Stories of mythical creatures have been around for centuries. Scandinavia is a beautiful place filled with many different landscapes. The most notable landscapes were the dark forests, gigantic mountains, and seemingly endless ocean. Such landscapes were very mysterious to early Scandinavian people. Many might have been very afraid to venture into these lands because of their fear of the unknown. There is nothing scarier than something you know nothing about. Many stories in mythology come from real events that were probably just not easily comprehendible. For instance, in Greek Mythology, there are many stories mentioning flaming chariots moving across the skies. This could be a natural occurrence like a shooting star or a meteor. The people had no idea what it was that they saw, so they described it in the only way they could, through mythology. This is most likely the reason for many stories in Scandinavian folklore about mythical creatures. The people could just be seeing an animal walking in the shadows, and think they saw an unknown creature. These stories are told over and over and eventually people’s imaginations take over and they come up with these stories of creatures that have evolved over time into the Scandinavian folklore we read about today.
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The forests in Scandinavia are a perfect place to start in regards to mythical creatures. When I think of Scandinavia, the first thing that comes to mind is meadows. There are many stories involving the meadows in Scandinavian folklore. Many think that these mysterious forests are filled mythical creatures. One of those creatures is the Huldra. A Huldra is a beautiful female humanlike figure that has a tail of a cow. But that’s not the only woman like feature they possess. There is a story where once betrayed, a Huldra went after her partner and hit him with her tail around his ears with her cow’s tail. This resulted in him losing his hearing for the remainder of his lifetime.
Huldras are not the only creatures lurking in the mysterious forests. There are also Dwarves. Usually dwelling underground, had dark hair and pale skin as they didn’t get much sun. As you could deduct from their name, these creatures were very short with long mangy beards. They are described as master smiths and said to have made all the shields, swords, and armor for the gods themselves. Such a great responsibility like being the smiths of the gods is not being honored properly by being put on elderly people’s lawns as garden gnomes. These creatures were made famous by J. R. R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings series. Another Scandinavian creature made famous by J. R. R. Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings is the elf. Though not necessarily always dwelling in the forest, the Elves are very fond of dancing in the meadows and form circles and dance throughout the night. When the country people see stripes scattered throughout the meadows, they say that the elves were dancing there and caused these lines. Along with living in the meadows, Elves were believed to visit the dwellings of humans. They are described to be very mischievous and were said to knot horse’s tails. These were known as elf-locks and were proof to the horse’s owner that this horse was ridden by elves in the night. Elves were supposed to live in trees and plants which they tended. Sounds a lot like the Keebler Elf, huh? Elves are depicted in many stories as benevolent and helpful as they were anxious to do good things for mortals and maintain good relationships with them. There are two types of elves in Scandinavia, the light elves and then the dark elves. Both types of elves were worshiped as household divinities and their pictures were carved near the front door of human homes. A group called the Norsemen, who were driven from their homes by the tyranny in 874, took these wood carvings along with them on their ships along with carvings of gods and heroes. They threw these carvings overboard near the Icelandic shores trusting that the gods would let the waves spread their beliefs across Iceland. Though this seems like an outrageous idea, the gods must have been looking out for them or else we would not know of this today.
The mountains of Scandinavia were said to be the home of one of the most well-known and certainly my favorite creature in Norse Mythology, the troll. Some trolls are described as being small while others giant, but one characteristic is shared, that they are extremely ugly with small, creepy eyes and large, wart-filled noses. They have floppy ears and are sloppily dressed. They have messed up teeth, mainly because they do not smile. To go with their appearance, their behavior is also very ugly and sloppy and they are considered dangerous to human beings. They loved the darkness because the sunlight hurt them, and even sometimes said to turn them into stone. They are very stupid and slow thinking. When Christianity came to Scandinavia in the 1300’s these stories changed a little bit. The trolls were since said to be able to sence the presence of any Christian, and basically stood for the beliefs other than Christianity. Some Scandinavian landmarks are associated with trolls, which are explained to be formed from a troll that has turned to stone from contact with sunlight. One of the most famous creatures of Scandinavian folklore, trolls are portrayed throughout the media in many forms. These are my favorite Scandinavian creatures because of one of my favorite childhood movies “A Troll in Central Park”. In this movie, the trolls are shown as grotesquely ugly beings dwelling in the darkness inside the mountains. The trolls are often tricked and they hate anything that isn’t dull, boring, and colorless. One other quality that is shared with the trolls in the movie and the trolls of Scandinavia is that the sunlight turns them into stone.
