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  1. Bukolla
  2. The Merman


Once on a time a peasant and his wife lived with their son in a little farmhouse. Their only livestock was a cow called Bukolla.

The cow calved, and the peasant's wife herself sat up with it. As soon as the cow had recovered, the wife went back to the farmhouse. She came out again shortly afterwards to see how the cow was, but it had disappeared. Both the peasant and his wife started to hunt for the cow; they searched far and wide for a long time, but without success. They were very cross and ordered their son to go off and not to let them set eyes on him again till he came back with the cow. They fitted him out with new shoes and a store of provisions, and he set off without much idea of where to go.

After walking for a long, long time, he sat down to eat, and said, "Bukolla, moo now if you are alive anywhere." Then he heard Bukolla mooing far, far away.

Again he walked for a long, long time, and again he sat down to eat and said, 'Bukolla, moo now if you are alive anywhere." Then he heard Bukolla moo a little closer than before.

Once more he walked for a long, long time, till he came to the top of a very high cliff. Once more he sat down to eat and said, "Bukolla, moo now if you are alive anywhere." This time he heard the cow moo right underneath him. He climbed down the cliff till he came to a very big cave. He went inside the cave and there he found Bukolla tied to a beam. Untying her, he led her out behind him and set off for home.

When he had gone some distance, he saw an enormous giantess coming after him, and a smaller one with her. The big giantess was taking such long strides that he could tell that she would catch up with him in no time. So he asked, "What are we to do now, Bukolla?'

Bukolla answered, "Take a hair out of my tail and lay it on the ground."

He did so; then Bukolla said to the hair, "Moo, I now declare: turn into a river so great that nothing can cross it but a bird on the wing." At once the hair turned into a vast river.

When the giantess came to the river she said, "That's not going to help you, my lad. Dash home, lass, and fetch my father's big bull." The smaller giantess went off and came back with a huge bull, which promptly drank up the whole river.

Then the peasant's son again saw that the giantess would catch up with him directly, because she took such big strides. So again he asked, "What are we to do now, Bukolla?'

"Take a hair out of my tail and lay it on the ground," Bukolla replied. And when he had done so, Bukolla said to the hair, "Moo, I declare: turn into a blaze so fierce that none can get over it but a bird on the wing." And at once the hair turned into a blaze of fire.

When the giantess came to the fire she said, "That's not going to help you, my lad. Go and fetch my father's big bull, lass." The smaller giantess again went off and came back with the bull, which put out the fire with all the water he had drunk out of the river.

The peasant's son now saw once more that the giantess would soon catch him up, because she took such long strides. So once more he asked, "What are we to do now, Bukolla?" and once more Bukolla replied, "Take a hair out of my tail and lay it on the ground." Then Bukolla said to the hair, "Moo, I say: turn into a mountain so big that no one can cross it but a bird on the wing."

The hair turned into a mountain so high that the peasant's son could see nothing over it except clear sky.

When the giantess came to the mountain, she said, 'That's not going to help you, my lad. Fetch my father's big gimlet, my lass!" The smaller giantess went away and came back with the gimlet. The big giantess then bored a hole in the mountain, but once she was able to see through it she became too impatient. She squeezed herself into the hole, but it was too narrow, so that she stuck fast and finally turned to stone, and there she remains to this day.

The peasant's son reached home safely with Bukolla, -and his parents were overjoyed.

A widespread folk-lore theme: A chase and magic objects thrown on the ground to hinder a pursuer. Variants are known in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The type of tale is termed "The Magic Flight" and given the ATU number 313. (See Uther 2004, Vol. 1)


The Merman

Long ago a farmer lived at Vogar. He was a mighty fisherman - of all the farmers round about, not one was so good at fishing as he.

One day he went out fishing as his custom was, and cast down his line from the boat. He waited for a while, and then found his line was very hard to pull up again, as if there were something heavy at the end of it. Then he found out he had caught a creature with a man's head and body and the tail of a dolphin. When he saw that the creature was alive, he said, "Who are you, and where do you come from?"

"A merman from the bottom of the sea," was the reply.

The farmer then asked him what he had been doing when the hook caught his flesh.

The other replied, "I was turning the cowl of my mother's chimneypot to suit it to the wind down there. So let me go again, will you?"

"Not for the present," said the fisherman. "You shall serve me for a while first."

Without more words he dragged him into the boat and rowed to shore with him.

When they got to the boat-house, the fisherman's dog came to hint and greeted him joyfully, barking and fawning on him, and wagging his tail. But the man was not in a good mood, and struck the poor animal. Then the merman laughed, as if he knew something.

Having fastened the boat, the man went towards his house, dragging his prize with him, over the fields. On his way the man stumbled over a hillock in his way, and swore. Now the the merman laughed for the second time.

When the fisherman came to the farm, his wife came out to receive him. She embraced him affectionately and he received her salutations with pleasure. The merman laughed for the third time.

Then said the farmer to the merman, "You have laughed three times, and I am curious to know why. Do tell me."

"I will not," replied the merman, "unless you promise to take me to the same place in the sea that you caught me from, and to let me go free again there." The farmer promised.

"Well," said the merman, "I laughed because you could not handle things in your way too well. First i laughed at your folly when you felt bothered by and even kicked your dog when he was really and sincerely happy at meeting you. The second time, because you cursed the mound where you stumbled, for it full of golden ducats. And the third time, because you received with pleasure your wife's empty and flattering embrace, for she is faithless to you, and a hypocrite. And now be an honest man and take me out to the sea from where you have brought me.'

The farmer considered and replied: "You were right about the dog meeting. I was dumb. As for my wife, I have no means right now of proving how faithful she is. But the third thing I can and will try the truth of, and if the hillock contains gold, then I may come to believe all you have said."

So he went to the hillock and dug up a great treasure of golden ducats, as the merman had told him. After this the farmer took the merman down to the boat, and to that place in the sea from where he had caught him. Before the man put him in, the merman said to him:

"Farmer, you have been honest, and I will reward you for restoring me to my mother, if only you have skill enough to take possession of property that I shall throw in your way. Be happy and prosper."

Then the farmer put the merman into the sea, and he sank out of sight.

Not long after, seven sea-grey cows were seen on the beach, close to the farmer's land. These cows appeared to be very unruly, and ran away as soon as the farmer approached them. So he took a stick and ran after them, having the idea that if he could burst the bladder which he saw on the nose of each of them, they would belong to him. He managed to hit out the bladder on the nose of one cow. Then it became so tame that he could easily catch it. But the others leaped into the sea and disappeared. The farmer was convinced that this was the gift of the merman. And a very useful gift it was, for better cow was never seen nor milked in all the land, and she was the mother of the race of grey cows so much esteemed now.

The farmer prospered exceedingly, but never caught any more merman. As for his wife, nothing further is told about her, so we can repeat nothing.


Icelandic folk tales, legends of Iceland, Literature  

Hans-Jörg Uther. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vol. 1. FF Communications No. 284, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004.

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