Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Green Knight

There was once upon a time a king who was a widower, and he had an only daughter. But there is an old proverb that says the grief of a widower is like striking your elbow: it hurts, but it soon passes; and so he married a queen who had two daughters. And this queen, she was no better than stepmothers usually are: mean and troll-like was she always towards her stepdaughter.

After a long, long time, when they were grown up, these princesses, there was a war, and the king had to go out to fight for his country and kingdom. The three daughters were allowed to to tell the king what he should buy and bring home, if he won over the enemy. His stepdaughters had to tell him first what they wanted, you know. Well, the first asked for a golden spinning wheel, so big that it could stand on a silver eight-shilling piece, and the other, she asked for a golden spinner’s weasel, so big that it could stand on a silver eight shilling piece.1 That is what they wanted; and it was for neither winning nor spinning for either of them. But his own daughter, she had nothing to ask for, but that he should greet the Green Knight.

The king went to war, and however it went, he won, and however it happened, he bought what he had promised his stepdaughters; what his own daughter had asked for, he had simply forgotten. But then he held a banquet because he had won. There he saw the Green Knight, and so he remembered, and greeted him from his rightful daughter. The knight thanked him for the greeting, and gave him a book that looked like a hymn book with a buckled cover. This the king should take with him and give to her; but he must not open it up, and neither must she until she was alone. When the king was done with the war and with the banquet, he returned home again, and had hardly come in through the door before his stepdaughters pestered him for what he had promised to buy them. Yes, he had it. But his own daughter, she kept back, and asked for nothing, and the king did not remember, either, before one day, when he would go out, he put on the tunic he had worn at the banquet, and as soon as he reached into his pocket for a kerchief, he felt the book. So he gave it to her, and said he should greet her from the Green Knight, and that she must not open it before she was alone.

In the evening, when she was by herself in her chamber, she opened up the book, and straightway she heard a beautiful melody such as she had never heard before, and then came the Green Knight. He said that the book was such that when she opened it up, he would come to her, no matter where she was, and when she closed it again, he would straightway be gone.

Yes, she often opened up the book in the evening. When she was alone, and at peace, the knight always came quietly to her. But her stepmother had her nose in everything; she understood that there was someone in with her, and she was not slow in telling the king. He did not want to believe it; they should first look to see if it was so before they came in to take her for it. One evening they stood outside, listening, and they thought they clearly heard talk from within. When they came in, there was no one.

“Who was it you spoke with?” her stepmother asked, both hard and sharp.

“It was no one,” said the king’s daughter.

“Yes, I heard it clearly,” she said.

“I was just lying, reading a prayer book.”

“Show me it,” said the queen.

Well, it was nothing other than a prayer book, and she must certainly have leave to read that, said the king. But her stepmother believed the same as before, and so she drilled a hole in the wall, and lurked there.

One evening she heard the knight was there, she tore the door open, and flew like the wind in to her stepdaughter; but she was not slow in closing the book, either, and so he disappeared very quickly. But no matter how quick she had been, her stepmother caught a glimpse of him, so she was certain that someone had been there.

Then the king had to go on a long journey; in the meantime, the queen had a deep hole dug in the earth; there they built a house; and in the wall she laid rat poison and other strong poisons, so that there should not come in so much as a mouse. The bricklayer was well paid, and he promised to leave the country, but he did not—he stayed where he was, he did. Down there the king’s daughter was put, with her maid, and then they bricked up the entrance, with nothing but a small hole left, so they could send food down to her. Here she sat, mourning, and time passed slowly, and slower than slowly. Then she felt that she had the book with her, and she took it and opened it up. First she heard the same beautiful melody she had heard before, and then a pathetic, mournful song, and just like that the Green Knight came.

“I am almost dead, now,” he said, and told her how her stepmother had laid poisons in the wall, and he did not know if he could get out again with his life. When she had to close the book again, she heard the same mournful song again.

But the maid who was with her had a sweetheart, and she had a message sent that he should go to the bricklayer and ask him to make the hole so big that they could crawl up through it; the king’s daughter would pay him so well that he would have enough for the rest of his days. Yes, he did it. They got out, and travelled far, far away to a strange country, both she and her maid, and wherever they came, they asked after the Green Knight. After a long, long time, they came to a castle that was dressed in black, and as they should go in, there came a heavy shower of rain upon them; so the king’s daughter went in to the vestibule of the church, and she would stand there until the downpour had passed. As they stood so, a young man and an old man came in, to take shelter from the rain, too; but the princess went further into the corner, so they did not see her.

“What is the meaning of this, that the king’s farm is dressed in black?” said the younger.

“Do you not know?” said the old one. “The prince here is sick unto death, he they called the Green Knight.” And then he told how it had happened. When the younger one had heard how he had got it, he asked if there was no one who could make him well again.

“No, there is no more than one piece of advice,” he said, “and that is if the maiden who sat in the house beneath the ground comes and plucks healing herbs from the mark, boils them in sweet milk, and washes him thrice with it.” And then he recounted what manner of herbs that were necessary to make him well. This she heard, and she listened carefully, too. When the rain had passed, the pair left, and she wasted no time either.

When they came home to where they were staying, they had to go out and collect all kinds of herbs in the mark and the forest, both she and her maid, and they plucked and gathered both late and early of all those she had to boil. Then she bought herself a doctor’s hat and a doctor’s coat, went up to the king, and offered to make the prince well again.

No, that would do no good, said the king; there had been so many there trying, but he had steadily grown worse rather than better. She did not give in, but promised firmly that he would get better, and that both quickly and well. Well, she would be allowed to try, then; and she came in to the Green Knight to wash him for the first time. When she returned on the second day, he was so well that he could sit in bed; the next day he was fellow enough to walk across the floor of the chamber; and the third day, he was as healthy as a fish in water. He should go out hunting, said the doctor. Now the king was as fond of the doctor as the bird is of the light of day. But the doctor wanted to go home. So she discarded the coat and hat, made herself up, and made a meal, and then she opened the book. It was the same joyous melody as before, and immediately the Green Knight came. He wondered how she had come there. But when she told him how everything had happened, and when he had eaten and drunk, he took her straight up to the castle and told the king how things had happened, from first to last.

So there was a wedding, and wedding trumpeting, and when they were finished this, they travelled home. Then there was great joy for her father. But her stepmother they took and rolled in a nail-barrel.


  1. There has never been such coin as the eight shilling piece minted in Norway; the Spanish dollar (Real de a Ocho, the Piece of Eight (Peso de Ocho), familiar from pirate tales), which was worth eight reales, fits the description nicely, however. 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Østen and Anne-Lotta

There are several legends about this local Sámi couple. First this one:

Østen and Anne-Lotta lived periodically in Kvarnes on Sandhorn Island. One day their reindeer came down on to Ulrik’s field. He was none too pleased to have the reindeer in his field, and chased the reindeer away.

Anne-Lotta was known as a feisty woman. When she saw that Ulrik chased the reindeer away, she said to Østen: “Now he and his descendents will be hairless.”

The story goes that both Ulrik, his children, and his grandchildren had problems with their hair, and that several of them had to wear wigs.

And this one:

Østen came to Midthun farm to ask if a couple of men would help him take a large bull reindeer to the farm for slaughtering. Østen received help; Emma’s father Sivert, together with Hans, came back with him. The reindeer stood bound by the Lapp-stone, and was ready to be led to the farm.

Emma was known for making good food, and Anne-Lotta wanted to go to the farm to eat.

The men didn’t want Anne-Lotta with them; she was both ill-tempered and badly groomed. But she didn’t give up so easily. Østen begged her to remain calm, but she grew both wroth and possessed. Østen composed and manned himself. He said to his wife that she should calm herself down. Anne-Lotta was still angry, but she gave in.

When the men began on their way to the farm with the reindeer, Anne-Lotta called after them, “You’ve not come to the farm yet!”

Immediately afterwards, the bull turned difficult, and trampled Østen on the ground. Both Sivert and Hans had to take the bull by the head to get it off. Østen stood up and the journey continued, but again, the reindeer had an attack, and Østen ended up on the ground beneath the reindeer. He was helped up and managed to stand. But now he had had enough, and he understood what had happened. “She’ll hear about this. She’ll hear about this when I get home,” he cried. The reindeer was thenceforth calm, and the men came to the farm with no further trouble, where the reindeer was slaughtered.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Mumble Goose-egg

There were once upon a time five women who were reaping in the field. All of them were childless, and each wished she had a child. Just like that they saw an unreasonably large goose egg, almost as big as a man’s head.

