The tiny legs looked like drumsticks there they ran after me down the steep hill. I was traveling again and had placed my four years old son with grandmother. He didn’t want to be there. I walked with long steps, he would never be able to catch me. He had to shout. He shouted, «Don’t go, mamma (mother).» I replied, «I’ll be back soon.» He stopped, kept his tears, my back was what he saw. He said, half-loud, «So farewell, then.»

Over twenty years later I ran. He must not to travel. I saw him disappear and said: “Farewell then”.

I remember. Still, I’m unsure, I don’t know if the moments I remember are life told or life lived.

I want to tell you a Norwegian folk tale called «The One Who Makes Everyone Alike». In Norway, there are several variants of this folk tale, from the regions Telemark and Trøndelag. The variant I came across has great similarities to a version written down by the German brothers Grimm.

I’ve made some changes with the story that might provoke or surprise, I’ve changed the gender of the protagonist to see what it does to the narrative.

The first time I worked with this folk tale was in connection with a performance called «Farvel da” meaning Farewell Then». I didn’t tell the story at that time. In connection with the performance, I had 365 folded paper boats lying across the floor. On every boat there was a story about death. This was one of the stories.

There was a man and a wife, who were poor. They owned nothing, except children which they had plenty of. The house they lived in consisted of planks, ceilings, walls, no glass in windows, planks to eat by and sit on. The table of planks they used had cracks and this was a crisis, because crumbs could disappear into the cracks. And crumbs were what they lived on.

There in the home it was never asked – what should we eat today? They knew what to eat, the same every day, porridge or soup with what they found edible. Everything they owned, they wore, and switched in between them if they wanted a change. They spent days brushing, patching and repairing what they had. Well, you should be glad you weren’t there, and so were they, because then they would have another mouth to feed. We who live in a kind of abundance cannot imagine what it was like, but it was what it was.

And in all this poverty, another child was born. The wife lifted the baby and held it in her arms, she saw the beautiful, wise eyes and said, «You can’t live here. I have to go out into the world and find someone who is willing to take you. «

From the mid-1800s and upwards you can find ads in newspapers where children are given away, ads that are among other ads such as stables for rent, or work that is being sought. One ad reads as following: “Kind people are asked to take as their own a beautiful, two months old girl child.”
The wife took the child and went off to get rid of it. She was easy to hold, but a heavy burden to carry. If the child was not placed away, it could be the death for all of them. She wandered and wondered, if no one wanted her child, what would happen then?

After a while, a skinny and bearded man approached her. He had intense eyes, those eyes that didn’t see you, but that mirrored itself in you. The wife was sweating in her hands and was about to pass by when the stranger stopped and said «Where are you going with the child?» «Oh,» the wife sighed on exhalation, «I have so many, short and long, weak and strong, it is enough. I’m off to see if anyone has the heart to take it. » «I can have it,» said the stranger. The wife looked closer at the stranger, dressed in brown and gray, almost blending with trees and dusty road, he looked like he was going to collapse, but stayed upright.

In one of the ads from the 1800 it says: “one year old motherless girl child is given to kind people, preferably some who take it as their own.”
In one of the ads from the 1800 it says: “one year old motherless girl child is given to kind people, preferably some who take it as their own.”

«And who are you?» the wife wanted to know. «I am Jesus,» he said. «Jesus?», the woman shook her head and thought for a while. Then she said, «Yes, it is strange, you would like to make it to a poor woman and believe me, I have tried and that is the biggest cross anyone can carry,» she said, thanked and moved on with the child.

On the way she met another guy. This was a bent forward one, always smiling and rubbing in his hands, twinkling eyes and stubble sticking out of his chin and down his throat. He stretched his neck and looked curiously at the child she was carrying. The wife shuddered. «Where are you going with the little baby?» the stranger asked. «I’m off to see if anyone can take care of it,» the wife said. «I can take it myself,» said the stranger. «Who are you?» the wife wanted to know. «I’m Old Eirik,» said the stranger. «No!» said his wife, spitting in the ground, «you won’t get the child, you are leading everyone to ruin,» she said, and then she traveled on with her child.

If you do not know who Old Eirik is, he is also called the devil or the evil one. According to the cultural heritage, Old Eirik is a degradation of Erik the Holy. Erik, once a Swedish king, killed and made the saint. But Pope Alexander the Fourth forbade the cult around Erik.

The evening was soon there, the twilight crept in between the trees. The wife stopped, would she go home with the child? Or should she place the child on the edge of the forest and hope that someone would find it?

