East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon Critical Context - Essay

Jorgen Moe

Critical Context

During the nineteenth century, Norwegian collectors and editors Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe traversed the countryside of their native land to listen to and record folktales. Those tales served a nation that was in the process of gaining its independence, for they demonstrated that Norwegian culture was saturated with splendid and comic stories that ordinary people had told for centuries. The example set by, among others, the Brothers Grimm led to a craving for folklore by the educated classes. Such tales continue to be immensely popular and are taught in many folklore courses throughout the world. In addition, these tales have had a strong impact on Norwegian literature, such as the dramas of Henrik Ibsen and the novels of Sigrid Undset.

These tales have been translated into English several times, but G. W. Dasent’s selection from 1859 has proved to be a resilient publication. That translation is faithful to Asbjørnsen and Moe’s oral tone; many nineteenth century collections of folktales are heavily edited, and the vernacular of the informants—those people who told them to the collectors the tales—was altered. Asbjørnsen and Moe, however, had a profound respect for their storytellers and preserved the oral quality in their recording of the tales and that, in part, may be why these stories continue to enthrall readers.