“I saw it first,” said one.

“I saw it just as soon as you did,” cried another.

“I do believe I shall have it, for I was the firt to see it,” swore a third. So they carried on, disagreeing about the egg so that they almost flew at each other.

But then they agreed that they should own the egg, all five, and lie on it, as a goose does, and hatch out the gosling. The first lay there for eight days, and brooded and lazed around, and did nothing; meanwhile the others toiled or their keep, both theirs and hers. One of them began to berate her for this.

“You did not come out of your egg before you could whistle, either,” said the one who lay brooding. “But I think there will be folk of this, for I fancy it mumbles: ‘Herring and gruel, porridge and milk,’ inside, over and over,” she said. “But now you may lie here for eight days, and we shall take turns to feed you.”

When the fifth had also lain for eight days, she heard clearly that there was a child inside the egg, which cried for ‘herring and gruel, porridge and milk,’ and so she picked a hole in it; but instead of a gosling, out came a folk-ling; and terribly ugly was he, with a large head and a small body; and the first thing he cried for, when he came out, was “herring and gruel, porridge and milk.” So they called him Mumble Goose-egg.

As ugly as he was, they were still very fond of him, but it was not long before he grew so greedy that he ate up all the food they had. When they cooked themselves a bowl of gruel or a cauldron of porridge that they thought would be enough for them all six, then the child gobbled it all up. So they would not have him any more. “I have not felt full up at all since this changeling crept out of his egg shell,” said one of them; and when Mumble Goose-egg heard that the others agreed with this, he said that he could go on his way; if they did not need him, then he did not need them, and so he went on his way.

After a long, long time, he came to a farm that lay on a rocky bank, and asked to go into service; there they needed a working lad, and the fellow soon set him to work, collecting stones from the field. Well, Mumble Goose-egg fetched stones from the field, and took them so large that there were many horse-loads of them, and no matter whether they were big or small, he put them in his pocket. It was not long before he was finished doing that work, and then he wanted to know what else he should do.

“You must pluck the stones from the field,” said the man; “you must push yourself before you can finish, I know.”

But Mumble Goose-egg emptied his pockets and threw the stones in a heap. Then the fellow saw that he was finished doing the work, and understood that he should be careful with one who was so strong. He should come in and have some food, he said. Mumble Goose-egg thought so too, and he ate everything that had been made for the farmer folk and the servants, and even then he was but half full up.

He was certainly a worker fellow, but also a dangerous fellow for food, for there was no bottom to him, said the farmer. “Such a fellow can eat a poor farmer out of his farm and land before he knows of it,” he said.

He had no more work for him; it would be best if he went to the king’s farm.

Mumble Goose-egg swept off to the king, and got into service at once; at the king’s farm there was enough food and work. He should be a page boy and help the girls carry wood and water, and do other small work.

Then he asked what he should do first. He should split some firewood for now, they said.

Well, Mumble Goose-egg began to split and chop so that the splinters flew about him, both from the woodshed and the timber, both from the sawbench and the lumber, and when he was finished doing that, he came and asked what he should do now.

“You can finish chopping the wood, now,” they said.

“There is nothing more to chop,” said Mumble Goose-egg.

That was not possible, said the farm overseer, looking out into the shed. But yes, Mumble Goose-egg had chopped it all up; there was firewood from both the sawbenches and the lumber. This was infuriating, he thought, and so he said that he would not have a taste of food until he had been into the forest and chopped as much wood as he had split into firewood.

Mumble Goose-egg went into the smithy, and had the smith help him make an axe of fifteen quarters of iron.1 Then he went into the timber forest and began to chop rapidly; he took beam spruces and mast pines, everything he found, both on the king’s, and on the neighbouring plantations; he cut off neither the branches nor the tops, so it all lay as after a windfall. Then he laid a good load on the sled, and set all the horses before it, but they could not move from the spot with the load, and when he took them by their heads, to get them moving, he pulled their heads off; so he tipped them out of their harnesses up in the mark, and pulled the load alone.

When he came home to the king’s farm, the king and the forrester stood in the hall to receive him, for he had treated the forest very badly—the forrestr had been up and seen it. But when Mumble Goose-egg came home dragging half the timber forest with him, the king was angry, and frightened, and so he thought he had better treat him shrewdly, since he was so strong.

“That was great work,” he said, “but how much do you eat at a time?” he said. “For you are hungry, I suppose.”

“When I should have enough porridge, twelve barrels of meal go into it,” said Mumble Goose-egg; but when he had put it away, then he could go for a while, too.

It took time to cook such porridge, and in the meantime, he should take the wood in to the cook. He laid the whole stack of firewood on a sled, but when he should go through the door with it, he was careless again. The house was sorely tested until all the joints began to fail, so close was he to pulling down the whole king’s farm.

When the food was ready, they sent him out to call in the folk. He called so that it echoed from all the mountains and hills, but they did not come quickly enough, he thought, so he quarreled with them and killed twelve.

“He has killed twelve,” said the king, “and he eats for many times twelve, but how many does he do the work of?”

“That is many times twelve, too,” said Mumble.

When he had had some food, he should go to the barn to thresh. He took the ridge of the roof as a flail, and when the roof began to fall down, he took a large beam spruce, as full of branches as it was, and set it up as the ridge, and then he threshed the grain and straw and hay all together. This caused harm, for the grain and the chaff flew around together, and stood in a cloud over the king’s farm.

When he had almost finished the threshing, some enemies came into the country, and there should be war. Then the king said to him that he should take some folk with him, go on his way to receive the enemy, and wage war, for he thought they would kill him. No, folk he would not have, he thought; he would fight alone, said Mumble Goose-egg.

All the better, the quicker I get rid of him, thought the king.

But a good club he would need.

They sent for the smith, and he forged one of five quarters. That would be good for cracking nuts, said Mumble Goose-egg. So he forged one of fifteen quarters. That would be good for cobbling, said Mumble Goose-egg. Well, bigger could the smith not forge with his folk. So he laid to the forge himself, Mumble Goose-egg, and made a club of fifteen ship-pounds2, and a hundred men were needed to turn it in place. This Mumble Goose-egg thought might do him in a pinch. Then he needed a knapsack of food. They made one of fifteen bull hides, and stuffed it full of food; and so he tramped down the hill with his knapsack on his back and the club on his shoulder.

When he came so far that the soldiers saw him, they sent word, and asked if he would receive them.

“Wait a little until I have eaten,” said Mumble Goose-egg, throwing himself to the ground to eat behind his great knapsack of food. But they could not wait; they began to shoot at him at once, so the rifle bullets rained and hailed around him.

“These crowberries I do not mind,” said Mumble Goose-egg, and lay to eating some more; neither lead nor iron bit at him, and his food knapsack stood before him and took the bullets, like a bulwark.

So they began to lob bombs and shoot with cannons. He grinned a little at every jolt he took.

“Oh, it does no good!” he said. But then he had a bomb go down his throat the wrong way. “Huh!” he said, spitting it out again. And then came a chain shot, and it landed in his butter box, and another took the food from between his fingers.

Then was he angry, rose, took his great club, and struck the ground, asking if they would take the food from his mouth with the blueberries that they blew from their vulgar blowpipes. He struck some more strokes, until the mountains and hills crumbled; and the enemy bounced into the air like chaff in the wind, and that was the end of that war.

When he came home, and wanted more work, the king was plainly ill, for he thought he would be rid of him by now. He knew no better than to send him to hell.

“You shall go to Old Erik and collect the land rent,” he said. Mumble Goose-egg set off with his knapsack on his back and his club across his shoulder. He was not long on the way; but when he arrived, Old Erik was at the catechesis. There was no one home but his mother, and she said she had never heard of any land rent; he should come back another time.

“Yes, come to me tomorrow!” he said; he said it would show itself a lie; had he come there, then he could stay there, and the land rent he would have; he had time to wait. But when he had eaten up his food, time drew on for him, and so he demanded the land rent from the old mother again, and said that now she should out with it.

No, she would not; she stood as fast as the old pine, she said, that stood without the gates of hell, that was so large that fifteen men could hardly girth it. But Mumble went up into the top, and twisted and turned it like a withy band, and asked if she would not meet his demand for land rent now.

