Tomten

In the novel American Gods, Neil Gaiman quotes Richard Dorson:

“One question that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands. Irish-Americans remember the fairies, Norwegian-Americans the nisser, Greeek-Americans the vrykólakas, but only in relation to events remembered in the Old County: When I once asked why such demons are not seen in America, my informants giggled confusedly and said ‘They’re too scared to pass the ocean, it’s too far,’ pointing out that Christ and the apostles never came to America.” (“A Theory for American Folklore,” American Folklore and the Historian (University of Chicago Press, 1971)

This, of course, is the premise of the novel, that the old gods did in fact come to America, for interesting reasons and with interesting consequences.

Leaving aside, for now, the problem that Mormons believe Christ did come to America, so that doesn’t work well for everyone, I also trip over the idea the fairies and nisser are “demons”. Otherworldly, yes, but surely not demons.

The piece that really stands out for me is the idea our non-human friends didn’t come with us to America. The nisser are the Norwegian equivalent of our Swedish tomten (“house elves”). I don’t know about other families but our tomte came to America in my great grandparents steamer trunk. My mother told me so. Why would he not come? That’s just silly talk.

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