An interview in the Norwegian book magazine “Book and Socitity”, paper issue June 2015.
Source: paper issue of Bok og Samfunn. Found by Anastasia Silakova. Translated to English by Anastasia Silakova nad Jorunn Ekre. Revision by Marina Rolbin and Anni Jowett
Rybak’s adventurous universe
– There have always been trolls, but I created Trolle. For a long time there have been hulders (a Scandinavian forest creature), but I have brought the Hulder King himself to life.
The majority know him from the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest when he won with his song “Fairytale”. A few people know him as a children’s book author. Now Alexander Rybak is making his debut with the fairy tale book “Trolle og den magiske fela/Trolle and the magic violin” (Cappelen Damm).
Violin and piano
The adventurous journey began when Alexander Rybak was only 5 years old, when his family moved from Minsk, Belarus, to Norway. Since he was raised by his parents Igor and Natalia who are both professional musicians, it was natural that Rybak would learn to play both the violin and the piano at young age. When he grew older ,he had to pick one and he chose the violin.
When Alexander Rybak won the Eurovision Song Contest with his super hit “Fairytale”, he captured Europe’s hearts and the tremendous score of 387 points – and thus beat most of the records. Since then, he has travelled across Europe with tours and concerts, being active on the Norwegian as well as the international music scene.
The first notes
But a few years ago something else began to emerge.
– It was two-three years ago when I suddenly had many new melodies in my head at the same time. Rock, pop, folk music, classical music, I didn’t know what I could make out of them! And then I began to create characters for every one of the different genres, tells Alexander.
In this way Trolle, Alva, The Hulder King and the Mayor – the characters in Rybak’s first children’s book – came to life.
Trolle and the magic violin (Cappelen Damm) will be available in bookstores at the end of September, and it is a children’s book that unites Rybak’s musicality and the extensive fairy tale tradition that Norway has to offer.
In the book, we meet Trolle, a little lonely troll who is mobbed and bullied by the other trolls. But one day, he comes across The Hulder King’s violin and he finds out that the instrument is magical. Everybody who hears the notes is under the spell of the violinist. Now Trolle becomes not only admired but also desired. But the magic instrument brings serious consequences, making Trolle even lonelier than ever before. Luckily, he meets Alva who becomes his best friend.
– How much of the story is based on your own childhood?
– A lot! But not necessarily only mine. I noticed other children at school and some of them were even more different and stood out from the crowd more than me. I would really like to speak on behalf of all of them, I don’t like bullying at all. Especially not at school.
Rybak has no previous writing experience. This is his first big writing project apart from writing songs and some “pretentious diaries” in his teens.
– I have never written a book before. I just deeply hope that the critics will go into this universe. I have spent a just as much as time on the sound as I hav spent on writing the story, says Rybak.
A musical book
The book is illustrated by Thomas Kirkeberg and it only took one meeting with him before Alexander knew that Trolle was in good hands and that he could put aside the perfectionist in himself.
When I have a vision it’s very difficult to include others in that vision. I understood after the first meeting that Trolle was in good hands. Thomas has managed to capture the humor, the horror, the nostalgia, and last but not least the joy of the story, tells Rybak.
Dennis Storhøi is also involved in this fairy tale like package. He is the narrator on the audio book which is included and he has contributed by giving Trolle’s adventure its characteristics.
With music as his biggest inspiration it’s of course no surprise that Rybak also let music find its way into the story. A CD is included with the book where Rybak has recorded songs to the scenes in the book.
I still can’t understand that I have succeeded in having Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Dennis Storhøi and Stig-Werner Moe in this project. I know they are swimming in offers so the fact that they liked my project was extra fun. I couldn’t have had a better narrator than Dennis Storhøi.
How has Storhøi’s ability to convey the message contributed to the story about Trolle?
Dennis has a musical instinct that tops most people. He and I are also used to working together after everything we`ve experienced, like Yohan, Fiddler on the roof and the play where he was Engebret Soot and I was Ole Bull. This has made me well acquainted with his way of conveying things and how we coordinate it with my music. He is good at taking children seriously, without too much pampering.
There’s a clear trend with trolls, huldre and a special fairy tale tradition among the children`s and teen books in the Norwegian market now. Alexander Rybak is inspired by different folk traditions and special cultures, from his numerous travels around Europe.
Since I travel a lot, and I have roots in various countries I can honestly say that folk traditions around Europe in fact aren’t that different. But I think it’s extra fun that we have those beautiful mountains and forests. I love playing out in the scenery. Words like “mountain”, “trees” and “sky” appear often in the songs from Trolle.
What is your relationship to Norwegian folklore, myths and legends, which is a very popular subject in Norwegian children’s books these days?
I think it’s great that we have this treasure that we can share. That makes us even stronger as a people and I think it’s important that children become a part of the tradition as early as possible.
The road ahead
Where will the road continue for Trolle and Rybak? With both Norwegian and international projects it’s difficult to know where the fairy tale like journey goes. But Rybak still has some idea.
I am in contact with producers about a musical, and of course I dream about expanding the universe I have spent such a long time creating. It will be thrilling to see what happens.