Soria Moria Castle: The Eternal Search For Happiness

Soria Moria Castle by Theodor Severin Kittelsen

Written by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe for their classic book Norske Folkeeventyr, Soria Moria Castle (Soria Moria slott) is perhaps one of the best known Norwegian folktales. (I can’t find the exact date of publication but Asbjørnsen and Moe were publishing folktales in the late 1830s and early 1840s.)  It is the story of a journey to Soria Moria Castle and his search for the castle is often seen as a symbol for mankind’s never-ending search for  perfect happiness.

According to legend, the path to the castle is not clearly marked, and the journey is solitary because all people are different and therefore cannot reach the goal in the same manner. It is characteristic of most Norwegian folktales in that it contains a unique undertone of realism and folk humor. These folktales express many customary values, ideas, and characters. One of the most common values expressed is the idea of a common person rising above the circumstances of his birth and becoming successful.

The legend continued to capture the Norwegian imagination. In 1881, Theodor Severin Kittelsen painted one of his most his well-known paintings  (at least to Norwegians) for publication in an edition of Norske Folkeeventyr. You can purchase a print of this painting from Ingebretsen’s.

The story begins:

So after a while he came to a broad high road, so smooth and even, you might easily roll an egg along it. Halvor followed this, and when evening drew on he saw a great castle ever so far off, from which the sunbeams shone. So as he had now walked the whole day and hadn’t taken a bit to eat with him; he was as hungry as a hunter, but still the nearer he came to the castle, the more afraid he got.

In the castle kitchen a great fire was blazing, and Halvor went into it, but such a kitchen he had never seen in all his born days. It was so grand and fine; there were vessels of silver and vessels of gold, but still never a living soul. So when Halvor had stood there a while and no one came out, he went and opened a door, and there inside sat a Princess who span upon a spinning-wheel.

“Nay, nay, now!” she called out, “dare Christian folk come hither? But now you’d best be off about your business, if you don’t want the Troll to gobble you up; for here lives a Troll with three heads.”

“All one to me,” said the lad, “I’d be just as glad to hear he had four heads beside; I’d like to see what kind of fellow he is. As for going, I won’t go at all. I’ve done no harm; but meat you must get me, for I’m almost starved to death.”

When Halvor had eaten his fill, the Princess told him to try if he could brandish the sword that; hung against the wall; no, he couldn’t brandish it, he couldn’t even lift it up.

“Oh!” said the Princess, “now you must go and take a pull of that flask that hangs by its side; that’s what the Troll does every time he goes out to use the sword.”

So Halvor took a pull, and in the twinkling of an eye he could brandish the sword like nothing; and now he thought it high time the Troll came; and lo! just then up came the Troll puffing and blowing. Halvor jumped behind the door.

“Hutetu,” said the Troll, as he put his head in at the door,” what a smell of Christian man’s blood!”

“Ay,” said Halvor, “you’ll soon know that to your cost,” and with that he hewed off all his heads.

You can read the full story here. It is also part of the book Norwegian Folktales of Asbjørnsen & Moe that you can get at Ingebretsen’s.

The legend has continued to capture the Norwegian imagination. This legend was written as a poem in Ole Edvart Rølvaag’s 1933 novel The Boat of Longing.

In 1961 Ray Adams sang a song about Soria Moria:

Statue of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen

The exact meaning of the name Soria Moria is not known. It may be related to Moriah, the name given to a mountain range in the Book of Genesis. According to tradition, this was the place where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. JRR Tolkien acknowledged that the name (the words but not meaning) lay behind his “Mines of Moria.”  It could also be related to the Greek words “sophia” and “moria” which mean wisdom and foolishness.

You can hear the story read by Earl Hyman here: