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Monday, 22 March 2021

Shoemaker Henrik

Shoemaker Henrik was born in Norway, but howsoever it may or may not have happened, he wandered around for so long that he found himself Russia. There he sat one day, making shoes as he was eating. He accidentally spilt a drop from his bowl, and immediately a number of flies gathered around it. Henrik grabbed a strip of leather and swiped at the swarm, swatting fifteen flies in one go. He thought this was a great feat, so he took a scrap of paper and wrote it down. He wrote that he had slain fifteen at one stroke. He fastened the scrap of paper on the outside of his cobbler’s bag. People who read it thought that here was a deadly warrior fellow, and they stepped aside out of respect for him. Eventually Henrik came into the service of the emperor, and the respect and reverence due to such a great war hero – as they thought he was – wasn’t lacking.

Now the emperor owned a great forest, and a unicorn had come into this forest and ravaged terribly there. Almost no one dared to travel through the forest for fear of the beast. Well, Henrik wasn’t one of those folk whose words alone were fine, nor was he particularly shy; he promised to fell the unicorn. The emperor was more than happy for him do so and offered a crowd of folk to go along and help. But no, Henrik wanted to go alone. It was no worse a beast than he could handle alone, he said. If he couldn’t go alone, he wouldn’t go, he said.

Well, in that case he should be allowed to go alone. But it was one thing to be so brave while he was still at home in the king’s farm, and quite another when he was to go out and do it. As soon as he got so far into the forest that no one could see him, he grew so scared that he thought only about how he could escape unseen without meeting the unicorn.

But as he stood loitering there, the unicorn came towards him. And I tell you, he wasn’t slow getting up into the biggest tree he saw. A unicorn is a beast that has a single horn in the middle of its forehead. When it saw Henrik clamber up, it began to butt the tree. And at length it rammed its horn so far into the tree that it couldn’t get it out again, and couldn’t go anywhere. Then Henrik regained his courage, climbed down the tree, and killed the unicorn with his big knife.

Then he returned to the emperor’s castle, and said that now he had hunted the beast for so long that it had rammed itself into a tree, and there he had killed it. And so it may well be that he was celebrated for his valour.

But soon after, an even worse beast came to the same forest. It was a great belligerent bear. And so they wanted Henrik – he who had killed the unicorn – to kill the bear, too. He would have as many men as he wanted. But Henrik said now, as he had previously, that if he should go, he should go alone, otherwise he wouldn’t go.

So it was then that he got to go alone. And as soon as he got out of sight, he was so scared that he thought of nothing but about how he was going to get away without meeting any belligerent bear. But just as he went lurking there, the bear came charging straight towards him.

Now, there was a deep hole in the ground close by, and a hatch had been prepared for its opening. This hatch stood open, and Henrik ran as quickly as he could and crouched behind the hatch to hide himself. As the angry bear no longer saw anything of the one who had disturbed his peace, he thought that the fellow must have run straight into the hole, and so the bear followed. But as soon as the bear had gone down, Henrik wasn’t slow in slamming the hatch shut and locking it tightly.

Then he went to the emperor’s castle and said that now he had hunted the bear for so long that it had run down into the hole; if they wanted him, they could fetch him there. He, for his part, cared no longer about it, he said. The emperor then sent a whole host of hunters and soldiers to take the life of the trapped bear. But the one who received honour and praise was Henrik the shoemaker. He was invited to the court and was seated at the same table as the emperor.

Immediately after, the emperor went to war against the Turks, and Henrik was commissioned as a captain of the entire Russian army. Now Henrik had certainly never seen a war, and hadn’t the least idea of how things were done, but folk thought he was so brave that it should be a matter of course that he should lead the army. Henrik himself was ill at ease. Leading an army was something he had never considered, much less had any experience of. The only weapons he was practised in were the awl and his cobbler’s knife.

But here something might be done. He ordered every man to dress stark naked. The soldiers had it from the emperor himself that they were to obey Henrik in every detail, and they dared do nothing but obey such orders, and soon the whole army stood there naked, without a thread on their God-given bodies. Then Henrik ordered them to find fatwood sticks, set them alight, and run towards the enemy as they swung the burning torches above their heads.

When the Turks came to fight them, Henrik swung his burning torch above his head and stormed straight ahead. The soldiers did the same as their captain, and followed after him. When the Turks saw all these men, stark naked, with flames above their heads, they thought an army of spirits was coming on, and they cried out in great fear, and took flight as swiftly as their feet would carry them. Henrik and his army stormed after at a quick march, and the Turks didn’t dare look behind them before they had arrived in the midst of Turkey. Henrik’s spoils, and those of his men, were greater than great. And since then, the Turks have never dared attack the Russians.

  • ATU-1640 (the brave tailor)
  • Location: Bø, Leirfjord
  • Collector: Knut Strompedal
  • Informant: Jens Hansen

  • The Tzar: Alexander II (1818–1881)
  • The war: the Russo (Eastern Orthodox Coalition) - Turkish (Ottoman) War (April 1877–March 1878)
  • Casualties: >550,000, all told.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

When the Hen Went to the Giant’s and Took Back Her Husband

There was once a giant who came and stole the cock from the hen, and the hen felt lost without her husband, you see. So she took a potsherd for a sleigh and a mouse for a horse, bridled it, and began to drive on her way.

When she came onto the road, she met a fox, and he asked her where she was off to.

“I’m going to the giant’s, to get my husband back,” she said.

“May I have a lift from you?” said the fox.

“My horse is small but my sleigh is steady. Cast your lot with me! Cast your lot with me! Don’t spare the mouse! Jump on!” said the hen. And then she drove both here and there. She was in a hurry, you see; she was going to get her husband back.

Then they met a wolf, and he asked her where she was off to.

“I’m going to the giant’s, to get my husband back,” she said.

“May I have a lift from you?” said the wolf.

“My horse is small but my sleigh is steady. Cast your lot with me! Cast your lot with me! Don’t spare the mouse! Jump on!” said the hen. And then she drove both here and there. She was in a hurry, you see; she was going to get her husband back.

Then they met a bear, and he asked her if he could have a lift.

“My horse is small but my sleigh is steady. Cast your lot with me! Cast your lot with me! Don’t spare the mouse! Jump on!” said the hen. And then she drove both here and there. She was in a hurry, you see; she was going to get her husband back.

When they came to the giant’s, she let the bear into the cowshed and the wolf into the goat barn and the fox into the sheepfold, and they began to kill the giant’s livestock. The hen herself went into the giant’s parlour, laid an egg in the firepit, and stuck a darning needle in the long bench.

When the giant heard his livestock from the barns, he thundered:

“Bring me my trotting trousers, woman!”

When he had his trousers on, he went to the firepit to blow up a light, but the egg burst in his eyes.

He stumbled over to the long bench, so that he could sit down and rub his eyes, but he drove the needle so far up into his arse that it stuck there.

Then the hen took back her cock. He was perched on a ledge by the front door.

Location: Ålvundeid, Møre og Romsdal
Informant: Marit Haugen
Collector: E. Langset
Date: 1915

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

The Gyger of Landegode


In the olden days, there lived a great gyger [a troll wife] out on Landegode. As she thought it was far too lonely to live so alone on the desolate island out in the sea, far away from other trolls and gygers, she called to the blueman, who lived in the mountains within Saltenfjord, and asked if he didn’t want her to wife, because she so wanted to get married. Yes, he certainly would, but only on the condition that she should first take Landegode and carry it to Blåmannsfjell; for he had been annoyed for many long ages that the neighbouring mountain of Sulitjelma), was so much higher and prouder than Blåmannsfjell, in which he lived. If she could get his house as high as Sulitjelma, he would marry her, any day of the week. Well, it could easily be done, the gyger thought, and so she set to work. But when she had Landegode tied well to her back, the sun shone, and then she turned into a huge rock, which you can still see standing out on Landegode, and which people call “Landego-gjuri” [literally, “Landegod-udder,” as two peaks on the island are fancied to resemble a woman’s breasts]. And the blueman, he stood for so long, looking for his sweetheart, that he forgot to pack himself back into his mountain, and so he also turned to stone. To this day he may be seen standing in the mountains, with his skis on his feet; the tips of his skis protrude from the snow that covers the top of the mountain.

