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Notes to Norwegian Folktales ❧ 5
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Per Gynt (Legends)

Legends of the hunter Per (Peer, Peter) Gynt from Kvam form the background of the play Peer Gynt (1867) by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. In the play, trolls serve as symbols of destructive instincts.

[The tale]

The Cat on the Dovre-Mountain - AT 1161, also ML 6015

In Asbjørnsen and Moe, the tale The Cat on the Dovrefjell, also known as The Trolls and the Pussycat, is presented both as a legend and a folk tale. They bring two slightly different versions. Asbjørnsen got the legend version from the fifteen year old boy Engebret Hougen in Sel. There are sixty-four variants of the story from various places in Norway, informs Ørnulf Hodne (1984:219-22) and also variants in several countries in northern Europe. Dr. Knut Liestøl believes the story has been told among pilgrims on journeys to and fro the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim (Bo et al, 1982:386).

The tale classified as a migratory legend (ML) in dr. Reidar Th. Christiansen's Catalogue of Migratory Legends, has the type number ML 6015.

Asbjørnsen got the folk tale version in Sel or Vågå. The folk tale version has got the AT number 1161, and is summed up thus:

A wayfarer with a (white) bear has a night's lodging with a farmer who is much troubled by ogres. When the ogres come and discover the bear, they think it is a cat and try to feed it. The bear gets angry and chases them all off. Later they ask the farmer whether he still has the big white cat. He answers that his cat now has many kittens. The ogres then say they will never come to that place again.

There are no polar bears on the Norwegian mainland, by the way. As for trolls, a saga tells that one local Norse king descended from a troll on Dovre Mountain -

[The tale]

Biting the Tree Root (Let Go of the Root, Catch the Fox-foot) - AT 5

The fox irritates the bear and is caught by the foot. The fox says: "Let go the spruce-root, and take the fox-foot." Thus he pretends that the bear has only a tree root in his mouth, so the bear lets go and releases the fox unwittingly.

[The tale]

The Crop Division (Bruin and Reynard as Partners) - AT 1030

The bear and the fox agree to divide the drop. The bear is made to chose the green top of root crops and the root of other crops (cabbage, grain, corn), and comes away empty-handed two years in a row.

The type is an ogre (devil) tale too, and documented in the early 1300s in Juan Manuel, El Conde Lucanor (No. 43).

[The tale]

The Fox Hangs Onto the Horse's Tail (Reynard wants to Taste Horse-flesh) - AT 47A

The bear fools the fox into hanging by his teeth to a horse's leg; he hangs on firmly and is soundly drubbed. A hare witnesses the event and laughs so hard that his lip splits.

[The tale]

The Bear on the Hay-Wagon (Bruin Goodfellow) - AT 116

A bear enters a horsedrawn sledge in the forest. The horse starts and the bear rides on and is mistaken for the priest, the bailiff, and others, and eventually rides to death.

[The tale]

The Three Old Men (The Father of the Family) - AT 726

A wayfarer asks for a night's lodging at a farm. He meets a very old man outside, but he is shown to his father, who has to decide, and so on up to the seventh generation, who is hanging in a horn on the wall.

[The tale]

Key in Flax Reveals Laziness (The Storehouse Key in the Disdaff) - AT 1453

A suitor puts a key into the flax which a seemingly-industrious young woman (according to her mother's or her own statement) is about to spin into thread. On a later day he finds the key still there, and thus knows that the woman is lazy. He did not return.

[The tale]

The Three Clever Wives Wager (Silly Men and Cunning Wives) - AT 1406

Two wives wager which can best fool her husband. One makes her husband think that he is dead, the other makes hers believe that he has invisible clothes. The 'dead' man in the coffin revives when he sees the other man walking naked at his funeral. In this way it comes out how the women had tricked their husbands.

Documented in the Middle Ages, such as in Des trois dames qui trouverent l'anel (two versions).

[The tale]

The Twins or Blood Brothers (Shortshanks) - AT 303

A woman gives birth to supernatural twins. The twins agree on a danger signal when one of them is in mortal danger and needs help. One of them rescues a princess from a troll, but another person (Red Knight) claims to be the rescuer. At the wedding the impostor is exposed by proof. The hero next goes to sea to rescue the sister of the princess, and after he has succeeded in that, he has two of them to choose among unless he marries both of them. In his dilemma he calls on his twin brother, and they marry a sister each.

[The tale]

The Substitute for the Clergyman Answers the King's Questions (The Priest and the Clerk) - AT 922

The type is also called "The king and the abbot". A king commands a bragging priest to appear before him and answer three questions correctly if he wants to keep his office. The priest is not good at answering questions, and therefore sends another person in his place, and he answers the questions so intelligently that he is rewarded with the priest's position.

Many of the questions require measuring (counting) something that cannot be measured or counted. A few questions that are not included in this variant, are: "How many seconds are there in eternity?" "How far is it from fortune to misfortune?"

The type is probably of Jewish origin. There are Arab sources from the 800s. Its first European literary treatment was in the 1200s.

[The tale]


Norwegian folktales, Norway fairy tales, Asbjørnsen and Moe folktale and fairy tales notes, litteratur

Asbjørnsen, Peter Christen. Fairy Tales from the Far North.. Tr. Hans Lien Brækstad. New York: A. L. Burt, 1897. ⍽▢⍽ Forty tales.

Asbjørnsen, Peter, og Jørgen Moe. Samlede eventyr, bd 1-3. Oslo: Kunstnerutgaven, Gyldendal, 1965.

Ashliman, D. A Guide to Folktales in the English Language. New York: Greenwood, 1987.

Bø, Olav, et al, eds. Norske eventyr (Norwegian Fairy Tales). Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 1982.

Dasent, George Webbe, tr. Asbjørnsen, Peter Christen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe. East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1921. ⍽▢⍽ Fifty-nine tales of a total of about one hundred and thirty in all by Asbjørnsen and Moe. Dasent's Tales from the Fjeld contains fifty-two more.

Dasent, George Webbe, tr. Tales from the Fjeld: A Second Series of Popular Tales, from the Norse of P. Chr. Asbjørnsen. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874. ⍽▢⍽ Fifty-two more Norwegian tales.

Gade, Helen and John, trs. Norwegian Fairy Tales: From the Collection of Asbjörnsen and Moe. New York: London: Humphrey Milford, 1924. ⍽▢⍽ Thirty-three tales.

Hodne, Ørnulf: The Types of the Norwegian Folktale. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1984.

Stroebe, Clara, ed. The Norwegian Fairy Book. Tr. Frederick Herman Martens. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1922. ⍽▢⍽ Thirty-seven tales.

Uther, Hans-Jörg. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004.

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