Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I attend, and trying to understand, Norwegian family theatre

On Saturday night, Greta and I immersed ourselves in Norwegian culture by attending a local amateur theatre production of "Folk og Røvere i Kardemomme By" (the people and the robbers in Cardamom Town). The story is a very popular Norwegian children's book, and if you're to believe Wikipedia, it's one of Norway's most important children's books. The author, Thorbjørn Egner, wrote about a gazillion catchy Norwegian children's songs in the 1950s, and they have both endeared themselves in Norwegian's hearts and endured in Norwegian culture. 

A friend loaned us the 5-disc CD set of Thorbjørn Enger's songs, which we listened to ad nauseum on the drive to and from Lillehammer for about 3 days. I then had to ban them from the car, as I couldn't get their tinkly little tunes out of my head. I think Greta had memorized them all by then, anyway. One of the five CDs was the tale and tunes of Folk og Røvere, while another told the story of Karius and Bactus. For the scoop on Karius and Bactus, you will just have to wait for another exciting installment of Norwegian children's cultural lessons!

Cover of Egner's book
(I'm just now seeing that there are palm trees.
Where is this place?)
The storyline of Folk og Røvere goes something like this:  Karedmomme By is a quintesentially happy village, whose only law is (according to Wikipedia) "simple and liberal": 
You should not bother others,
you should be nice and kind,
otherwise you can do as you please.

Nice, right?

However, there are 3 mean robbers who rob the towns-people, but only when they actually need something. After a few celebrations are held in town, staged only to highlight ear-wormy Egner songs and get the audience to sing along, the robbers finally rob something--1 hour and 30 minutes into the play. No, no. . . I take that back. They actually did rob something earlier: a hammock, with the sleeping aunt in it. Who then woke, and treated them kindly. Anyway. . . the robbers are caught and then killed with kindness by the kindly and rather incompetent policeman. A fire breaks out in the revered old man's tower, nearly killing his puppy dog and his new parrot from Amerika (no, not kidding), but. . . the three robbers save them and are now reformed robbers and HEROS! They are each given a new job: a fireman, a baker and a circus director (did I mention the three robbers had a lion in their house? No? And a camel in town? Yeah. . . I'm not sure how that fit into the story, either). 

Kardemomme By has such prominence in Norwegian culture that it has its very own theme park in Kristiansand, associated with the zoo there. What is particularly funny about this is last October--just 6 weeks after we moved to Norway--Greta, Erik and I were in Kristiansand. Erik was working and Greta and I spent a very full afternoon at the zoo. However, I have no recollection of nor had I any idea that Kardemomme By existed as part of the zoo. My cultural blinders were ON. 

I've been trying to come up with an American equivalent that would reflects the quaintness and longevity of this story. I think I'm also trying to find an equivalent to perhaps reassure myself that there's an element of the Kardemomme phenomenon that I just don't get, simply because I didn't grow up with it. What I mean is, I was mildly entertained. But I don't know that I'd call it a great work of literature and build a theme park around it. The best example I can think of is perhaps the 1964 animated Christmas special Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. For many of us parents now in our 30s and 40s, the pre-Christmas television season wasn't complete without a viewing of Rudolph.  However now, one realizes just how primitive the animation was, how annoying some of the characters were, and--like Egner's songs--you just can't get the damn Rudolph song out of your head! Despite all of those marks against it, it has endured.

And there's gotta be a Rudolph theme park somewhere.  

1 comment:

  1. There is a Santa Claus Land in Santa Claus, Indiana! I went there as a child. Crazy place.

    The K-by thing is also hard for me to comprehend. I know parents that take their children there because THEY want to go -- not for the kids! I guess it's the sort of thing that you had to grow up with to have a connection to. I've tried, but the songs drive me bonkers.

    Super funny about having cultural blinders on! :)