– Legend from Skjerstad, as told by schoolteacher A. Vesterlid.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Guri Gullkrans

There was once a girl named Guri. She had long golden-yellow plaits, and they were tied in a wreath around her head, and so they called her Guri Gullkrans.1 She was the most beautiful girl in seven church parishes and certainly even farther. As soon as she was grown up, many suitors came to her, but she wanted none of them. In disappointment, she refused even the richest and best farmers’ sons.

Her parents didn’t like this at all. They wanted to see her well married, you know, and one day they took Guri aside and spoke to her about it. But Guri Gullkrans just threw her head back in laughter, saying: “The right one hasn’t yet come!”

Then her father grew heartily wroth, and solemnly promised that the first one who came and offered himself as a suitor, he would have her for wife, whether he was the right one or not! Indeed, even should it be a werewolf, he said.

In the twilight of the evening that same day, there was a howl outside, and a scraping at the door. The man went out to look, and there was a huge greyshanks.

“May I have your daughter?” said the greyshanks.

The man was astonished, and regretted that he had used such harsh words towards his daughter. But a man’s words are a man’s honor, he said, and he could by no means sleep off something he had promised so dearly. Guri Gullkrans had to make herself ready immediately and go with the greyshanks, even though she both wept and cried!

“Sit on my back, you, and hold on tight to my skin,” said the greyshanks to her. And she did so, even though she trembled like an aspen leaf.

The wolf ran and ran; the road was dark and long, but at last they came to a great stone scree. There he snuck into a large spacious cavern.

“Just go farther in, you my sweetheart, for here shall we live, you and I,” said the grey wolf. When Guri came to the end of the cavern, there was a door. She opened the door, and inside she saw both a bed and a table and various kinds of seats, rose-painted and beautiful all. Well did she wonder!

At the end of the room there was another door; but as soon as she wanted to peep inside, the greyshanks came as quickly as he could to meet her. The wolf said that there was nothing to look at inthere. And so the girl had to be content.

Guri Gullkrans now remained living with the greyshanks, and some time passed. The wolf was out during the day, but as evening arrived, he came padding home to the scree.

At bedtime every evening, when darkness fell, the wolf gave the girl a sweetly drink from a golden horn, and this drink was such that the girl fell immediately asleep, and didn’t waken before the day could be seen in the sky. By then the greyshanks had already padded on his way.

Guri Gullkrans was free to walk around the scree outside the cave, but she could come no farther. It was steep down and it was steep up, and it was just as steep and as slippery smooth on both sides, and she didn’t at all understand which way she had come when she rode in on the wolf.

She also had something else or other to wonder about.

First there was the third chamber, which she wasn’t allowed into. When the greyshanks was out, the door to the room was locked, and she had no idea where the key was. She searched high and low, and upturned everything she came across, wanting to find the key, but it was futile.

Then there was another thing: One night when the wolf gave her her drink from the golden horn, she spilt most of it down her front. The greyshanks didn’t see, and she ignored it, but she didn’t fall asleep as soon as she lay down, as before.

And just as she lay there, she saw very clearly that a man lay beside her. She reflected and thought over this.

Now, Guri Gullkrans sat in the sunshine outside the cavern one day. Just as she sat there, a hare came hopping along in long leaps, with a fox in tow behind. When the hare saw the girl, he jumped, not knowing at all which way he should escape. But Guri Gullkrans said: “If you know what’s best for you, my little grey puss, then hurry to me and let me save you!” Immediately the hare came right up to her, and the fox skulked off on his way.

“Thank you for wanting to help me; perhaps I can help you!” said the hare to Guri Gullkrans. It was difficult for her to believe, but still she told of the greyshanks she lived with, and how strange everything was.

“Do you see the little red flower that grows there between the stones?” asked the hare.

Yes indeed, she saw it!

If she picked it and ate it all up completely, she would be able to see all the secret things she could wish to and want to. What she wanted most, she would see best, and it was as true as it was told, said the hare.

Guri Gullkrans wasn’t slow to pick the red flower and eat it. Then she thought with all her might of the key to the chamber that she wasn’t allowed into. Immediately she saw where the key was, lying in the outermost room of the cavern, under a stone flag. She then hurried to retrieve the key, and then she unlocked the door to the third chamber, as quickly as she could, all the while trembling in excitement.

One wall was hanging full of stately clothes and lethal swords, and on the other wall hung long rows of greyshanks skins. She found nothing else, and nothing more, and she didn’t have much time to look for it either, for now the evening began to grow dark. She could expect the greyshanks to return home at any moment. She hurried to put the key back underneath the stone flag. But she forgot to lock the door in her haste

The key was hardly back in place before the wolf came panting.

“Has anything special happened?” he asked.

“Of course not! How can you think it might have? Nothing special will ever happen here!” replied Guri Gullkrans.

“I felt inside that I had to hurry home! I don’t suppose you’ve been into the third chamber, have you?” he asked, glaring at her.

She merely answered: “Do you think I know where the key is, then?”

“No, how could you know that?” admitted the wolf. And with that said, he calmed down.

But just Guri Gullkrans sat there with her wishes and thoughts, and looked straight at the greyshanks, she looked right through the wolf skin, and she saw the most handsome boy she could ever have dreamed of in her life.

“What are you sitting staring at?” the greyshanks growled.

“No, I’m just sitting here in thought” Guri Gullkrans replied.

Late that night, the greyshanks came with the golden horn as usual, and desired her to drink.

“Yes, thank you,” said Guri Gullkrans, taking the horn. “But put a log on the fire, will you? I’m freezing so!” she said.

Of course, the greyshanks would do so. And he had hardly turned away from her before Guri Gullkrans emptied all the drink in the horn into a corner. But when the wolf looked at her again, she made as if she were drinking.

“Oh, I’m so sleepy, I am,” she yawned over the empty horn.

“Just go to bed, you,” replied the greyshanks. “Now it will soon be warm enough here, I should think,” he said.

So the girl went to bed, but she kept her eyes half-open, and saw now in the glow from the fire how the wolf wrested off the skin and raised himself up on two, like the handsome boy he was.

The girl had the sense to lie on the outside, and then let the boy step over her to lie inside. And as soon as he was asleep the girl crept out of bed, took the wolf skin and threw it on the fire. It sputtered and crackled, and the boy was woken by the sound.

“Oh dear, what are you doing now?!” he cried sleepily.

“I’m burning your ugly skin!” she replied.

Then the boy tumbled sleepily out of the bed and went out to the first chamber; he had to find the key. But Guri Gullkrans suddenly remembered that she hadn’t locked after herself when she was in the third chamber. So she hurried in, gathered all the greyshanks skins that hung there, and threw them all together on the fire. When the boy came running with the key, they were all aflame!

“Can you now be like a proper human being, and let this greyshanks nonsense go?” asked Guri Gullkrans.

“Yes, now you have saved me, even if you have done so a month ahead of time!” he said.

“What do you mean by that?” she asked.

“Well, if you had put up with living with me as before for a month longer, then I would have thrown the skin on the fire myself,” he replied.

Then he told her that he was an enchanted prince. Some miserable troll-hag had done some troll-work, thrown the wolfskin on him, and given him a the mind of a wolf. Only at night when he slept, was he allowed to be human. And so should it be until a beautiful girl with golden hair had lived with him for seven months. But now she had been there for six!

“If you now want me free from my wolf nature for the month that is to come, then sacrifice all your golden hair. If you don’t do so, I shall pad about as a human wolf in the heaths for another whole month,” said the prince.

Then the girl said at once that she would shear off her hair, and asked for a pair of scissors. As soon as she got them, her wreath of hair fell. How it gleamed!

Now the prince was as happy and as free as he could be, and now he seriously wanted to make Guri Gullkrans his wife.

“What do you say to that?” he asked.

And what could the girl say other than: “Yes!”

“Whatever happens, let it happen, for now I see that you are the right one!” she said.

Then they travelled together away from the scree, and the prince found a path, no matter how hopeless it seemed. He was dressed in the finest garment among those that hung in the third room – and he had a sword in its scabbard, too!

