Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Featured Artist: Theodor Kittelsen

This time I'll show you what's arguably the greatest artist of Norwegian folklore. Theodor Kittelsen (1857 - 1914) is famous for illustrating the Norwegian folktales, and he is acclaimed for having greatly influenced how trolls and other such creatures of the hidden world are percieved today.

The following four artworks are from the book Trollskap, which was published in 1892. The first depicts the classical forest-troll, lurking deep in the woods. The second is a sea-troll, one of the many terrors preying on fishermen and sailors, while the next is nøkken (wiki), a type of troll that hides in lakes, luring people to it so they'll drown.

The final is huldra (wiki). She is a beautiful woman, indistinguishable from christian folk, except from her cow's tail. She will seduce young men, hiding her rump in her skirts, and take them to her home, usually beneath a hill. Once there, the foolish lad will never be able to leave again.





The next set is from Svartedauen - the Black Death - and was published in the book by that name in 1900. In Norwegian folklore, the Black Death is personified by an old crone bearing the name Pesta, carrying a broom and a rake with broken teeth. In houses where she used the rake, some were spared, but where she used the broom, none survived. Sometimes she would pass a house all together.

Pesta farer landet rundt
Pesta roams the land



Between 1879 and 1887, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen published a series of books containing a collection of folktales gathered from around the country. Kittelsen was chosen to illustrate this work, although there were fears that 'the children would be scared out of their wits' by his pictures. At least one of his works were actually refused for that very reason. The next two are from these books.

Both these are from tales about clever young boys, who through their wits manages to defeat the dim-witted trolls - trolls are usually about as dumb as dirt. The first is from Smørbukk. The second is from Askeladden som kappåt med trollet. It depicts the boy fooling the troll into believing that the cheese he's squeezing is actually a rock, and beneath it you'll find an English version of that tale, curtesy of Wikipedia.


"Jeg skal klemme vannet av deg..."
"I will squeeze the water out of you..."

Boots who ate a match with the troll (Askeladden som kappåt med trollet)

A farmer sent his sons to cut wood in a forest he owned, to pay off debts. A troll threatened them as they came, one by one; the two older ones allowed themselves to be chased off, but the youngest asked for food. When the troll threatened him, the boy pulled out some cheese, claiming it was a stone, and squeezed it until whey came out. When he threatened to deal with the troll as he had with the "stone", the troll offered to help him with the wood-cutting.

The troll suggested that he come home with him. Then he went to build up the fire and sent the boy for water. The boy realized he could not carry the huge buckets, so he declared they were too small, and he could just fetch the spring. The troll exchanged chores with him.

When the porridge was made, they had an eating match, but the boy put more into his scrip than into his stomach, and when it was full, he cut a hole in it. The troll said he could eat no more. The boy suggested that he cut a hole in his stomach, which would let him eat as much as he liked, and it didn't hurt much.

The troll did so, and died, and the boy took his gold and silver and paid off the family debt.

Norwegian Folktales on Wikipedia


  1. Oh, how well his work travels through time. I can feel the gooseflesh and chills even today, many miles away!

  2. I remember being completely fascinated by these images when I was a wee tyke, and they still spark my imagination.

    And just so you know, the classic D&D trolls... Bah. Don't like 'em. There's nothing troll-ish about them whatsoever, as far as I'm concerned.

  3. great, i felt the need to be scared haha