The realer than real tale of the huldra

Or: How a loving grandfather accidentally commissioned an 8-foot foam creature


Photo: Karen Parr
Katie Parr received a huldra for her 27th birthday.

Terje Birkedal
Anchorage, Alaska

Once there was a grandfather who loved his little granddaughter with all his heart. She had red hair and he held her very dear. Whenever he had the chance, he would tell her of the old times when trolls and other creatures roamed the mountains and the woods.

She especially liked to hear about the huldra, an elusive spirit sometimes seen in the mountains and forests. The huldra was beautiful, but she had the tail of a cow hidden under her dress. If a man were to catch sight of her, he would fall instantly in love. Many a man would disappear after seeing a huldra, for the attraction was more than they could bear, and they would eagerly join her in her mountain lair. Others, having been rejected, would wander the land babbling of women with tails. These men were thought crazy, and they rarely recovered their senses.

When her grandfather told her stories about the huldra, his little red-haired granddaughter’s eyes would get as big and bright as silver plates. When she did finally fall asleep, the huldra would often appear in her dreams. For her, trolls and huldrer were realer than real.

Many years later, the little girl grew up, but her grandfather still loved her with all his heart, and he knew she still cherished the stories he had told about the huldra. So, one day, he asked a man who was clever with his hands to carve a likeness of a huldra for his granddaughter’s 27th birthday. The man worked and worked to make the huldra realer than real.


Photo: Geoff Parr
Before and after: Though magnificent, the original sculpture (above) was a bit unwieldy, so they ended up cutting the base off to fit it in a bedroom. As you can see, it’s still an impressive work of art.

Then one day, he was finally done. What was to be a small figure was actually 8 feet tall; it would not fit on anybody’s wall. It showed a huldra coming out of her cave and waving her tail. But despite its size, the red-haired granddaughter loved it as much as she loved her story-telling, Norwegian grandpa. Snipp, snapp, snute, så er eventyret ute.

The Norwegian grandfather in this story is my older brother Audun Birkedal, and his red-haired granddaughter is Katie Parr. She has a Viking ship and the phrase “Det var en gång…” (there was a time; the Norwegian version of “Once upon a time…”) tattooed on her right arm. The man who carved the sculpture is Brian Johnston. And the story is realer than real. All of them live in the far northwest part of British Columbia, Canada. And some, even today, believe that there are trolls and huldrer roaming the woods up there.

Terje “Ted” Birkedal was born in Stavanger, Norway, in 1946. He grew up in Colorado and earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Colorado. He retired in 2012 but remains active in his field and has served as the President of Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage since 2012. He has conducted archeological fieldwork in the American South, the Great Plains, Norway, Canada, Guam, and Alaska. He has always been passionate about Norwegian prehistory and history.

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Terje Birkedal

Terje G. Birkedal was born in Stavanger, Norway, in 1946. He immigrated to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Colorado. After earning a Ph.D. in Anthropology he served as an archeologist with the National Park Service for 36 years. He has conducted fieldwork in Alaska, the American South and Southwest, Canada, the Great Plains, Guam, and Norway. He served five years as President of Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage, Alaska, and he has always been passionate about Norwegian prehistory, history, and culture.