First they went home to her parents and made them happy. Then they went straight to the king’s farm where the prince came from. There they lived together in joy and in gladness! - And if you want to know any more, then you can ask grandfather, - I expect he knows a lot more than I do!


Torvald Tu. Gullfuglen: og andre eventyr. A. Steinsfjord (ill.). Oslo: Fonna, 1944.


  1. Guri Gullkrans = Guri Golden-wreath 

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Old Christmas Customs

Jul or Jol, which is said to really mean “noise” or “clamour,” was solemnly celebrated by our pagan ancestors on the 12th of [December], which was regarded as midwinter’s day, which is why the midtvinterblot or midwinter sacrifice was also held on that occasion.

When Christianity was introduced, the heathens also had to move their jul to the 25th of December. Despite the fact that nearly a thousand years has passed since then, several superstitions that have their roots in the worship of the heathen gods have survived until recently among the common people.

Thus the belief in the skreie or the julereie, in some places called the asgårdsreie, which in Ulvik at least is said to storm through the village on Christmas Eve. This wild host was originally the mighty ás-god Thor and his company, originally the friend and protector of mankind, but since the introduction of Christianity nothing more than a vengeful, horrible spirit that storms through the air with fire and smoke and destruction in its wake.

Åsgårdsreien, Peter Nicolai Arbo.

On Lussinotti [Lussi night], the longest night of the year, it was thought that “Lussi” came to the farm as an ugly foul woman. Others knew to tell of “Lussi’s wake,” a dangerous procession of flying creatures, half dragon, half human. This, however, was probably the same as the Asgårdsreie, just that the notion of these as two different objects has become obscure and confused.

Finally, we had the julesveiner [Yule swains] who also appeared on Lussi night and resided on the mantel above the old-fashioned smoke ovens; they remained mostly calm, however, until some time past Christmas, when they disappeared as quietly as they had come.

In many places there was also a creature called the Garssvore or the defender of the farm; he lurked around the farm the whole time and was big and ugly, but he wandered around by himself and left others alone. But for him to maintain peace, and defend the house and farm and folk and livestock from nuisance and violence and the hulder folk and other enchantments, he required a nicely made bed in the attic and a bowl of beer and a dish of sour-cream porridge put out in the farmyard or out in the fields every Christmas Eve. If he had this, he was satisfied.

From Lussi night until past Christmas, none of the folk in the house were to go out late or spend the night in an outhouse; they shaould all move into the cabin, even carrying in food and drink so they could avoid going out to the stabbur in the evening. Otherwise they might be taken by the evil spirits which were thought to have taken possession of all the outhouses during this time. If you were so unfortunate to be taken by the reie, you were thrown on a device that was said to look like an inverted harrow, and driven over sticks and stones until you were seriously injure or completely knocked to death.

In some places the reie stopped to have some food. The great cabin then had to be tidied, the occupants moved out, and the table abundantly covered with the best Christmas fare available in the house. If anyone dared to stay behind, he fared badly; he was either put on the inverted harrow and driven off the farm, or he was punished in his mind by becoming a numbskull or a fool for the rest of his days.

There was once a boy who no longer believed in the reie and such. He loaded his rifle and placed himself behind the stove on the evening the Julereie, was expected, to see if anyone really came. He was strongly warned against staking his life and health, but the boy wanted to stay in place anyway. As it passed midnight, a great rumbling and banging was heard, and a number of people entered the house and sat around the well-spread table. The were all dark, sooty, disguised figures. One of them sat down in the high seat and bade the others eat; he was bigger and uglier than the others and seemed to be some manner of leader for them. The boy behind the stove then raised his rifle and shot a bullet through the leader’s forehead. He fell to the floor with a roar, while the others hurriedly took flight through the door. Shortly afterwards, however, two of the men returned and pulled out their dead chief, after which they all disappeared. But from that day on the Christmas reie never came to that farm again. And here is what was most mysterious: one of the neighbors was found dead that very night, in his house, with a broken head. He was a bold, careless man.

Another time it happened that a stranger came to a farm on Christmas Eve and asked for a place to stay. He was told that not even they had a house that night, for they expected the julereie to arrive, and thus had to flee so they would not be trampled and disgraced.

Oh, nothing more, thought the man who had a tame white bear with him; if only he and the white bear would be allowed to sleep in the house, there would certainly be a curious dance with the julereie. So the man gave him leave to sleep there. He went in to the laid himself in the room or chamber next to the parlour, and left the door ajar, while the white bear lay down in the corner by the firepit. As it drew on towards midnight, a large company of folk – men, women and children – came in, sat down at the table and began to eat the fare that the people of the house had set out according to their old habit. However, one of the children had caught sight of the white bear, which it thought was a big white molly, took a piece of meat on a fork, and went to the corner, wanting to give it to the bear. But the bear did not want this meat, so the child stuck the fork in the animal’s nose. As a result, the white bear turned furious, and chased out the whole swarm.

On Christmas Eve the following year, the man standing in the farmyard heard someone call to him, asking if he still had the white molly. Yes, replied the man, he still had the cat, and she had had 7 kittens now, which were even worse than their mother. No more was asked, but the julereie never came to that farm again.

To protect themselves from the Lussiferd, the juleskreie or the julereie, hulder folk &c. they used to paint tar crosses above every outer door. Thus, they thought, that they would stride on past.

A pitch cross on the door lintel of a cabin in The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, Bygdøy.

On Christmas Eve, boys and girls could see their future spouses by leaving the table in the middle of the meal, taking a piece of Christmas fare in their hands and going to the barn, where they took off their shoes and then ran three times around the house in their bare socks. The third time they returned, their prospective spouse would be standing in their shoes. If, on the other hand, you were to die unmarried, an unknown person would stand in your shoes, holding a spade and a shovel in their hand.

– “Gamle Juleskikke.” Th. S. Haukenæs. Natur, Folkeliv og Folketro i Hardanger: belyst ved Natur- og Folkelivsskildringer, Eventyr, Sagn, Fortællinger osv. fra ældre og nyere tid. 3: Ulvik. Hardanger: Th. S. Haukenæs, 1885 (p. 175-179).

Thursday, 26 November 2020

The Princess Who Was SO Ugly

There was once upon a time a princess who was not as beautiful as ordinary princesses tend to be. On the contrary, she was so immeasurably ugly that no one wanted to marry her. No one considered how kind and good she was because she was so ugly to look at.

Both the princess and the king her father were very disappointed that no prince wanted her, for he had no son who could inherit the kingdom after him, and he wanted very much to have a son-in-law. So the princess said one day: “Dear father, let me go out into the world and see if I can’t find a prince who wants me.” The king was reluctant to let her go, but she begged him for so long that she was finally allowed.

She walked for several days, then, and at night she was allowed to lie in the parlours of the poor. Everyone was kind to her, for she herself was so kind, and she paid well for herself – the king had given her a large purse of gold so that she would not suffer any want.

On the fifth day, as it was getting dark, she grew exhausted, but she found no shelter. So she sat down on a rock and began to weep, and then came a great black dog to her, and asked her why she was weeping.

“Oh, I’m so tired,” said the princess, “but I have found no room in which to sleep tonight.”

“Don’t weep about it, you,” said the dog. “I know a cave nearby where you can sleep well; I will lie down and watch guard over you, and we shall have food, too. But tell me: who are you, and where are you going?”

“I am a princess,” she replied, “but, as you can see, I am so terribly ugly that no prince will marry me, and that disappoints my father so, for he has no one to inherit the kingdom when he dies. That’s why I have gone out into the world now, to see if I can find a prince who will want me anyway.”

“I’m sure there’s some advice for that,” said the dog, “if you will follow me and do as I say.” The princess certainly would. So they slept in the cave for the night, and when the dog merely blew a whistle, then they had the finest food they could wish for.

In the morning the dog said that the princess should sit on his back, so they might arrive all the more quickly. She did, and now they went as quickly as if she were sitting on the finest of horses. After they had travelled for many days, the dog said that they would soon come to a troll’s castle, and that the princess should go in as he remained outside. But she needn’t be afraid, for the troll was out on a long journey; there was just an awfully big red cat at home, but she needn’t be afraid of that either, for it would do her no harm. She should just lift it on to her lap and pat it and stroke it and get it to tell her where the golden bird had its nest, whose chicks the cat ate every day. And after she found out, she should come out to the dog at once. Then they would travel on. Yes, the princess promised to do everything the dog said, and then they arrived at the castle.

The princess got off the dog and went into the castle. It was so very fine inside that immeasurable amounts of gold gleamed everywhere. But she did not see a single person, though she walked through many chambers, the one finer than the other. At last she came into a chamber in which everything was made of silver, and there lay the great red cat on a bench, looking at her through eyes as big as bowls. The princess grew immensely fearful, but she took courage and went to the cat and patted it. Then she sat down on the bench, and lifted the cat on to her lap, stroking and caressing it and saying: “Are you here alone, you beautiful little cat? Have you had any food today, then?”

“Meow,” said the cat, “I have only had a paltry little golden bird today, for the mother bird told me that no more had hatched.”

“Where does this bird live, then?” said the princess. “Tell me, and I’ll go there and see if what she said was true, and I’ll bring you a bird.”

“Meow,” said the cat. “If you will do that, then I’ll tell you where she lives. After you have travelled for an hour, you’ll come to a large forest, and in the midst of it stands a tree that is larger than the others; at the top of it is its nest. If you can pluck a feather too, then you shall be able to go wherever you want to, as quickly as you desire.”

The princess said thank you for the advice, bade farewell to the cat, and hurried out to the dog. She sat on its back, and told it what the cat had said.

They now rode for an hour, and then came to the big tree in the forest. It was awfully high, and the dog said that the princess now had to climb up it, and take an egg and a feather for him. She did so, and as she was good at climbing, she soon came to the top. But it was more difficult to get anything out of the nest, for the golden bird was so angry that it pecked and bit her hands, so that it was scarcely possible for her to take an egg and a feather. She could not get any chicks, but had to hurry down again before the bird pecked out her eyes.

When she came down to the ground, she was so weary and frightened that it was all she could do to give the dog the egg before she collapsed. When she came to herself again, the dog had gone, and before her stood the most handsome prince in glittering armour.

“Well, where have you come from?” said the princess.

“It was I who was the dog,” said the prince. “But when I ate the egg, the enchantment left me, and I am extremely grateful for your help. If you will, we’ll go to your father’s and hold a wedding.”

“What, will you have me, then” said the princess.

“When I was a dog, I said that I would get you a prince. And that’s me.”

“But you’re so handsome, and I’m so ugly,” said the princess.

“I don’t care about that when you have a heart as good as I know yours to be. Now: we wish to go to your father.”

Then they passed through the air over both forests and mountains and over great waters, and then immediately they were at home with the king. There they held a wedding. And since then the prince has inherited the kingdom, where he still reigns today, if he be not dead.

- Tante Tora. Tolv eventyr for barn. Rudolf Krog (illus.). Kristiania: P.F. Steenballes boghandels eftg., 1906.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

The Seal Girl’s Revenge

A legend from the Faroe Islands
Illustrations by Axel Gjødesen

It was Three Kings’ Eve.1 The Atlantic Ocean rolled in long waves towards the shores of the Faroe Islands and threw the splashing foam up the cliffs. Behind a protruding rock wall lay a young man staring out across the sea, where the moon had recently risen. He had heard the strange legend since he was a child, of how the seals – whom the Faroese believe were once human beings who voluntarily plunged into the sea – would come in their scores to the shore on this night, where they would throw off their animal skins, and in human figure amuse themselves on the rocks, in the caves, on the large stones at the edge of the sea, jumping and dancing until the approach of dawn, when they again in their animal skins would seek to the depths.

Half anxious, half curious, the young man from the southern farm in Mikladalur2 had slipped down here. In breathless excitement he waited for midnight. But even as it approached, he saw the sea growing as if in rebellion, splashing and spraying, snorting and bubbling. Thousands of seals swam, racing one another towards the coast. There they raised themselves up, threw their skins on to the stones, on to the rocks, and they became a swirling sea of white human figures – men and women, young and old – embracing one another, dancing and playing, floating like apparitions in the moonlight which glittered and gleamed around them. The young man was petrified, enchanted. He pitched forward - he had seen a young woman close by him, more beautiful than any maiden he had ever seen before. She laid her skin on the rock just below him and floated, dancing past him.

He was as if out of his mind. His heart beat as if it were about to burst. He clenched his fist and shouted suddenly: “She must be mine!” In a moment he had reached out across the rocks, grabbed her animal skin and hidden it deep down between the stones.

They danced and played all night, but when the day began to dawn, each seal went to find its skin. The young seal girl could not find hers; she searched and searched – the other seals had long since plunged themselves into the sea – when the young man suddenly grabbed her: “I have taken your skin!” he said, “and you will never see it again! You must become the Mikladalur man’s wife, and live and build here with me, as a human!”

She looked at him in horror. “I belong in the sea,” she said. “I cannot live here! I must frolic with the other seals, out in the fresh, cold waves. I hold the biggest and most beautiful of them dear. He loves me; I belong to him! Give me my skin! Quickly! They are leaving me behind. Do not let me remain here alone!” And she stared at him with sad, pleading eyes.

But her gaze caught him like a spell; it cut to marrow and bone, and he cried: “No! No!” Then he took her by force, held her crossed in his arms, and as he carried the reluctant girl away from the sea, up over the land, he muttered again and again: “You shall be mine! You must belong to me. I love you, do you hear? I love you, and I will not let you go. Never! Not before I kill you!”

Thus the man from the southern farm in Mikladalur compelled the seal girl by force to become his wife, despite her throwing herself to her knees and begging him to give her back to the sea. But when she understood that all her supplications were in vain, she seemed to yield, apparently finding peace in his house. A couple of years passed and she became the mother of two children.

The man hid the sealskin locked in a chest. The key hung on a nail where he could see it, but he never forgot to take it with him when he left the cabin. He was good and kind to his wife, so long as she was calm and quiet, but if he saw her staring longingly at the sea, or he heard from his neighbors that she had been sitting down on the foreshore when he was at sea, then he turned harsh and hard; yes, he threatened her too, and she soon learned to hide her secret thoughts from him. If he was indoors, then she was busy with the house and the children, and he followed her proudly with his eyes – there was no maiden on the whole of the island of Kalsoy as beautiful as she was.

But occasionally, when he was out fishing overnight, she hurried to put the children to bed. She put out all the lights, put away the knives and the other things that could harm them, let the fire go out on the hearth. Then she slipped out, ran over the fields to the sea, sat at the extreme tip of the mountains, where they were steepest, and shouted out into the night: “I shall come, some day! I shall come!” And then she could see a large seal appear below the mountain, gazing longingly up at her. The seal girl remained there weeping until the day began to dawn. Then she hurried home again so that she would not arouse suspicion. Her husband knew nothing of these nocturnal excursions; he considered only that she was more introspective than usual, and silent when he had been fishing overnight.

Then one evening a fisherman stuck his head in the door: “Shoals of herring have been spotted out in the fjord by the northern headland. We are going to get the boat ready! Hurry! You must be there in five minutes!” and he was gone. The Mikladalur man jumped up and hurried to put on his oilskins; he took his supper with him. There was almost no time to say goodbye before he was out the door.

The key hung on the hook over the chest – he had forgotten it!

She knew it. She had only thought of one thing while he was hurrying to get along. She could hardly stand on her feet, she trembled so. It was as if the happiness she had been waiting years for would paralyze her, now that it came so suddenly. Would he not remember what he had forgotten and turn back? She hardly dared breathe; with every nerve raw she listened, jumping at every single sound – no, he did not come! An hour passed, an hour full of hope, yearning, the fear of death - he did not come.

