Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Swedish folktale: The Rat Princess

There was once upon a time a king who had three sons. When they were old enough to be married, they asked their father’s leave to go out into the world to seek brides for themselves. Their father gave his consent, and the eldest was the first to set off on his way.

When he had ridden a little, he saw the daintiest rat running before the horse’s feet. No matter how he steered the horse so that he might not hurt her, she kept as close as she could to the hoofs.

“Away with you, rat, before I ride you to death!” he cried at last.

“No, don’t do that, but take me as your fiancée!” bade the rat. “You won’t regret it.”

“A rat as my fiancée! No thank you!” replied the prince, and he rode quickly away.

He soon arrived at the king in the neighbouring country and was betrothed to his daughter. Then he drove home again, and the second brother took his turn to set off.

Things went with him as they had gone with his elder brother. The rat also asked him to take her as his fiancée, but he scornfully rejected her proposal. He rode on and was betrothed to a princess in another court.

When the third prince rode out, he met the rat. She begged him so earnestly to betroth himself to her, that he gave in and gave her a betrothal ring.

“Come now, and you shall see where I live,” said the rat. She ran ahead, showing the way, and the prince rode after. At length they came to a large stone. “Here is where I live,” said the rat, crawling into a hole. “Just wait, and I’ll get you a ring.”

The prince grew curious, dismounted his horse, and peered into the hole. He was almost dazzled by the brilliance that gleamed back at him. After a little while, the rat came out again and handed him a ring so beautifully and intricately worked that he had never seen its like.

The prince rode home again, showed off his ring, and said that he too was now betrothed. But he would not speak of with whom. Everyone marvelled at the beautiful ring, and the rings of the other princes looked like brass and bits of glass beside it.

After some time, the king said: “Now I would like to see what kind of bread your fiancées bake.”

“What kind of bread should my rat be able to bake?” thought the youngest prince sadly. “But I suppose I ought to tell her what my father wants.” He rode to the stone where the rat lived, and called out to her. When she came out, he asked her if she could bake bread.

“Yes, don’t worry about that,” she said. “It will be ready early tomorrow morning.”

When he returned to the stone the next morning, the rat stood there with the neatest, most delicious loaf of bread. He took it home to his father, and no one had ever eaten such good bread before. And the other princes only came with ordinary buns.

“Yes, I have seen and tasted the loaves your fiancées bake,” said the king. “Now I want to know if they can brew good beer.”

The youngest prince rode to the rat, and told her what his father wanted. She bade him return the next morning. Then, by the stone stood a golden flagon, set with shimmering gems, and when the prince lifted the lid, he smelt the finest and most appetizing fragrance. No one at court had ever drunk such good beer, and the king was enraptured.

“The three of you appear to have betrothed yourselves well,” he said, “but you, my youngest son, have certainly got the best. One would be able to live happily here upon the earth, with such bread and beer.”

Then after some time had passed, at length the king asked them to fetch their brides, so that he might see them.

“Oh, God’s grace!” thought the youngest, horrified. “How shall things go now?”

Most distressed, he went to the stone and told the rat that she must go with him to court. “But,” he added, “how shall this end?”

“It shall surely end happily,” replied the rat, “if only you do as I say. Bring me an egg shell, six dung beetles and two horseflies. Harness the dung beetles before the eggshell, and put one horsefly before and one behind me in the shell. Then make sure your brothers’ fiancées go first, and I shall come last. When we arrive at the castle, do with me as your brothers do with their fiancées, and all shall be well.”

The prince did as she said, and soon the strange equipage stood ready. The rat climbed up into the eggshell, and then off it went, quickly and lustily. When they arrived, the two elder brothers embraced their fiancées and kissed them. The youngest did the same with the rat. Hardly had he done so before he held the most beautiful young princess in his arms, and when he looked around, the dung beetles and the eggshell had disappeared. In their place stood a magnificent carriage, drawn by the most stately of horses. The horseflies had become footmen, dressed in fine liveries.

Happy and glad, the prince led his bride in to the king. He nearly fell off his throne in surprise, when he saw such a radiantly beautiful princess. The other princesses looked like washerwomen next to her.

Soon the princesses should leave, each to her own, and their carriages were made ready.

“Yes, I certainly have a beautiful fiancée, but I wonder what her home looks like?” thought the youngest prince. “The stone wasn’t much of a home, as far as I could tell.”

But when they came to the place where the stone lay, to his amazement he saw a beautiful, stately castle. When the unfortunate princess had been transformed into a rat, the castle had become a stone, but now the enchantment was broken. They lived a long and happy life together in the princess’s beautiful castle. And are they not dead, then yet do they live.

Svenska Folksagor IV. Efter Prosten C. F. Cavallius’ Uppteckningar. Berättade av Gudrun och Jöran Sahlgren. Illustrationer av Einar Norelius. Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag, 1941.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Andreas Faye’s Legends of the Black Death

Not everyone wants to read about plagues and pandemics, especially as there is too much of it around at the moment. But some people do. So I have posted a page upon which I will be posting the Black Death section of Andreas Faye’s Norwegian Folk Legends (1844). Although they are harrying, it is important to remember that these legends are just that – legends.

If you’re feeling up to it, take a look.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The Daughter of the King of the Finns

There was a king whom they called the King of the Finns, and he had a daughter whom he held so dear. One time when he was going out to war, he dared not leave her at home; he thought he had noticed that something was going on between her and the servant boy. So he put her in a mound in the forest. She took with her nine maids and food and clothing and whatever else they might need. The king’s daughter and the maids tried to dig themselves out of the mound with their bare hands. They dug for nine years, and each year one of the maids died; but when the ninth year was drawing to an end, the king’s daughter made a hole in the mound and went on her way. The King of the Finns discovered that his servant boy was a king’s son. So he wanted to go home and let his daughter out of the mound and let her have the king’s son. But the king died on his way home, and no one could find the king’s daughter. Then came a witch and said that she was the king’s daughter, and things went such that she and the king’s son were to hold a wedding.

