(from Marijke van Raephorst,Troll-child, Norwegian Folk tales)
Translated from the Dutch by Isabella
Introduction by Daniel Fusch
The fossegrim or stromkarlen of Scandinavian folklore are enigmatic
spirits that reside in rivers or beside waterfalls; natural fiddlers, they
convert the sound of water on their strings into beautiful and otherwordly
music. There are very few mentions of them in the English-speaking world,
but Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has this to say about them:
Stromkarl has eleven different musical measures, to ten of which people
may dance, but the eleventh belongs to the night-spirit, his host. If anyone
plays it, tables and benches, cups and cans, old men and women, blind and
lame, babies in their cradles, and the sick in their beds, begin to dance.
The folk tales surrounding the fossegrim are acknowledgments of the
power music has to upset the fixed order of things, to move hearts and
overturn lives. Like water itself, music replenishes, enlivens, erodes,
hurricanes, and soothes the spirit. The fossegrim could be enticed to grant
beauty and strangeness to a villager's ordinary life, but the fossegrim must
never be taken lightly.
I was first introduced to the fossegrim by the Dutch artist Isabella, whose
translation of a Dutch rendition of the folk tale - one she grew up with -
follows here. Since then the editors of Dante's Heart have started
gathering all the bits of folklore, verse, and art on the subject that they can
find in English. Our hope is that the collection here on the Dante's Heart
blog (though now in its infancy) may become a growing introduction of this
Scandinavian folk figure to the English-speaking world.
We hope you enjoy Isabella's beautiful translation of one such folktale.
What struck me about this one is that it seemed at first anticlimactic: I fully
expected the fossegrim to drag the miser down into the water - a violent and
terrible end, as one might find in an unexpurgated Grimms fairy tale.
Reading the tale a second time, I realized that the miser's actual fate is far
more horrible (our folktales are often smarter than we are). He never plays
his violin. He never makes beautiful melodies. He lives a long and lonely life
without music, a life of disappointment. What more horrible fate could
Read "The Fossegrim"