Then, with an effort, she turned her thoughts to the children, the two little ones she would now abandon. She was seized by melancholy; the youngest was crying. She took the child in her arms, hushed it, rocked it softly to sleep, kissed it, and laid it gently and quietly on the pillow. The eldest was already asleep. She kissed her too, laid the duvet close around her, put out the lights, as she was wont, and arranged and put away. The moon shone into the cabin; the key gleamed; she took it from the nail with a trembling hand and stuck it in the chest. It opened – she almost whooped loudly with joy – there lay the sealskin. She threw it over her arm, softly lifted the latch, and hurried out into the moonlit evening, down over the field, breathless, fearful of being stopped. But no one had seen her flight. She cast off her clothes, wrapped the skin around her, so her legs and arms shrank into it, and then she plunged into the sea. The skin lay soft and glistening around her slender body. She breathed deeply, liberated, and swam, splashing towards the place where the great seal usually surfaced.

He was there.

For years he had been waiting. He struck the water with his tail for joy when he saw her, and now they were at sea, and the spray foamed around them.

While all this took place, the Mikladalur man was busy with the herring. He had been so preoccupied, first with the work on the boat, then with rowing against the wind, and finally with the abundant fishing, that he had not given his wife a thought. But when they were on their way home, the thought of the forgotten key came like a bolt of lightning to him, and turning quite pale, he exclaimed: “I have lost my wife tonight!” He urged the other fishermen to row with all their might. They asked if he had seen a vision, but he merely shook his head and rowed as if it were his life.

When the boat was close to land, he jumped out, waded ashore, climbed up the wet rocks, and ran up over the fields to the southern farm. When he came to his door, he paused for a moment to catch his breath. He could hear a soft whimpering. He tore open the door and looked first at the bed – it was empty. The little one lay wimpering. Turning to the child, he caught sight of the open chest. He looked down into it and he reeled: he had lost his wife tonight, she whom he had taken by force!

The Mikladalur man was “strange” from this moment. He almost never spoke a word. He did not care much for the children; his sister, the widow of a drowned fisherman, moved in with him and took care of them. The general opinion in the town [sic] was that his wife, in his absence, had taken her own life – she had always hung around down there by the sea when he was out – and that he had seen a portent of this whilst he still was at sea.

A couple of years passed. Life on the island of Kalsoy continued on its quiet, monotonous course, only now and then were folk startled by word of an accident at sea, a stranding, or a fisherman lost out there – drowned. Then once there was talk of embarking on a great seal hunt. One of the elders suggested that several boats should join forces, surprise the seals in the rock caves, and kill them there – dividing the spoils upon returning home.

The man from the southern farm was present when the proposal was made, and he embraced it eagerly, not resting before a day was determined for it to take place. Then he hurried home to zealously begin his preparations. He worked feverishly: he got up with the sun and busied himself until it went down. He polished and sharpened the tools for bludgeoning the seals, he inspected his clothes, he made the boat ready, took down his troughs. The evening before the great hunt, everything was ready. Exhausted, the Mikladalur man threw himself on his bed to take a nap before meeting the others at dawn. It must have been a little past midnight, and he did not know whether he was dreaming or awake, but the cabin door was slowly opened and a bright female figure floated in and stood by his bed. It was his late wife, the seal girl.

“I have come to you,” she said, “to warn you of tomorrow! Do not go on the hunt. But if you do so anyway, then beware! In the great cave you will meet many seals. The foremost one, the big one with the striped skin will rise to their defence; he is my mate. Watch you don’t touch him! The two smaller ones, deeper inside the cave, are my two sons, and you must spare them too. That night, when you violently took me away from the sea and made me your wife, I swore revenge in the quietness of my mind; if you touch any of mine tomorrow, I will execute it. But if you will make sure that they are spared, then I will forget what you have done to me, and forgive you.” With these words the vision disappeared.

Now, when the man woke up, the sun was already shining into his chamber, and he sprang up briskly. His dream was still clear before him, but he dismissed it at first, and then he laughed defiantly, not considering for even a moment to forego going along. Without a word, he took a seat in the boat and grabbed an oar, and when someone asked, “where to first?” he replied: “To the great cave!”

The oars splashed regularly in the water, and it was no more than half an hour before six boats, with the man from the southern farm foremost, lay without the great cave. They could see that there were plenty of seals inside; the catch would be plentiful. They had camped on the rocks and had been taken by surprise; they could not escape. Then the largest of them stood up on its tail, gaped with its mouth and let out a loud bark. It was a bull with a striped skin.

“He’s something of a big brute!” shouted one of the fishermen. “Who dares face him?”

“I do!” cried the Mikladalur man, grasping hold of his axe and jumping from the boat on to a large rock. One mighty blow, and the head of the great seal was split. A strong stream of blood coloured the rocks and the water deep red, and splashed high up on the Mikladalur man’s clothes.

There was a howling cry beneath the water, and a seal shot under the boats and disappeared. But that was the only one that escaped; a terrible massacre began. They jumped out of the boats and beat down the poor seals. The man from the southern farm was always in the lead; he was as if wild. He searched deep into the cave; there he found what he was looking for – two young seals, barely grown. He killed them, and now his day’s work was done, now he could rest.

The seals’ dead bodies were loaded into the boats. There was life and merriment. They were in a fine spirits; the catch had been unusually plentiful. Now all they wanted was to go home and divide the spoils, and then rest after all their toil. The man from the southern farm was the only one silent among the cheerful company; he stared unceasingly at the big bull seal and the two cubs lying at his feet. No one paid him any attention any longer; they were used to his peculiarities, but when he asked only for these three seals at the division, there were a few who whispered: “He has a screw loose!” He was immediately granted what he demanded – it meant more for the rest of them – and he brought home his catch in a wheelbarrow. He began to skin them at once, cutting off the meat and putting it in troughs. He asked his sister to cook the head of the big one and the flippers of the small ones for supper.

When the food was put on the table, there was a violent crash outside, as if from a wave breaking against the door. “The sea!” cried his sister, fleeing into the kitchen. The little girl ran after her, screaming, but the terrified boy clung to his father.

In the same moment there was a great bang, the door flew open and in came the seal girl, like a fearsome ghost. She looked in the troughs and cried: “Here lies the head of my mate! Here are the hand of Haarek, and the feet of my other son! Revenge shall fall terribly upon you, upon all Mikladalur men! You shall perish at sea, and fall from the mountains, until the number of the dead is so great that, holding one another’s hands, you may encircle the whole of Kalsoy!” After screaming this curse, she disappeared, never to be seen again.

From that moment the man from the southern farm was insane. And the seal girl kept her word. Many Mikladalur men had accidents after that hour, on the dangerous waters and in the mountains, as well as when fishing and bird hunting. And there was always a madman in the families that grew up on the southern farm in Mikladalur.

  1. Three Kings’ Eve is the twelfth day of Christmas, 6th January. 

  2. ˈMik-la-ˌdal-ur 

Saturday, 22 August 2020

The Seal Girl (Norwegian)

The selkie statue in Mikladalur, Faroe Islands.

A man once saw several seal skins lying on the shore of a bay, and out in the bay he saw several figures diving under the water, then swimming easily through the waves. So he took one seal skin, ran off with it, and hid behind a small mound from where he could watch the swimmers. These soon came ashore, and he could now see that they were beautiful young women, who quickly put on their sealskins, plunged back into the sea and swam away. Only one was left back on the beach, sorrowfully looking after her retreating friends. The man went down to the beach and found a beautiful woman, who followed him home and became his wife. They had several children, but the seal girl never forgot the freedom of the sea and her happy friends.

One day the eldest of their children, a boy, was crawling under the floor of the house in the yard, and he found the seal skin that his father had once taken off the beach. His father was away and his mother was still ill after a recent birth. So the boy carried the skin into the house, and his mother had barely caught sight of it before she grabbed it and threw it over herself. Then she ran down to the sea, jumped in, and swam away like a seal, never to return. Not even the cries of her little newborn child managed to stop her flight.

— Olaus Martens Nicolaissen. Sagn og eventyr fra Nordland (1879).

Sunday, 2 August 2020


There was once a magnificent and mighty king who had three beautiful daughters by his first queen. But he had no sons, and he therefore held the three princesses all the dearer, so much so that he gave them anything they desired of him.

Now, warring armies broke into his kingdom and the king would go out to meet them. When the time came for him to leave, he asked his three beautiful daughters what he should bring home for them.