Another mysterious place filled with wonder and beauty is the sea. With most of Scandinavia surrounded by the sea, it is easy to see how this could be such a place of mystery. Also at the time, there was little the Norse people could do to research or explore more than what they could see from the surface. With such a large ocean and endless possibilities under the surface of it, it is easy to see why there are so many water creatures in Scandinavian folklore. The most popular of them, especially in short stories and popular modern culture, is mermaids and mermen. These creatures are depicted in the stories “The Prince and the Merman”, “The Merman” and “The Little Mermaid”. Merfolk live in the ocean with the upper bodies of humans and a tail of a fish. There have been many sightings throughout history but many believe that those mermaids actually were other sea creatures such as dugongs or manatees. Mermaids are most popular in modern culture because of Disney’s rendition of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale “The Little Mermaid”. In the original version, the little mermaid is a daughter of the Sea King who lives at the very bottom of the ocean. In order to pursue a prince who she has fallen in love with, she goes and sees a sea witch in order to be granted a pair of legs so that she can walk on land. However she agrees to give the sea witch her tounge as a mandatory trade. Even though she is found on a beach by the prince, he marries someone else. The little mermaid is told she must kill the prince in order to return to the sea, but she cannot do that because of her love. She falls into the ocean and turns into foam. She then rises from the ocean and she is told she is now a Daughter of the Air and after 300 years of sacrifice they are granted a human soul. A bit dark for a Disney movie, right? Not to worry, in the Disney version, the little mermaid marries her prince charming in the end and they live happily ever after.
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A bit deeper into the depths of the sea lays a different beast, the Kraken. The Kraken is probably a creature most people would recognize. It has been featured in two very high grossing films, like Clash of the Titans and Pirates of the Caribbean, but originally, the Kraken is from the Norwegian Sea, where it was described early in the 1700s. The first thorough description was made by Danish biologist, Erik Pontoppidan, in 1752. According to stories, this humongous creature could streth as tall as the top of a good sized vessel’s mast. The Kraken would attack a ship by wrapping its octopus-like arms around the entire boat and crush it. The unfortunate crew either died right away or drowned a short time after. The amazing part about all of these stories is that there is more evidence than any other monster tale that this creature could be based on something real. Tales of multi-armed and huge creatures exist in ancient history. Even though the term kraken is first found in the print Systema Naturae, stories about this monster date back to the twelfth century in Norway. Often depicted as a creature so gigantic it is mistaken for a chain of islands. Kraken stories much later in tiem describe the creature bit smaller to a more imaginable size, though still monstrous. This legend of the Kraken is most likely a creature we know exists in the ocean, the giant squid. While still fitting the descriptions, the squid is a very aggressive creature and is often spotted at the surface of the sea. Though its size is not comparable to a chain of islands, the giant squid is thought to be large enough to wrestle with a whale. There are multiple occasions in the 1930s when giant squid were said to have aggressively approached and disrupt a ship. This usually ended with the squid running into the propellers, but the fact that the squid even attacked, shows that is a possibility that these creatures could mistake boats for whales. It is quite possible that a giant squid could attack a small ship and actually capsize it. The giant squid was even featured in another story featuring a kraken-like monster where a giant squid would attack a submarine. This story is of course Jules Vern’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. The squid in this story has similar behavior to that of the kraken that it would be very aggressive toward ships. This story could even be comprised from a true story where a giant squid thought a submarine was a whale. This is even more believable than a squid attacking a surface boat because the squid sees a shape most likely a similar size to a big whale and goes after it. These monster stories probably derive from true events because these are all possible scenarios. The logistics, however, might be skewed. Even though the ship might be small, over the years, stories of this first hand encounter could have been overly exaggerated over and over again making a story of a small fishing dingy getting capsized by a giant squid into the legend of the gigantic Kraken capable of downing a full size ship with ease.
These stories and tales of mythical creatures exemplify the wonder that is out there in the world. When people don’t understand something, they change it in a way that makes sense in their own minds. These stories are retold and sometimes exaggerated and as a result, we get the Scandinavian folklore that we read about, and enjoy today.
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