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Saturday, 4 December 2021

When Sjur Shot the Hulder Folk’s Chieftain

There was once upon a long time ago a boy who lived so heartily and boldly that the old folk shook their heads and said that one day he would dare more than was good for him. This young boy was called Sjur, and he inherited his father’s farm early. Yes, Sjur was young, and he was hearty, but he was a very different fellow when it came to goods and gold.

Now, this was in the days when the hulder folk or mound folk dwelt in mountains and mounds. And even though those who lived in there had both large and stately halls, they liked to celebrate midwinter in the farmer’s cabins. And great fertility would be seen there where the hulder folk were allowed to live and celebrate during the winter, both in field and meadow and among the livestock. So it was good idea to exchange the warmth of the cabins for brewing houses and barns in the middle of the winter. Unfortunately though, the hulder celebration fell upon Christmas Eve itself. More and more folk lost the will to leave their houses to the hulder folk - indeed, letting them celebrate in a Christian man’s house was said to be pagan – and so one farmer after another carved a cross into their threshold, for the hulder folk certainly would not dare to set foot in such houses.

By the time Sjur took over his father’s farm, both three and four crosses had been carved into the threshold, by him as well as by all the farmers in the area. But Sjur had a new, beautiful slab brought down from the mountain, that very summer. Then he surprised people by going hunting with his rickety old gun, both late and early. It certainly couldn’t be to bring home game, for he shot mostly at crows and sparrows - yes, even at single pine trunks. And there another young boy once came upon him as he stood struggling to force a wriggling live adder down through the barrel of his gun. From then on, people shook their heads when they saw him, for now he was after both trolls and hulders, the unfortunate bold fellow. An old tradition says that if you can get an adder to go through your gun barrel, no matter how bad the gun is, then you will be able hit whatsoever you aim at with that gun, even if you shoot at a troll or a hulder. From that day on, Sjur left the crows and the sparrows and the pine trunks in peace. The old gun was hung up on the wall in the large kitchen on Sjur’s farm.

Well, the days went by and Christmas Eve came. The floors were scoured white, bundles of wood were laid by the fireplace, and newly made candles stood in gleaming candlesticks both on the table and on the shelves. Then the farmers on the surrounding farms carved crosses into their thresholds. But Sjur carved no cross in his threshold, indeed no! He let the farm boy and the maid go to spend the holiday with their relatives; he himself would look after the cattle and then invite a neighbour over on the day itself, he said. So the servants went home, and the animals were fed in evening. The Christmas bells had rung in the holiday, and the peace of the holy night fell. Then Sjur crept back into his cabin, took the rickety old gun down from the wall, and lay down behind the pile of firewood by the fireplace. He pressed the gun in between the wood in the pile, so that the barrel pointed out into the large kitchen. And then he waited.

The hours fell long and it grew pitch dark. It was completely quiet both outside and inside. It was far from surprising that Sjur at length dropped off a bit. Then he jumped and was suddenly fully awake. A curious light lay across the large kitchen, shining from inside the parlour. And a table was set all the way from the kitchen windows, through the door, all the way into the innermost corner of the parlour. The tablecloth was dazzling white, and the gold and silver dishes, and cast goods and cups gleamed. Lefses lay in a piles on plates, and roast ribs sat, steaming in large golden vessels. Busy small nisses poured mead and foaming beer. And around the table sat the merry company, toasting and feasting.

In the middle of the long side of the table sat the man who was the chief of them all. And by his side sat the most beautiful hulder girl of all the beautiful girls present. The young hulder talked and laughed a lot, showing her deep dimples and her strong, white teeth. Remarkably, she reminded Sjur of a girl he had long had a good eye for, a girl from the north end of the valley.

He didn’t dare let his gaze linger on her for long, for didn’t he have precisely everything he had longed for right here in front of him? Wasn’t the table laden with silver and with gold, and weren’t the guests wearing jewellery the like of which had not been seen by any earthly eye? Carefully, Sjur leaned over the old gun and aimed. And it was strange, but the shot would hit the chieftain right in the chest, just as the gun lay. Sjur smiled contentedly as he fired the shot.

Then there was weeping and wailing without measure! Had the voices before sounded like bells, or the gentle bubbling of a brook, or the rushing of a distant waterfall, then they now sounded as if the waterfall were roaring close by, or like cutting false strokes on a violin, or like cats meowing in the night.

