Swedish Faeries and Faery Tales
There’s a fantasy and science fiction bookstore in Stockholm I like to visit on occasion. When I do, I usually walk out with a pile of books to add to my already towering to-be-read pile, and my last visit there was no exception.
Incidentally, that was the visit where I bought The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs, despite the fact that there was no blurb on the back cover or inside or anywhere. It was all just propaganda/hype from reviews and such, which I often ignore. I was annoyed and kept ranting, “Why is there no blurb? Do they think they don’t need one?” etc. I think I was mostly annoyed because I was curious and wanted to read it, but I didn’t want to reward that little marketing ploy. Anders, bless him, just shook his head while I ranted and took the book from me and added it to the pile. I’m actually reading it now and enjoying it, so it all worked out. Also, I will say it was kind of exciting starting that book. It was like opening an unlabeled mystery tin can, which could either contain tasty cling peaches in light syrup, or some kind of meat-like hash made with cigarette ashes and rat whiskers.
Anyway, to get on topic, that particular visit was also when I bought this cool illustrated book about Nordic Faeries by Johan Egerkrans. In fact, that’s the title I’d give it if I translated the Swedish title of Nordiska Väsen to English. It reminds me a lot of the book Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee that I fell in love with as a kid, and which I still hold largely responsible for my current faerie infatuation.
I’ve yet to read through all the text in Nordiska Väsen, but I’ve enjoyed looking at the illustrations. The style is more whimsical than scary or serious, but not too whimsical that it looks overly silly or childish. They’re cozy illustrations that make me wish I were there. I partly blame this book for the arrival of Tum in my Hazel and Holly series, as the illustration of the gnome-like kvarngubbe (“old man of the mill”) holding a lantern is one of my favorites, and I just felt like I wanted a lantern-bearing gnome of my own.
Some of these faeries are new to me, like the gruvrå—which I suppose translates to “woman of the mines”, similar to a skogsrå. The gruvrå is a pale, beautiful woman who appears to miners while down in the mines. She frequently wears grey dresses, but if she’s seen wearing black, then it’s a foreboding of death. She is both feared and honored. Offerings made to the gruvrå is said to have led to discoveries of silver.
Some faeries are similar to ones in other cultures, like the bäckahäst (“river horse”), which seems to be very similar to the Scottish Kelpie, in that they like to lure people onto their backs and then drown them. But it can also be mischievous like the Irish Phooka, and just take people for a terrifying ride before dumping them in the middle of nowhere, leaving them to figure out how to get back home.
And then there’s the disturbing story of the kyrkogrim – or “church grim” I suppose is how it’s translated. Apparently these are creatures that guard churches and the surrounding grounds. They’ll throw out people slacking off or causing disturbances during church service, and at night they’ll scare off grave robbers. Apparently, to get a Church Grim, a live animal was walled in the church while it was being built. If that didn’t happen, then the roll went to whoever was first to be buried in the churchyard. Creepy. And cruel, as far as the poor animal goes. Church Grims take on a monstrous form of the creature it was in life, which could be dog, cat, ox, rooster, or person.
I actually found a free little ebook of faery tales called Bedtime Stories for Awful Children. It’s illustrated and available in a few different languages. It’s apparently promo material for a story app (which I might actually check out), but I thought the book charming in its own right.
There’s also a website called Swedish Fairy Tales and Legends that lists 56 different tales right there on the site. I haven’t read them yet, but they’re on that ever-growing list.
Do you have any favorite faery tales or creatures?
Featured Image: Lena Held Up the Key, by John Bauer