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Sunday, 5 February 2023

Hans Hansen Pillarviken

One might think that the merchants of children’s tales would be paragons of virtue and integrity. But such is not the case. Folk are folk, after all. Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, and the way in which he treated one of his most important sources of tales and legends, shows us this side all too well.

In the late autumn of 1841, the parson at Vågå, at the head of the valley of Gudbrandsdalen in Oppland, wrote to Bernt Moe, a friend and associate of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, informing him that there were a number of “legendsmen” and “legendswomen” in Vågå. By mid July the following year, Asbjørnsen was on his way.

Among the informants Asbjørnsen met during his tour of Gudbrandsdalen was a school teacher, Hans Hansen Pillarviken. This informant became Asbjørnsen’s most important source of traditions from the region, and five folktales published in the second volume of Norwegian Folktales list him as informant. Asbjørnsen treated him abominably.

Hans Hansen Pillarviken was born in 1798 on the farm at Pillarviken in Sel. He grew quickly, and was therefore confirmed by accident at the age of 11 because he looked older. He was not particularly helpful around the farm, so he began to whittle and fashion wooden toys for the other children, and taught them to read, too. When the local school teacher was drafted to fight for Napoleon, and the village had no replacement, Hans was hired after a rather inadequate test before the parson. At the age of 16, and barely able to read himself, he was now the school teacher, free to develop the school in any way he saw fit.

In 1822, Pillarvikenmoved to Fron, where he was married, and despite their desperate poverty, he and his wife were happy for four years. Then his wife died, leaving him alone with a small daughter. Pillarviken was a broken man. He gave up his job, and took to wandering the mountains and forests, uncertain of where he was going, or if he ever would return.

He eventually found his way home to Sel again, where his brother took him in his care, and got him to a doctor. The parson in Vågå, Hans Peter Schnitler Krag, employed him as a schoolmaster. When Asbjørnsen met him in 1842, he was recovering, although still weak of mind.

Vågå church

It was the parson at Vågå who introduced Pillarviken to Asbjørnsen at some point during the latter’s grand collection tour of Gudbrandsdalen. Pillarviken had a lot to tell, and five of the folktales Asbjørnsen recorded from him made it into the second volume of Norwegian Folktales (1871). After Asbjørnsen returned to Christiania from his tour, he and Pillarviken entered into a productive correspondence. It would be tempting to imagine they developed a friendship.

Five years later, Asbjørnsen immortalised his informant through the publication of “Mountains Scenes,” the longest of his hulder tales, in which he portrays settings in which folk shared legends.

Asbjørnsen’s depiction of Pillarviken, in the figure of the schoolmaster Halsteen Røen, is a wicked parody of his friend. His appearance is ridiculous, as are his mannerisms, and even his mode of speech. On top of this, he has Røen chasing after the milkmaids on the pasture, a cruel turn since Pillarviken was soon to be married again when he met Asbjørnsen, back in 1842. Worst of all, Asbjørnsen included enough of Pillarviken’s peculiarities that all of his acquaintances recognised who the model for the schoolmaster was. A fine repayment for the years of help Pillarviken had given his friend!

Pillarviken never communicated with Asbjørnsen again.

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Publication History I

The first ever publication of Asbjørnsen & Moe’s Norwegian folktales was a slim volume called Nor, En Billedbog for den norske Ungdom, which appeared in 1838. The book is divided into three. The first part contains 19 nationalistic accounts, naïvely recounted, of the “great and good deeds of Norwegians” from the Viking skald, Guttorm Sindre (tenth century), to the Danish–Norwegian maritime hero, Peter “Tordenskiold” Wessel (1690–1720). The second part contains eight folk legends, as told by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen. And the third part consists of four of Asbjørnsen’s folktales.

The volume features six illustrations by Johan Fredrik Eckersberg (1822–1870), including an illustration for “The Fiddler,” one for “The Hedal Church at Valders,” and one for “Tablecloth Spread Yourself! Buck Make Money! Stick Beat On!” which is an early version of “The Boy Who Went to the North Wind and Demanded Back His Flour.”

The appearance of this early work is notable in a couple of respects. First, it is very early. Asbjørnsen & Moe only agreed to collect and publish folklore in the spring of 1837; Nor was ready for publication by the end of the same year, which means that Asbjørnsen had already been collecting folk traditions. He admits as much in a later application for funding, that he began during his three years “in the country,” when he was house tutor in Gjerdrum. Secondly, the inclusion of Eckersberg’s images suggests that Asbjørnsen always saw the value that illustrations added to children’s books in general, and folk traditions in particular. Asbjørnsen’s own illustrated edition of Norske Folke- og Huldre-Eventyr was not published until 1879, after the whole collection was complete.

