Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Little Lucy Goosegirl

First the tale, and then the note.

Little Lucy Goosegirl

Once upon a time there was a king who had so many geese that he had to have a girl just to herd them; her name was Lucy, and so they called her Lucy Goosegirl.

Now, there was a king’s son from Engeland who should go out a-courting; Lucy stood in his way.

“Do you sit there, little Lucy?” said the king’s son.

“Yes, here I sit and patch upon patch, scrap upon scrap. I await the king’s son from Engeland today,” said little Lucy.

“Him you cannot expect to have,” said the prince.

“Yes. If I am to have him, then have him I shall,” said little Lucy.

Now, painters were sent to all countries and kingdoms, to paint portraits of the most beautiful princesses; these the prince would have to choose between. He liked one of them so much that he travelled after her, and would marry her, and he was both glad and content when he had made her his sweetheart. But the prince had a stone with him, which he laid before his bed, and it knew all things.

When the princess came, then Lucy Goosegirl said to her that if she had ever had a sweetheart before, or if she knew of something she did not want the prince to know, then she should not climb over the stone he had before his bed, “for it will tell him all things about you,” she said. When the princess heard this, he was sorrowful, don’t you know; but then she decided to ask Lucy to go to bed with the prince in her stead in the evening, and when he had fallen asleep, they would swap places again, so that he had the right one with him, come the light of morning.

This they did.

When Lucy Goosegirl came and trod upon the stone, then the prince asked: “Who is it who climbs into my bed?”

“Maiden pure and true,” said the stone, and so they lay down to sleep; but as the night drew on, the princess came and lay down in Lucy’s stead.

In the morning, when they should arise, the prince asked the stone: “Who is it who climbs out of my bed?”

“One who has had three sweethearts,” said the stone. When the prince heard this, he would not have her, that you may be sure of, and so he sent her home again, and took another sweetheart instead.

When he should visit her, Lucy Goosegirl sat in the way before him again.

“Do you sit here, little Lucy Goosegirl?” said the prince.

“Yes, here I sit and patch upon patch, scrap upon scrap, for I await the king’s son from Engeland today,” said Lucy.

“Oh, him you cannot expect to have,” said the prince.

“Yes. If I am to have him, then have him I shall,” said Lucy.

Things went the same way with this princess as with the first; when she got up in the morning, the stone said that she had had six, and so the prince did not want her either, and chased her on her way. But still once more he thought he would try to find one who was pure and true. He searched then far and wide again, and in many countries, until he found one he might like. But when he should go to her, then Lucy Goosegirl sat herself in his way again.

“Do you sit there, little Lucy Goosegirl?” said the prince.

“Yes, here I sit and patch upon patch, scrap upon scrap, for I await the king’s son from Engeland today,” said Lucy.

“Him you cannot expect to have,” said the prince.

“Oh yes. If I am to have him, then have him I shall,” said Lucy.

When the princess came, then Lucy Goosegirl told her the same as she had told the other two, that if she had had another sweetheart, or there was something else that she did not want the prince to know, then she must not tread on the stone that the prince had before his bed, “for it tells him all things,” she said. The princess grew uncomfortable when she heard this; but she was just as bad as the other two, and asked Lucy if she would go in her stead, and go to bed with the prince in the evening, and when he had fallen asleep, they would swap places, so that he had the right one with him, come the light of morning.

This they did.

When little Lucy came and trod upon the stone, then the prince asked: “Who is it who climbs into my bed?”

“Maiden pure and true,” said the stone; and they lay down to sleep.

In the night, the prince placed a ring on Lucy’s finger, and it was so tight that she could not get it off again; for the prince understood that things had not gone right, and said that he wanted a mark by which he might recognise she who was the right one.

When the prince had fallen asleep, the princess came and chased Lucy down to the goose track again, and lay herself down in her stead.

In the morning, when they shoud arise, the prince asked: “Who is it who climbs out of my bed?”

“One who has had nine,” said the stone; and when the prince heard this, he grew so angry that he chased her away that very hour. Then he asked the stone how this could happen with these princesses who had stood upon the stone, for he could not understand it, he said. The stone then told him of how it had come to pass that they had fooled him by sending Lucy Goosegirl in their stead. The prince wanted to know about this; he went down to her where she sat tending the geese, for he wanted to see if she also had the ring; if she has it, then it would be best to take her as my queen, he thought.

When he came down, he saw immediately that she had bound a rag around one of her fingers, and so he asked why she had done so.

“Oh, I have cut myself so badly,” said little Lucy Goosegirl. Then he wanted to see the finger, but Lucy would not take off the rag. So the prince took hold of her finger, but Lucy tried to take it away again, and then the rag came away, and he recognised his ring.

So he took her to the king’s farm and gave her such finery and costly clothes, and then they held a wedding; and in this manner little Lucy Goosegirl won the king’s son of Engeland withal, for of course, she should have him.

Note

The original title of this text is “Vesle Åse Gåsepike.” I have retained the internal rhyme of the original by changing the girl’s name from Åse to Lucy. This also gives the happy side effect of causing the first two words to alliterate.

The first translator of Asbjørnsen & Moe, George Webbe Dasent obviously struggled with the text as it was recorded. First of all, he changed the title to “Little Annie the Goose-Girl” for a reason I cannot fathom. Why Annie? And why add “the” when the original makes goosegirl her byname?

Secondly, and this I consider unforgivable, Dasent changed the contents of the tale itself. Instead of the princesses having had three, six, or nine sweethearts previously, he gave them as many children each. Again, the reasoning behind such a decision escapes me—the only explanation I can think of is that it might distance the reader from the idea that these girls are sexually active (shock, horror!). However, all the climbing in and out of bed would tend to suggest illicit sex, anyway. Dasent certainly recognised the indecency of this tale, recommending in his introduction that it, along with the equally immoral “Paul Nextdoor,” not be read to or by children.

The changes that Dasent made to this tale, together with Asbjørnsen’s subsequent praise of the English publication, add to the evidence that Asbjørnsen knew little English. Having repeatedly borrowed the Grimms’ German translation of Thomas Crofton Croker’s Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, instead of the original, Asbjørnsen went on to endorse Dasent’s Popular Tales from the Norse:

The English translation, by George Webbe Dasent, is the best and happiest rendering of our tales that has appeared.

Perhaps I should note, though, that Dasent’s translation was, at the time, the only English translation available.

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