Sjur had hit his mark; the chieftain had fallen. Sobbing, the beautiful young hulder threw herself over him. All the guests had risen from the table and gathered together around the two. Then four strong men lifted the fallen one between them, and carried their chieftain towards the door and the whole company followed with weeping and lamentation. When they came to the door, they all turned, raised their heads, and turned their eyes as one towards the fireplace and towards Sjur. Sjur had risen. Confused, he looked from one in the company to the next, until his eyes met hers, the young hulder’s gaze - and truly, she was like the young girl from the north end of the valley. But the grief he read in her eyes was so deep, so burning, that it cut him to the quick.

Now, when the door closed after the company, it suddenly turned pitch dark in the parlour. For a long time, Sjur remained standing in awe. Then he pulled himself together, took his firesteel out and lit the tallow candle on the mantleshelf. He looked around in astonishment. Between the windows stood nothing but the scoured table that usually stood there. He didn’t see the table from the kitchen windows all the way into the parlour. On the scoured floor, however, lay two or three strange silver castings, and on the bench by the door he glimpsed a couple of beautiful dishes full of potatoes and ribs, though when he took a better look, the plates were full of stones and debris and rusty old nails.

But the plates themselves were good enough, and so were the silver castings. They are still in Sjur’s family and are inherited from father to son, together with the farm. Silver and gold seem to follow the owners of the farm, too. But one thing is sure - the owners of this farm have never really known happiness in love. Sjur did not win the girl to the north of the village, she who had such a striking resemblance to the hulder girl. And the subsequent owners… well, they never won the girls they loved the most, either.

The hulder folk are no longer seen in that village, so little by little the villagers have stopped carving crosses in their thresholds. But the old crosses remain. And if you look closely at the mountain, just where it is steepest, you can clearly see something like a closed door or gate in the mountain wall. The hulder folk carried their dead chieftain in through that gate. Then they closed the door behind them.


From Astrid Thalberg and Olaf Thalberg. Sagn og huldre-eventyr. Illustrated by Arnold Thornam. Oslo: Damm, 1929.

Monday, 22 November 2021

The Night Mare

A Legend from Solør

The Mare used to go around tormenting both people and beasts. It was so heavy that it could crush folk to death. It bothered the unmarried farmer on one particular farm awfully. No matter how well he closd and locked up everywhere before he went to bed, the mare still came over him during the night.

Eventually he followed the advice of a wise man, and gained power over it – to a certain degree. After tightly closing every opening, he took a hand brace and drilled a hole through the wall, leaving it open. But he also made a tap to fit the hole, which he kept it handy.

At midnight the Mare came in through the hole, and the man was immediately ready to knock the tap in tightly. Now she could not get out again, and as it turned out that she was a quite beautiful woman, she soon became the wife on the farm, and remained there for a long time.

Once, however, her husband got a little drunk, and then he asked his wife if she knew how she had come into the house.

“Yes,” she replied, “it was through a hole in the wall, but I have not been able to find it again.”

“I’ll show you it, I shall,” said the man, taking out the tap. Immediately the wife became like smoke and went on her way out through the hole. And the man never saw her again.

Morgenbladet: Extranumer, Oslo, Sunday 20. October 1901.

The Nightmare (Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1781).

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

The North Wind and the South Wind

“Whoosh! Here I am!” said the North Wind. It blew its mighty clarion until all the waves rose high in the air. “I have blown around the North Pole: ten thousand miles in half a day! Who shall do so after me?”

“Imagine! Ten thousand miles in half a day!” it went from wave to wave, and they all bowed their foamy white heads in admiration. But straightway they were up again to hear some more; they were curious. “Have you seen the Ice Queen?”

“I should say so! I danced for Her Majesty only yesterday!”

“Is it true that she has a cold heart and that her highest pleasure is to glitter?”

“It may well be! But why should one hide one’s light beneath a bushel? No empress or princess in the whole world can measure against her glory and splendour. Who has a crown like the one she wears on her brow? Gather all the diamonds of the earth together and they’ll pale in comparison, it shines and sparkles so. Indeed it can flash and light for miles around, but its stones are cut and composed of the flaming fires of the Northern Lights themselves, after all. And her cape! How it shines like the brightest silk! And if you look closely, it is as the most beautiful silver brocade, woven from hoarfrost and the clearest moonbeams. And the swansdown edging, so soft and white! Every feather is an exquisite little snow flake, as fine as the finest star. Before her feet lie two mighty bears in magnificent fur and with black eyes. Growling, they bare their sharp teeth, if anyone dares to tread too close to where their proud queen sits on her lofty throne beneath the deep blue canopy of the sky.”

