Why Care about Later Folklore in Old Norse Studies?
By Eldar Heide
RMN Newsletter, No. 1 (2013)
Introduction: The present short discussion is structured around three common arguments against the use of more recently documented folklore in Old Norse Studies:
1. ‘It is not relevant.’
2. ‘OK, it may seem relevant, but we cannot use it because it is impossible to know if it really has any informative value for periods far preceding it.’
3. ‘OK, it may be relevant and there may be ways to use it, but that kind of work is not Old Norse Studies.’
Each of these arguments will be briefly addressed in turn, beginning with the last one. Old Norse studies is the study of Old Norse manuscripts and all that this brings with it. Often we only use the information that we find in the texts themselves, but we also frequently use different kinds of additional material in order to help throw light on topics that we study. The most important types of additional material are: a) contemporary but foreign texts, usually learned texts in Latin; and b) indigenous but much later information, usually post-medieval, of many kinds: place names, dialect words, folklore, etc.
In some scholarly milieus today, especially some that heavily emphasize manuscript studies, many want to limit themselves to the contemporary additional material. In these milieus, some feel that studies that make extensive use of late information, especially folklore, are not really Old Norse Studies, but Folkloristics. However, if that were the case, studies that make equally extensive use of foreign medieval texts in Latin are not Old Norse Studies either, but Medieval Latin Studies or even Classical Studies. This, of course, would be nonsense. Any study that aims at understanding questions raised by the Old Norse texts is an Old Norse study, no matter what kind of additional material it makes use of. And one could argue that we had better try to find and make use of all the potentially useful additional material, because lack of information is our biggest problem.