As she stood and wiggled a little back and forth, unsure of what to do, a third guy came. He had a serious look on his face and walked forward with his hands folded, she saw how one thumb rubbed the other hand, as if a restlessness lay over him.

«What are you doing with the child?» the stranger asked. «I’m looking for someone to take care of her,» her mother said. «I can take it,» the man said. «Who are you?» she wanted to know. «I’m death,» said the other, sighing.

To remember is to be in a particular social space, influenced by the culture we are in (Pollan, 2015, p. 159) writes the religion historian and author Brita Pollan in the book ««Å huske sitt liv Litterære essayer (Remembering Life Literary Essays)». This book is about the autobiography. In the social space, the collective memory is a framework for the autobiographical.

The collective memory is not fixed and archived as a stagnation, this can be seen through religion, according to the French philosopher Maurice Halbwachs (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 92). Interpretations of the great memory book the Bible have changed, albeit, it seems like, the aftermath of rest of the society; many of us look with puzzled eyes on those who interpret the Bible literally, as if they came from another time. We who are concerned with storytelling see similarities between myths and stories in contemporary religions. Religions are built on stories, because the stories are good caretakers of memory.

The influence of the present day enriches the religious memory, but on the other hand, religion is also fixed through rituals that makes a connection that is greater than the individual’s relationship to the memory. The rituals ensure a connection between what has been and the present, it is a materiality there that has always been repeated.

Many of us do not give religion a thought beyond rituals that give us days off and days to gather and nurture the collective memory.

«Are you?» The wife said, looking closer at the stranger. He looked as though he was carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders, at the same time acting determined and firm. The wife looked down at the child and back at the old one, she shrugged her shoulders and said, «Yes, you will have her, because you make everyone equal. You’re a fair man. » Then she gave the child to death. She turned her back and hurried home and never looked back. The old man rocked the child and hummed shaky tones he had heard other humming to lull children to sleep.

Through her book mentioned above, Pollan takes on various people / thinkers / writers who have written their autobiography. The autobiography is old, but still not one of the oldest cultural expressions we have. Pollan writes: «Scientists have believed that at the time of Homer and the writing down of the Iliad and the Odyssey, humans had not yet developed an understanding of the self that allowed an individual to reconstruct the context of a personal life story from childhood to adulthood. The self was not discovered as a reality detached from what family, society and religion had to define a human being (my translation Pollan, 2015, p. 37). ”

In other words, the story of the «individual self» is not as old as human, a rather radical contrast to our present day, where the individual and the personal are the focus.

Death took good care of the child and made sure she got both nourishment and learning. She followed death on travels and saw both one and the other.

  The girl grew up and over time learned to heal the sick. Then came the day when she had to leave death and travel on her own. Death said to her, «That’s one last thing I want you to know. When you come to someone who is sick you will see me in the room. Do you see me sitting at the head of the sick person lying in bed, then there is no hope,» he said, «but if I sit by the feet, the sick can recover again. You must never break this sign, because then you have a fine, your life. ” The girl who had now become a young woman nodded her head and then traveled alone around the world. She traveled here and there and up and down, taking care not to break the words of death.

Pollan calls the autobiography «from within – truths (Pollan, 2015, p. 62)». That’s because autobiography doesn’t pretend to «remember right», it’s more about how you want to be remembered as. She writes: «Life is a raw material for poetry and fiction, which is not a failure to life, but a consummation of life as awareness of life (my translation Pollan, 2015, p. 62)».

We have our private, mental rooms, where all kinds of stories intertwine: «There you find hidden meanings of the life we ​​have lived – impressions from childhood, books we have read, memories, family stories, unfinished thoughts, feelings we do not understand ourselves, dreams, presence of people we have met and never forget, dead we remember in despair and with gratitude, clues that connect us to the past and an unknown future, emotions such as wonder, confusion, anxiety, and not least awareness of the very death that awaits us – all that and much more is present in our own hidden inner space. (my translation Pollan, 2015, p. 171) ».

The girl became a doctor who was widely known and sought after across all countries.