Yes—she dared aught else, and gathered together as many shillings as he thought he could carry in his knapsack. Then he went on his way homeward with the land rent. And as soon as he had gone, Old Erik came home. When he heard that Mumble had set off with his great knapsack full of money, first he slapped his mother, and then he went after him. And he caught up with him, too, for he ran without burden, and took to wing occasionally, and Mumble had to keep to the ground with the heavy knapsack; but when Old Eirk was on his heels, he began to jump and run as best he could, and then he held the club behind him, to protect himself from him. And so it went; Mumble held on to the shaft, and Old Erik struggled against the club, until they came to a deep valley; there Mumble jumped from one mountain top over to another, and Old Eirk was so eager in his following that he ran into the club and fell into the valley and broke one leg. There he lay.

“There you have the land rent,” said Mumble Goose-egg, when he came to the king’s farm, and he threw the knapsack of money before the king, so that it thundered in the hall.

The king thanked him, and feigned that all was well, and promised him both good pay and a pass to go home, if he wanted it; but Mumble Goose-egg wanted only more work.

“What shall I do now?”

Well, the king had a think for a while; then he said that he should travel to the mountain troll who had taken his grandfather’s sword, at the castle he had by the sea, there where no one dared go.

Mumble took with him some food in his great knapsack, and went on his way again, and he went both long and far, over forest and mountain and wild heath, until he came to some mighty mountains, where the troll should be, who had taken the king’s grandfather’s sword.

But the troll was not beneath the clear sky, and the mountain was closed, so Mumble was not fellow enough to get in. So he began to keep company with the stone breakers who kept themselves on a mountain enclosure, and lay out to break stone up there in the mountains. Such help had they never had, for he broke and struck the mountain so the rock ripped and large stones fell like houses. But when he should rest before dinner, and begin on one load of food, then it had all been eaten up.

“I usually have a mind to eat well,” said Mumble, “but the one who has been here is worse to eat, for he has eaten the bones as well,” he said.

So it went the first day, and it went no better on the second. The third day, he set off to break rocks again, and took with him the third load of food, but then he lay down behind it, and pretended to sleep.

Just like that a troll with seven heads came out of the mountain, and began to smack his lips and eat of the food.

“Now it is ready, now shall I eat,” said the troll.

“We shall quarrel about that!” said Mumble, striking with his club so that its heads rolled off it.

Then he went into the mountain that the troll had come out of, and in there stood a horse, eating from a barrel of glowing embers, and behind it there stood a barrel of oats.

“Why do you not eat from the barrel of oats?” said Mumble Goose-egg.

“Because I am not able to turn around,” said the hose.

“I should be able to turn you around,” said Mumble.

“Pull off my head, instead,” said the horse.

So he did so, and then the horse turned into a fine fellow. He said he had been troll-struck, and turned into a horse by the troll, and he helped him find the sword, which the troll had hidden on the bottom of his bed, and in the bed lay the troll’s mother, snoring.

The journey they took by sea, and when they had come out, the old woman came after them. She could not reach them, so she began to drink so that the sea grew smaller and the water fell; but the sea she could not manage to drink up—so she burst.

When they made land, Mumble Goose-egg sent word for the king to come and get the sword. He sent four horses, no they could not move it; he sent eight, and he sent twelve, but the sword remained where it was; they could not manage to move it from the spot. But Mumble Goose-egg took it alone and carried it forth.

The king could not believe his own eyes when he saw Mumble again, but he dissembled well, and promised both gold and green forests; and when Mumble wanted more work, he said that he should travel to the troll’s castle he had, the one that no one dared stay at, and stay there until he had built a bridge across the sound, so folk could come thither; was he good to do it, he would be well paid, yes he would even give him his daughter, he said.

Yes, he should be good to do it, said Mumble Goose-egg.

No one had returned alive from this; those who had reached so far that they had arrived, lay both slain and plucked like small meal, and the king thought he would never see him again when he got him to go thither.

But Mumble went on his way; he took with him his knapsack of food, and a suitably difficult, knarled pine log, and broad axe, a wedge, and some fatwood sticks, and then the small page boy at the king’s farm.

When he came to the sound, the river ran full of ice, and was as rapid as a waterfall; but he set his feet fast on the bottom and waded across, so that he got across at last.

When he had warmed and fed himself, he wanted to sleep; but it was not long before there was a noise and din such as if they should turn the castle upside down. The door flew open, and he saw nothing more than a broad, gaping mouth, from the doorstep to the lintel.

“Here is a morsel, taste it!” said Mumble, throwing the page boy into the gape. “Let me see what kind you are; perhaps I know you.”

He did, for it was Old Erik who was abroad. They began to play cards, for he would try to win back some of the land rent money Mumble had threatened out of his mother when he had gone collecting for the king. But however it did or did not go, Mumble was the one who won, for he set a cross on the best cards; and when he had won everything that he had on him, Old Erik had to give Mumble from the gold and silver that was in the castle.

Just like that, the fire went out, so that they could not tell the cards one from the other.

“Now we should chop some wood,” said Mumble, chopping the broad axe into the pine log, and driving in the wedge; but the awkward stump was difficult, and it would not immediately split, no matter how Mumble twisted and wrestled with the axe.

“They say you are strong,” he said to Old Erik. “Spit in your hands, set your claws in it, twist and wrestle, and let me see what you are good for,” he said.

Erik did so, and put both hands into the split, and wrestled for all he was worth; but when Mumble suddenly knocked out the wedge, then Old Erik sat, caught fast; and then he used the poll of the axe on his back. Old Erik begged thinly and beautifully that he might be let go, but Mumble Goose-egg would not listen in that ear before he promised never to come back and make mischief again; and he also had to promise to build a bridge over the sound, so folk could cross at any time of the year, and it should be finished by the time the ice had disappeared.

“That is hard,” said Old Erik.

But there was no other way; if he wanted to come loose, then he had to promise. But he set the condition that he should have the first soul to cross the bridge; that was to be the toll across the sound.

This he should have, said Mumble. Then he was set loose and returned home. But Mumble Goose-egg lay down to sleep on it, and he slept until long into the day.

When the king came to see if he had been hacked to pieces, or whether they had merely picked at him, he had to wade through money before he got to the bed; it lay in heaps and sacks that reached far up the wall; and in the bed lay Mumble, snoring.

“God help both me and my daughter,” he said when he understod that Mumble was alive and well. Well, all things were well and good, no one could deny that, but it was not worth speaking of a wedding until the bridge was finished, he said.

But one day, the bridge stood finished, and Old Erik stood upon it, and he would have the toll he had claimed.

Mumble Goose-egg would have the king go with him to try the bridge, but he hd no mind to do so; so he sat himself upon a horse, and threw the king’s farm’s large milkmaid across the saddle before him—she looked most like a huge pine log—and then he rode across the bridge so that it thundered.

“Where is the sound toll? Where is the soul?” shrieked Old Erik.

“She is in this pine log; if you want it, then you should spit into your hands, and take it,” said Mumble Goose-egg.

“No thank you—if she does not take me, then I shall not take her,” said Old Erik; “one squeeze have you put me in, you shall not put me in one more,” he said; and with that he flew straight home to his old mother; and he has been neither heard of nor asked of since.

But Mumble Goose-egg went home to the king’s farm and desired the pay that the king had promised him, and when the king tried to get out of giving him it, and would go back on his word, Mumble said that it would be best he made himself a good-sized knapsack of food, for he would take his pay himself. This the king did, and when it was ready, Mumble took the king out on to the road and gave him a proper kick, so that he flew into the air. The knapsack he threw after him, so that he should not be without food; and if he has not come down again, then he floats between heaven and earth with his knapsack, even until today.


  1. The Norwegian unit of weight used here is the våg, which was the equivalent of nearly 18kg. The quarter, roughly 13kg, is a reasonable approximation, despite the finished axe weighing 75kg more than the English indicates.  

  2. The ship-pound (Norwegian: skippund) was a measure of about 160kg, making the weight of the club 2.4 metric tonnes. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Three Lemons

There were once upon a time three brothers who had lost their parents, and there was nothing left after them, so they had to go out into the world and try their luck. The two eldest equipped themselves as best they could, but the youngest, he they called Tyrihans, because he always sat in the hearth, looking after the fatwood candles,1 he they would not have with them. They travelled out in the grey light of morning. But however it did or did not go, Tyrihans was just as early at the king’s farm as the others.

