Folklore is a term used to designate the mostly oral traditions of a group of people; it includes such oral forms as legends, fairy tales, and ballads. Legends are typically short narratives that are anchored in a particular time and place recognizable and meaningful to the audience. A large number of the legends that were collected in traditional Scandinavian society tell about contact with beings of the normally invisible world. These creatures were spirits of mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers, as well as household spirits. Trolls and the hidden folk, two common terms for such beings, lived inside mountains and hills as well as underground, and they were believed to have an economic or sexual interest in humans; the latter was thought to be so because these beings could not obtain Christian salvation except through marriage to a Christian. Some of the spirits were clearly malevolent; for example, water sprites such as the nixie lured people to their deaths. Others behaved in ways that exemplified both fairness and good will.
   Fairy tales are longer narratives than the legends and are less tied to a particular time and place. While most traditional audiences believed that legends were true, nobody but a small child would think so about a fairy tale. One of the most common motifs of the Scandinavian fairy tales is that of the young boy, the Ashlad, who through his cunning, wit, and courage wins a princess and half of her father's kingdom.
   Medieval ballads have been collected all over Scandinavia and are similar to both legends and fairy tales in content. Many of them have their origin in printed texts owned and sung by the nobility; later these texts entered popular culture. Ballad singing appears to have accompanied ring dancing, and this practice has survived up to modern times in the Faroes.
   Folkloristic texts had a very strong influence on Scandinavian literature, particularly during the romantic period. In Norway Johan Sebastian Welhaven wrote a series of narrative poems that are essentially retellings of legends. The Dane Hans Christian Andersen modeled his widely read fairy tales on actual stories told by the folk. In one of his best-known dramas, Peer Gynt (1867; tr. 1892), Henrik Ibsen uses legendary material to great dramatic and comical effect.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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