In the meantime, the rightful king’s daughter had stayed with some charcoal burners on her first night, the following day a wolf had helped her cross a large river. Eventually she had come to the king’s farm, but no one knew her, and so she went into service there.

One day, the king’s son said to the witch, “If you are the daughter of the King of the Finns, you will complete the seam that is begun here.” She tried, but couldn’t do it; she had to get the king’s daughter to help her.

The next day, the king’s son set the sorceress to finish some weaving; but this went just as well: the king’s daughter had to help her.

Then the king’s son said to the witch: “Tomorrow we shall be married, and if you are the daughter of the King of the Finns, then you will ride the horse you rode in the old days.” But the witch hag could not get up on to the horse, Grey-buckskin, and had the king’s daughter ride to the church in her stead.

When the time came for them to set off, the king’s daughter said:

Fall down, fall down, gentle Grey-buckskin,
To church rides the daughter of The King Finn!

When they came to the mound, she said:

My tears they ran, which no one has found,
I lost nine maids, right here in the mound;
I dried up my tears, but no one dared say,
That I was left here with nary a maid.

When they came to the charcoal heaps, she said:

Much and many things did I learn,
Stacks of charcoal here I watched burn.

When they came to the river, she said:

Though suffering hurt and many a lack,
I rode across here on the greyshanks’s back.

At the church, the groom gave his gloves to the bride and bade her hide them well and to not give them to anyone else but him. In the evening, the groom went to bed, and when the bride came to the bedroom, he would not let her get into bed with him, until she had repeated what she had said when she got on the horse. So the bride went off to ask the king’s daughter, and returned with the answer. But then he would not let her get into bed with him, until she had repeated what she had said when they were riding past the mound. The bride again went off to ask the king’s daughter, and once and again when he asked her to repeat what she had said at the charcoal stacks and the river. But then he asked what he had done with his gloves, and these the king’s daughter would not part with, but she flew to the king’s son herself. And then it all came out, and the witch was put in a nail barrel and rolled into the sea.


— Moltke Moe. Samlede skrifter, vol. 2. Oslo: Aschehoug, 1926 (p. 235–6).

Monday, 4 May 2020

King Finn Was My Father Called

There was once upon time a king who had an only daughter. When the queen died, the king married a witch who also had a daughter. Now, there was a prince who should have the king’s daughter, but the witch would not allow it, and so she sent her away into the forest, to dwell in a pit in the ground. Here she stayed for seven years. A linden tree stuck its roots down to her and she bound them with gold thread and silver thread.

But one day a horse, being chased by wolves, ran across the mound, and it trod through into the pit. A wolf that came after it fell through the hole and came down into the pit. The king’s daughter clung on to its coat, and got out that way.

When she had got up, she took a foal standing there and rode on it to the king’s farm. The following day, the witch’s daughter was to hold a wedding with the foreign prince.

The king’s daughter went in and asked if she might help in the kitchen.

Yes, she might.

But see, the witch’s daughter had given birth to a son down in the stable, and it hurt her so to stand as bride. So her mother determined that the stranger girl should dress as the bride, and go to the church her stead.

The prince had not seen his bride before, only a picture of her. He thought the bride he had been given was very beautiful, but even so, he noticed that something bad was going on. Before they went to the church, he gave her a glove, and told her not to return it to anyone else but him. The bride asked for her own foal to ride on, and said to the prince:

“Pay attention to what I say today!”

When they had ridden for a while, she said:

“Stand still young foal. The bride lies in the stable and has had a young son!”

The prince ruminated on this. When they came to the linden tree by the mound, she said:

“Here, the linden stands renowned.
All its roots with gold are bound!”

And by the pit:

“Seven years did I sit in the pit
All my ballads and tales I have quit
A foal I gained,
a king’s son attained
On the wolf I have sat
Now with glory as my hat!”

After a while they came to a gate that no one could pass through. The bride then had to come forward. She said:

“Stand still there, my fair, fine gate.
You by my father Finn were shaped!”

After they had returned home and the wedding should begin, the witch’s daughter was dressed as the bride, and the king’s daughter had to go out into the kitchen again.

But in the middle of the wedding, the prince asked the bride where she kept his glove.

“Oh, I forgot it,” she said, and went out into the kitchen to ask the other for the glove.

No, the king’s daughter wouldn’t give it to anyone but him. So it was decided that the strange girl would follow her in and poke her hand with the glove forth under her arm, so the prince should believe she had it.

Thus it was done, but the prince took hold of the hand, too, and saw his rightful bride. Then the witch and her daughter were sent out into the forest and thrown down into the pit. But the prince and the king’s daughter celebrated the proper wedding.


ATU-870 - The King’s Daughter Confined in the Mound
Place: Sandar, Vestfold
Informant: Jørgen Nilsen Golied’s grandmother
Collector: S. Sørensen
https://www2.hf.uio.no/eventyr_og_sagn/index.php?id=%2052258

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Sigrid Undset’s East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Take a look here for information on Sigrid Undset’s puppet-theatre play East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the translation of which I have released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which means that you can use it how you like, so long as you give credit where credit is due.

The play is freely available for use at home, in home education, in schools, in youth clubs, drama groups, and by professionals. I do hope you will find a use for it, even if that use is as personal entertainment.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Swedish folktale: The Castle that Stood on Golden Columns

from Westmanland, Sweden

There was once upon a time a smallholder, who with his wife lived far, far away in the forest. He had two children, a boy and a girl. He was otherwise very poor, for a cow and a cat constituted all his wealth.