Well, the eldest asked him to buy her a ring that was such that she would not die for as long as she wore it on her finger.

The middle one had a mind for a wreath that was such that she would be glad and happy if only she gazed upon it, no matter how fretful and wretched she had felt.

“Buy sobbing and sorrow for me!” bade the youngest princess. She mourned and wept so for her mother, you see.

Yes, the king promised to do so.

When he had chased away the warring armies, both from his and the neighbouring kingdom, and contemplated his journey home, he remembered what he had promised his three beautiful princess. He obtained the ring and wreath easily enough, but sobbing and sorrow were not for sale, neither here nor there, neither in one place nor in the other: every man was so glad that the warring hordes were gone, and so cheerful, that neither sobbing nor sorrow were to be found in all the country and kingdom. Well, if it couldn’t be found to buy, then it wasn’t possible to buy it, and so he journeyed home without it, no matter how little he liked to.

Now, when the king and his army didn’t have far left to travel to the king’s farm, they passed through a copse. Here sat a squirrel in a tree by the road.

“Buy me, buy me! I am called Sobbing-and-Sorrow,” he said. Well, it would be better to return with a squirrel than with two empty hands, the king thought, and so he brought it along for his youngest daughter. She was as glad for her gift as her two sisters were for the ring and the wreath.

The squirrel was allowed to jump where he wanted in her chamber. Sometimes he wobbled on the bedpost; just like that, he sat on the dresser. And he was constantly full of chatter.

But after nightfall, the form of the squirrel fell off him, and he transformed into a handsome young prince. An evil gyger – he told her – lived in the golden forest, who had cast the form of the squirrel upon him, and as the day dawned each morning he had to take on that form again.1

Time passed and went, and after some time, it came to pass that the princess should have Sobbing-and-Sorrow. But after they were engaged, he bade her both sweetly and well, both nicely and beautifully, never to strike a light from a desire to see him: “then would she make them unhappy, the both of them,” he said.

No, she would never do so; she was as sure of that as could be, she replied.

And so it came to pass every night that a man came and lay down beside her, after she had retired and put out the light. But when she awoke in the morning, she lay alone, and the squirrel sat on the bedpost, greeting her and chattering at her about everything there was.

Then once, as he slept so deeply, it happened that she fancied that she was not able to control herself any longer, so she struck a light and dared to go with it to where he lay.

As she shone the light upon him, she saw that he was much more handsome than the most handsome of princes; she could barely believe how elegant and dashing he was, and she leaned over, so she could see him even more closely. Finally, she couldn’t stop herself; she had to kiss him on the mouth. Then she accidentally let three drops fall from the light on to his chest.

“No! Why have you done this, then?” he cried, groaning. “If you had but held out for three more days, then we would have been saved!” he said. “But now I must return to the irksome, loathsome gyger in the golden forest, and marry her; things between you and me are over,” he said.

“Can’t I go with you, though?” wept the princess.

“Oh no, you will never manage it, for when you rest in the evening, and bow your knees, then you will fall as far behind as you came during the day,” he said, going towards the door. And he was gone.

There was the princess, sobbing and wailing and weeping, and looking for him to come home. But he was neither heard of nor asked of again. Then she grew so restless and uneasy that she could no longer stay at home, so she began to entreat her maid to go with her to the golden forest.

Oh yes, her maid was eventually persuaded to go, but she wouldn’t take one step, she said, unless she could take along one ell of sackcloth, one of hemp, and one of canvas. This was not refused her; there was always more than a good supply of such at the king’s farm, you see.2

So they set off on their way, and before they knew it, they had entered a great forest. They walked and wandered the whole day long, first this way, and then that, until their feet were sorer than sore, and their courage was less than a little. They set off along both roads and paths, yet even though they looked in the north and in the south, in the east and in the west, they could not find their way out of such great gloomy darkness.

At length, the princess grew so tired and sullen that there was hardly any end to it, and she wanted to sit down for a while, so she could rest a little. But her maid took hold of her, and wouldn’t allow her to bow her knees, for then they would fall as far behind as they had come that day.

By the time that night should fall, they hardly knew of it before they stood by a huge great mountain.

“Well, here shall I knock,” said the maid, knocking and banging.

“Oh no!” said the princess. “Oh dear, don’t knock here; you see how awful it looks!” she said.

“Who is it who knocks at my door?” cried the gyger, coarsely and foully, from within the mountain, cracking the door open and poking out her nose, which was a good ell long, through the crack.

“It is the youngest princess and her maid, who want to go to the golden forest,” replied the maid.

“Oh fie! It’s so far to the north,
That rowing or sailing, no one comes forth!”

said the gyger. “You may as well turn for home sooner rather than later,” she said. No, they would in no way turn back, not by any means, I wouldn’t think. The maid then began to ask if it might be so well that they spend the worst of the night there, if nothing more.

“You can always spend the night,” replied the gyger, “but when my husband comes home, he’ll twist off your heads,” she said.

Well, they couldn’t go any further now, in the middle of the charcoal-black night. So the maid brought out the ell of sackcloth she had with her, and gave it to the gyger for a bonnet.

“Oh my, oh my, no!” cried the gyger. “Now, I have been married for a hundred years, but never have I worn a bonnet of sackcloth before,” she said, and was so glad that she invited them in, welcomed them, and treated them well.

After a while, when they had helped themselves to the food and drink they needed, the gyger said:

“Well, he is certainly always in a foul mood, this husband of mine. But since you are so kind, then I shall try to hide you in the pantry, so that perhaps he won’t find you,” she said, and made up a cot there, as soft and good as any cot could be. Even so, they dared neither to lie nor to sit down, not so long as they could blink their eyes. They stood the whole night through, taking turns to stay awake, each holding the other up under her arms, for now the maid too was so weak and feeble that she could hardly manage any longer.

At the turn of midnight, there was a great roaring and shaking. It was the troll coming home, it was, and he had but reached his first head in through the door before he screamed so roughly and foully:

“Fie, fie, it smells of the smell of a Christian here!” he screamed, turning so wild and mad that sparks flew from him.

“Yes,” replied his gyger, “a bird came flying here with a Christian’s bone, and dropped it down through the fireplace chimney; I hurried to get it out, I did, but I should think that must be what it smells of anyway,” she said, soothing him. At this he calmed down.

But in the morning, she told him that a princess and her maid had come, thinking to go to the golden forest.

“Oh fie! It’s so far to the north,
That rowing or sailing, no one comes forth!”

screamed the troll, too. “It’s the princess who should have had Sobbing-and-Sorrow then, I suppose. She’ll never have him, for in three days he shall marry the great gyger herself; everything is being prepared for the wedding. But wherever are they? They won’t leave here!” he screamed, sniffing and nosing in all the nooks and corners.

“Oh no, you won’t do them any harm,” said the gyger. “They gave me a whole ell of sackcloth for a bonnet, they did. And I have been married for a hundred years, but never have I worn a bonnet of sackcloth before,” she said. “So you shall lend them your trotting tunic, you shall, to our nearest neighbour!” said the gyger, entreating on their behalf. Yes, he too would do so, the troll would, when he heard that they had been so kind.

After they had eaten in the morning, and stood ready to leave, he fastened the trotting tunic to them.

“Now you shall say: ‘Forward, forward, over willow hollow and spruce-tops, over mountain, over valley, to our nearest neighbour!’ shall you say,” he said. “And when you arrive, you shall say, ‘Where you were fastened today shall you hang up tonight,’” said the troll.

They did so. And now they went forth over mountain and over valley, from horizon to horizon. At twilight they came to a huge great mountain. Here they took off the trotting tunic, and said:

“Where you were fastened today shall you hang up tonight!” And so it went home by itself.

“Well, here shall I knock,” said the maid, knocking and banging.

“Oh no,” sobbed the princess. “Oh dear, don’t knock here; you see how awful it looks!” she complained.

“Who is it who knocks at my door?” cried this gyger, even coarser and fouler than the first, poking out her nose, which was a good two ells long, through the crack of the door.

“It is the youngest princess and her maid who want to go to the golden forest,” replied the maid.

