Legendary Others- Norway

“The Tomkin, the Nisse, is very traditional and represents the country with a high hat. He helps the farm animals. The Tomkin is generally depicted with a white beard and a tall red hat. This becomes very important with the war with Nazi. There were lots of them. There were many families of them. They lived in the roots of the great big trees. The doors were invisible and no one could see them. They helped so much around the farms and the house and worked very closely with the animals of the forest. He would help the animals if they were hurt in the field. He fed the birds. The Tomkin loves the wildlife and he loves to help. When something goes so well in the old farmhouses, oh they would say that the Tomkin has been here. They are just so thrilled. The general terms Gnomes of Norway.

The Gnome that is so bad is the Troll. The Troll, he is the one that the children were afraid of. And he is the one that lived in the mountains. There was a lot of superstition that came through the mountains. In other words, when there are no roads, and no cities or towns, and you are traveling in a small group through the country and with a small group you heard all kinds of sounds, and the wind whistling, and lighting; that was caused by trolls.”

My Grandmother explained to me that her mother introduced the Tomkin to her. Her mother did many paintings of the Tomkin. One that she clearly remembers was a water painting that she still has hanging in her own home. It shows the Tomkin coming out at night and working in the barn. My Grandmother explained to me that in Norway, the houses were not as we had ours here. They had one log house for cheese making, one for bread making, one for weaving, and then the main house for dining. The Tomkin would come into these cabins when no one was around and do their part to aid in the processes going on. The Norwegian people believed they would come out at night and be very helpful at night especially up in the farm country.

My Grandmother recalls that many Norwegian artists are extremely influenced by the Tomkin and often created pieces in which they are portrayed helping around.  My Grandma’s mother painted the Tomkin standing on a stool cause he is so small and he has a long stick and is stirring the Christmas soup. He is depicted as having one big eye looking out as if he did not want anybody to see him. However, if anything goes bad, the people of Norway are extremely superstitious; they blame it on the Trolls. They are generally depicted having really scary faces and the children hate to hear about the Trolls. Anything bad or scary happening to you was caused by trolls and unexplainable.

This tale says a lot about the Norwegian cultural beliefs, mainly those surrounding superstitions such as a responsibility to one another. I find interesting that they believe that there are tiny gnomes that come and aid in farming families daily duties. Images such as these can be found in the book Gnomes, by Rien Poortvliet and Wil Huygen, which coincide with my Grandmother’s tales of the Gnome. This could be translated to the Norwegian people having a mentality of helping one another out instead of being selfish and live for one another like the Tomkin does. It is also very interesting they equate any bad luck or bad happenings with the Troll in the hills. Surprisingly, when I questioned my grandmother as to whether the Tomkin and the Troll interact, she said no, never. Considering that they are opposite forces, I thought that they might. In researching this, I found that in fact they did. This led me to believe that there are different versions out there regarding the Tomkin.

Annotation: Huygen, Wil and Rien Poortvliet. Gnomes. New York: A Peacock Press/Bantam Book

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