The smallholder and his wife lived in continual strife, and you could be sure that if the man wanted one thing, then his wife always wanted another. It so happened one day that the man cooked some porridge for their supper. When the porridge was ready and each one had eaten their fill, the man wanted to scrape out the cauldron. But his wife wouldn’t let him; she said that she and no one else had scraping rights. They began to quarrel violently, and neither would give way to the other. Finally the man took the cauldron and the wooden spoon and ran on his way; but the wife grabbed the whisk and ran after him. Then they went through forests and over mountains, the man before and the wife after; but the tale doesn’t tell who it was that got to to scrape out the cauldron.

After some time had passed, and their parents had not been heard from, the children knew not what to do but to go out into the world and seek their fortunes, each in their own way. So they agreed together to divide the estate and take their inheritance. But as is usual, the division was terribly difficult, for there was nothing to divide except a cow and a cat, and both children wanted the cow. As the siblings most eagerly discussed this, the cat went over to the young smallholder’s daughter, giving her much attention, rubbing itself up against her knees, and purring: “Take me! Take me!” As the boy did not want to give up the cow, the girl dropped her case and contented herself with the cat. The siblings were then separated from each other. The boy took the cow and went off on his way. But the girl and her cat walked the path through the forest, and nothing has been told me of their journey before they came to a large and magnificent king’s farm, which lay there on their way.

As the two travellers approached the beautiful king’s farm, the cat began to speak to her mistress, saying, “If you will now obey my advice, it will bring you happiness.” The girl put a great deal of trust in the wisdom of her companion, and promised therefore to do what he desired of her. Then the cat said that she should take off her old clothes and climb into a tall tree, but he would to go to the king’s farm, and say that there was a king’s daughter, who had been assaulted by bandits and robbed of both goods and clothes. The smallholder girl did as she was told; she took off her old clothes and climbed the tree. Then the cat ran on its way; but the girl remained behind in great trepidation of how his advice might turn out.

When the king who ruled over that country heard that a foreign princess had suffered such overwhelming distress, he was greatly aggrieved, and he sent his servants to invite her as his guest. The young lady was now abundantly provided with clothes and whatever else she needed, and then she followed the king’s messenger. When she came to the king’s farm, everyone was enraptured by her beauty and courtly manners; and the king’s son praised her most of all, saying that he would not want to live in the world without her. But the queen sensed something was wrong, and asked where the beautiful princess’s king’s farm was. The girl answered as the cat had taught her: “I live far, far away in a castle called Kattenborg.”

The old queen was not yet satisfied, but set her mind to discover whether the unknown maiden was indeed a king’s daughter or not. To such an end she went in the evening to the guest chamber, furnished the smallholder girl’s bed with soft silk mattresses, but hid a bean beneath the bed sheet. “For,” she thought, “she cannot but notice it, if she is a princess.” The young maiden was then led to her bedchamber with tokens of great honour. But the cat noticed the queen’s cunning, and warned her mistress. When morning had broken, the old queen came in, and asked how her guest had slept during the night. The girl answered as the cat had taught her: “Oh yes, of course I have a slept, for I was very weary from my walking. But it felt as if there were a big stone under me. I slept much better in my bed at Kattenborg.” The queen thought now that the maiden had to be very nobly bred, but she held her peace until she had once again proven the truth of her statement.

On the second evening, the queen returned to the guest chamber, furnished the smallholder girl’s bed with soft silk mattresses, and put some peas under the first mattress, “for,” she thought, “she cannot but notice it, if she really is a king’s daughter, as she says.” The young maiden was then led to her bedchamber with tokens of great honour. But the cat had noticed the queen’s designs, and warned her mistress. As the morning broke, the queen came in and asked her guest how she slept during night. The girl answered as the cat had taught her: “Oh yes, of course I have slept, for I was very tired. But it felt as if there were big stones underneath me. I slept better in my bed at Kattenborg.” The old queen now thought that the maiden had passed her test. But she did not want to let her suspicions go, but set her mind to try again to discover whether or not the unknown maiden was as noble as she herself said.

Now, when the third evening came, the queen went back to the guest-house, bedded the torpedo-girl’s bed with soft silk mattresses, and laid a stalk of straw under the second mattress. “For,” she thought, “she cannot but notice it, if she really is a king’s daughter.” The young maiden was then led to her bedchamber with tokens of great honour. But the cat had noticed the queen’s cunning, and warned her mistress of it. As morning broke, the queen came in and asked her guest how she had slept during the night. The girl answered as the cat had taught her: “Oh yes, of course I have slept, for I was very tired; but it felt as if there were a big tree under me. I certainly slept better in my own bed at Kattenborg.” The queen now realised that she would never be able to discover the truth in this manner, and decided, therefore, to watch how the strange maiden behaved in every circumstance.

The following day, the queen sent to her guest a fair kirtle, which was embroidered in silk, and had a long, long train, as used by noble women. The smallholder girl thanked her for the good gift, and thought no more of it; but the cat was present, and she warned her mistress that the old queen wanted to try her again. After a little while, the queen asked if the princess wouldn’t accompany her on a constitutional walk. The smallholder girl agreed to this invitation, and they went on their way. By the time they came out into the garden, the court girls were very afraid of dirtying the trains of the kirtles, for it had rained that night; but the unknown maiden walked on her way, not caring that her long dress dragged along the ground. Then the queen said, “Dear princess, look to your kirtle.” The smallholder’s daughter replied proudly: “Oh, there must be other clothes besides these. I had much better when I was in my castle at Kattenborg.” Now the old queen could not think but that the maid was used to wearing silk-embroidered clothes, and judged now that she had to be a king’s daughter. The queen, therefore, let nothing further hinder her son’s proposal, and the smallholder’s daughter eventually said yes, and gave her consent as well.