When they had arrived, they asked to go into service. The king said he did not have work for them, but since they were in such need, he would find them something—there was always something to do on such a large farm; they could knock nails into the wall, and when they had done that, they could pull them out again; and when they were finished with that, they could carry wood and water for the cook in the kitchen. Tyrihans was the best at knocking nails into the wall, and at taking them out again, and he was the best at carrying wood and water, too. His brothers were envious of him, therefore, and said that he had said that he was good to fetch the king the most beautiful princess there was in twelve kingdoms—for the king had lost his queen, and had become a widower. When the king heard this, he said to Tyrihans that he should do as he had said; could he not do it, then they would lay him on the chopping block, and strike his head off him.

Tyrihans replied that he had neither said nor thought it, but since the king was so determined, he would have to try. So he was given some food in a bundle over his shoulder, and went on his way. But he had not come far in the forest before he grew hungry, and would take of the food they had given him at the king’s farm. When he had sat himself well, in peace and quiet beneath a spruce beside the road, an old woman came hopping along, and asked what he had in his knapsack.

“Meat and flesh,” said the boy; “if you are hungry, then come and have some, old mother.” Yes, she thanked him and ate, and said that she would pay him a motherly turn in return, and then she hopped away into the forest.

When Tyrihans was good and full, he threw his knapsack over his shoulder, and set off again; but he had not gone far before he found a pipe. This he thought would be fun to have, to blow on the road, and it was not long before he got some sound from it, I would not think. But then small trolls swarmed forth, and they all asked at the same time: “What does my master have to command?”

Tyrihans said that he did not know that he was their master, but if he was to command, then he would have them find him the most beautiful princess there was in twelve kingdoms.

Well, that was no matter, said the small trolls; they knew well where she was, and they could take him on the way, so he could go and fetch her himself, for they had no power to touch her. They took him on the way, and such that he arrived both well and good; there was no one who as much lay two sticks in a cross before him. It was a troll castle, and there sat three gorgeous princesses; but when Tyrihans came in, they grew so foolish that they ran around like startled lambs, and just like that, they turned into three lemons that lay on the windowsill. Tyrihans was so aghast and simply dismayed at this that he knew not what to do. But when he had thought about it a little, he took the lemons and stuck them in his pocket; he thought they would be good to have if he grew thirsty on the way, for he had heard that lemons were supposed to be sour.

When he had come a way on the road, he grew very hot and thirsty. There was no water to be found anywhere, and he knew not what to do to slake his thirst. Then he began to think of the lemons, and took one out and bit a hole in it. But inside sat a princess to her armpits, and she cried: “Water! Water!” If she did not get some water, she would die, she said. Well, the boy ran in circles, looking for water, until he was out of his mind, but there was no water, and he found no water, and just like that, she was dead.

When he had gone a way more, he grew even hotter and even more thirsty, and when he found nothing with which to slake his thirst, he took the second lemon and bit a hole in it. Inside sat a princess to he armpits, too, and she was even more gorgeous than the first. She cried for water, and said that if she did not have water, then she would die within the hour. Tyrihans went looking around, beneath both stone and moss, but water found he none, and so died that princess, too.

Tyrihans thought things grew worse and worse, and they did, too, for the farther he went, the warmer it grew. The ground was so dry and scorched that there was no drop of water, and it was not long before he was almost half dead with thirst. He refrained for a long time before he bit a hole in the lemon he had left, but finally there was nothing esle for it. When he had bitten a hole, there sat a princess in it, too; she was the most gorgeous in twelve kingdoms, and she cried, saying that if she did not have water, then she would die within the hour. Tyrihans ran and would fetch water, and this time, he met the king’s miller; he showed him the way to the millpond. When he came to the pond, and gave her water, she came all the way out of the lemon, and was stark naked. Tyrihans had to let her have the garment he wore, to throw around her, and then she hid herself in a tree, while he went up to the king’s farm, to get her some clothes, and tell the king that he had fetched her, and how things had gone altogether.

Meanwhile, the cook girl came down to the millpond to fetch some water. When she saw the beautiful face reflected in the pond, she thought that it was hers, and she was so glad that she began to spin and dance because she had grown so beautiful. “The devil fetch the water, not you who are so beautiful!” she said, casting aside the water buckets . But after a while, she saw that the face in the water belonged to the princess who sat in the tree. Then she grew so angry that she pulled her out of the tree and threw her out into the pond. The dress that belonged to Tyrihans she threw about herself, and she climbed into the tree.

When the king came and saw the ugly black kitchen wench, he turned both red and pale; but when he heard that she was the most gorgeous in twelve kingdoms, then he could do nothing but believe there was something in it, and he felt sorry for Tyrihans, too, who had been through so much before he fetched her. She would probably grow more agreeable, he thought, when she could groom herself and put on costly clothes, and so he took her with him home. Word was sent for wigmakers and seamstresses; she was decorated and dressed like a princess, but for all the washing and decorating, she was black and ugly, and remained so, too.2

After a while, the assistant cook should go down to the pond for water, and she caught a large silver fish in her bucket. She carried it up and showed it to the king there, and he thought it bold and fine; but the ugly princess said it was some enchantment, and that they should burn it up, for she understood straight away what it was. Yes, the fish was burned, and the next morning, they found a nugget of silver in the ashes. This the cook came up to tell the king, and he thought it strange; but the princess said that it was merely enchantment, and bade them bury it in the dungheap. The king would rather not, but she gave him neither peace nor quiet, and so he finally said that they should do it. But on the next day, there was stood a beautiful, fine linden tree there where they had buried the nugget of silver, and the linden had leaves that glittered like silver. When they told the king this, he thought it strange; but the princess said it was nothing but enchantment, and that the linden should be chopped down within the hour. The king did not want to, but the princess bothered him for so long that he at last had to give her satisfaction in this, too.

When the girls went out to take bits of wood off the linden, to burn, they were pure silver. “It is not worth telling the king or the princess about it, again,” said one of them, “for then these shall also be burned and melted; it is better we hide them in our chest. They can be good to have when there, one day, comes a person and we shall marry.” Yes, they agreed to this. But when they had carried it a while, it became unreasonably heavy. When they should look to see why ths may be, the wood had been reformed into a child, and it was not long before it was the most gorgeous princess anyone would see. The girls understood that this was not at all usual; they brought her clothes, and flew after the boy who should fetch the most gorgeous princess in twelve kingdoms, and told him about it. And when Tyrihans came, she told him how everything had happened, that the cook had pulled her down into the pond, and that she had been both the silver fish and the silver nugget and the linden and the wood, and that she was the right one. It was not so easy to get hold of the king, for the ugly black cook hung over him, both late and early—but finally they found they could say there had come a declaration of war from the neighbouring king. So they got him out, and when he saw the gorgeous princess, he was so taken with her that he wanted to drink to his wedding within the hour, and when he heard how badly the ugly black cook had dealt with her, he said that they should take her and roll her in a nail barrel. Then they trumpeted the wedding so tat it was heard and asked about across twelve kingdoms.


  1. Fatwood (Norwegian: tyrived), the resinous wood found at the base of the branches of evergreens, was the preferred firestarter of rural Norway. The name Tyrihans thus means Fat(wood)-Hans. 

  2. Could this be the appearance of a person of colour in Asbjørnsen & Moe? Is there any reason to doubt that it is? 

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Ram and the Pig Who Should Go to the Forest and Live by Themselves

There was once upon a time a ram that stood in the sheepfold, and should make himself fat; he lived therefore well, and was sated and stuffed with all that was good. Just like that, the milk maid came and gave him more: “Eat now, ram. You shall not be here much longer; tomorrow we shall slaughter you,” she said.

It is an old proverb that one must not despise an old wives’ tale, and that good advice and drink may cure anything but death; “but perhaps there is advice against it in this case,” thought the ram to himself. So he ate until he was full, and good and sated, butted down the door, and swept on his way to the neighbouring farm. There he went into the pig sty, to a pig he had got to know well, out in the mark, and they had since been steady friends, and agreed well together.

“Good day, and thank you for last time,” said the ram to the pig.1

“Good day, and thank you for last time, yourself,” said the pig.

