L&S Breadth: Arts & Literature, Social & Behavioral Sciences
This course introduces you to the fairy tales, legends and, to a lesser extent, ballads of Nordic tradition. It will also introduce you to interpretive methodologies that strive to answer the question, “Why do people tell the stories that they tell?” For the purposes of this class, the Nordic area is taken to comprise all of the Nordic countries: Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, as well as Finland. We will, however, emphasize the three Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden and Norway) in our readings and will, in fact, be focusing primarily on the story repertoires of five exceptional storytellers from rural Jutland in Denmark, who lived during the late 19th century. During the course of the semester, the history of folkloristics in Scandinavia, from the earliest folkloristic endeavors of Saxo the Grammarian in the late thirteenth century, through the Golden Age of the late nineteenth century, up to the most recent writings of contemporary scholars will be explored. In part, these will be explored through the reading of select biographies of famous Nordic folklorists, which are available on the course website. The first two weeks of the class will be devoted to folklore theory and, in particular, folk narrative genres and narrative theory. In the context of the fairy tale, we will emphasize the syntagmatic structural approach of the Russian folklorist, Vladimir Propp, and the more recent, 3-dimensional model proposed by Bengt Holbek in the study of the fairy tale. We will also explore the style and psychology of fairy tales. We will then consider the cross-over between legend and folktale and, after this brief transitional interlude, theories related to the interpretation of legend, in particular the work of William Labov and Joshua Waletzky.
The primary course materials are translated folktales and legends from the five Danish storytellers mentioned above, along with their biographies, available through the Danish Folklore Nexus which comes packaged with the book, Danish Folktales, Legends and Other Stories. Ask me for assistance in installing the Nexus app on your computer or tablet if you need help. Additional comparative material, also available on the course website, comes from the collection, Swedish Legends and Folktales, by John Lindow (SLF). Other examples will be culled from the book, “Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend,” by Henning Sehmsdorff and Reimund Kvideland; and Reidar Christiansen’s “Folktales of Norway.” Several fairy tales will be torn from the pages of All the World’s Reward. There will be numerous assigned theoretical and historical readings to provide proper background for our discussions. These readings will be available on the course website.