Ingrid Urberg

Tales about Norwegian trolls told at Laft Hus

There’s a new creature lurking about the Laft Hus in Red Deer’s Heritage Square.

There’s a new creature lurking about the Laft Hus in Red Deer’s Heritage Square.

Hairy and green with a long, warty nose, this troll is a staple in Norwegian folk literature and was one of the many points of discussion on Sunday during a special seminar at the Hus.

Ingrid Urberg, a professor of Scandinavian studies at the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta, talked about nisser (elf-like guardians of horses), huldrefolk (magical hidden people) and various sea monsters found in Norwegian tales.

“Folk literature is another kind of history,” said Urberg to a crowd of 14. “And it wasn’t just for children. There were PG, PG13 and R rated versions of each story depending on who was telling it and who was listening.”

In fact, folklore is a “pretty dark world,” said Urberg. “Fairy tales are all about the happy ending but legends are about real life and real life doesn’t always turn out well.”

Urberg began studying Norwegian folklore as a university student back in the 1980s, interested in learning more about her own heritage.

But it wasn’t until she moved to the country for a student exchange that she discovered how passionate she was about the topic.

It would go on to become her life’s work.

“I want to make more people aware of the richness in folk tradition in Norway . . . The stories are like a cultural mirror and you learn so much about a people’s social codes, values and more,” she said. “Story is an important part of life and we’re all storytellers.”

Karen Westley of Sherwood Park made the drive down to hear Urberg to “know more about her roots.”

Westley’s father immigrated to Canada from Norway when he was 20 and as a child, Westley was always fascinated with a 1867 humpback trunk her parents had that was decorated with rosemaling painting, a Norwegian art form.

Now a rosemaling instructor herself, Westley said she was curious about the cultural significant of trolls and other beings in so many Norwegian tales.

While most know trolls are grotesque things, few had any notion that they were actually rarely believed in during pre-industrial times.

“Trolls personified real fears of the unknown but people weren’t generally afraid if they walked into the wood that a troll would grab them,” said Urberg.

Urberg will be back in Norway in September, working on an oral history project.

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