The waves went wild with reckless enthusiasm. Never had they heard of so gorgeous a queen, and imagine it: their North Wind had danced before her throne! What an honour! They rose up together in droves and crowds, both large and small, shouting and screaming. They wanted to hear more.

But the North Wind was busy; the North Wind is always busy.

“Whoosh! Whoosh!” it said. “I have to go, I have to go. I don’t have time to lie here talking!” and it whistled as it rushed away, knocking two icebergs together with a rumbling crash that could be heard all the way to England.

Storming and gusting, it travelled inland across kingdoms, swirling the snow up into a tight dense smoke, which a little later sprinkled down again as beautiful glittering stars.

“The North Wind always comes with so much clamour and commotion,” said the Sun, barely peeking out from behind a cloud. “I better like the South Wind; it comes so quiet and warm. Often it goes unnoticed when it arrives; its good deeds disclose it. I met it for the first time down by the sources of the Nile. It was blowing gently up the blue waters of the river. The small waves curled up like silver before its feet. The mottle of flowers and shrubs bobbed and nodded as it fared forth. It took their seeds with it, scattered them far and wide in the barren places where nothing had grown, and there sprouted up the most luscious, fragrant plants and magnificent trees baring succulent golden fruit. Yes, it is a great blessing to mankind.

“It blew thereafter through a grove of palms, sweeping the dust off the swaying old leafy crowns so that young shoots could freely sprout and grow. A harp hung in a palm, an Aeolus harp. As it touched it, slowly and gently, it began to sound – so beautifully that the weary wanderer who had sought rest at the foot of the palm regained his strength to continue walking his thorny path. Then it slipped between the pyramids, breathing life into the dead glyphs, carrying them across the broad wide world. High, high it turned towards the sky, scattering the dark clouds so that the light could shine – yes shine to the very farthest corner.

“Here it comes!” said the Sun, but the waves saw nothing at all, having only just lain down to rest in the sunshine.

And here came the South Wind, so quiet and warm; it brought with it all the migratory birds that were flying north from Egypt.

Then it met the North Wind. “Uff!” it said – it had to stop for a moment to catch its breath – then it turned aside and went calmly on its way.

Anna Winge. Prinsesser og trold: eventyr for børn. Christiania: Ellingsen, 1901.

Art: Kay Nielsen, 1914.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

A Hulder Marriage

In Nordland it is told that a healthy man bound a hulder in the forest, by laying the barrel of his rifle over her. She was Christened and became his wife. They lived well together and had a child. But then suddenly one evening, as the child was playing in the firepit, the hulder wife was spinning, and the husband was busy with some other work, her wild nature came over her. In a vicious turn, she said to her husband, indicating the child: “That would make a wonderful joint to put on the spit and roast for supper!” Her husband was horrified, and his wife, noticing that she had behaved badly, reined herself in and desired that her words should be forgotten. But that did not happen. Her husband “wrote it behind his ear,” as the saying goes; her terrible words constantly whispered to him. He’d caught a candid glimpse of his wife’s horrifying true nature, and the peace of the house was ruined. From having been a good husband he turned surly; he viciouly rejected any suggestion his wife made, cursed the the impulse that had caused him to marry her, and beat and smacked her. Things went thus for a long time. His wife suffered in her regret. One day she decided she should cast a kind eye over her husband’s work, so she went to him out in the smithy. When he now began, as was his wont, and laid his hands on her, she cold-bloodedly decided to give him a proof of her superiority that the blacksmith would have to accept. So she picked up a whole iron bar and wrapped it around him like steel wire. In talibus vinculis [in such bonds] he had to promise to keep the peace.

– Henrik Wergeland’s tradition in his own hand. Published in facsimile in Jan Faye Braadland. Forarbeider til biografi om Andreas Faye (1802-69). Skrift nr 1: Kort beskrivelse av Fayes autografsamling i Aust-Agder-arkivet, Arendal. Oslo: Tekstforlag, 1995.