Nor, En Billedbog for den norske Ungdom. Indeholdende: Store og gode Handlinger af Nordmand; Norske Folkesagn og Eventyr. Med 6 illuminerede Kobbere. Christiania. Guldberg & Dzwonkowski. 1838.


Great and good deeds of Norwegians:

  • Guttorm Sindre
  • Egil Uldsærk
  • Asbjørn af Medalhuus
  • Ingemund den Gamle
  • Thorsein Tjaldasftæding
  • Eyvind Kinnrifa
  • Reidar Grjotgardssøn
  • Reidulf Guttormsøn
  • Østen Baardsøn
  • Ole Svendsen Bakke
  • Ivar Huitfeldt
  • Ulrik Christian Kruse
  • Søren Nabben
  • Niels Justefen
  • Jon Jonsen Sørgaard
  • Claus Nielsen
  • Samuel Andreas Krebs
  • Salve Nielsen
  • Tordenskiold

Norwegian folk legends:

  • Spillemanden.
  • Rønnau Skau.
  • Huldrebruden.
  • Hedals Kirke i Valdres
  • Egebergkongen.
  • St. Olaf paa Ringerige.
  • Mathias Skytters Historier.
  • Guldsmeden.

Norwegian folktales:

  • Puselodden.
  • Kari Træstak.
  • Dug bre dig ud! Buk gjør Penge! Kjæp slaae paa!
  • Somme Kjærringer ere slige!

Monday, 2 January 2023

A Course Adjustment

The state of the online world at the present time suggests that personal blogging may still be the surest way of spreading information. For that reason I shall increase my blogging again, posting plans, news, and ephemera – as well as the folktales and legends. In this way I am turning things around again. I shall henceforth post my plans here for the various Norwegian folklore projects I have going, and any news I may have, in addition to the the folklore translations.

So what are my plans for the coming year?

  • Write an introduction to Regine Norman’s legends. This was on my to-do list for Christmas 2021, but a sudden death in my immediate family knocked me sideways, and I found it difficult to get back into the necessary reading. I know roughly what I want to say, but I need the secondary material in place so that I may confidently say it.

  • Finish the editing of Asbjørnsen & Moe’s material, including all of the ancillary texts. My editor and I have been working steadily for more than the last two years, getting it ready for publication, funded in part by the patrons to my Patreon account. Seventeen of the in all 150 texts now remain to be edited, plus a handful of introductions and prefaces, some of which are unreasonably long. It will be good to get every­thing ready for the final shuffle into book term.

  • The Draug book. A book of draug tales and legends. This little-known folkloric monster deserves better recognition, and the confusion with the Old Norse draugr must be cleared up once and for all.

  • Forgotten Variants book. A book of Norwegian folktales that have never been published, not in Norwegian nor in English. My table of contents continues to grow as I work through Asbjørnsen & Moe’s notes, and as I read around the material in general.

  • Begin to flood the market with various anthologies of Norwegian folktales: single tales, children’s tales, Christmas tales, etc.

Some of these plans have a longer scope than the coming year, but let’s see how far I get.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

The Mountain Fellow and the Great Drummer

There was once a farmer who had his goat farm high in the mountains. His nearest neighbour was a Mountain Fellow who lived in a crag below a peak behind the farm, and these two saw one another from time to time. Once the farmer had to invite the Mountain Fellow for supper, for the Mountain Fellow had something he wanted to talk to him about.

When the Mountain Fellow visited the cabin, the farmer and his wife brought forth all the good food they had to offer; a close neighbour deserved such generosity, they said. There was porridge and flatbread, cured meat and cheese, and preserves and compotes. And the beer and the aquavit flowed. The Mountain Fellow ate everything that was put before him, he drank until there was nothing left, and the farmer folk could do nothing about it.

When everything was gone and the cabin was emptied of everything there had been to eat and drink, the Mountain Fellow leaned back against the wall, took out his tobacco pouch to fill his pipe, and considered the farmer.

“I hear your wife will soon be confined,” he said.

The farmer smiled nervously, and said it was so.

“I suppose you’ll be wanting to wet the baby’s head,” the Mountain Fellow continued.

Yes, said the man, they would hold a great feast on that day.

“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” said the Mountain Fellow. “I want you to invite me as a sponsor for the little one.” Then he gave the farmer such a look that the farmer understood that it would be ill-advised to refuse.