Well, this gyger also began to crow, she did, about how it was so far to the north that “rowing or sailing, no one comes forth!” and at length she wanted them to turn around. “It’d be better they return home sooner rather than later,” she said.

No, they would by no means turn back. The maid then began to ask if it might be so well that they spend the worst of the night there, if nothing more.

“You can always stay the night,” said the gyger, “but when my husband comes home tonight, he’ll twist off your heads,” she said. Well, then the maid took out the ell of hemp she had brought, and gave it to the gyger for a bonnet.

“Oh no, oh my, no!” cried the gyger. “Now, I have been married for two hundred years, but never have I worn a bonnet of hemp before!” she said, and was so happy that she invited them in, welcomed them, and treated them well.

After a while, when they had taken food and drink for themselves, there where they were staying, the gyger said:

“Well, he is certainly always in a foul mood, this husband of mine, and he tears asunder the soul of any Christian who enters in here, sorely and at length. But since you have been so kind, I shall try to hide you out in the pantry, I shall, so perhaps he won’t find you,” she said. And she made up a cot for them there; but they dared not lie nor sit down. They stood and held one another, and the one stayed awake whilst the other slept.

At the turn of midnight, there was a terribly great roaring and shaking. They felt how the earth quaked. Straightway, the troll came rushing in.

“Fie, fie! It smells of the smell of a Christian here!” he screamed, with such a coarse voice. And he turned so wild and carried on so that the sparks crackled as they flew from him.

“Yes,” said the gyger, “a bird came flying and dropped a Christian’s bone down through the fireplace chimney. I hurried to get it out again, I did, but I should think that must be what it smells of anyway,” she said, soothing him. Well, he contented himself with this.

At the time they should get up in the morning, she told him that a princess and her maid had come, who wanted to go to the golden forest. Straightway he heard this, he too began shouting that it was so far to the north that “rowing or sailing, no one comes forth!”

“Is it the princess who was supposed to have Sobbing-and-Sorrow, I suppose? But she shall never have him, for in two days he shall marry the great gyger herself; the wedding is already being prepared,” said the troll, just as the other had done. “But wherever are they? They won’t come from here alive!” he screamed, sniffing and nosing both high and low.

“Oh no, you shall do nothing to them,” the gyger said. And she told that she had given her an ell of hemp for a bonnet. “And I have been married for two hundred years, but never have I worn a bonnet of hemp before. So you shall lend them your trotting tunic, you shall, to our nearest neighbour,” she said. Yes, then he was willing, that very hour, the troll was too, when he heard they had been so kind.

After they had eaten that morning, he fastened the trotting tunic to them. “And when you arrive, then you shall say this: ‘Where you were fastened today shall you shall hang up tonight!’ and it will return by itself,” the troll said.

Now they went over mountain and deep valley, from horizon to horizon. At twilight they again came to a huge great mountain.

“Well, here shall I knock!” said the maid, and knocked and banged on the rock wall.

“Oh no!” begged the princess. “Oh dear, don’t knock here; you see how awful it looks!” she said.

“Who is it who knocks at my door?” cried the gyger within the mountain, even coarser and fouler than either of the others; she opened the door so that she could get her nose, which was a good three ells long, out through the crack.

“It is the youngest princess and her maid, who want to go to the golden forest,” replied the maid.

“Oh fie! It’s so far to the north,
That rowing or sailing, no one comes forth!”

screamed the gyger. “You may as well return home sooner rather than later,” she too said. Then the maid then began to ask if it might be so well that they spend the worst of the night there, if nothing more.

“You can always spend the night,” said the gyger. “But when my husband comes home tonight, he’ll twist off your heads,” she said. But there was no travelling in the forest and wilderness in the middle of the charcoal-black night. Then the maid took out the ell of canvas she had with her, and gave it to the gyger for a bonnet.

“Oh no, oh dear, no!” said the gyger. “Now I have been married for three hundred years, but never have I worn a bonnet of canvas before!” she cried. And she was so glad that she invited them in, welcomed them, and treated them nicely.

“Well, he certainly is always terribly fierce, this husband of mine, and he tears asunder the soul of any Christian who enters in here, sorely and at length. But as you were so kind, I shall try to hide you out in the pantry, I shall. Perhaps he won’t find you,” she said, and made up a cot for them there, as soft and good as any cot could be.

Now the princess was so weak and sleepy and sullen that there was nearly no end to it. She couldn’t hope to stand any longer, she said, and wanted finally to lie down, and even doze, though it would be little more than a short nap. The maid, too, had grown so weak that she slept where she stood; her head nodded a few times. But even so, she remembered so much that she supported the princess under her arms, not letting her bow her knees.

At the turn of midnight, there was a roaring and banging such that the whole house rocked, as if both the roof and walls should fall down. This was the huge great troll, this one, who now came rushing home. As soon as he got his first head in through the door, he screamed, so coarsely and horribly that they had never heard anything so coarse and horrible in all their livelong days:

“Oh fie! Oh fie! It smells of the smell of a Christian here!” he said, and was so wild and mad that the sparks thundered from him.

“Yes,” replied the gyger. “A bird came flying and dropped a Christian’s bone down through the fireplace chimney. I hurried to get it out, I did, but I should think that must be what it smells of anyway,” she said, soothing him.

Well, he contented himself with this. But when they got up in the morning, she told him that there was a princess and her maid there, who wanted to go to the golden forest.

“Oh fie! It’s so far to the north,
That rowing or sailing, no one comes forth!”

screamed the big troll, too, as the other trolls had done.

“It’s the princess who should have had Sobbing-and-Sorrow then, I suppose. But she shall never have him; tomorrow or the next day he shall marry the great gyger herself,” said the troll. “And wherever they are, they won’t come from here with their lives!” he screamed, jumping up and running around the floor, sniffing and nosing with his nine noses all at once.

“Oh no, you shall do nothing to them!” said the gyger. “They gave me an ell of canvas for a bonnet. And I have been married for three hundred years, but never have I worn a bonnet of canvas before. So you shall lend them your trotting tunic to our nearest neighbour!” said the gyger, you understand.

Well, when the great troll heard this, he wanted to do so too, he did.

In the morning, when they had eaten their food, he fastened his trotting tunic to them. And now they went far and farther than far, over mountain and deep valley, from horizon to horizon.

At twilight they came to a great, great forest. All the trees were as black as charcoal here. As soon as you went in, even a little, you would turn sooty and dirty.

In a flat clearing in the midst of the darkness stood a small crooked hut which was mostly rotten. It looked worse than the most squalid of pasture cabins. Before the door lay a foul heap of rubbish, scrap, and straw, which closed the way for them. Still, the maid took the trotting tunic off them and said:

“Where you were fastened today shall you hang up tonight!” and now it went home by itself.

“Well, here shall I knock,” said the maid.

“Oh no, oh dear no! Do not knock here; you see how horrible it is here!” complained the princess.

“Do now as I do, or things will go badly with the both of us,” said the maid, as she waded through the midden to knock on the door. An ancient gyger with a horribly long nose peered out at them.

“If these women-folk want to come in, then they may, and if they don’t, then they may leave be!” she growled in a fierce rage.

“Yes thank you, we will come in,” replied the maid, dragging the princess behind her.

“Oh my, oh dear me!” sighed the princess.

“If the women-folk want to come away from the door, then they may, and if they don’t, then they may leave be!” growled the gyger, growing fiercer and fiercer.

“Yes thank you, we will,” replied the maid, wading across the floor, up to her knees in rubbish and rags.

“Oh my, oh dear me!” sighed the princess.

Then the gyger went for some milk for them.

“If the women-folk want to drink, then they may, and if not, then they may leave be!” she growled, nearly taking the vessel away again.

“Yes thank you, we want a drink,” replied the maid, drinking and wiping the milk away.

“Oh my, oh dear me!” sighed the princess when the time came for her to drink, for the milk was in a pig trough, and it was full of dirt, and had tufts of hair floating on top.

Then the gyger made some food for them.

“If the women-folk want to come over and eat, they may, and if they don’t, then they may leave be!” bellowed the gyger at them, you understand.

“Yes thank you, we want to,” replied the maid, before the gyger could take the food away again. The bread was moldy, the cheese mouse-eaten, the butter rancid, and the meat completely spoiled. It smelt from afar. And two dirty calf tails lay in a ring around the butterdish.

