Dinesen’s central purpose in Winter’s Tales is to show that women play an absolutely crucial role in life—indeed, that they are its very source and focus. The other themes of the work are linked to, and secondary to, the theme of the power of women.

From a thematic standpoint, the central story of Winter’s Tales is “The Sailor-boy’s Tale.” It tells about a young sailor-boy named Simon, who during a storm climbs the mainmast of his ship in order to free a peregrine falcon that has been caught there. Two years later, in the town of Bodo in northern Norway, Simon again meets the falcon, but in a most unusual way. Having fallen in love with a girl named Nora, he is, while on his way to see her one evening, detained by a Russian sailor named Ivan. To get away, Simon stabs the Russian, who is sexually interested in him, after which he is hunted by Ivan’s shipmates. While he is hiding in the crowd at a dance, an old pagan Lapp woman named Sunniva shows up, says that Simon is her son, and saves him from the Russians. She also reveals that she is a shape-shifter and that she is the falcon that Simon helped. She tells him that she admires his devotion to Nora and that the females of the earth hold together in a great matriarchal conspiracy. Referring to men as their sons, she indicates that the world is really run by the women. The story of Sunniva’s pagan matriarchy is Dinesen’s metaphor for the power of women in human life.

It is instructive that Sunniva is a pagan rather than a Christian, for Dinesen did not share the dualistic Christian worldview, which tends to relegate women to a secondary position. In “The Heroine,” she inverts the hierarchical relationship between man and woman by casting a woman stripper in the role of savior.

Heloise, the heroine, is...

(The entire section is 749 words.)