“Well, of course, neighbour,” he replied. But in his heart of hearts he dreaded the day; the Mountain Fellow would eat the whole feast by himself, and drink up all the beer and brandy and punch. This weighed heavily on his mind before the baby was born.

When the time for wetting the baby’s head came around, and the feast was being prepared, the farmer remembered what he had promised the Mountain Fellow, and called for one of his goatherds.

“You must go to the Mountain Fellow,” he told the him. “He is expecting to be a sponsor for the child, and you must go and call him to the feast. But please, do what you can to put him off, or he’ll eat and drink us out of house and home.”

Now, this goatherd was a shrewd one, he was, and he promised he would do his best for the farmer.

When he came to the mountainous crag, the goatherd called for the Mountain Fellow: “Heigh-ho! The feast will soon be ready! You must come as an honoured guest!”

The Mountain Fellow came out to meet him.

“As an honoured guest,” he said. “Will there be other honoured guests?”

“Yes,” replied the boy. “The Virgin Mary herself shall bear the child fourth.”

“In that case,” said the Mountain Fellow, “I’d better sit away in a corner, so that I don’t meet her.”

“And Jesus himself shall Christen the child,” continued the boy.

“Well then,” said the Mountain Fellow, “I am not so sure that I should come, for I cannot abide all this Kringling. Perhaps I shall just go to the feast afterwards.”

“Indeed,” said the boy, “the Great Drummer shall play at the feast.”

“The Great Drummer?” said the Mountain Fellow. “Oh, I don’t want to meet him. Once when I was out on the mountains, I saw signs in the sky of a small squall approaching. I hurried to get home, but before I was able to put the key in my cabin door, the Great Drummer struck my thigh bone with one of his drumsticks.”

“That is a great shame,” said the boy. “You are an honoured guest as a sponsor of the child.”

“Indeed,” said the Mountain Fellow, “but I shall give him the greatest gift of any. Go and fetch a sack and bring it back here to me.”

The goatherd went off to fetch the sack, and brought it back to the Mountain Fellow. He took him into the mountain, where he began to fill the sack with both silver and gold by the handful. After he had filled it for a while, he asked the boy if any other guest would be giving as much as he.

“I should think so,” said the boy. “There will be some very prominent folk attending the feast.” The Mountain Fellow grumbled about this, but he continued to fill the sack with both silver and gold by the handful.

When it was nearly full, again he asked the goatherd, whether any other guest would be giving as much as he.

“I should think so,” said the boy. “My master is a very important member of the community.” The Mountain Fellow grumbled about this, but he continued to fill the sack with both silver and gold by the handful.

When the sack was brimming with all the silver and all the gold the Mountain Fellow could find room for in the sack, he asked the goatherd a third time: “Will any other guest be giving more than this?”

“No,” replied the boy. “This shall be the greatest gift of any.” The Mountain Fellow was well pleased when he heard this, and he sent the boy off on his way with a shake of his hand and a slap on his back.

The boy struggled to carry the sack all the way back to the goat farm, but there was great joy when he arrived, for there would be food and drink enough for all the guests, and great wealth for the child, who had received the greatest gift of any ever given on that farm.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

The Forest of Brass and Silver and Golden Leaves

A long time ago, there lived a man and his wife far away in the forest. They had a small boy and they lived in poverty. Well, they both died, and the poor little boy was left all alone in the world. He had no one to turn to, and he mourned and wept every day, for his mother and father had left him alone in the world.

Now, one day he went to the grave of his parents. There he sat weeping, his thoughts weighing heavily upon his mind. As he sat there, he saw a small caterpillar crawling about in the grass. The caterpillar tried to climb up a long straw, but fell down again. The same thing happened many times, and the little boy forgot his sorrow and sat watching in fascination. He saw how the caterpillar was just as helpless as he was himself, and so he took a large blade of grass, rolled it around the caterpillar, and took it home with him.

When he got home, he collected a big pile of lush green grass and laid the caterpillar on top. The caterpillar crawled about and ate the grass and began to grow. But the most marvellous thing was that, as it grew, it began to look like an animal – a calf; it grew four feet and a tail. And as it grew even bigger, small horns began to appear on its head.

Before the end of the summer, the caterpillar had grown into a big, strong bull. And one day, before the boy knew what had happened, the bull said to him (for animals could talk back then): “Yes, you have been kind and cared for me and given me food, and I have grown big and strong. You must gather together the little you have and clamber up on to my back, for we shall now go out into the wide world and take a look around.”

