Places: The Tree of the Folkungs

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Folkungaträdet, 1905-1907 (English translation, 1925)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Eleventh and thirteenth centuries

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedFolketuna farm

Folketuna Tree of the Folkungs, Thefarm (FOL-keh-too-nah). Fictional farm in East Gothland that is associated with the eleventh century origins of the powerful Folkung family–a bleak union between the Swedish peasant, former Viking, and greedy robber Folke Filbyter and the daughter of Jorgrimme, a Finnish dwarf and magician. Although the richest farm in the region, Folketuna’s appearance, a symbolic reflection of its owner’s crude and ignoble character, presents a stark contrast to the noble and well-kept farm of Ulv Ulvsson that is the seat of an old aristocratic Swedish family, whose symbol is a centuries-old linden tree. Representative of the clash between the desire for material profit and questionable morality on one hand, and pure Swedish blood and respectable wisdom on the other, the opposition between the two farms turns also into the spiritual battleground on which Christianity meets and defeats Nordic paganism.

Bellbo estate

Bellbo estate. Seat of Earl Birger, the most powerful of the Folkungs, each of whose sons, Valdemar and Magnus, becomes a ruler of Sweden in the thirteenth century. This locale stands out as a portrayal of a peculiar merger in space and time of medieval Christianity. The second part of the novel, “The Bellbo Heritage,” opens on a Wednesday during Holy Week when pagan spring customs were still practiced. This is further elaborated on by the symbolic fusion between native and foreign traditions, between Sweden’s ancient heroic past, signaled by the sacred sword Gråne, and the Christian chivalric code. The sword of the saga hero Holmger, previously preserved at the convent of Sko, is the prize for the winner of the Bellbo tournament, which is arranged in the “foreign fashion,” as the narrative points out.

*Uppsala

*Uppsala (oop-SAH-lah). Sweden’s medieval capital that is the stage upon which pagan Nordic religion and state government, supported by Blot Sven, clash violently with the Christianity of King Inge. As Uppsala is the site of both the temple of the Nordic gods, with the sacrificial grove, and the Thing-mound, where the King, Lawmen, and franklins (freeholders) meet annually to discuss and pass laws and elect, if necessary, a new king, Uppsala gives expression of Heidenstam’s ethic of heroic resignation. This ethic is most noticeably felt in the author’s realization that good and evil must necessarily coexist as well as in the paradox, which heavily underlies both parts of the novel, that evil is the frequent outcome of a genuine desire to do good. Thus, in the second part of the novel, Uppsala finds its symbolic parallel in the great forest of Tiveden, the realm of the god of strife Ti, where Magnus Ladulås defeats the army of his brother Valdemar, the rightful king, and takes the throne of Sweden in an effort to restore law and order to the country.

*East Gothland

*East Gothland and Svealand. Regions in southeastern and eastern Sweden that, on one hand, help delineate an image of medieval Europe and Sweden’s important position within it and, on the other hand, mark the core of Sweden as a modern sovereign Nordic nation. East Gothland and Svealand represent “home” and “native land” and are compared in the narrative with Micklegarth, or Constantinople, the seat of the Byzantine emperor. Courageous and loyal, Folke Filbyter’s two elder sons are among the emperor’s body guards (upon their return home, they join King Inge’s guards).

Two centuries later, heroism and loyalty again underscore a chivalric devotion to earthly and divine peace and order and earn Sweden a distinguished place among Scandinavian and European Christian nations. These qualities are in unison with Heidenstam’s cultural nationalism, based on his conviction that Sweden’s living past is indispensable for Sweden’s living present, for the natural growth of the nation and its culture.

BibliographyGustafson, Alrik. Six Scandinavian Novelists. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1940. A chapter on Heidenstam provides biographical information, including the origins of Heidenstam’s ideas about depicting the beginnings of his nation.Zuck, Virpi, ed. Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1990. Entry on Heidenstam places the poet and writer in his historical and literary contexts. Discusses Heidenstam’s nationalistic enthusiasms.
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