“Do you know why you have it so good, and why they look after you so well?” said the ram.

“No, no,” said the pig.

“Many mouths soon empty the barrel, you know; they will slaughter you and eat you,” said the ram.

“Will they?” said the pig. “Bless the food they have eaten,” he said.

“If you are of my mind, we will go into the forest, and build a house and an enclosure for ourselves; one sits always best on one’s own bench,” said the ram.

Yes, the pig wanted to, too; “there is joy in good company,” he said. And so off they went.

When they had gone a way, they met a goose. “Good day, good folk, and thank you for last time,” said the goose. “Where are these folk off to, who travel so swiftly today?” she said.2

“Good day to you, and thank you for last time, yourself,” said the ram. “At home, we had it far too good, and therefore will we go to the forest and live by ourselves, masters of our own home,” he said.

“Yes, I suppose I have also had enough of where I am,” said the goose. “Could I not go with you, me too? Good company brightens the day,” she said.

“With gossip and nibbling we will build neither house nor cabin,” said the pig. “What will you do there?”

“With advice and toil, a creature 3 comes as far as a giant,” said the goose. “I can pluck moss and push it into the walls, so the house will be tight and warm.”

Yes, she should be allowed to go with them, for the pig would like to have it good and warm.

When they had gone a way, farther—the goose could not travel so quickly—they met a hare, which came hopping out of the forest.

“Good day, good folk, and thank you for last time,” said the hare. “How far are you padding today?” he said.

“Good day to you, and thank you for last time, yourself,” said the ram. “At home we had it far too good; we are therefore on our way to the forest, to build a house and be by ourselves; wherever we wonder, there is no place like home,” he said.4

“Well, I have a house in every bush, a house in every bush,” said the hare, “but I have often said in the winter that I live for the summer, and then I will build me a house—so I have a mind to go with you, and put one up at last, me too,” he said.

“Yes, and should we get into real trouble then you would be the one to scare the dogs,” said the pig, “for you would be no help to us building the house.”

“The one who would be in the world will always have something to do,” said the hare; “I have teeth to plug with, and paws to beat on the wall, so I will do nicely as a carpenter, for good tools make good work, said the man who skinned his horse with an awl,” said the hare.

Yes, he would be allowed to help build the house, there was no questioning it.

When they came a little way farther, they met a cock.

“Good day, good day good folk, and thank you for last time,” said the cock. “Where is this folk off to today?” he said.

“Good day to you, and thank you for last time, yourself,” said the ram. “We had it far too good at home; we are therefore going to the forest to build a house and be by ourselves, for he who is outside and bakes, loses both charcoal and cakes,” he said.

“Yes, yes, I have it well enough where I am,” said the cock, “but better to build your own dwelling than to sit on a foreign perch and glare; and at home is the cock the richest,” he said. “If I could have such fine companions, then might I also have a mind to go to the forest and build a house.”

“Yes, flapping and crowing, it hepls to make a noise, but a mouth on a shaft chops no logs,” said the pig. “You cannot help us build the house,” they said.

“It is not good to strive where there is neither a dog nor a cock,” said the cock; “I am early awake, and early to wake.”

“Yes, the morning hour has gold in its mouth; let him come along!” said the pig; he was always the greatest sleeper, he was. “Sleep is a great thief; he will always try to steal half your time,” he said.

A procession of the animals, by Erik Werenskiold.

So they went into the forest in a flock and a company, and built a house; the pig chopped the timber, and the ram drove it forth; the hare was the carpenter, gnawing and hammering the walls and roof; the goose plucked moss and pressed it into the gaps in the walls; the cock crowed, and made sure that none of them overslept in the mornings. And when the house was finished, and the roof covered in bark and turf, then they lived by themselves and had it both good and well. “It is good both in the east and the west, but still home is best.”

But a way farther in the forest, there was a wolf lair, in which lived a couple of greyshanks. When they saw a new house put up in the neighbourhood, they wanted to know what manner of folk they had gained in the neighbourhood; or they thought thus: a good neighbour is better than a brother in a foreign land;5 and better it is to live in a good neighbourhood than to be renowned.

So one of them paid a visit, to borrow a light for his pipe. As soon as he came in through the door, the ram squeezed him so that he fell head first on to the hearth; the pig began to chop and bite; the goose hissed and pinched; the cock up on the cock beam crowed and made a din; and the hare was so frightened that he went both high and low and trampled and trod in every corner.

After a long, long time, the wolf came out again.

“Now you know our neighbours,” said he who had remained outside. “I suppose you came to paradise on flat ground, since you stayed in there for so long. But how did it go with your light? You have neither smoke nor pipe,” he said.

“Yes, it was a good light and a good party,” said he who had been inside. “Never before have I been subjected to such treatment. But one gains the glory of the companionship one seeks, and unexpected guests receive unexpected fare,” said the wolf. “When I came throgh the door, the shoemaker struck me with his cobbler’s shoe, so I fell on my head, right in the furnace; there sat two smiths; they blew and blasted me with the bellows, and pinched and struck with glowing pincers and bars, so they took pieces of flesh from my carcass. The shooter, he went about looking for his gun, but luckily he could not find it. And then there sat one up beneath the roof, flapping and crowing: ‘Get the hook in him. Pull him here, pull him here!’ he screamed; and had he caught hold of me, then had I certainly never come out alive.”

Wolf chased by pig, by Erik Werenskiold.

  1. Norwegian: takk for sist, a standard greeting for acquaintances, even today. 

  2. In times past, it was considered polite to address someone using the third person. 

  3. Norwegian: kryp, literally “creep”, denoting “creepy-crawly”. 

  4. Norwegian: når borte er fresta, er heimen best, literally: “when away has been tried, home is best.” 

  5. See Proverbs 27:10: “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.” 

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Foreword to the First Volume of Norwegian Hulder Tales and Folk Legends, 1st edition

I wish a happy new year to one and all!

Without further ado, here is a draft of my translation of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen’s foreword to his first volume of Norwegian Hulder Tales and Folk Legends (1845).

It is interesting to note that he considers the legends he has collected as natural as the flora and fauna of the area in which he has collected them; they spontaneously arise where a common folk interact with an unspoiled natural world. This has to be one of the first attempts as explaining the nature and spread of migratory legends.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Tobacco Boy

There was once upon a time a pauper woman who went around with her son, begging; at home she had neither to bite on, nor to burn. First she went from village to village, and then she came to the city. When she had gone from house to house there a while, she came to the mayor. He was both a kind man and a bold man—one of the best in the city, for he was married to the daughter of one of the richest merchants there—and with her he had a small daughter. They had no more children, so she was both their sweet child and their sugar child, and there was nothing that was too good for her. She soon grew to know this pauper boy, too, when he came with his mother, and when the mayor saw that they had so quickly become such good friends, he took in the boy, so that she could have a play brother. Yes they played together and tidied together, read together and went to school together, and were steady friends, and agreed together.

One day, the mayor’s wife stood at the window, looking at the children as they were on their way to school, when she saw there was a rain puddle in the street; first the boy carried the box of school food across the puddle, then he came back and carried the little girl across—and when he put her down, he stole a kiss.

When the mayor’s wife saw this, she grew angry: “Shall such a raggamuffin1 kiss our daughter, we who are the best folk in the city?” she said. Her husband tried to stop her as best he could, and said that no one knew where the children would live, and no one what would happen to them; he was a kind and proper boy, and a great tree often grew from a small sapling, he said. But no, it made no difference what he was or what he would be. “When want comes to glory, it knows not what it will be,” and, “the one who is struck for shillings will never become dollars, no matter that he shine like a gold coin,” said the mayor’s wife; he was not allowed there, and she would see him off. There was nothing for it, so the mayor went him off with a merchant who had arrived with a ship, and there he should be a cabin boy. To his wife, he said he had sold the boy for tobacco.

But before he left, the mayor’s daughter broke her ring in two and gave him half, so they could recognise one another, should they meet again.

Then the ship sailed, and the boy came to a city far beyond the country. Thither had a parson but newly arrived, who was so powerful to preach that everyone had to go to church to hear him, and on Sunday, the ship’s company had to go and listen to the sermon.

