By the Fire

Sami Folktales and Legends

2019
Author:

Emilie Demant Hatt
Translated by Barbara Sjoholm

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.

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.

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

If you are sitting around a fire this Halloween, or just near a fireplace, reading a few of these tales out loud will send a chill down the spine. You might have to get closer to the fire!

Cliff Cunningham

This book was unique not only in bringing Sami folktales to the outer world but in including stories by women storytellers about women and children. Up until the 1920s, most folktale collections were stories of men, collected by men, and included tales of greater Scandinavia. I’m a big fan of the Norwegian Asbjørnsen and Moe folktales, and I agree that women heroines are scarce.

Norwegian American

For those in Sámi studies who cannot read Danish, By the Fire is useful in both research and classrooms for engaging directly with primary texts in Sámi oral tradition. It is of particular value for those who work with Sámi belief, settler colonialism, and Indigenous feminist studies.

Journal of Folklore Research

A welcome introduction into the world of Sami storytelling... provides contextual insight to the stories and the storytellers who Demant Hatt interviewed, fundamentally highlighting the richness of Sami storytelling culture.

Gramarye

This book will certainly appeal to a general audience interested in Sámi culture and will make Sámi folklore more accessible to those academics wishing to integrate Sámi materials into research and teaching.

Journal of American Folklore

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