It happened once that the prince and his sweetheart were sitting, talking. When the maiden looked through the window, she saw her parents come running out of the forest, the woman before with the cauldron and the man with the wooden spoon. Then the girl could not help herself, but burst into a loud laugh. The prince asked why she laughed so heartily, and the maiden answered as the cat had taught her: “Well, I can only laugh when I think how your castle stands on stone columns, but my castle stands on golden columns.” When the prince heard this, he was greatly amazed, and said: “Your mind is always turned towards the beautiful Kattenborg, and you say that everything there is better and richer than here with us. We will journey to see your beautiful king’s farm, no matter how far.” At this speech the smallholder’s daughter grew so ill at ease that she wanted to sink into the ground, for she well knew that she had no farm, much less a castle. But there was no help in the matter, so she put on a brave face, and said that she would look into which day it would be best to make their journey.

Now when the maid came to herself, she gave free run to her sorrow, weeping bitterly; for she thought of all the shame that would befall her, she who she had dealt with flattery and falsehood. As she sat weeping, the wise cat came in, rubbed up against her knees, and asked why she was so sad. The smallholder’s daughter replied: “I have to be sad. The king’s son has said that we should journey to Kattenborg, and now I shall pay dearly for obeying your advice.” But the cat bade her to take courage; he would arrange things so that everything would turn out much better than she could imagine. He also advised his mistress that the earlier they set off, the better. As the maiden had now seen so many proofs of the cat’s wisdom, she consented to his desire; but this time it was with heavy heart, for she could not think how their journey would turn out well.

Early in the morning, the king’s son had carriages and servants, and everything else that was needed for the long trip to Kattenborg, made ready. Then the company set off. The prince and his betrothed drove at the front in a gilded carriage, many knights and servants accompanied them, and the cat ran ahead to show the way, as he himself had desired. After they had been travelling for a while, the cat saw some shepherds walking the mark, herding a great flock of the most beautiful goats. So he went up to the shepherds, greeted them politely, and said, “Good day, shepherds! When the king’s son passes by and asks whose beautiful goats these are, I want you to say that they belong to the young princess at Kattenborg, who travels by the prince’s side. If you do so, you will be well paid, but if you will not, then I will tear you apart altogether.” When the shepherds heard this, they were completely astonished, and promised to do as the cat desired. He then ran on his way. But after a little while, the king’s son came approached with all his company. Now when he saw the beautiful goats grazing in the mark, he stopped his carriage, and asked the shepherds who it was who owned the beautiful flock. The shepherds answered as the cat had taught them: “The goats belong to the young princess at Kattenborg, who travels by your side.” Now the king’s son was greatly amazed, thinking that his betrothed could be a mighty princess; but the smallholder girl was gladminded, and considered that she was not the one who had lost out when she had divided her inheritance with her brother.

They continued travelling on their way, and the cat ran ahead as he was wont to do. When they had travelled for a while, they came to a crowd of people gathering hay in a beautiful meadow. Then the cat came forward, greeted them politely, and said, “Good day, good folk! When the king’s son passes by and asks whose this beautiful meadow is, you should reply that it belongs to the princess at Kattenborg, who travels by the prince’s side. If you do so, then you will be well paid; but if you do not do as I say, then I will tear you into many thousand pieces.” When the men heard this, they were greatly amazed, and promised to do as the cat desired. Then he ran on his way. But after a little while, the king’s son approached his company. When he saw the fertile meadows and the many people, he stopped his carriage, and asked whose land it was. The men replied as the cat had taught them: “The meadow belongs to the young princess at Kattenborg, who travels by your side.” Now the king’s son was even more amazed, thinking that his bride might be exceedingly rich, who owned such fine meadows.

They continued travelling on their way, and the cat ran ahead as was his custom. When they had travelled for a while, they came to a great big field; and the field were teeming with men and women who were cutting the grain. Then the cat went up to the harvester-folk, and greeted them, saying, “Good day, my friends! Good luck in such good work. In a while, the king’s son will pass by here, and will ask who owns such large cornfields. Then you should reply that they belong to the princess at Kattenborg, who travels by the prince’s side. If you says this, you will be well paid; but if you disobey my word, I will tear you to pieces as small as the leaves lying on the ground in the autumn.” When the harvesters heard this they were amazed, and promised to say as the cat had desired. Then he ran on his way. And after a while, the king’s son came up the road with his company. When he saw the large fields, he stopped his carriage, and asked who it was who owned the beautiful fields. The harvest men replied as the cat had taught them: “The cornfields belong to the young princess at Kattenborg, who travels by your side.” Now the king’s son was exceedingly glad; but the smallholder’s daughter did not know exactly what to think about everything that had befallen them on the trip.

By now, it was now late in the evening, and the prince with his company stopped to rest for the night. The cat did not rest, however, but ran ever onward, until he saw a fair castle, built with towers and pinnacles, and standing upon golden columns. The splendid castle belonged to a grim giant who ruled over the entire region; but the giant was not at home. So the cat entered through the castle door, and changed into a large loaf of bread. Then he sat in the keyhole, waiting for the giant to come home again.

