Informant: So… There’s these two cute little, I would almost call them little trolls. And they’re called Karius and Baktus. One has black hair, one has red hair. And they live in this little boy’s mouth… So it’s about a boy called Jens… And, it’s um… And he loooves white bread and sugar and syrup… And so… These two little trolls are kind of the, uh, the bacteria living in his mouth I guess… Or whatever is causing him to have cavities… And so the story shows them building houses and balconies and almost little towns in this boy’s mouth… And how they don’t like the toothbrush, and every time the toothbrush comes they hide ‘cause they’re scared of the toothbrush. And every time this little boy eats sugar food they get so excited and cheer him on and say yes they want sugar and syrup and white bread… Whereas if he eats, like, healthy food, they’re very upset and sad… But you know, they hammer, and do construction in this boy’s mouth to build all their houses and that hurts Jens, the little boy… And so, the story goes… He finally ends up at the dentist, and the dentist fills all his cavities. So now that the dentist has filled all the cavities, they don’t have anywhere to live… And now when the toothbrush come next time, they don’t have anywhere to hide anymore and so they’re flushed out. And so… Jens is obviously happy, but Karius and Baktus, the two little trolls, are not so happy anymore.
INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:
Informant: It’s kind of sad actually… It’s kind of funny now that I’m talking about it, how the good is actually sad you know what I mean?
Interviewer: So… Who tells this story? Why is it told? Where did you learn it?
Informant: Well “Karius og Baktus” is one of the more popular stories for kids. Like almost every child has heard their parents tell it. And they have theater performances now. It’s also filmed. So, I mean, you can pretty much see any version of it… And it’s used to teach kids to eat healthy. Because in Norway we don’t eat a lot of sugar, except for on the weekends or special occasions… And we never eat white bread really… Everyone in Norway loves to bake and bakes their own bread which is like… Multigrain or whole wheat. Um… It’s just all very healthy. So parents use the story to teach kids to eat healthy so the trolls don’t, uh, build houses in their mouth and hammer and start building. Because obviously cavities hurt, you know?
“Karius og Baktus” exemplifies the pedagogical and cautionary nature of tales. Norwegians have, for many years, used this story to influence their children’s eating habits, warning against the damaging effects of too much sugar. The informant was told the tale as a child, and went on to pass it onto me, her child. Children’s minds are very impressionable, which is perhaps why children are so frequently the audience of tales. The tales are entertaining––thus retaining childrens’ attention––but are also vessels for important lessons. It is likely that tales make the lesson easier to grasp and to summarize. “Karius og Baktus,” for example, highlights each phase of developing and fixing a cavity. Rather than explain to a child time and again that sugar causes cavities and cavities hurt, a parent needs only to mention “Karius og Baktus” and the child will understand immediately what is meant. It is much easier for a child to grasp the severity of cavity-induced pain if they have something to compare it to and visualize (ex. having little trolls hammering away at your teeth). It is also likely that the entertainment factor of tales is, at least in part, what helps the lessons “stick”––what ensures they are retained. The informant remembers this tale to this day. As do I, and I surely will always associate cavities with “Karius og Baktus.”
Egner, Thorbjørn, et al. Karius and Baktus. Skandisk Publications, 1994.