The boy did as the bull said. He didn’t own much, but he tied the little he had into a bundle and clambered up on to the back of the bull. And then they set off into the big, wide world.

Then suddenly one day they came to a wonderful forest. The leaves gleamed so brightly that they could almost hurt your eyes. And when the boy looked a little more closely, all the leaves on all the trees were of pure brass. He had never seen such beautiful and pretty leaves before, and he thought to himself that he had to break off a leaf. But the bull was quick to say: “No, you mustn’t take any of the leaves in the forest here. For a terrible big troll owns this forest, and if you pull a leaf off any of the trees, it’ll come and tear us apart.” Indeed, the boy promised that he wouldn’t, but suddenly he couldn’t help himself and he took a leaf.

This was barely done before there was a horrible, deafening rumble. “Oh, what have you done now?” said the bull. “Now that you’ve taken a brass leaf, the troll is coming to get us. You must get down off my back, and I’ll try and see what I can do.”

The boy had barely come down from his back before the troll came charging through the forest. And it was a fearful fight. But just like that, the bull drove its horn into the midst of the troll’s chest and tossed it far away through the forest. And then it was over. “Yes, it turned out well this time,” said the bull, “and now you can sit up on my back again, for we are going much farther.” So the boy clambered up on to the bull again, and then it set off.

Now they travelled far and at length. And suddenly one day they again came to a wonderful forest. It glittered and it gleamed so that looking at it could almost hurt your eyes. When the boy took a closer look, all the leaves on the trees were of pure silver, and as they passed through the forest, he wanted more and more to break off a leaf. But then the bull said: “No, you must not take any leaf, for in this forest there is a troll that is much bigger than the one in the brass forest. If you break off any leaf, it’ll come and get us, and that can be really dangerous.”

Indeed, the boy promised he would not do so, but suddenly he couldn’t help himself, and he broke a leaf off a branch. Immediately there was a horrible, deafening rumble. “Oh no, what have you done now?” said the bull. “Now you have broken off a leaf, and now the troll is coming to get us. You must get down off my back, and I shall try and see what I can do.”

The boy had barely come down from his back before the troll came charging through the forest. This one was much bigger and scarier than the first. And it was a fearful fight. They stabbed and they kicked so that earth and bushes flurried in the air, but suddenly, the bull drove its horn into the midst of the troll’s chest and tossed it far, far away through the forest. And then it was over. “Yes, it turned out well this time,” said the bull, “and now you can sit up on my back again, for we are going much farther still.” So the boy clambered up on to the bull again, and then it set off.

Far they went, and at length. And then one day they came to a forest that the boy could never even have dreamed of. Not only did it glitter and gleam, but when the sun shone, then it was as if the whole forest stood aflame. When the boy looked more carefully, all the leaves on the trees were of pure gold. And small birds fluttered and flew and sang throughout the whole forest. Indeed, he could never have imagined something so fine and pretty. “You must not pull off or take any leaf from here,” said the bull, “for here is a troll who is as big and ugly as the other two together. So if you take a leaf from here, then it‘ll come, and the outcome would not be certain.”

Indeed, he promised he would not take any leaf. But it wasn’t so long before he couldn’t control himself, and he broke off a gold leaf, and immediately there was a horrible, deafening rumble that shook the whole forest, it was so terrible. “Oh no, what have you done now?” said the bull. “Now you have broken off a leaf, and now the troll is coming to get us. You must get down off my back, and I shall try and see what I can do. But I’m terribly afraid this time.”

The boy had barely come down from his back before the troll came charging through the forest. It was so big and ugly and foul that there was no end to it. And this is how things went: the troll went straight for the bull. The bull threw himself to one side, and the troll nearly stumbled, but it kept its legs. Things continued in this manner for a long time. But then, just like that, the bull drove its horns into the troll’s chest and tore it completely open. And that was the end of it. “Yes, it turned out well this time as well,” said the bull, “and now you can sit up on my back again, for we are going much farther still.”

After they now had travelled for a while, they came to a beautiful great castle. “Well, now we have arrived, and now we are not going any farther,” said the bull. “And so you must take me and kill me, for I have finished my work.” No, the boy would not hear anything of it; the bull had been so steadfast, and saved him from the trolls. “Yes, you must do it,” said the bull, “for otherwise I shall have to stab you to death, which would certainly be much worse.” When the boy heard this, there was nothing to do but kill the bull. And then a handsome fine prince stood before him. And when he turned around to look, a beautiful princess stood on the steps of the castle.