One day the king fell ill and the doctor was asked for. She walked into a darkened room, heavy blankets muted the sounds. Here and there counselors and the king’s family stood and shook their heads as they whispered muffled with sorrowful voices. Here the time stood still, for they tried to catch it and turn it around so that the dying would be healed and alive. The king was dearly loved and then the heavier grief. The doctor saw death sitting at the headboard. «There’s no hope here,» she said, becoming part of the flock shaking her head. The people were so sad and they said she had to save him. If she could make the king well, she would receive as much payment as she had never received before. She looked at him, the death, the old man sitting there nodding his head. He sat and slumbered. She had an idea. «Fast,» she whispered, making signs that they would take the king and turn him around. They rushed forward, took hold of the king and turned him. So that the head lay where the feet had been and the feet were now at the headboard. The king opened his eyes, he was healthy and everyone was filled with joy. But not him.

He was not happy. He got up and waved her to him with his strict pointing finger. «You’re coming with me,» he said.

Do you have a story about yourself that you regret sharing?
An autobiographical story «as awareness of life» I think gives a good description of what happens when you build a narrative based on a memory. This process involves a reflection similar to what the French philosopher Paul Ricouer calls three stages of mimesis – the narrative has to go through some processes in order for it to be communicated to others.

I personally like to work in the span between the personal and the mythical.

 One might wonder why stories like myths survive as they do not represent an objective reality. They are in a place where we use our imagination to connect to them. Pollan says that the survival is because the myths tells about the absolute value of the individual and the need to «accept the loneliness of oneself (Pollan, 2015, p. 64)».

Have you heard a story you wish you never heard?

Do you have a story about yourself that you regret sharing?

He was not happy. He got up and waved her to him with his strict pointing finger. «You’re coming with me,» he said.

She fell to her knees before death and prayed for her life. «I am still young and have many years left to live, let me go on. I promise to never again break the promise. » Death looked at the woman he had raised himself, he felt with her and maybe he was too strict. He said, «If you do this one more time, I’ll take you,» and then he stroked her head and let her live. Yes, the doctor promised she would never do it again.

Then a short time passed and the king’s son fell ill and the doctor called for. If the king was loved, the king’s son filled them with even greater sorrow. Nothing pains so much to see a child being sick. I had to say, goodbye then.

And nothing pains like watching a parent love his child and having to say goodbye to it. She had to say it. «There’s no hope here,» she saw death sitting at the headboard. But they asked her and the king said that if she could do good to his son, she would have him. The doctor looked at the king’s son and she saw how beautiful he was and she thought she had never been able to love anyone and had anyone loved her? Death sat and drowsed. The doctor couldn’t resist it. She dared to turn him around and he got well again. The King’s son threw his arms around the doctor.

But death grabbed her by the collar, pulled her away and said, «You’re following me.»

There is a danger in telling one’s own story, for when it is told or written, it is sort of “finished”: «Life is no longer as open to new interpretations (Pollan, 2015, p. 97)». I also think that when one’s own stories are told; the experiences no longer belong to oneself. I have become something else in the eyes of others, I have lost a bit of myself into something bigger, a different interpretation of me. Pollan says «Somehow we still remain ‘ourselves’, as separate individuals associated with our particular history, the way we remember it and the way others see us. (Pollan, 2015, p. 159) ». The personal narrative addresses concentrated pieces of me, it is me in an interpreted state – a mixture of representation and presentation. It is necessary to understand what one is exposing oneself to when telling the story out in public, you are no longer your own interpretation, but living a life in others beyond your own control.

This is an exercise for you, think of something that has happened in your life and is there a parallel to that event somewhere else? If you, for example, just to take an example that comes to me, rode a horse as a child, have you read, heard stories of others riding a horse. Can you mix the two events into a story?

Death took her on her last journey, it went far down into the earth, where it was completely dark, she stuck to death. Far in the distance she could see the shimmer of light and suddenly they stood in a cave where it was so full of light that it was bright everywhere. The flaming flames filled the room peacefully. Some candles were long and recently lit and some were half burnt and some were hardly burning. «What’s this?» the doctor asked. «There is a light for every life,» said Death. «Those who recently lit are the children and those who burn in the stake, are those who have lived their age.» «Where’s my light?» the doctor asked. «There it is,» said Death, pointing to a tiny flame. Around it stood the other candles, they were long and burning brightly. «What lights are they?» «It’s your family.» «Those who gave me away? There is no right for them to live longer than me. Swap my light with one of theirs. I want to and I have to live longer. ” Death looked at her and thus her light went out and she died.


Halbwachs, M. (1992). On collective memory. Chicago og London: The University of Chicago Press.

Pollan, B. (2015). Å huske sitt liv Litterære Essayer. Oslo: Emilia Press.