The boy remained alone aboard the ship. As he began to make the food, he heard calling from across the sound, close by. The boy took the boat and went over, and saw that it was an old woman who stood there, crying. “Yes, now I have stood here for a hundred years, calling and crying, thinking to cross the sound,” said the woman, “but no one has heard it nor heeded it before you, and you shall have your pay for taking me across the sound,” she said. The boy had to go with her to her sister, who lived in a mountain close by, and there he should ask for the old tablecloth that lay on the shelf of the cupboard. Yes, when he arrived, and the witch2 found out that he had helped her sister across the sound, then he must have what he wanted, she said.

“Oh, I want nothing but the tablecloth that lies on the shelf in the cupboard,” said the boy.

“You did not choose that by yourself,” said the witch.

“Now I shall go back aboard and cook some weekend fare for the churchfolk,” said the boy.

“Pay that no heed,” said the woman. “It shall cook itself while you are away,” she said. “Stay with me, and you shall have more pay; I have stood by the sound and called and cried for a hundred years, but no one has heard it, nor heeded it before you.”

So he should go with her to her second sister. There he should ask to have the gold sword that was such that he could put it in his pocket, so that it became a knife, and if he pulled it out, then it became a longsword; if he hewed with the black edge, then everything would fall dead, and it he hewed with the white one, everything would live again. Well, when they came thither, and the witch heard how he had helped her sister across the sound, then he should have a ferryman’s pay; he could have whatsoever he would.

“Oh, I want nothing but the old sword that lies on the top of the cupboard,” said the boy.

“You did not choose that by yourself,” said the witch.

“Come with me,” said the other. “I have stood by the sound, calling and crying for a hundred years, and no one had heard it nor heeded it before you; you shall have more pay, you; come with me to my third sister.” There he should ask for the old hymn book that was such that whenever someone was sick, and he sang a hymn suited to the sickness, then the sick would be well again.

Well, they arrived, and the third witch heard that he had helped her sister across the sound; he should have a ferryman’s pay there, too; he could have what he would.

“Oh, I want nothing but grandmother’s old hymn book,” said the boy.

“You did not choose that by yourself,” said the witch.

When he returned to the ship, the folk were still at church. So he tried the tablecloth, and unfolded just a small corner, for he wanted to see what good it was first, before he laid it on the table and used it. Well there came both fine food and lots of food, and drink, too, that was certain enough. He took just a taste, he did, and then he gave the dog as much as he could manage to eat.

When the church folk came aboard, the skipper said, “Where did you get all the food for the dog? He is as full as a sausage, and as lazy as a sow.”

“Oh, I gave him a bone,” said the boy.

“There’s a good boy to remember the dog, too!” said the skipper.

Then he unfolded the tablecloth, and straightway it was so full of food and drink that they had never lived so well before.

Whe the boy was alone with the dog again, he wanted to try the sword, too. He hacked at him with the black edge, so that he fell dead to the deck; but when he turned it, and hacked at it with the white, he quickened to, and wagged his tail at his playmate. But the book he could not try.

Then they sailed both well and long, until a storm came upon them, which lasted many days; they lay drifting until they did not know where they were. Finally it quietened, and they came to a country far away, with which none of them was familiar; but they understood that there was great sorrow there, and that there was, too, for the king’s daughter was a leper. The king came down to the ship and asked if any save her and make her whole again. No, there was no one aboard who could, said those on deck. “Are there no others aboard this ship, then?” said the king.

“Yes, a little ragged boy,” they said.

“Let him come, too,” said the king. The boy said he could certainly make her well again. The skipper grew so wild and afraid when he heard this that he ran in circles, like a dung beetle in a cup of pitch; he thought the boy was getting into something he would not come well from, and he said that it was not worth listening to such children’s talk. But the king said that sense came with growth, and the boy had the makings of a man; had he said he was good to do it, then he should try; there were many who had tried and failed before. He took him to his daughter, and the boy sang the hymn once. Then the king’s daughter could move an arm; he sang it once more, and she could sit up in bed; and when he had sung it a third time, the king’s daughter was well.

The king was so glad that he wanted to give him half his country and kingdom, and his daughter, too. Yes, country and kingdom could be good to have even half of—he thanked him many times over for it—but he had betrothed another, he said; the king’s daughter he could not take. So he stayed in the country, and got half the kingdom. And after some time there was war; the boy had to join in, and he spared not the black edge, you can imagine. The enemy’s soldiers fell like flies, and the king won. But then he used the white edge; then they all quickened to again, and subjected themselves to the king because they were allowed to enjoy life. But now that there were so many, there was a shortage of food, yet the king would give them full measures of both food and drink. So the boy had to come forth with his tablecloth, and thus there was a shortage of nothing, neither wet nor dry.

When he had been a time more with the king, he began to miss the mayor’s daughter. He equipped four warships and travelled with them, and when he lay off the city where the mayor was, he shot and saluted so that half the panes of glass in the city shattered. Aboard these ships, it was as stately as at the king’s, and he had gold to the seams himself, so fine he was. It was not long before the mayor came down and asked if the fine stranger would be so good as to come and dine with him. Yes, he would; he came up to the mayor’s, and there he sat between the daughter and the mayor’s wife. As they sat there and had a fine time talking, and eating and drinking, and living well, he managed to slip the half-ring into the daughter’s glass. She was not slow to understand its meaning, made an excuse to leave the table, and set it together with the other half.

Her mother noticed something was going on, and slipped out after her as soon as she could. “Do you know who is in there, mother?” said the daughter.

“No,” said the mayor’s wife.

“It is he whom father sold for tobacco,” she said. Immediately the madam fainted, and fell to the ground.

Then the mayor came out, and when he heard how things stood, it did not go much better with him, either.

“It is something of a shock,” said the tobacco boy; “ I have only come to fetch the little girl I kissed on the way to school,” he said. And to the mayor’s wife, he said: “You should never speak ill of a pauper’s child; there is no one who knows what might become of him, for a child has the makings of a man, and sense comes with growth.”


  1. Raggamuffin: Norwegian, skarveunge (cormorant chick). 

  2. The Norwegian, trollkjerring denotes both “witch” and “troll woman” (i.e. a female troll) in English. Its usage in this tale is one of the cases where the correct translation could be either. Or both. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

Friends in Life and Death

There were once upon a time two fellows who were such good friends that they swore to one another that they would not be parted, neither in life nor death. One of them died before he grew old, and after a while the other proposed to a farm hand’s girl, gained her as his sweetheart, and was to be married. When they invitated to the wedding, the bridegroom himself went to the churchyard where his friend lay, knocked on the tomb, and called upon him. No, he did not come. He knocked again, and he called again, but no one came. A third time he knocked, harder, and called louder that he should come so that he could speak with him. After a long, long time, he heard some rustling, and finally the revenant up from the grave.

“It is good you came now,” said the bridegroom; “I have stood knocking and calling for you for a long time.”

“I was far away,” said the revenant, “so I did not hear you well enough before the last time.”

“Well, well, today I am to stand bridegroom,” said the boy, “and you well remember that we should attend each other’s wedding.”

“I remember,” said the revenant, “but you must wait a little so I may wash and tidy myself; I am not not used to being invited to a wedding.”

The boy had little time, for he should go home to the wedding farm, and they should soon go to church; but they would just have to wait a little, and let the dead have a room of his own, as he had asked for, so he could wash and tidy himself, so he could attend well dressed, like the others, for he had to come to church.

Yes, the revenant went to church, but when the wedding drew on so long that they had taken the bride’s crown, he would leave. For the sake of old companionship and friendship, the bridegroom would accompany him back to his grave.

As they walked to the churchyard, the bridegroom asked if he had seen anything much strange, or anything worth knowing.

“Yes, I have,” replied the revenant; “much and a lot have I seen,” he said.

That would be rare to see,” said the bridegroom. “I might have a mind to join you, to see it too,” he said.

“You can, to be sure,” said the revenant, “but you may be away for a while.”

It would be so, said the bridegroom, following down through the grave. But before they stepped down, the revenant took a patch of turf from the churchyard, and laid it on the boy’s head. They went far through the pitch darkness, thicket and moor, until they came to a great big gate. It opened up when the revenant touched it. Inside, it was as if it grew lighter, as in the moonlight, and the farther they came, the lighter it grew. After a long time and distance, they came to a place where there were green banks of lovely lush grass, and there grazed a great herd of cattle; but for all they ate, they looked terrible and empty and pathetic.

“What should this mean,” said the boy who was bridegroom, “that they are so lean and look so bad, even though they eat as if they were paid to do so?”