“Oh my, oh dear me!” sighed the princess, nearly weeping. But she should do as her maid said anyway, she thought, and tasted the banquet.

Then they should thank her for her hospitality.

In some furs on a horrid cot in the corner lay an old man whom they had not seen before, and when the princess went to thank him, too. He stood up and kissed her hand. Straightway he became a handsome young prince, who was so outwardly comely and elegant and dashing that no one could imagine how elegant and fine he was. And she recognised Sobbing-and-Sorrow, whom she had grieved for and yearned for so sorely.

“Now you have saved me!” he told her.

“Bother!” screamed the gyger, rushing for the door. But as soon as she came out on to the threshold, she remained standing there as stock and stone, for the forest was no longer charcoal black. The trees looked as if they were gilded from top to bottom. They blinked and gleamed like the midday sun. And after the princess and her maid had stared for long enough, the squalid dark cabin had become a king’s farm so magnificent and fine that there was no measure. You would think the walls and ceilings were made of silver and gold. And they were so, too.

“Now you may bow your knees!” said the prince. “And no matter how much you have been sobbing in sorrow, you shall have all the more joy henceforth,” he said.

The gyger had brewed and baked and readied all the wedding fare. In the morning, as early as the day dawned, the maid and all the people in the king’s farm and in the whole country came to where the prince and princess would now be king and queen, and began to celebrate their wedding. They all carried on celebrating for four fortnights, so that it was heard of and asked about across seven kingdoms and all the way home to the father of the bride and her two sisters. They were supposed to be at the celebration too, but they lived too far away for that.

I was at the banquet and helped them with the carrying. But on the last day of the wedding, the bridegroom stuffed me into a canon and shot me hither.

And here I sit, and there you are. I haven’t been with them since, but as far as I know, they live still, and that both in gladness and in joy.

  1. Gyger: a female troll. 

  2. Ell: an ell is a measure of six handbreadths, or appoximately 45cm (18"). 

Sunday, 5 July 2020

The Cock and the Hen Who Went Out into the World to Take a Look Around

The following tale was probably composed by Moltke Moe, as there is no extant record of its collection. It would therefore best be described as a literary tale.

There was once upon a time a cock and a hen who stood upon a dungheap, kicking and scraping and digging. Just like that the cock began to flap his wings:

“Ho, ho, ho! I’ve found - Ho, ho, ho! I’ve found!” he crowed.

“What have you found?” asked the mother hen.

“A sleigh runner,” said the Toppe; he had scratched up a wood-plane shaving and a couple of bits of straw.

Then the hen grew envious and began to kick and scrape so that it flurried about her. Just like that she found some twine and a stick.

“Hey-ho, now I’ve found, I’ve found!” crowed the hen.

“Have you found?” said father Toppe.

“I’ve found some timber and mouth bits, timber and mouth bits,” said the hen, preening and flapping her wings.

“A good ear has much to hear!” said the cock. “But it’s easy to dance when fortune is your minstrel. We shall make ourselves a vehicle, and take a look around the world,” he said; “It’s not every day the wind is so favourable.”

So the cock took the plane shaving and made a sleigh; the straw he fastened as shafts, and for the carriage he took an old blackened besom, for it was so good and soft to sit on. Then he went away into the barn and found himself a couple of fleas, and bridled them and harnessed them before the sleigh.

Then the cock and the hen stepped up into the sleigh and drove off. And they went both quickly and well. The cock lashed, the fleas dashed, and the hen laughed so that she fell backwards in her seat.

When they had come a little distance, they met a mouse. “Good day and well met! You drive quickly today, my fellow,” she said.

“It is good we go so quickly; it’s better we go so well,” said the cock. “Or else we’d be driving like someone with a horse,” he said. And he lashed so that the fleas jumped in their harnesses.

“I would also like to have a holiday. May I come along?” asked the mouse.

“The sleigh is little and the horses are small, so you’ll have to sit up behind,” said the cock.

Then he cracked the whip. And the fleas dashed, and the cock lashed, and the hen laughed so that she fell backwards in her seat.

When they had driven a distance, they met a sheep.

“Good day!” said the sheep.

“Good day to you,” replied the cock.

“Are such good folk out driving in the fine weather today? It is fun to sled when one has such handsome equipage and good horses,” said the sheep.

“It’s easy to divine what everyone can see,” said the cock. “It usually shows on the horses which garden they graze in.”

“May I come along?” asked the sheep. “He must ask who does not receive an invitation,” he said.

“It’s not polite to answer before one is asked,” said the cock. “The sleigh is little and the horses are small, so you’ll have to sit up behind.”

When the sheep had sat down, the cock cracked the whip. And the fleas dashed, and the cock lashed, and the hen laughed so that she fell backwards in her seat.

Then they drove a long distance, and then they met a hare who jumped across the road.

“Good day and good courage!” said the hare.

“Good day and thank you for that,” replied the cock.

“You drive quickly, you do,” said the hare.

“It goes as it started,” said the cock. “The world is broad and the road is long, so I have to drive hard,” he said.

“Would it be possible for me to come along?” asked the hare. “He who walks far and gathers little, he grows tired in the end,” he said.

“The sleigh is little and the horses are small, so you’ll have to sit up behind. Otherwise, it is not heavy to drive, that which has little to draw,” said the cock.

So the hare got up behind. And the cock cracked the whip. And the fleas dashed, and the cock lashed, and the hen laughed so that she fell backwards in her seat.

When they driven a good distance farther, they met a fox.

“Bless our meeting!” said the fox.

“Thank you for that,” the cock said.

“You’re driving handsomely today,” said the fox.

“Yes, but not everyone likes it; some like it cold and some hot, some lean and some fat,” replied the cock. “But as the day draws on, and the road is long, the horses make all the difference,” he said.

“Yes, craft and understanding account for much,” said the fox. “If only it were so well that I too could join such a fine company. Then I would show you shelter for the night. He who wants to enjoy something, he must contribute something, too” he said.

“A newly-begotten guest is often best; no one can take a hostel along with them. “But the sleigh is little and the horses are small, so you’ll have to sit up behind.” said the cock, cracking the whip.

Then they drove, the whole company. The cock lashed, and the fleas dashed, and the hen laughed so that she fell backwards in her seat.

At great length the evening drew in, and the horses grew tired. “I know of a hostel close by here,” said the fox. He had an old lair in the forest. “I don’t suppose it’s anything like what you’re used to, but as the old proverb says: it is better to lie in a house than upon the wild heath,” he said. “We’ll relax and retire for the darkest night.”

“Whosoever wants a good day must think of a quiet night,” replied the cock; he was the weariest, he was. “Wind and water go their way,” he said.

So they unharnessed the fleas, and everyone went together into the fox’s lair.

“Many guests make for a crowded house, but there is alway room in the house where there is room in the heart,” said Mikkel. “Now let me count. I locks fox one, you wee flea two, you house mouse three, you fair hare four, you locky cocky five, you penny henny six, you leap sheep seven – there shall you lie!” Then Mikkel bit the sheep’s head off and threw him away in a corner.

“That was one. Now let me see: I locks fox one, you wee flea two, you house mouse three, you fair hare four, you locky cocky five, you penny henny six – there shall you lie!” said the fox, and then he bit mother hen’s head off.

“Who is there now, shall I say? I locks fox one, you wee flea two, you house mouse three, you fair hare four, you locky cocky five – there shall you lie!” Then he bit the cock’s head off and cast him into the corner with the others.

“Now let me see who’s left: I locks fox one, you wee flea two, you house mouse three, you fair hare four – there shall you lie!” and things went the same way with the hare.

“That was four: I locks fox one, you wee flea two, you house mouse three – you’re next in line, and there shall you lie,” and with that he bit the mouse.

Then there were just the fleas left. But Mikkel wasn’t good to catch them in the dark. They had noticed something sinister going on and hidden in his fur, and there they bit him so that he danced both on one and two, and had he not been bare-footed, then he would have worn out both his socks and his shoes. And there they remain today. Mikkel fox has been tired and flea-bitten since.