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Thursday, 10 May 2018

A Note on “Prince Lindworm”

The last thing I want to do with this post is tread on people’s toes, put their backs up, or ruin anybody’s day. However, I do want to correct an error that is propagating on the Internet concerning the provenance of the Danish folktale with the English title “Prince Lindworm.” It is hardly surprising that people misattribute it, when World of Tales says it is a Norwegian folktale, from the collection of Asbjørnsen & Moe, or when TVTropes claims that it is “a 19th century Norwegian Fairy Tale,” or even when The Paris Review reproduces “[t]he version anthologized in the seminal Asbjornsen and Moe collection”. In fact, the error has also made it into the introduction to Kate Forsyth’s recent retelling of the tale as “A Bride for Me Before A Bride for You” in Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women (Serenity Press, 2017). (I highly recommend Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women, by the way—my daughter loves listening to the tales, and looking at the haunting illustrations by Lorena Carrington.)

It is a simple matter to verify that “Prince Lindworm” does not in fact come from Asbjørnsen & Moe; take a quick look at the table of contents.

Here is the second edition of Asbjørnsen & Moe (1852), considered the seminal edition.

And here are George Webbe Dasent’s books, first Popular Tales from the Norse (1859):


And then Tales from the Fjeld (1896):


Not a title in sight that even mentions a lindworm. In fact, the Norwegian tale “Lurvehette” (“Tatterhood” in both Dasent’s translation and mine) shares a number of motifs with the lindworm tale, but no worm or serpent appears.

No, “Prince Lindworm” is actually a Danish tale called “Kong Lindorm”, collected by N. Levinsen in 1854 from Maren Mathisdatter in Fureby by Løkken, and published in Axel Olrik’s Danske Sagn og Æventyr fra Folkemunde (1913), p. 21ff.

What the source is for the tale that people all over the Interwebs are claiming is a Norwegian folktale, I cannot divine.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for this clarification! I too was mystified by this supposed provenance, having trawled through A&M's collections and found nothing, in either Dasent's translations or the original Norwegian.

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  2. I'm grateful too,Simon,I was getting mystified by my inability to find it.

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  3. Would you happen to know who translated it into English? It appears in Kay Neilsen's 1920 'East of The Sun and West of of the Moon', which I suspect is why most folks think it's from Asbjornsen & Moe.

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  4. Actually I think I've found out why: the preface to Kay Neilsen's 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon' strongly implies Prince Lindworm belongs to the Asbjornsen & Moe canon (while adding that it alone has been newly translated for the volume; all the other translations being by Dasnent). And it says nothing at all about the tale being Danish. Can we assume Neilsen himself translated it, and slipped it in becuase he liked it?

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    1. I think it’s safe to say that either Nielsen or an uncredited translator engaged by George H. Doran Company is the earliest English source. I can find no record of Olrik having been translated before.

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