Monday, 25 October 2021

The Boy Who Changed into a Bear

Away in Gjerrestad there was once a boy who had such bad turns that he changed into a great house bear and roamed around the houses and scared most of the folk and cattle. I don’t think he did any other harm, but this was bad enough. While he was going about causing this trouble, he lay as if in hibernation – an old woman had supposedly seen him lie like this once. But in any case, it was a pity for the boy, for he was so kind and nice otherwise that his equal didn’t exist. He was the foremost at dancing, and the strongest in the whole timber forest and in the mowing meadow. No matter how frightened the girls were of him, no one else had as many girls hanging around as he did; indeed, the finest girl in the village wanted him.

“I think you’ve been enchanted,” said her father. Her mother and her siblings and all her kin said so, too. Imagine when he has a turn and changes into a house bear, they said. But it did no good; she wanted him and had to have him, even if he changed into a lion.

Sketch by Adolph Tidemand

Then one day she was chasing about after him, out on the mowing meadow. She liked being with him so much, especially when the two of them were alone. Just like that, the boy threw aside his mowing implements so that the scythe blade sang and the handle broke and tumbled across the field. Then he took two or three bounds over to the thick spruce forest away yonder. But just as suddenly, he calmly returned to his sweetheart.

“Are you afraid?” he asked. His voice was so strange.

“Oh no; you know I’m not,” she replied.

“Well, we’ll see,” he said. “Take your rake, go up on to the haystack, and save yourself as best you can,” he said, and with that he set off into the dark, dense forest.

Just a short time later, a bear came charging, like the most ferocious wild beast, went straight up to the haystack, and began to climb it, his jaws gaping and his eyes as if spitting fire and flame. He tore down the haystack and grabbed his sweetheart between his great paws and squeezed her and carried on until she certainly despaired of her life. Yet even so, she didn’t want to call for the mowing folk away in the other meadow; things would just have to go as they would. Then he bit and scratched her until her blood ran down his chest, yet she made not a sound. And then he let go of her, clasped both forepaws over the bloodstains so that his chest creaked and cracked, and then ran on his toes, like any other man, into the forest again.

His sweetheart washed away her blood, set up her hair, and adjusted her clothes again, wrapping her shawl around her. Immediately after, her sweetheart returned. He looked pale and melancholy, but so unbelievably relieved and gentle and good. His sweetheart felt the same – as if nothing had happened – and from that time she never again saw the bear. Her sweetheart had a blood stain that no one was allowed to see on his chest, but he was a good man for the rest of his days.

– Simon Knutsen and A. Johnsson and L. M. Bentsen.
Udvalgte Eventyr og Sagn for Børn. Christiania, 1877.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

The Cat and the Mouse

“There was once upon a time I swept my floor,” said the mouse.

“So it wasn’t dusty, then,” said the cat.

“Then I found me a shilling,” said the mouse.

“So you weren’t penniless, then,” said the cat.

“Then I bought myself a bit of meat,” said the mouse.

“So you weren’t without food, then,” said the cat.

“Then I laid it on the fire to roast it,” said the mouse.

“So you didn’t eat it raw, then,” said the cat.

“Then I laid it out on the roof to cool it,” said the mouse.

“So you didn’t burn yourself, then,” said the cat.

“Then came a bird and snatched it,” said the mouse.

“If she snatched it, then I shall snatch you,” said the cat, and he ate the mouse up.

– Rikard Berge. Norske folkeeventyr.
Kristiania: Cappelen, 1914 (p. 36).

Monday, 2 August 2021

When the Aurora Capsized

A map of the Lofoten archipelago, with places mentioned in the legend marked.
A map of the Lofoten archipelago, with places mentioned in the legend marked.
(Click on the image for a larger view.)

A newly built jekt lay in Stamsund, taking on stockfish. It was the jekt from Kangerur, as some called her, even though the skipper, who owned half of her, was from Sennesvik. And he was but newly married. It was a beautiful sunny day towards the end of the summer, and many young folk there were who would have liked to go along on this maiden voyage to Bergen. It was as if adventure lay tempting them, far away there to the south, and on such a good new jekt, this trip had to be especially fine.

A crowd of folk stood down on the harbour, watching the jekt being loaded and made ready to sail. There was a fellow among them who was sighted. He thought so clearly that he could see a round, dark head bobbing up by the forestem. It looked like a grey seal, and the others expected it was, but the fellow said he could see a cold, evil grin on the ugly face, and he immediately thought of the draug. But at first he said nothing.

“They’re loading her heavy,” said someone.

“Oh, the Aurora is new and strong, she’ll be fine.”

Folk kept coming with several bundles of stockfish, which they put on deck – loading her a good distance up the mast. They had tarpaulins and chains to fasten across the deck load.