“Well, now the enchantment is broken,” said the prince. And then he said: “My sister stands by the castle. The brass and silver and golden forests are ours, but three foul trolls wanted these fine, pretty forests, and when our father and mother died, they turned me into a caterpillar. Then they each took a forest, and there they stayed, taking care that no one would come and take the forests from them.

“But the day came when you found me on the grass on the grave of your parents. And you took me home and cared for me. And I started to grow and became a great bull, with big, sharp horns. And when I had grown so big that I could manage to take the life of the troll, we set off. And now you see how things have gone. Now you should stick the brass and the silver and then gold leaves in the buttonhole on your tunic, and we shall go in to my sister’s castle.” You can imagine how overjoyed she was, now that the enchantment was broken, and now that her brother had returned home.

The prince gave the boy his sister for his wife, as well as half of the land, and half of the brass and the silver and the golden forests. They lived happily for a long time. And if they are not dead, then yet they live.

AT 511A
Location: Beiarn in Nordland
Informant: Arne Øynes
Collector: Erling Vegusdal Eriksen
Date: 1953?

Thursday, 5 May 2022

The Cat with a Silver Chain on its Tail

There was once a woman who had three daughters. Now, one day they needed to churn some butter, and so the eldest daughter had to go to the well for some water to keep the butter cool. There she saw a cat with a silver chain on its tail, and she ran after the cat. The cat went in through an iron gate, into a giant’s farm.

When she didn’t return, her mother sent her second daughter on her way. She too saw the cat with the silver chain on its tail, and ran after it through the iron gate, into the giant’s farm.

Then the mother sent her youngest daughter on her way, and things went the same way with her.

All three daughters were now on the giant’s farm.

The giant wanted the youngest for his wife, and she had to take care of things and run around, preparing for the wedding.

He put the two elder daughters in an iron cage, to be fattened up. There they were allowed to eat all manner of good food they could wish for, so they would grow good and fat. They had both sugar and rusks.

After a fortnight had passed the giant wanted to see if they had grown fat, and he had them poke a finger out through the bars of the cage, so he could cut into it and see how fat they were. The sisters poked out a bone instead, which was so hard that they obviously weren’t fat enough, and they were therefore left in the cage for another fortnight.

After this time had passed the giant returned, and they poked out a bit of rusk. Obviously they weren’t fat enough yet, either.

After another fortnight had passed, the giant came, wanting to cut their finger. This time they poked out a piece of turnip. Now they were fat enough!

He decided that his wedding would now be quite soon, and so he went out to visit all the other giants, to invite them to his wedding. Meanwhile, the youngest daughter was to be left behind on the giant’s farm, taking care of things until his guests arrived.

Then she said to the giant:

“There is so much old wool and loose hair around here; can I not have a sack to pack it in, and carry it home to my mother?”

Well, of course she could have one, if she promised to return.

Of course she would.

So she took her eldest sister, put her down in the sack, packed wool and loose hair all around her and carried her home.

The next day, the giant went out again with invitations to his wedding.

And then the youngest daughter said:

“There’s still so much mess and rubbish here. May I carry a sack of it home to my mother?”

Of course she might do so, if only she promised to return.

Then the giant left.

So she took her middle sister, put her down in the sack, then stuffed wool and fluff around her, just as before, and carried her home.

On the third day, the giant left to invite the last of his guests. But before he went he brought her as many fine clothes and silver clothes and gold clothes and rings as he wanted her to put on before his guests arrived.

When he had gone, she took the wood-chopping block and put it in the middle of the floor. She dressed it in all the wedding clothes the giant had given her, which she was supposed to wear.

And then she returned home herself.

The giant returned with his guests in the evening. He thought he saw her sitting on the floor, and began to instruct her to bring them food and drink, but he received no answer.

He spoke to her once again – more gruffly this time – but again he received no reply.

The third time, he roared at her, but she again ignored him. Then he grew so wild that he struck her, and the wood-chopping block flew across the floor.

Then the giant grew so angry that he burst asunder.

The folk at home were overjoyed that all their daughters had come home again. And then they went to the giant’s farm and brought back all the clothes and all the gold and all the silver.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

The Great Bull Who Should Go to the Pasture and Eat His Fill

The bull, once upon a time, should go up to the pasture to eat his fill. When he had walked some distance, he met a cockerel.

“Cock-a-doodle-do! Where are you off to?” he said in his delicate voice.

“I’m going up to the pasture to eat my fill,” said the great bull. His voice was coarse.