Early in the morning, before dawn, the ugly giant came tramping out of the woods, and he was so big and heavy that the whole earth shook beneath him as he walked. When he reached the castle door, he could not open it because of the large loaf of bread that sat in the keyhole. Then he grew terribly angry, and cried, “Open up! Open up!” The cat replied: “Wait just a little, little while I tell my tale:

First they kneaded me, so they could knead me to death”

“Open up! Open up!” the giant screamed back; but the cat replied as before: ’Just wait a little, little while, as I tell my tales:

First they kneaded me, so they could knead me to death
then they ground me, so they could grind me to death”

“Open up! Open up!” the giant screamed bitterly; but the cat replied again: “Wait just a little, little while I tell my tales:

First they kneaded me, so they could knead me to death
then they ground me, so they could grind me to death
then they pricked me, so they could prick me to death”

Now the giant was wroth, and screamed so that the whole castle shook: “Open up! Open up!” but the cat was not moved, but replied as before: “Wait just a little, little while I tell my tales:

First they kneaded me, so they could knead me to death
then they ground me, so they could grind me to death
then they pricked me, so they could prick me to death
then they baked me so they could bake me to death”

Then the giant grew anxious, and pleaded so beautifully, so beautifully: “Open up! Open up!” but it didn’t help; the loaf of bread remained in the keyhole as before. Suddenly the cat cried out, “Just look at such a beautiful maiden riding up in the sky!” As the troll now turned, the sun rose above the forest. And when the giant saw the sun, he fell backwards and burst, and that was the end of him.

The loaf of bread now changed back into a cat, and he hurried to arrange everything for his guests. Now after some some time, the king’s son came with his young bride and the whole company. The cat was there to meet them, and welcomed them Kattenborg. They were now received in the best manner, and there was no want, neither of food nor of drink, nor of any other provision. And the beautiful castle was filled with gold, silver, and all kinds of costly treasures, such that no one has ever seen its like, neither before nor since.

A short time afterwards, the prince held his wedding with the beautiful young maiden, and everyone who saw her wealth thought she had good reason to say, “It is otherwise in my castle at Kattenborg.” The king’s son and the smallholder’s daughter now lived happily for many, many years; but I have not heard how things went with the cat, although one can guess that he did not suffer any distress. And then I was no longer with them.

— Gunnar Olof Hyltén-Cavallius. Svenska folk-sagor och äfventyr. Stockholm: A. Bohlins Förlag, 1844.


I decided to translate this Swedish tale after having read Zalka Csenge Virág’s account of her quest in search of a source for H. C. Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea,” on which quest she heroically waded through the folklore of two foreign tongues by means of Google Translate.

Hyltén-Cavallius’s tale is related to Asbjørnsen & Moe’s Herre-Per, and there is an unpublished Norwegian variant that includes the pea/ mattress motif, which suggests it was in general circulation in Scandinavia at the time Andersen was writing.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

The Nisse’s New Clothes

A girl served on a farm where there was a nisse. This nisse was a good-natured kind of creature, and would gladly do everyone all possible manner of favours. Thus, for a long time he had given the girl a hand with little tasks about the kitchen, so that she never had to wash pots or plates, but simply put them on the chimney in the evening, and found them again clean in the morning. - In gratitude to her little helper, she decided to honour him. - One Christmas Eve, she put in the kitchen, next to the usual Christmas porridge, a small garment that would just about suit her favorite, as well as a mirror in which he could gaze upon his new finery. She hid herself, to see how he would behave when he - who was very raggedly dressed otherwise - beheld the glory of his appearance. The evening came, and after completing his meal, the nisse made his toilet. With the help of the mirror, he regarded his figure with pleasure. Then he ignored his usual work, exclaiming at last: “No, now you are far too handsome to wash pots.” The girl never saw him again!

Morgenbladet. Kristiania, 1823-04-01

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

The Bend

There was a boy who was out chopping wood in the forest. Evening fell so quickly upon him that he wouldn’t be able to reach home, and so he went into a little pasture cabin to retire. When he came in, he trod on something.

“Who lies here?” said the boy.

“It’s the Bend,” it replied.

Then he walked until he came into the other corner; there too lay something that he trod on.

“Who lies here?” he said.

“It’s the Bend,” it replied.

Finally he went in through the door and trod on yet something more.

“Who lies here, then?” he said.

“Oh, it’s the Bend,” it said; it was a giant so big that it lay in a ring around the whole pasture cabin, so they called it the Bend.

Then the boy grew angry. “Even if you were the Bend in four more corners, out you go!” he said, chopping the giant’s nose off with his axe.

“What are you called?” said the giant.

“Myself,” said the boy.

Then the giant left the pasture cabin. “Little-fellow in the mountains, come and help me!” he said.

“What’s happened to you?” came a reply from the mound.

“Chopped my nose off.” He bled so much that he could barely talk.

“Who has done that?”

“Myself,” said the giant.

“Well, if you did it yourself, then you’ll have to bear it yourself,” it said away in the mountain. So the giant lay there and died.

Rasmus Løland. Norsk eventyrbok : etter uppskrifter paa folkemaalet. 1.
Oslo: Samlaget, 1904.
https://urn.nb.no/URN:NBN:no-nb_digibok_2016101848143

The Man’s Head

In the olden days it was customary in the villages that everyone was to be at a banquet on Christmas Eve after they left church. No one should then sit alone at home. Either you’d invite guests yourself, or you’d be a guest at a neighbour’s or an acquaintance’s somewhere. But there was once a man who was at church and who had expected to be invited to a banquet. But unfortunately, it turned out that no one thought of him, or remembered to invite him. “Oh, that’s no bother,” thought the man, “if no one wants to invite me, then I will invite others. I must certainly not go home alone.”

So he went around looking for various acquaintances, asking them to be so kind as to come home with him, but things went no better than that everywhere he went, he arrived too late, and there was no one who could go with him.

