Scandinavian-American Folk Tales...and Fish Stories

Scandinavian-American Folk Tales...and Fish Stories by Kristopher Paulson

Fairy tales are fairy tales, fish stories are fish stories, and the truth is the truth. And apparently, all of these stories and tales are the absolute truth.” This disclaimer is often voiced by the author, Kris Paulson.

Kris is well known in Greater Vancouver, although he lives there but half the year. He is a winter storyteller based in North Vancouver, BC and a summer fisherman housed in Marcell, Minnesota, US. With noticeable pride and satisfaction, he summarises his two passions: he tells fishy tales in British Columbia and collects fish tails in Minnesota.

Another of his often voiced saying is:“It was not once upon a time, but in the summer of 1955” when, as a young student, he first travelled from his native Minnesota to his ancestral Norway to meet his relatives and their culture. The stories and sagas stayed with him and became the foundation of the tales he told his children and which now await his grandchildren.

Meantime, he and his son collaborated to produce this book in the summer of 2008. Paulson wrote down five stories which his son, a graphic designer, vividly portrayed in colour and form. Together, they established Mophouse Publishing to produce this slim 52 page volume with five original stories.

By a few months, the book fulfils Paulson’s dream of publishing his stories before he is 75. Prior to retirement, Kris was a professor of English Literature at Simon Fraser University, in Greater Vancouver.

His stories describe interactions, not always voluntary, with Nisses, trolls and Dragedukkes, all described and drawn with commanding veracity. Nisses are Norwegian Gnomes who wear blue bib overalls over white shirts and stand almost 3 feet tall in marked contrast to the mere 15 centimetre tall Dutch gnomes and the smaller Irish leprechauns who are dressed in green and are but “a figment of Irish fancy and fairy tale.”

Another feature of Nisses is that some learnt English and smoke American tobacco, a spinofffromthetouristtrade. Definitivestatementscommandeer these tales of truth.

Comparing cultures comes naturally to Kris. His father was a patriotic American as well as a Norwegian Nationalist who combined both interests when he became a charter member of the Norwegian-American Historical Association.

Historically, trolls are uniquely Norse. Kris, however, remarks on their gustatory preference: they have a passion for cloudberries. As trolls cannot emerge during the day because the light turns them into stone, they begin picking when the sun goes down and the daylight foragers departed. Thus begins The Adventure in Berry Picking which involves the troll boy who not only raced against the sun but also won.

Another troll tale concerns the Saw Tooth troll whose remarkable ability to gnaw down trees threatened the safety and survival of the Nisses living underneath. Nisses favoured hickory trees but so did Saw Tooth. While lots of hickory trees became skis, many more were destroyed by Saw Tooth, the Old Hickory Chomper. Eventually, some shrewd Nisses outsmarted this troll. To this day, he is never seen and the Nisses live quietly under birch trees.

Differing from both Nisses and trolls are the Dragedukke. Literally, Dragedukke means a doll which drags things away. With its accursed activities, the Dragedukkes are the Norwegian equivalent of poltergeists. Dragedukkes have, however, a particular affinity with the Paulsons.

When his great grandparents emigrated from Norway to America in 1868, the Dragedukkes managed to board the ship and cleverly hitched a ride to Minnesota where they continued to drag things away.

Remodelling the 75 year old family farmhouse built by these great grandparents, the family were astonished to see the treasure trove of the Dragedukkes exposed between the studs: eight pliers, three crescent wrenches, a stack of coins, nuts and bolts, roofing nails, 14 spoons, grandmother’s silver collection, one scythe blade and 37 whetstones! The fondness for whetstones defies belief. The family were “in awe” of their diligent Dragedukkes.

These family stories emanating from the escapades of the Dragedukkes regularly entertain the Greater Vancouver audiences. No matter how often heard or read, these stories are a delight. Culled from his “life-time adventure with the people, the language and the folk tales of Norway”, Kris writes tales for all ages with his unique voice whistling through the truth of these tales. To purchase this engaging book, please contact Kris: .

Mary Gavan
Originally published Le raconteur Vol 13:02 p. 17 Winter 2009

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