“It is a parable of those who never can have enough, no matter how much they get and scrape together,” said the dead.

So they travelled far, and farther than far, to some mountain pastures, where there was nothing but rocks and bare mountain, with the odd small patch of grass here and there. Here there grazed a great herd of cattle that were so beautiful and fat and sleek that they shone.

“What?” said the bridegroom. “These that have so little pasture, and yet look so good, what is it?”

“It is a parable of those who are well satisfied with the little they have,” said the revenant.

So they went far, and farther than far again, until they came to a great water. There it was so light and gleaming that the bridegroom could not tolerate to look at it.

“Now you shall sit here until I return,” said the revenant. “I will be away for a while, now.”

With that, he set off, and the bridegroom sat down. And as he sat, he was overcome with sleep, and it was as if nothing mattered to him in his safe, sound sleep.

After a while the revenant returned.

“It is good you remained sitting here, where I could find you again,” he said. But when the bridegroom should rise, he was overgrown with moss and trees, so that he sat as if in a thicket. When he had cleared all this off himself, they travelled back, and the revenant went with him the same way, all the way to the grave. There they parted, and said farewell to one another, and when the bridegroom came up, he went straight to the wedding farm. But when he arrived there where he thought it should be, he could not recognise where he was. He looked around in every direction, and he asked everybody he met, but he heard nothing of a bride or a wedding or kin or parents, yes he heard of nothing of anyone he knew. Everyone wondered at this figure who went there, looking like a scare-folk.

As he could find no one he knew, he went on his way to the parson, and told him of his kin, and how things had gone, to the time that he stood as bridegroom, and had left the wedding. The parson knew nothing about it, but when he searched through the old church registers, he found that the wedding had been held a long, long time ago, and the folk he spoke of had lived four-hundred years ago.

After that time, a great big oak had grown up in the garden of the parsonage. When he saw it, he climbed up, to take a look around; but the old man who had sat sleeping in heaven for four-hundred years and had come home again did not come down well from the oak. He was stiff and solid, which was only reasonable, and when he should come down again, he fumbled so that he fell and broke his neck bone and tumbled himself to death.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Sweetheart in the Forest

There was once upon a time a man who had a daughter. She was so beautiful that she was renowned across many kingdoms, and suitors came to her like as many leaves as fall in an autumn. One of them made out that he was richer than all the others. Handsome and fine was he, too. And so he should have her. And from that time, he often came to visit.

As time passed, he wanted her to come to his place, to see how he lived. He could not fetch her, to accompany her, but when the day came that she should visit, he would scatter peas along the road, all the way to his front door. But however it did or did not happen, he scattered the peas a day early.

She walked far, and for a long time, through forest and mark, and finally she came to a big fine house, which lay on a green mound in the midst of the forest; but he was not home, and she found no folk in the house, either. First she came into the kitchen, but there was nothing to see there, other than a wondrous bird, which hung in a cage beneath the roof. Then she went into the parlour, and there it was so stately that it was simply unbelievable. But as she continued to walk around, the bird cried after her: “Beautiful maiden, be bold, but be not too bold!” When she came into the bedchamber, it cried the same again. There stood a number of chest of drawers. She pulled open the drawers, and they were full of gold- and silver finery, and everything that was beautiful.

When she went into the next chamber, the bird cried again: “Beautiful maiden, beautiful maiden, be bold, but be not too bold!” There it was full, hanging with fine womenfolk clothes all around the walls. When she went into the third chamber, the bird began to scream: “Beautiful maiden, beautiful maiden, be bold, but be not too bold!” Here there stood many buckets full of blood.

But when she went into the last chamber, the bird shrieked: “Beautiful maiden, beautiful maiden, be bold, but be not too bold!” There it was full of dead bodies, and skeletons of slain womenfolk. She was so horrified that she wanted to spring out again. But she got no farther than to the closest chamber, where all the blood stood. Then cried the bird: “Beautiful maiden, beautiful maiden, spring under the bed; he is coming now!”

She was not slow to obey the bird, and hid under the bed; she crawled as far in against the wall as she could, yes, she was so scared that she would have liked to have crawled into the wall, had she been able.

Then came her sweetheart with another maiden. She asked so weakly and feebly that he might spare her life, and then she would not expose him to anyone, but no prayer was of help. He ripped off her everything, both clothes and gold, even to a ring she had on her little finger. He pulled at it, but could not pull it off, so he chopped off the finger, so that it bounced under the bed. And the maiden who lay there took it to herself and hid it.

The sweetheart said to a little boy who was with him that he should crawl under the bed and take out the finger. Yes, he lay down and felt under, and felt she who lay there; but she squeezed his hand hard, and he understood her meaning.

“It lies so far underneath that I cannot reach it,” he said. “It will have to lie there until daylight, and then I shall fetch it.”

Early in the morning, the robber went out again, and the boy should remain at home to look after the house, and receive the maiden he expected; but he should not let her into the two rooms he knew about.

When he had well gone into the forest, the boy went in and said that she could come out.

“You were lucky you were early, or he would have killed you, like all the others,” he said.

She did not stop long, you should know, but hurried home as quickly as she could, and when her father asked why she had returned so soon, she told him what she had heard and seen.

After some time passed, the suitor came visiting again, and he was so fine that it dripped from him, and he asked why she had not come to visit him as she had promised.

A visiting man on a sleigh had been in the way, said her father. Now he would have to do with what the house could provide. And so he bade him stay there, for he had invited to a feast, and they might just as well drink to the engagement.

When they had eaten, and still sat at the table, the daughter of the house said that she had had such a strange dream a couple of nights previously, and had they a mind to listen, then she would tell them. But then everyone would have to remain sitting still until she was finished. Yes, they would like to hear, and they would sit still, they all promised, and the sweetheart did so, too.

“I dreamt that I walked upon a broad road, and there where I walked, peas were scattered.”

“Yes, that is like when you walk to my place, my dear,” said the sweetheart.

“Then the road grew narrower and narrower, and it stretched far through forest and wilderness.”

“That is like the way to my place, that is, my dear,” he said.

“Then I came into the kitchen. I saw no folk there, but beneath the roof hung a wondrous bird in a cage, and when I went into the parlour it cried after me: ‘Beautiful maiden, be bold, but be not too bold!’”

“That is just like at my place, my dear,” said the sweetheart.

“Then I went into the bedchamber, and the bird cried the same as it cried before. In there were many chests of drawers, and when I pulled out the drawers and looked down in them, they were full of silverware and gold finery, and everything that is beautiful.”

“Yes, it was at my place, my dear,” he said. “I too have many drawers with gold and silver and costly things.”

Then I went into another chamber; the bird cried to me again, the same as he had said before, and there were womenfolk clothes hanging all around the walls.”

“Yes, that is also at my place, my dear,” he said. “There are clothes, and finery both of silk and velvet.”

“When I went into the next chamber, the bird began to scream: ‘Beautiful maiden, beautiful maiden, be bold, but be not too bold!’ And in that chamber there stood barrels and buckets along all the walls, and they were full of blood!”

“Fie, that is terrible; it is nothing like at my place, my dear,” said the sweetheart. Now he was hurting, and wanted to leave.

“It is just a dream I am telling, of course,” said the daughter of the house. “Remain sitting; you can always manage to listen.

“When I went into the next chamber, the bird began to scream the same as it had said before: ‘Beautiful maiden, beautiful maiden, be bold, but be not too bold!’ There lay many dead bodies, and skeletons of slain folk.”

“No, it was certainly not at my place!” said the sweetheart, wanting to leave.

“Do sit,” she said. “It is nothing but a dream, and I am sure you can manage to listen. I too thought that it was terrible, and ran out again. But I came no further than the other chamber, where all the blood barrels stood. Then the bird screeched that I should spring under the bed and hide myself, for now he was coming. And so he came, and he had a maiden with him, who was so beautiful that I thought I had not seen her equal. She pleaded so prettily that he should spare her life; but he cared not a whit for that. She wept and she pleaded; he ripped off her clothes and took everything she had, and spared neither her life nor anything else. But on her left had, she had a finger ring that he could not pull off, so he hacked the finger off her, and it bounced under the bed to me.”

“Fie! That is nothing like at my place, my dear,” said the sweetheart.

“Yes, at your place it was! There is the finger, and there is the ring, and there is the man who hacked it off,” she said.