The man was then both angry and sorrowful; he didn’t know what he should do, but as he walked and wandered around the churchyard, then he happened to kick at an old skull which lay there before his feet. For it often happens when a corpse is buried in an old cemetery, that an old head may be thrown up and come to lie in the upper soil.

“Come on, then, since no one else will,” said the man, as soon as he saw the head.

Then the head lifted up from the ground, and hovered around the man like a bird, and then it went home with the man from church. And it stayed with him both at home and abroad, both at sea and on land. Wherever the man went, the head went too, hovering all around him.

One time when the man was in the woods, he heard that the head laughed, and the man asked what he was laughing at, but received no answer. Another time the man was in church, and things went the same way. It was quiet as the parson stood in the middle of his sermon in the pulpit; but then the man heard the head laughing, and he asked him later what he had laughed at, but neither then was there any word or breath to be heard. And as time passed, as it is wont to do, summer came then winter, and finally came Christmas. When Christmas Eve came, the man went out in the twilight and painted crosses on the doors of his barn and storehouse and all the outhouses. And when he had put the last cross on the storehouse, the head laughed loudly.

“If only I were so wise that I knew what you were laughing at,” the man said.

Then the head began to speak, saying that they would soon be parted. The man said that there was much he had a mind to know, but first and foremost he wanted to know what the three laughs were supposed to mean.

“I’ll tell you,” replied the head. And then he said, “The first time I laughed was last spring, when you were cutting down a birch up in the woods. Then the sole of your shoe tore, and you knew no better than to dig around the foot of the birch and pull up a root to tie the shoe together, so it would stay on your foot until you got home. If you had known what I knew then you would have dug a little deeper. For there was a coffre beneath the root, so full of gold and silver that you could have bought the whole village and several villages with it. And then you would have stopped wearing shoes such as one must tie together with birch roots.

“Then I began to laugh at how dull a man can be, who cannot see his fortune, even though it is so close that he need do no more than turn around, reach out his hand, and grasp hold of it.

“Then there was the second time, when you were at church this summer. Then again I saw something that you didn’t see. It was after the congregation had come in, and the parson had begun to speak. Then Old-Eirik came, and sat out on the doorstep, and he had a big calfskin to write on. And he wrote up all the witches who were inside.

“But there were so many that there was not enough room on the skin for them all, and so he bit along the edge of the skin, to stretch it out until it was big enough. And just as he carried on so, and chewed and bit, the skin slipped out from between his teeth, so that there was a big bang. Then I began to laugh, and you would have done so, too, had you seen it.

“Then there was the third time I laughed, which was today when you put crosses on the walls. Then I laughed at the little trolls that began to flee from the mark of the cross. They looked like great flocks of rats and bats coming out of the buildings, and they hopped and crawled out through all the windows and all the gaps in the walls. You can imagine what a nice company it was that had taken refuge in your house during the holiday! But they flew across the ground, so eager they were to hurry, and run about, looking for shelter in another place. And now it’s free and peaceful in all of your buildings, so there’s no need to worry, neither for folk nor cattle.

“But now I cannot take the time to talk to you any longer, for now it is time for me to be in another place. And so my thanks for inviting me to your banquet.”


— Rolv Skre. Visor og eventyr, gamle og nye.
Magnus Hardeland (ill.). Bergen: For bygd og by, 1945.
https://urn.nb.no/URN:NBN:no-nb_digibok_2008041600004

Thursday, 5 March 2020

The Boy Who Tamed the Troll

There was once upon a time a troll who lived in a vast rock fall far, far north in the mountains. There were no folk for miles all around, and the troll didn’t come out into the light of day more than once every hundred years. It lived on the marrow of the mountains, and dressed in the north wind and drizzle. It was as strong as the thunder itself, and of advanced intelligence – for a troll, that is.

Then there was one day that the great hundred-year bell of the mountain should begin to strike, that the troll came out of its hole in the rock and sat down on a stone to look out across the world.

Just as it sat pondering there, a little boy came walking down the slope. He had a stick in his hand and a huge knapsack on his back. And he hummed and sang, he did, so that everything around him listened in wonder.

“What does this little boy want, then?” asked the troll, making its voice gentle and cheerful.

“I am out looking for my match,” the boy replied.

“I’ve been doing the same for many hundreds of years, but do you think I have been able to find him?” said the troll.

The boy threw down his staff and knapsack, put both hands on his hips, and looked at the troll.

“You shall find him here,” he said.

But then the troll began to laugh – a little at first, and quietly, so the mountains barely trembled. But then it grew more and more, so that it sounded like thunder, and boulders crashed down the slopes. And at last it sat bent double with its nose in a feverous cloud, holding on to its knees, laughing so hard that it split far up to above its ears, and lakes rained down from its eyes.

“Who are you, then?” he finally asked, looking down at the boy and laughing.

“I’m a human, I am,” the boy replied.

“Well, well, well! So there are still some of your kind left, then,” said the troll, yawning and sitting down.

“Oh, I think you’ll certainly see some sign of them, I do,” said the boy, sitting down too. “But then we must go together, and be good friends and get along,” he said.

Yes, they could certainly do so, the troll thought, and so they set off, the both of them, across the mountain, sticks in their hands and knapsacks on their backs, to look for people.

When they had been walking for a while, they came high up on a mountain. And the troll began to stare and glare with its big eyes, first on one side of its nose, then on the other.

“Do you see anything?” the boy asked.

“Now, I have gone across the whole of Jotunheimen and the whole of Dovrefjell, but never have I seen the like of what may be called signs of humans,” said the troll, sitting down.