Jekts on their way to Bergen, by Frederik Martin Sørvig (1823–1892). Note how the cargo is stacked up above the gunwales.
Jekts on their way to Bergen, by Frederik Martin Sørvig (1823–1892). Note how the cargo is stacked up above the gunwales.

“Do you see him? The one who stands still by the mast the whole time?” said the sighted one.

“No one is standing still, they’re all labouring and working with life and lust,” someone replied.

“Indeed, there’s a tall man standing by the mast. He is different from all the others; he is most like a shadow to behold.” The others just snorted and ignored the fellow.

“Yes, yes. Just be sure to look upon the Aurora, now. It’ll be the first and the last time you’ll see her,” said the fellow. Then he turned and walked away, deep in thought.

The others began to talk a little about what the fellow had said. But they dismissed it. “Surely nothing can happen on a summer’s day in God’s good weather,” they said.

The crew and the handsome young, newly-wed skipper waved their hats and shouted life and hurrah. Then they began to sing, as the Aurora, like a proud giant bird, slipped out of the harbour and sailed south, down Vestfjord, in sunshine and fine weather. The large, square-rigged sail hung quite slack, for there was too little wind.

It was late in the afternoon when they passed Fleinvær and Helligvær, and they could see Landegode lying in the haze, as if it were floating above the horizon. Then came some gusts of wind and furrowed the surface of the sea – such petty winds as sometimes arise during the summer, so that you don’t know where it really comes from. Then the rain broke loose, a fairly heavy summer shower – so that it streamed and flowed down. Thunder rattled, striking to the east and south, and flashes of lightning fired into the sea. It was just a squall, as there often is in the summer, and the folk aboard the Aurora saw no danger. Still, an old sea wolf advised them to take in some of the sail. They then ran to haul it in and reduce the sail. But the strong winds hindered their progress. And now the load on deck began to shift. They worked hard, toiling to secure it. But then an ugly sharp gale blew up – and before they could sigh to themselves, the jekt had overturned.

It’s said that afterwards the weather stilled again. Some of the men sank like stones, others floated for a while on bundles of stockfish and other wreckage. They screamed and cried for help, but there wasn’t a boat to be seen on the whole broad blue surface. They caught glimpses of the tops of Landegode in the distance, and sometimes they saw islands that were closer.

One by one they found their watery graves in Vestfjord that night. Only one man was saved, that was Petter from Kartnesset. He had found a hatch or something like that from the jekt, and he clung to it and lay drifting. Never in his life could he forget that night – or the screams of his comrades.

When the sun stood low to the north for the second time, he drifted ashore on a small holm. It wasn’t far from Helligvær, and he occasionally saw boats. He called and screamed, but no one heard him. It was painful to be so close to people and still sit alone on a holm and waste away with hunger and thirst. Hunger gnawed at his intestines, thirst tightened his throat and his tongue swelled up. First he dried his clothes in the sun, and then he crawled around the holm, looking for water. He licked the slabs on the mountain, there were a few drops after the shower of rain – and it soothed him.

He lay down in the lee of some rocks and fell asleep there. He didn’t know how long he slept, but he was refreshed when he woke up. His hunger plagued him, so that he blacked out from time to time. Something round lay bobbing in a small inlet. He went down to look and – well, was it not a pat of butter! He dug out some of the butter, and it relieved his hunger. Later he also found a bundle of stockfish that had drifted ashore. Now he had some food that he could live on for a while. But he fell into depair from time to time, for he saw boats all the time, but no one heard him shout or saw him wave.

One day, some youngsters came rowing to the holm. He who was happy was Petter! But when the youngsters saw this strange man waving his clothes and hat and shouting, they were scared and rowed home. Then he threw himself face down and wished he had perished together with the others, for this protracted torment was worse than anything. But the youngsters had certainly spoken of “the man on the holm,” for the next day a couple of strong men came rowing out and rescued him. By then he had been clinging to life out on the bare little holm for more than eight days. Petter received food and care and recovered.

When he came home, people certainly thought he was a ghost. People in Lofoten had by then learned of the fate of the Aurora. The people of Kartnesset had also learned of it, even though it is far from folk and transport. It was the old sexton Wulff who had borne the news. He lived at Gravdal and had gone by foot to Valberg, where he had a married daughter. There were no roads in those days.

