Erik S. Hansen


Danebod, emigration, storytelling


Christian Hansen is a name known to many who are familiar with the original Danish colony of Danebod, in Tyler, in southwest Minnesota. Founded in 1886, the congregation now in 2011 celebrates its 125th anniversary year. Eventyrmanden-the Fairy Tale Man, as he was known, was associated with Danebod during the first fifty years of the settlement. Initially as one of the early pioneers, then in a continuing presence as a kind of "storyteller in residence" at the Danebod Folk School and Children's School, Christian Hansen was often called on to entertain young and old alike with enchanting tales from lands far away. The story of his own life-though not so romantic, or dramatic, perhaps, as his tales-is still a notable saga of emigration and establishing a new life in a new land. It makes a memorable tale in itself, from his roots near the "mountains" of Mols in rural Jutland and his beloved if somewhat obtuse Molbo people, to his immigrant efforts working in the sawmills of Muskegon, Michigan, to hired man status on hardship farms out on the Minnesota prairie, all the while laboring to save enough money to make his own way as a farmer on his own land in his new country. Even his eventual arrival in Tyler is not without drama, driving a team of oxen through the spring floodswollen surge of the meandering Cottonwood River to arrive at his choice of abode, the newly flourishing pioneer colony at Danebod. If his story has merit, what then of his stories? Many remember him telling them - "Oh, yes, he was quite the entertainer," one person recalled just this past year. But what were the stories he told? And where did they originate? Recently discovered handwritten, penciled manuscripts and notes left behind reveal interesting clues. While it would have been exciting to find a treasure trove of unpublished original tales, or better yet a whole new chapter of Molbo stories, it is nonetheless gratifying to learn that his storyteller genius emerges from the long standing tradition of oral tales in northern Europe that is lock-step in league with well known names of the Romantic Age, names such as the Brothers Grimm in Germany or Asbj0msen and Moe in Norway. This is the broad ground of shared folk tales that celebrated the lives of ordinary people. It displayed all sides of the human character, from foolish or greedy to wise and brave, and elevated even the least among us to positions equal with the affluent and noble. It provided a motivation and first cause in the evolution of common men and women and their building the basis of modem democracies. It is a tradition rich in images, laden with outlandish dreams that somehow usually are fulfilled, and laced with lessons of living simply and frugally. It is also a tradition that provided the mass entertainment of that day and age-its radio, cinema, television, even social media all rolled up in one, so to speak. How these stories found their way from the moorlands of Denmark to the prairies of North America is the story of the life and times of Christian Hansen, Eventyrmanden, The Fairy Tale Man. As for the stories themselves, what do they reveal about us? And what do faraway characters, the kings and trolls and tramps and pretty princesses, have to do with life out on the prairie? In short, it can be said their plots reflect essential traits for immigrant survival. Above all, they value absolute aspiration and undying dedication. They reflect an attitude to life that perhaps can be summed up in a simple formula: Dream large, live small, and never give up. No wonder the magic boxes and princesses in castles had appeal for both Danish small holder farmers and immigrant pioneers alike. They are the magic words of release from poverty and misery, if the right price will be paid. At a sublime level these stories also are the talisman of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Thanks to the storytellers, they are not only our stories now. Even more simply put: they are our story.