“That’s because you’re nearsighted, that is,” replied the boy, taking a small round horn out of his knapsack. He pulled it out until it was half an ell long, and started to to look and look across the mountain.

“What are you doing?” asked the troll.

“Stretching out my nose,” replied the boy. “For the longer your nose is, the farther sighted you grow,” he said.

“Do you see anything now, then?” asked the troll, gaping and glaring at the boy.

“Certainly I see,” replied the boy. “Far away there to the eastern border is a stripe, as narrow as a thread. That is a human road, that is,” said the boy, pushing his telescope together and putting it back down into his knapsack.

“No, could you imagine anything so bad?” said the troll.

“Look for yourself,” replied the boy.

And the troll began to stretch and pull at its nose until it was a whole half league long; but even so, it could not see any farther, you understand.

“You must certainly be my match – in the way of vision, that is,” said the troll, standing there with its long nose, not being able to shorten it.

“Yes, but then you get even with me by way of your nose, you do,” replied the boy. And so they wandered across the mountain again, to find the human road the boy had seen.

Well, when they had walked both well and far, they eventually reached it.

“Here is the road, and strong it is, for it is made only of tough iron,” said the boy – it was the railway line, you understand. “But we must travel quickly, if we are to arrive before the sun goes down.”

“I’ll give you quickly!” replied the troll, sitting on a mound and opening up its knapsack.

“Do you see these, you?” it said, holding out its seven-league boots.

“Oh, you shall go quickly enough,” replied the boy, “but here you will find your match, anyway, if only you wait until my horse arrives.”

Yes, the troll would certainly wait, there was no doubt about that.

And so they each sat down on a stone, took out their food and ate well until they were full.

Suddenly they heard a whistle far to the north.

“We ought to get ready now, for my horse is whinnying,” said the boy to the troll. And they barely had time to close their knapsacks before a strange beast came straining and panting across the mountain. And it stopped right in front of the boy and the troll. And it was not a horse, nor was it a chariot, and yet it was both horse and chariot.

“That is a strange steed,” said the troll. “And he won’t last long, for he pants and carries on so that his red breath comes out of his nostrils.”

“We’ll try,” said the boy, jumping on.

And you can imagine the running contest all across the mountains!

The troll took off with its big seven-league boots, so that boulders bounded and lakes splashed and the earth quaked where it trod; and the boy ran slowly and quietly behind on his horse.

Thus it went for half an hour across the tundra – the troll before and the boy after – but then the boy opened up the steam, and then he yelled, “Yee-ha” so that it resounded among all the mounds.

Then off it went, the sparks flying and the pistons pounding, and it pulled ahead, so the scrub surged like meadows in a storm, and the mountains passed by in an instant.

“Hurrah! Now you’ll have to pull you socks up!” cried the boy, drawing alongside the troll.

“Full speed!” he screamed, pulling his hat down over his ears. And his horse steamed and panted and burned, and the wheels went like spinning lightning, and he pulled ahead, as if you should draw a line across the mountain. But as he turned to catch his breath, he saw the troll like a little black dot, falling farther and farther behind, the wrong way. So he stopped.

After a couple of hours or so he saw the troll coming, heaving, the sweat falling off it, and it could hardly utter a word, so out of breath it was.

“Thank you for coming,” said the boy, as he lay roasting in the sun on a bank.

“Oh my word!” said the troll. “What a steed you have!” it said.

“Oh, I’m sure you could get yourself such wheelbones, too,” replied the boy.

“I suppose I could, if only I had enough time,” said the troll, and off it went by itself across the mountain.

The boy waited for seven long and seven broad.

Then the troll returned, carrying four huge grindstones.

“Now just you watch,” it said.

It put a grindstone on each foot and one on each hand, and then it cranked away across the ground.

“Full speed!” shouted the boy, jumping up on to the troll’s back and sitting there swinging his hat.

But the more it cranked and the more it wobbled, the worse it went, and finally the troll fell on its nose straight down into a huge pit, and the grindstones rolled away, one this way and the other that way, rolling and tumbling down the slope.

“Quick and wrong!” said the boy, lying on the ground, laughing.

But the troll got up and was furiously angry.

“Yes, it may well be you are my match on foot,” it screamed, “but you shall have a full beating, anyway, for here is power and strength from both land and sea,” it said, clenching its fists. And it began to throw boulders high into the air and catch them again with just its fingers.

The boy sat down on a stone, he did, and watched, but he didn’t even blink his eyes at it.

“Well, you’re strong,” he said, “but I don’t believe you dare get to grips with me.”

“You shoe plug!” said the troll, looking at him; and its breath was hot. “Come now; I’ll crush you to pieces as small as the sand on the beach,” it cried, reaching out its fist.

“Just wait till I get my fingers out,” replied the boy. And then he took out a small square box from his knapsack, and out of this he took two small shiny brass rods, and held them out to the troll.

“What manner of thing is this?” The troll asked, taking them.

“My fingers,” replied the boy. “And now you may squeeze them,” he said, pressing a small shiny button inside the box.

“Ow, ow, ow!” shouted the troll. And then you should have seen it! It couldn’t hold on, but it couldn’t let go. It kicked and bounced like a bear in a hot cauldron of buttermilk, and roared and carried on so that you could see far down its red throat. And away in the mountains, all the trolls opened their gates a crack, to see what was going on.

Then the boy turned the current off.

The troll fell on its bottom, and remained sitting on the ground, cradling its hands, and staring open-mouthed at the boy. “What strong fingers you have!” it said.

“Yes, and those were just my little fingers,” replied the boy, putting the box back in his knapsack.

“Dear me, what kind of devilment have you got in your fingers then?” asked the troll, sitting there watching.

“Electricity,” replied the boy.