“May I be allowed to go with you?” said the cockerel.

“Gladly, gladly, gladly, gladly,” replied the bull.

They walked on for a while, and then they met a hare.

“Hutte-tutte-tu! Where are you off to?”

“We’re going up to the pasture to eat our fill,” said the bull.

“May I be allowed to go with you?” said the hare.

“Gladly, gladly, gladly, gladly,” said the bull.

They walked on for a while, and then they met a buck.

“Baaaaaaaaa! Where are you off to?” asked the goat.

“We’re going up to the pasture to eat our fill,” said the bull.

“May I be allowed to go with you?” said the goat.

“Gladly, gladly, gladly, gladly,” said the bull.

They walked on for a while, and then they met a boar.

“Oink! Oink! Oink! Oink! Where are you off to?” said the boar.

“We’re going up to the pasture to eat our fill,” said the bull.

“May I be allowed to go with you?” said the boar.

“Gladly, gladly, gladly, gladly,” said the bull.

When they arrived at the pasture they went into the cabin. The bull sat himself at the head of the table, and he bade the hare sit on the bench beside him. He put the goat on the table, the boar under the table, and the cockerel by the door.

Then a fox and a bear came to the pasture. They heard there was someone in the cabin, and so they wanted to take a look inside. But neither one dared go in.

Then said the bear to the fox: “You should go in, for you are the weakest, you are.”

“No, you must go in, for you are the strongest, you are,” said the fox.

So the bear went in, and hurried over to the bull. The bull took him with his horns and flung him onto the table, to the goat. The goat butted him so that he rolled under the table. The boar got at him there. And the hare and the rooster, they made a commotion, each in his own way, on the bench and by the door. The bear was so scared that he hurried out again.

“How did it go?” said the fox. He stood outside waiting.

“If you had gone in there, you would never have come out again,” said the bear. “A huge man was sitting in the high seat at the table. He took me with his horns and threw me on to the table. There sat a tailor. He stabbed me with his needle, so I rolled under the table. And down there was a foul man who wanted to chomp me into pieces. Then a man jumped up on the bench and shouted:

‘Where’s my felling axe?
Where is my felling axe?’

“If he had come down, I would not have made it out. Now there was a man who stood in the doorway, and he shouted:

‘Grab hold of the fellow, do!
Grab hold of the fellow, do!’

“And if he had got ahold of me, I would never in the world have come out again.”

Georg Sverdrup (ed.). Norske folke-eventyr : i utvalg til skolebruk. Oslo: Beyer. 1925.

Sunday, 6 February 2022

The Fox and the Buck

A fox.

It used to be that children were frightened with the fox; if they weren’t good, the fox would come and take them away on his long tail. They used to tell a story of the fox and the buck, and it was good for us that it went so ill for the fox. The story goes like this.

There was a fox that lay beneath a bridge. Then a little lamb came walking.

“What is it pounding on my bridge?” said the fox.

“I’m just a little lamb,” said the lamb.

“Aren’t you afraid that I’ll come and take you?” said the fox.

“No, wait until the sheep comes; there’s more food in him,” said the lamb. So the fox waited for the sheep to come.

“What is it pounding on my bridge?” said the fox.

“I’m a sheep,” said the sheep.

“Aren’t you afraid that I’ll come and take you?” said the fox.

“No, wait until the goat comes; there is more food in her,” said the sheep. So the fox waited for the goat to come.

“What is it pounding on my bridge?” said the fox.

“I’m a goat,” said the goat.

“Aren’t you afraid that I’ll come and take you?” said the fox.

“No, wait until the buck comes; there is more food in him,” said the goat. So the fox waited for the buck to come.

“What is it pounding on my bridge?” said the fox.

“I’m a buck,” said the buck.

“Aren’t you afraid that I’ll come and take you?” said the fox.

“No, come on!” said the buck. Then the fox came, and the goat raised itself up and butted him out into the brook.

Then there was no way to control the children, for the fox lay out in the brook, said Hallvor Åkre.

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Kittelsen’s Soria Moria Castle

In 1900, Theodor Kittelsen produced a series of 12 paintings that illustrated the folktale, “Soria Moria Castle.” In 1911, he wrote the text that goes with the pictures. In my opinion, Kittelsen’s tale is quite weak, textually. I think it comes of the text having to fit the series of pictures that had already been produced. The weakness of the narrative is the reason I have decided to post everything on the web, rather than publishing it in a book.

You’ll find the tale here, complete with all the illustrations.

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.