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Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Cormorants from Utrøst

Off the coast, north-west from here, lies the archipelago called Lofoten. At the southern tip is the island of Røst, named because of its proximity to the maelstrom, Moskenstraumen (Old Norse rǫst means “maelstrom”).

Click for map.

(The maelstrom is, by the way, the one fictionalised in Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom” (1841).)

This text deals with the adventures of Isak, a poor northern subsistance farmer/ fisherman, who in a fierce storm is blown, not to Røst, but to the legendary isle of Utrøst, a land of abundance. He benefits greatly from his good fortune of having found the island, earning a boatload of grain and sailcloth, two new boats, and a preternatural guardian to look after him and his.

Peter Christen Asbjørnsen did not collect this legend on one of his collection tours; it was instead sent to him from Tromsø, and Asbjørnsen submitted it for publication in Norsk Folke-Kalendar in 1849.

I have removed the version of this text I posted previously. The new .pdf has been subjected to further copy-editing and includes illustrations. My introduction here is also new.


  1. Thank you for sharing this story - it's a lovely one. I'm not familiar with Norwegian folktales; I landed on this page after reading the Wikipedia page on cormorants and discovering that this tale exists. I'm from the Mediterranean seaside and I love these birds. They're probably the dullest creatures I've ever seen but I love that about them. In my area, they spend most of their days on buoys used for shell-breeding - located approximately 20 minutes of swimming from the seashore - just standing there, staring into distance and doing absolutely nothing all day apart from pooping into water, catching a fish every once in a while and kicking annoying seagulls from the buoys. But apart from that, they're very antisocial animals. I find that "buoy compound" a very peaceful place to meditate - being surrounded by tens of cormorants who couldn't care less about me and we all just *are* there in silence. It was definitely interesting to find out they are considered sacred in Norway.