Folk tales and legends can be violent. Is it because they were written down at a time when this was part of everyday life? Take, for example, the Norwegian folk tale The Blue Ribbon, which can be found in the collection of Asbjørnsen and Moe. There it is violence against a young boy. Or in the folk tale called «The Juniper tree» in English (Brothers Grimm), here a child is killed by his stepmother. In the Blue Ribbon, it is the boy’s mother and not his stepmother who tries to get rid of her own son. Both stories end in a redress for the vulnerable.

On an overall level, one may wonder why violence as a motive is so clearly present in many folk tales, such as self-harming (trolls cut up their own stomachs), abuse and murder. One can also wonder where these motives come from, what kind of experiences lie behind. Is it a form of catharsis, where one through the narrative get an outlet for darker sides of oneself as a human being? Violence is/was apparently accepted, while the erotic has been censored in the traditional stories. The first collection of erotic folk tales was published in the 1970s in Norway, more than 100 years later than the first publication of the Norwegian folk tales and folk legends.

I experience the violence in the folk legends with a strong unease. Folk legends are surrounded by the topology of reality, they are in imagery closer to the language of real life experience and do not have the same symbols as folk tales. In particular, I think about the changeling folk legends that may have been based on people who were differently, the “strangeness” in the child was explained by using the belief in the unseen people, the child had been swapped with the unseen people’s child one thought; and there was a belief that violence would bring back the actual child of the parents. It is very often women who carry out violence against the so-called changeling. As in the following folk legend from Norway:

The changeling
Nicolaisjen, O. (1887). Sagn og eventyr fra Nordland Samlede af O. Nicolaisjen. Kristiania: B. E. Hallings boghandels forlag.

Once, the trolls had taken a beautiful little boy child out of a wife’s cradle and put a changeling there instead. the wife did not know what to do to get off with that horrible changeling that had an old man’s face and who ate and drank worse than a hungry wolf and who could never be full.

She then got the advice from her neighbor’s wife that she should try to get him to talk. If he talked, she had to beat him with seven broomsticks until there was not the twig left on the broom.

She went home and sat down to weave in a loom where there was no yarn. For a long time, the changeling was looking at this, but then he could not keep himself anymore, but got up in the cradle and asked what mother was doing. «Yes, I weave clothes out of nothing»; the wife said. «Well, now I have been living in seven “wood falls” (an expression directly translated, meaning the wood has been cut seven times and grown up again), but I have never seen any weave clothes of nothing,» he said. Then the wife ran up and started beating him up with the broomsticks so the twigs were falling off. After she had worn out two brooms and was using the third and the changeling was screaming so loud that the trolls came running and threw her boy in to her and said, «Here you have your ugly boy, let us have our poor man. The wife did not say no to this.

If one imagines that there are human experiences behind such narratives, the motive has a more brutal effect. Should one not tell such stories, should one change them or should they witness the more brutal side of cultural heritage?