying story structure where good works and effort assure life’s bounty and an appreciation for the enduring power of Norse myth. For fun, explore the Wikipedia entry titled: “Category: Films Based on Norse Mythology.”

Click the links to see a list of the different films based on Norse folk characters and myths. Among those listed are the 1987 animated holiday special The Little Troll Prince, the 1991 horror film The Runestone, and the 2013 Thor the Dark World, part of a series based on superheroes from Marvel comics.

d’Aulaires’ Book of Norwegian Folktales is available from the University of Minnesota Press and costs $29.95 in cloth with a jacket. The authors were awarded the distinguished Caldecott medal for their book Abraham Lincoln and the Regina medal honoring their contributions to literature for children.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 18, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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