Petter never went on a trip to Bergen again. He lived in peace and quiet at Kartnesset until he was more than a hundred years old. And the beautiful young widow of the Aurora’s skipper had a son who never got to see his father.

Friday, 16 July 2021

Death as Godfather

A poor man had twelve children, and had to work day and night just to be able to give them dry bread. When the thirteenth came into the world, he no longer knew how to provide for himself in his need, so he ran out to ask the first and best who met him to be the child’s godfather.

The first to meet him was gracious God, who already knew what was on his mind, and said to him, “You poor man; I feel for you. I shall carry your child to baptism and take care of it so that it may be happy on earth.”

The man replied, “Who are you?”

“I am the Lord God.”

“I do not want you to be godfather, for you give to the rich and starve the poor.” The man spoke thus because he did not know how wisely God distributes wealth and poverty on earth.

He turned away from God and walked on.

Then the devil met him and said, “What do you seek? I am the your child’s godfather, and I shall give it gold and all the glories of the world.”

The man asked, “Who are you?”

“I am the Devil.”

“Then I do not want you to be godfather, for you deceive and seduce mankind.”

And he walked on.

Then death staggered to meet him and said, “Take me as godfather.”

“Who are you?” asked the man.

“I am death who makes everyone equal.”

Then the man said, “You are the right one; you fetch the rich and the poor without distinction, you must be the godfather.”

Death replied, “I shall make your child rich and famous in the world; he who has me as a friend shall lack nothing.”

So the man said, “My son shall be baptized next Sunday; make sure you come at the right time.”

Death came, as he had promised, and carried the child to baptism.

As the boy began to grow up, his godfather once came to him, took him out into the forest, and when they were all alone, said: “Now you must receive your godfather’s gift. I am making you a famous physician. When you are called to someone who is sick, I shall always show myself to you. If I stand at the patient’s feet, then say boldly that you shall make him well again. Then just give him a certain herb, which I will show you, and he shall recover his health. If, on the other hand, I stand by the patient’s head, then he is mine, and you shall say that all help is in vain, that he must die.” Then death showed him the herb and said, “Beware of using it against my will!”

It was not long before the physician was famous across the world. “He merely has to look at the sick, before he knows whether they shall recover or die.” Such was his name that folk came from far and wide to fetch him, and gave him as much money as he demanded, so that soon he possessed great wealth.

Now, eventually it happened that the king also fell ill. They then sent word for the famous physician to attend, and determine whether or not the king should die. As soon as the physician approached his bed, he saw death standing at the patient’s head, meaning that no help would prevail.

But the physician thought to himself: “Perhaps you can trick death; he won’t take it so badly, since he’s your godfather.” Then he took and turned the king around in his bed, so that death came to stand at his feet, and gave him some of the herb, whereupon the king recovered his health.

But death now came to the physician, put on a very grave face, and said: “This time it must be forgiven you, for I am your godfather, but if you take it upon yourself to deceive me once again, then it shall be upon your own head.”

Shortly afterwards, the king’s daughter fell ill, and no one could help her. The old king wept day and night until he was close to going blind. At length he announced that whosoever could save her from death would receive her hand as a reward, and inherit the crown.

Our physician attended too, and death stood by her head. And when the physician beheld the beauty of the king’s daughter, and considered the king’s promise, he forgot all warnings, and ignoring death’s terrible glare upon him, he turned the patient around and gave her some of the herb so that she began to recover.

When death saw himself cheated of his property a second time, he went to the physician and said, “Now you shall come with me, friend!” Then he grasped him with his icy hand and led him to an underground cave, where many thousands of candles burned in innumerable rows. Some were long, some half-long, and some short. Every moment some were extinguished and others lit, so that the flames seemed to jump here and there.

“You see,” said death, “these are the candles of human lives. The long ones belong to children, the half-long to married folk in their best years, the short ones belong to old folk; however, children and young folk also often have but short candles. If they burn out, then their lives are over, and they belong to me.”

The physician said, “Show me my candle, now!”

Then death pointed at a very short stump that was just about to go out, and said, “Do you see?”

The physician was horrified, and said: “Oh my dear godfather, light a new one for me, so that I may first enjoy my life, become king and the husband of the beautiful king’s daughter!”

“I cannot,” replied death. “One must first be extinguished before a new one is lit.”

“Then put the old on a new one, which can burn immediately when it’s over,” said the physician.

