The Tomten

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The tomte is an essential part of Scandinavian folklore.  He’s a little gnome of sorts, dedicated to one home or farm,  looking out for the farm animals and children of the place, pattering about by night, unseen, to check on everyone’s welfare. Astrid Lindgren has adapted a poem into a wonderful tale about the Tomten.

The Tomten
The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Harald Wiberg

Viktor Rydberg, one of Sweden’s pre-1900 famous writers, wrote a classic poem, Tomten, about the lonely nighttime wanderings, inspections, and reflections of one tomte on a cold winter’s night, which has become a favorite Christmas piece.  Astrid Lindgren, the author of Pippi Longstockings,  adapted the poem in 1960, and it has turned into a lovely book, illustrated by Harald Wiberg.

It is quite different from the poem, though it does contain the main ingredients. In the darkness and quiet of a winter’s night, this little gray fellow with his long, shaggy, white beard, slumpy, red hat, and tiny feet, silently moves about the farm.  He visits each of the animals in turn, comforting them with a few kindly words in tomte language, which animals and children can understand.

The Tomten
Illustration by Harald Wiberg 

It’s a quiet tale, with no grand story arc and actually no mention of Christmas at all, but simply a peeping in on this mysterious gnome, watching him go about his business, eavesdropping on his whisperings.  A series of circumstances have linked tomtes inextricably with Christmas in Sweden, thus this has become a Christmas tale.

The Tomten
Harald Wiberg’s wonderful paintings brilliantly capture the frosty cold, the loneliness of the middle of the night

Harald Wiberg’s wonderful paintings brilliantly capture the frosty cold, the loneliness of the middle of the night, the quintessential tomte, the gleam of moon on snow, the warmth of this thoroughly Swedish home, the icy beauty of starlight.  I remember listening to my dad read this story to me in Swedish when I was a very young child.  Quite magical.

The tomten
Viktor Rydberg, one of Sweden’s pre-1900 famous writers, wrote a classic poem, Tomten

Astrid Lindgren wrote two books about the Tomten. The first book was simply named as The Tomten. This was the book in which the Tomten was introduced and his various antics in the farm were explained. This is a short children’s tale that features the Tomten as the central character. Children have read and reread this story because of the appeal that the Tomten exudes.

The tomten
Statue of Harald Wiberg

The second book is named The Tomten and the Fox. This book is mostly an adventure tale about a fox named Reynard who gets hungry and tries to plunder a farm – the very farm that the Tomten is protecting. However, the Tomten gets wind of this plan and he does his best in order to protect all the creatures that are present in the farm. He does so quite cleverly, but then his very nature makes him feel pity for the fox. He understands that it is the fox’s nature to eat the animals that are present in the farm and his heart melts when he realizes that the fox will have to go hungry. He then makes a solution for this problem too, and sees that the fox is well-fed also without harming any of the animals in the farm.

 

The Tomten, compiled by Admin