“Eckey-leckey,” said the troll; it couldn’t say electricity.

“The things that people come up with!” it said. And then it sat down to ponder this for a whole day; but it grew none the wiser.

During the evening, it rose. “Well, it’s all the same,” it said. “You may be my match in boxing, but you are not so strong all over your body,” it said, haughtily.

“We’ll see when it’s needed,” said the boy; and then they wandered across the mountains again.

Just as they walked, they saw a glaring light far, far away.

“I wonder what manner of thing that is,” said the troll.

“That’s the town, where all the people live,” replied the boy.

Yes, the troll thought it would be so fine to go there, and so it asked the boy if he knew of anywhere it might stay.

“I’ll have to hear,” said the boy, and so they went up to a small hut that stood alone in the midst of the wild mountain. But a fine wire on white posts led away from the hut, reaching as far as the eye could see.

“What manner of thing is that?” asked the troll, pointing.

“Telephone,” replied the boy.

“Telly-tully,” said the troll; it couldn’t say telephone.

“Yes, human ears and human mouths, of course,” replied the boy.

“Long have I lived, and much have I seen, but never have I seen ears so long and and a snout so broad that they go like a needle and thread all across the mountains,” said the troll, shaking its head.

The boy didn’t answer, he just went into the little room and rang a small bell that stood there. Then he picked up a small funnel lying there and put it to his ear. And then he shouted:

“Do you have lodgings for a troll for a night or two?”

The troll stood outside the door, cocked its head – first one way, then the other – and listened and pondered, almost like when a dog hears a fly. “Did you get an answer?” it asked, half afraid.

“They say they already have enough trolls,” replied the boy.

“I might almost have known,” said the troll. “Well, I know no better than to ask my cousin in Ekeberg if he might have a free lodging.”

“Do it yourself,” said the boy. “Kin is closest to kin.”

“I will,” replied the troll. “But then I will use my own tools,” it said, and skulked off as the boy was ringing and talking. And off it went inland across the tundra.

The boy slept in the little hut that night, and he got up early, as the sun rose. Then he saw the troll below, coming up the slope with a millstone, which it had taken from one of its giant querns. It had jammed the wheel on to a huge mast tree, and came dragging everything behind it, up the slope.

“Now you’ll hear,” it said.

Then it put both hands to its mouth and shouted to the south:

“Tore in Ekeberg, do you have lodgings for your kin?”

Then it put the millstone to its ear and listened.

“Do you hear anything?” asked the boy.

Then the troll shouted a second time, and the whole sky turned black:

“Tore in Ekeberg, do you have lodgings for your kin?”

But even so, it didn’t get an answer.

Then it shouted a third time, in thunderous anger, with the millstone to its ear and end of the mast tree in the air:

“Tore in Ekeberg, do you have lodgings for your kin?”

Then lightning struck, and hit the mast tree so that the millstone cracked and the troll was thrown into a pit in the ground.

“Did you hear anything now, then?” asked the boy.

“Well, I got an answer, and it was from the fellow, but I don’t know if it was a yes or a no,” replied the troll.

“Well, then we should go calling,” said the boy. And with that they wandered south, towards the human town.

When they had walked for a while, they came to an immensely huge rock gate, which was closed.

“Wait, and I’ll throw that gate open, I will,” said the troll. And it set one claw into the ground and one into the slabs of rock above, and lifted so that the mountain groaned. But for all the lifting and all the toil, the rock gate remained standing, it did.

“Come away, little one, so I can use my middle finger,” said the boy. Then he took a small thing with a long cord in it, put it under the slab of rock, lit the cord, and came away.

“What manner of thing is that?” asked the troll, sniffing at it with its long nose.

Suddenly there was a bang! And the rock gate was blown into the sky in a shower of stones. And when the boy looked for the troll, it lay on its back, far away in a marsh, kicking its legs in the air.

When the boy reached it, it had barely sat up again, and it remained on the ground, weeping. “Oh, now people have become such that there is no use in being a troll any longer,” it said.

“But in the name of all the world, what kind of devilment do you have in your fingers, you?” it asked, hulking and drying its eyes.

“Dynamite,” replied the boy.

“Dine and mine,” said the troll. “Yes, was that not what I was thinking? For there is always trouble when one touches that.”

And then they wandered further southwards.

Before they knew it, they stood at Ekeberg itself. Evening had fallen, and they could see nothing; only a strange heavy hum sounded over all the mountains.

“What manner of thing is that?” asked the troll. The boy took its hand, and he felt it quaking all over its body.

“The town, where all the people live,” said the boy.

Suddenly all the lights were lit. And bells rang, and spires glittered, and bridges and houses and castles rose up, and the hum came from the great town, like a mighty note high across the mountains.

“Oh no, oh no!” said the troll. It grasped its head with both hands and began to weep.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked the boy.

“I don’t know, I don’t know!” replied the troll, rocking and swaying, as its tears ran.

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with you, I will,” said the boy.

“What’s wrong with me, then?” asked the troll.

“Wit,” replied the boy.

“Wit! What manner of thing is that?” asked the troll, it’s voice trembling, looking at him with big, stupid, sad eyes.

“Oh, it’s something you’ll never understand,” replied the boy. And he felt so odd, too.

And when he looked for the troll, he saw it go, bent over and lonely, down across the mountains.

“Troll, where are you going?” he called after it.

“Home,” it replied, like a sigh, far, far away.

And so the troll crept back into its hole in the rock. It had found its match.

And the great hundred-year bell of the mountain sounded nineteen strokes.

— J. B. Bull. Eventyr og Historier. A. Bloch (illus.).
Oslo: Cappelen, 1928.