The Tomten

In nordic folklore, a tomte was a kind of - not always benevolent - vätte (local spirit or minor deity) connected to a farmstead. There is, in fact, an etymological connection to the word tomt ("piece of land, plot").

Rydberg's immensly popular poem Tomten, first published in 1881, transformed him into a philosophic and fatherly guardian. Combined with the gift-giving julvätte ("Christmas vätte") of Rydberg's earlier story Little Vigg - and, of course, with foreign influences - he then evolved into the modern Jultomte, local version of Santa Claus.

The young artist Jenny Nyström (1854-1946) illustrated both the poem and the story - and thus embarked on a 60-year career devoted to creating the visual image of the Swedish christmas.

In 1960 Harald Wiberg produced new illustrations for a childrens' book edition of Tomten. Astrid Lindgren then wrote a prose paraphrase of the poem for the export version. In this form the book had - and still has - considerable success on the international market.

A translation of the poem, called The Gnome, is included in Judith Moffett's anthology The North! To the North! : five swedish poets of the nineteenth century (Southern Illinois Univ Press, 2001). It is also published in Veritas 24, the journal of the Viktor Rydberg society.

Link to bookstore


in danish
transl. by Poul Steenstrup. Kbhvn 1960

in english
The Tomten
Stockholm & New York 1961.
Many later editions in Edinburgh, London and New York, latest in New York 1997

in faeroese
Vætturin : ein søga
transl. by Naja Mola Mortensen. Torshavn 1981

in finnish
Helsinki 1981

in german
Tomte Tummetott
Hamburg 1960 & Stockholm 1961

in japanese
transl. by Yamanouchi Kiyoko. Tokyo 1979

in korean
Pam-ui yojong t'omten
transl. by I Sang Hui. Söul 2002

in norwegian
"recast" by André Bjerke. Oslo 1977

in spanish
El tomten : un cuento de Suecia
transl. by Yolanda Morena Rivas. Bilbao 1982

versión castellana de Salut Renom. 1999

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19 dec 2008