Inspiration for Giants in the Earth

In the early 1920’s, Rolvaag caught wind that another Norwegian author, Johan Bojer, was planning to write a Norwegian-American pioneer novel. Rolvaag found this to be a great idea and felt that the story necessitated a Norwegian-American author. He aimed to combine two American phenomena: the westward movement and the great waves of immigration. The bulk of the work on this novel, which would become his most well-known work, was completed at his writing cabin in Northern Minnesota, during the years 1923-24.

The first part of this novel, I de dage was published in 1924, while the second part, Riket grundlægges was published in 1925. The English version, compiled into one volume known as Giants in the Earth, was published in 1927 with the help of his translator and colleague, Lincoln Colcord. This novel was met with a great deal of success and thrust him into the national spotlight.

Writing Cabin

Ole and Jennie Rolvaag's seventeenth wedding anniversary, Big Island Lake, Minnesota, 1925 June 9
Ole and Jennie Rolvaag’s seventeenth wedding anniversary, Big Island Lake, Minnesota, 1925 June 9 [p0584_01000]

Rølvaag’s version of a vacation home where one could work undisturbed certainly had to be by water where there was good fishing. As a child he played in the boats, laid on the beach back, and fished. For six years prior to immigration to America, he was a fisherman in Lofoten. Rølvaag sorely missed home, fishing, and the ocean. Life in America was completely different.

In the spring of 1922, plans for a summer home- a cabin in the forest near water came to fruition in Big Island Lake, Itasca County, Minnesota, around 270 miles north of Northfield, Minnesota. Big Island had a characteristic splendor to the Rølvaag family. The beach line was defined by many inlets, and small islands are spread throughout the lake. In true fashion, the family became Big Island’s pioneers, as they were the first residents on its coast.

To learn more about the cabin on Big Island Lake, explore Some Glimpses from Camp Rølvaag.


Rølvaag carried on a voluminous correspondence in both English and Norwegian on subjects such as guidance to students and aspiring writers, assistance to teachers planning courses in Norwegian, the place of Norwegian culture in American life, defense of realism in his novels, the arts of writing and translating, church affairs, immigration history, problems of publication and distribution, state and national politics, and promotion of organizations. Explore examples of correspondence that helped influence the writing of Giants in the Earth.

Letter from Ole Rolvaag to Jennie Rolvaag, 1923 September 14

Letter from Ole Rolvaag to Ruth Lima McMahon 1925 November 28

Letter from Ruth Lima McMahon to Ole Rolvaag, 1925 December 6

Letter from Andrew Berdahl to Ole Rolvaag, 1924 December 3

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