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By the Fire

Sami Folktales and Legends

2019
Author:

Emilie Demant Hatt
Translated by Barbara Sjoholm

By the Fire

The first English publication of Sami folktales from Scandinavia collected and illustrated in the early twentieth century

These stories, collected by the Danish artist and ethnographer Emilie Demant Hatt (1873–1958) during her travels in the early twentieth century among the nomadic Sami in Swedish Sápmi, grant entry to a fascinating world of wonder and peril, of nature imbued with spirits, and strangers to be outwitted with gumption and craft. This first English publication of By the Fire is at once a significant contribution to the canon of world literature, a unique glimpse into Sami culture, and a testament to the enduring art of storytelling.

When the darkness draws [the Sami] to the campfire, when the stew kettle hangs on its sooty chain and steam and smoke rise up through the tent opening to the clouds and night sky, then rest comes, memories slip in, like dreams to a sleeper. . . . The spirit of Fairy Tale perches at the edge of the hearth. The fire hisses, the flames flare and die back. . . Outside in the deepest night wander the dead, the spirits, the evil thoughts one person sends another. . . Here inside the tent is the campfire; here is home, the great safe place.

Emilie Demant Hatt, from the Introduction

Although versions of tales about wizards and magical reindeer from northern Scandinavia are found in European folk and fairytale collections, stories told by the indigenous Nordic Sami themselves are rare in English translation. The stories in By the Fire, collected by the Danish artist and ethnographer Emilie Demant Hatt (1873–1958) during her travels in the early twentieth century among the nomadic Sami in Swedish Sápmi, are the exception—and a matchless pleasure, granting entry to a fascinating world of wonder and peril, of nature imbued with spirits, and strangers to be outwitted with gumption and craft.

Between 1907 and 1916 Demant Hatt recorded tales of magic animals, otherworldly girls who marry Sami men, and cannibalistic ogres or Stallos. Many of her storytellers were women, and the memorable tales included in this collection tell of plucky girls and women who outfox their attackers (whether Russian bandits, mysterious Dog-Turks, or Swedish farmers) and save their people. Here as well are tales of ghosts and pestilent spirits, murdered babies who come back to haunt their parents, and legends in which the Sami are both persecuted by their enemies and cleverly resistant. By the Fire, first published in Danish in 1922, features Demant Hatt’s original linoleum prints, incorporating and transforming her visual memories of Sápmi in a style influenced by the northern European Expressionists after World War I.

With Demant Hatt’s field notes and commentary and translator Barbara Sjoholm’s Afterword (accompanied by photographs), this first English publication of By the Fire is at once a significant contribution to the canon of world literature, a unique glimpse into Sami culture, and a testament to the enduring art of storytelling.

By the Fire

Emilie Demant Hatt (1873–1958) was a Danish artist and ethnographer who lived among the Sami of Swedish Lapland in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Her account of her life during this time was published in English as With the Lapps in the High Mountains: A Woman among the Sami, 1907–1908, translated by Barbara Sjoholm.

Barbara Sjoholm is a writer, editor, and translator of Danish and Norwegian literature. She has written fiction and nonfiction, including Black Fox: A Life of Emilie Demant Hatt, Artist and Ethnographer.

By the Fire

When the darkness draws [the Sami] to the campfire, when the stew kettle hangs on its sooty chain and steam and smoke rise up through the tent opening to the clouds and night sky, then rest comes, memories slip in, like dreams to a sleeper. . . . The spirit of Fairy Tale perches at the edge of the hearth. The fire hisses, the flames flare and die back. . . Outside in the deepest night wander the dead, the spirits, the evil thoughts one person sends another. . . Here inside the tent is the campfire; here is home, the great safe place.

Emilie Demant Hatt, from the Introduction

By the Fire offers insights into the fascinating Sami storytelling tradition at a time when folk beliefs met Christianity—where motifs from Cinderella and legends about sea monsters intertwine in milieus as diverse as icy mountains and tobacco fields. Barbara Sjoholm's translation renders these wonderful stories in all their darkness and power.

Coppélie Cocq, Umeå University

For lovers of folktales, By the Fire makes for wonderful reading, while it also shines a light on an important part of Swedish heritage: the Sami people and their culture.

Swedish Press

By the Fire

Contents
Translator’s Note
Introduction
Elk, Lucky Reindeer, Reindeer Luck, and Wizardry
Sickness Spirits
Murdered Children
Animals
Folktales
Russian Chudes and Other Enemies
Field Notes and Commentary
Afterword. “Here They Can Still Tell Stories”: Sami Folklore and the Storytellers of By the Fire
Barbara Sjoholm
Selected Bibliography