Review: Alf Marius Opsahl, «The Crow Man. A story of life and death » – Archyde



Cappelen Damm

Publishing year:


«Conversational contribution to crow mythology»

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Cut Out Eyes

Opsahl describes himself as a crow scout rather than a bird watcher. His interest was sparked by an article in an online newspaper in which crows had cut out the eyes of lambs. 15 sheep without eyes were found on the island of Vega in Nordland. He also read of crows stealing many grave lanterns from a cemetery in Sørlandet, chopping up the candle and dumping the lanterns in a nearby field by the hundreds. So the author began scouting or spying on crows. And ravens and kais; They belong to the same family.

What is most fascinating about Opsahl’s book is its immersion in art and cultural history. It begins with the depiction of the crow found in the Lascaux Cave in France, which is between 15,000 and 17,000 years old. It depicts a half-human, half-crow creature lying dead with feet, beak, and penis erect. Next to it lies a dead bison, and in front of the two dead a bird – perhaps a crow – sits on a perch and watches. The hunting scene has fueled recent myths about crows’ close relationship with death and death warnings.

crows in art

Vincent van Gogh’s last painting was Wheatfields with Crows, July 1890, painted just before he shot himself. From here the thread continues to painters such as Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet and Pablo Picasso. Onward to British poet Ted Hughes’ Crow: From Life of Songs of the Crow, filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and of course more and less serious research into the crows’ way of life.

If the crows’ reputation as death tellers is striking, there is also a consistent history of their superior intelligence. Just think of Odin’s two ravens, Hugin and Munin. The Vikings often brought ravens with them on cruises.

A crow relationship

Opsahl eventually gets an audience with the crow of our time, Espen Sletteberg, and his cohabiting crow, Hafez. The relationship began in a park in Oslo when a bloody baby crow landed on Espen’s lap, then 27. Today, 16 years later, the relationship is just as warm, even though Hafez is half-blind from cataracts (!). Give dad a cuddle, Espen says, and he’ll be rewarded.

Much of the book’s crow mythology and biological facts come from written sources, but a notation on the back cover is missing. Even in their own associations, which do not always appear to be equally relevant, Opsahl is used disproportionately. Sometimes the journalist just gets in the way of the story, and that’s a shame. Because crows are eel-friendly animals.

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