Then death feigned to fulfill his wish and brought forth a new, long candle. But as he was to put it underneath the old one, he fumbled – in order to take revenge – and the old piece fell down and went out. Then the physician also sank, and fell into the hands of death himself, for he had abused the gift entrusted to him.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

The Boy and the Fox

There was once upon a time a small boy who was on his way to church. As he passed through a clearing in the woods, he saw a fox lying asleep on a slab of glimmerite. But the fox didn’t notice that the boy saw him.

“When I now take the life of this fox,” said the boy, picking up a big stone, “and sell its skin, I shall have some money. With that money I shall buy some rye, and I shall sow the rye on father’s strip of field back home. When then the church folk come, they shall say:

“‘Oh what nice rye that boy has!’ And I shall say to them: ‘Don’t tread down the rye, I say!’ But they shan’t listen. Then I shall scream at them: ‘Don’t tread down the rye, I say!’ But still they shan’t listen. Then I shall scream at them as loudly as I can: ‘Don’t tread down the rye, I say!’ And then they shall listen.”

But at the boy’s screaming, the fox awoke and ran off into the forest, and so the boy did not get so much as a tuft of its hair.

No, it is better to take the opportunity that presents itself; one ought never to boast of what has not been accomplished, they say.

— Gabriel Djurklou (1829–1904). Sagor och äfventyr (1844).
Illustration: Theodor Kittelsen (1857–1914)

Monday, 28 June 2021

The Princess Who Should Commit Fornication and Murder

There was once upon a time a king and a queen. When the queen lay in her maternity bed, a wife came in to her, went over to the cradle, and looked the child over. “Yes, you are pretty,” she said, “but no matter how pretty you are, you shall commit both fornication and murder, and be sentenced to death. And your mother shall live no longer after this candle has burned out.”

The queen heard all this and woke the nurse. She had to get up and snuff out the burning candle. The queen wrapped it in some paper and laid it among her gold jewellery. Then she lit another.

The child grew and got bigger.

Once, when the king and queen should go driving on a visit, they got another little maiden to keep the princess company. The king’s daughter wanted to show the other maiden all the glories in the castle. She found the cabinet key the queen had hidden, and wanted to show all the jewellery her mother owned. She pulled out a drawer and found a roll of paper inside. “I wonder what mother has here,” the princess said. In the paper was a candle. “Mother has certainly forgotten all about this; we can burn it tonight,” she said.

They did so.

As the candle burned lower, the queen’s pain grew. She felt for it, and realised that she had forgotten the key to the cabinet. She bade the king drive home as swiftly as he could, grasp hold of the candle, and snuff it out. But it was too late. As the candle burned out, the queen died.

After a time the king remarried. Then, some time later, he should go out to war. So he had built a castle, and he placed his daughter there so that the new queen would not see her. The princess was to remain in that castle, and not come out, so that she should not commit fornication and murder. But the queen got to know that he had a daughter and what had been predicted. There was only one single person who knew where the princess was, and if he should reveal it, he would lose his life. The king also had a lion. The one who dared to kill the lion would also be sentenced to death.

The queen spoke with he who knew where the princess was. If he didn’t tell the queen, then he would be killed. So he told her. The queen fetched the princess home, saying, “I know what was predicted about you when you were still in your cradle, but if you will trust me, then I shall help you so things may still go well.”

Indeed, the princess would do so. The queen gave her a ball of yarn. She should roll it before her, and where the ball of yarn rolled before, she should go after.

Then came she to a man who stood burning pitch. “Do you stand here, old man, burning pitch,” the princess said.

“Yes, I have stood here for a hundred years, and now I am glad I am finished.”

The ball of yarn rolled up his back, and she went after and tipped him into the cauldron of pitch so that he died.

The ball of yarn rolled on, and she followed. She came to a king’s farm, and there the ball of yarn rolled right into the prince’s chamber and up into his bed.

The princess lay there that night.

When the prince got up in the morning, she was gone. He began to search for her, and went far, and farther than far.

When the king came home, the queen had locked the lion in, and forbidden everyone from speaking of it. They should only say that his daughter had killed the lion. The king asked first after the lion. Then the queen said that his daughter had killed the lion. So she had to be sentenced for it.

But when she was to be taken to her execution, the queen said that the lion was safe and unharmed. And then came the prince who had been searching after her, and then there was a wedding.

AT 934E (the magic ball of thread)
Location: Bygland, Agder
Collector: Jørgen Moe
Informant: Kari/ Karen “Præstedatter” Ni(e)lsdatter
Date: 1847