So they took him and killed him and burned both him and the house in the forest.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Herre-Per

There was once, upon a time, a couple of poor folk; they had nothing except for three sons. What the elder two were called, I do not know; but the youngest was called Per.

When the parents were dead, the children should inherit them, but there was nothing more to have than a cauldron, a lefse iron, and a cat. The eldest, who was to have the best, took the cauldron: “When I lend the cauldron out, then I will always be able to scrape it,” he said.

The second took the lefse iron: “For when I lend out the iron, I will always have a taste of the lefses,” he said.

But the third, he had nothing to choose between; if he wanted anything, then it had to be the cat. “If I lend out the cat, then I will not have anything for her,” he said. “If the cat has a drop of milk, then she will have it for herself. But I will take her with me anyway; it would be a shame to leave her here to fend for herself.”

So the brothers went out into the world to try their luck, and each took his own way.

But when the youngest had walked a while, the cat said, “You will receive the same in return, for not leaving me behind in the old cabin to fend for myself. Now I shall go into the forest and find some strange animals; and you shall go to the king’s farm that you see away over there, and say that you come with a small gift for the king. When he then asks who it is from, you shall say it is from Herre-Per.”1

Well, Per had not waited long before the cat returned with a reindeer from the forest. She had jumped up on to the reindeer’s head and sat between its antlers. “If you do not go straight to the king’s farm, I will scratch your eyes out,” she said, and so the reindeer dared aught else.

When Per now came to the king’s farm, he went straight into the kitchen with the reindeer, and said: “I come with a small gift for the king, if he will not despise it.”

The king came out to the kitchen, and when he saw the big, fine reindeer, he was well pleased. “But my dear friend, who sends me such a fine gift, then?” said the king.

“Oh, it surely comes from Herre-Per,” said the boy.

“Herre-Per?” said the king. “Where does he live, then?” For he thought it a shame not to know such a good man.

But this the boy would by no means tell; he dared not for fear of his master, he said. So the king gave Per a lot of money as a tip, and bade him greet them at home, and sent his thanks for the gift.

The next day, the cat went into the forest again, and jumped up on to the head of a hart, sat between its eyes, and threatened it into going to the king’s farm. There, Per went into the kitchen with it again, and said that he came again with a small gift for the king, if he would not despise it. The king was even more pleased with the hart than he had been with the reindeer, and asked again whom it was who could have sent him so fine a gift.

“It is surely from Herre-Per,” said the boy. But when the king would know where Herre-Per lived, he received the same reply as he had the day before, and this time, Per received even more money as a tip.

The third day, the cat came back with a moose. When Per then came into the kitchen on the king’s farm, he said that he again had a small gift for the king, if he would not despise it. The king came out to the kitchen at once, and when he saw the beautiful moose, he was so glad that he did not know which foot he should stand on. And on that day, he gave Per even more—much, much more—money as a tip—it was certainly a hundred dollars. He would finally know where this Herre-Per lived, and dug and asked both about this and about the other. The boy said that he dared not tell him, for his master had forbidden it, both strictly and sternly.

“So ask this Herre-Per to look in to me,” said the king.

Yes, this would the boy do, he said.

But when he came out of the king’s farm again, and met the cat, then he said: “Yes, you have put me in a situation now; the king wants me to visit him, and I have nothing but the rags I stand and walk in.”

“Oh, do not be worried about that,” said the cat. “In three days, you shall have horses and a carriage, and such beautiful clothes that the gold shall drip from you; then you will be able to visit the king. But whatever you see at the king’s, you shall say that you have a much finer and more beautiful home; you must not forget this.”

No, Per would certainly remember that, he said.

When the three days were up, the cat came with a carriage and horses and clothes and everything Per needed. Everything was so beautiful that no one had seen the like before. So he travelled, and the cat ran with him.

The king received him both well and good, but whatever the king offered him, and whatever he showed him, then Per said that it was good enough, but that he had an even finer and more beautiful home. The king liked this no more than a bit. But Per insisted, and finally the king grew so angry that he could no longer control himself. “Now I want to go home with you,” said the king, “and see if it is true, that yours is a finer and more beautiful home. And if you are lying, then God help you! I say no more.”

“Well, you have put me in a situation,” said Per to the cat. “Now the king wants to come home with me, but my home is not good to find.”

“Oh, do not worry about that,” said the cat. “You just travel behind where I run before.”

So they travelled. First Per, who drove behind where the cat ran before, and then the king with all his.

When they had driven a good distance, they came to a great big flock of sheep that had wool so long that it almost reached the ground.

“If you will say that the flock of sheep belongs to Herre-Per, when the king asks you, then you shall have this silver spoon,” said the cat to the shepherd; she had taken the silver spoon from the king’s farm.

Yes, he would do so.

So when the king came, he said to the shepherd: “Well, I have never seen such a beautiful, big flock of sheep. Who owns it, my little boy?”

“It is certainly Herre-Per’s,” said the boy.

After a little while, they came to a great herd of striped cattle; they were so fat that they gleamed.

“If you say that the cattle belong to Herre-Per, when the king asks you, then you shall have this silver ladle,” said the cat to the herder girl—the silver ladle had she also taken from the king’s farm.

“Yes, of course,” said the herder girl.

When the king then came, he wondered at the great big cattle, for such beautiful cattle had he never seen before, he said. And so he asked the girl who was herding them, who owned the striped herd there.

“Oh, that is Herre-Per,” said the girl.

So they travelled a little farther, and then they came to a great, great string of horses; they were the most beautiful horses one might see, big and sleek, and six of each kind—both red and bay and blue.

“If you will say that the string of horses is Herre-Per’s, when the king asks you, then you shall have this silver stirring stick,” said the cat to the herder—she had also taken the stirring stick from the king’s farm.

Yes, he certainly would, said the boy.

So when the king came, he was simply in wonder at the large string of beautiful horses, for such horses had he never seen the like of, he said. He then asked the herder boy who the red and bay and blue horses belonged to.

“Oh, they are certainly Herre-Per’s,” said the boy.

When they had travelled a good distance more, they came to a castle. First there was a gate of brass, then one of silver, and then one of gold; the castle itself was of silver, and it gleamed so that it hurt one’s eyes, for the sun began to shine on it, the moment they arrived. There they went in, and there the cat said that Per should say he lived.

Inside the castle was even finer than the outside; everything was of gold, both chairs and tables and benches. When the king had now walked around and seen everything, both high and low, he grew full of shame.

“Yes, it is grander at Herre-Per’s than at mine; it can do no good to deny it,” he said. And then he wanted to leave again. But Per bade him stay to eat supper with him, and the king did so, but grim and grumpy was he the whole time.

While they sat at the table, the troll who owned the castle came knocking at the gate.

“Who is it who eats my food and drinks my mead like pigs in here?” cried the troll.

As soon as the cat heard him, she sprang out to the gate.

“Wait a little while and I will tell you how the farmer treats the winter crop,” said the cat. “First the farmer harrows his field,” she said, “then he manures it, and then he harrows it again.”

Suddenly the sun began to shine.

“Look around, and you shall see the gorgeous, beautiful maiden behind you!” said the cat to the troll.2

Then the troll turned around and saw the sun, and then it burst.

“Now all this is yours,” said the cat to Herre-Per. “And now you shall chop off my head; it is the only thing I require of you for what I have done for you.”

“No,” said Herre-Per, “that is something I will not do.”

“Well,” said the cat, “if you do not do it, then I will scratch out your eyes.”

Well, Herre-Per had to do it then, even though he did not want to. He chopped off the cat’s head.

Immediately she became the most gorgeous princess anyone could see with their eyes, and Herre-Per was completely taken with her.

“Yes, this glory has been mine before,” said the princess, “but the troll there had transformed me, so I had to be your parents’ cat. Now you may do with me what you will, if you will have me as queen or not; for now are you king over the whole kingdom,” said the princess.

Oh yes, it may well be that Herre-Per would have her as queen. So there was a wedding and a feast for eight days, and then I was Herre-Per and his queen no longer.


  1. Herre-Per: “Mr Per,” “Master Per,” or even “Sir Per” or “Lord Per.” No matter how I translate the name, I risk the imposition of societal structures from English-speaking countries upon Norwegian society. 

  2. Thomas Grønbukt has produced a beautiful illustration of this moment