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  • The Types of the Swedish Folk Legend by Bengt af Klintberg
  • Jan Luffer
The Types of the Swedish Folk Legend. By Bengt af Klintberg. FF Communications 300. (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2010. Pp. 501, acknowledgments, introduction, 1 map, literature, ATU types in TSFL, index.)

The classification of folktales has a long and rich tradition. As a result, we can nowadays choose from among several hundreds of existing indexes. The case is somewhat different, however, with cataloguing folk legends. The genre shows considerable resistance to classification, especially on an international scale, and although there exist many catalogues of folk legends, [End Page 97] most of them are focused on a specific topic within the broader genre of belief legends. Only a few catalogues cover the genre area more completely, and perhaps only two have been influential enough to make a significant impact on subsequent classificatory works: R. Th. Christiansen’s The Migratory Legends (1958), based on Norwegian folk legends but intended as a point of departure for an international catalogue, and Lauri Simonsuuri’s Typen- und Motivverzeichnis der finnischen mythischen Sagen (1961), which was later revised, enlarged, and translated into English by Marjatta Jauhiainen (1998). The recent catalogue of Bengt af Klintberg contributes to the legacy of these Northern European works.

The book was published in 2010. Its history, however, dates back to 1962, when the work was begun by Carl-Herman Tillhagen, who shortly thereafter assigned it to the present author. After 30 years, the catalogue was nearly finished. All that remained was to arrange legend types into thematic groups and to add plot descriptions to a third of the types. It took another 15 years to complete the work.

The catalogue is a detailed systematization of Swedish folk legends. More than 1,800 narrative types are divided into 24 thematic groups ranging from fate and omens to death and the dead, spirits of the forests, the devil, settlement, and social relations, and then passing through such themes as times of war and unusual people. The catalogue covers legends of Swedish-speaking people in Sweden and on the coast of Finland, but it does not take into account groups of non-Swedish speakers living in Sweden, such as the Sami people. The folk legends are presented as historical documents from pre-industrial Sweden between the sixteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Contemporary legends were not included, although the author recommends a separate type index for them.

Klintberg does not utilize distinctions between legend sub-genres. In his system, the first 15 groups involve “mythical” legends, and the rest involve “historical or cultural historical” legends. This lack of generic differentiation may not be a weakness overall, but articulating distinctions between genres can provide essential resources for enhancing our understanding of legends, especially in relation to broad systems of classification.

For example, in the group of legends about death and the dead, we see type C63, where a man teases the dead at a cemetery: “Stand up from your graves, this is Judgment Day!” A mourning woman who was hidden behind a gravestone stands up and says: “I am ready.” The man is taken by surprise and runs away in panic. This type doesn’t fit well in the group of legends where Klintberg classifies it, which also includes an offended skull and a skeleton that sinks into the ground together with the person who teases him. Rather, it could form its own group together with similar types C65 “Taking a skull from the charnel house” and C72 “The loosened shoe-sole.” Parodic legends and belief legends merge even further in type K61 “Borrowing the big kettle”—in K61A, two trolls shout at each other, and one of them wants to borrow a kettle with the purpose of cooking a farmer who works outdoors after sunset; in K61B, the trolls are imitated by two farmhands. In both cases, the farmer is scared and ceases his work, but the essence of the first subtype is a warning against the breaking of a taboo, while the second subtype is a prank in which men want to punish a farmer who forces them to work late in the evening...


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