Folktales on Being Served by Animals
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You may want to understand fairy tales really are about at bottom. Here is a helping hand. In the twenty-four tales that are summed up below, being served by animals plays a big part of the action, and thus may be called central to the plot (action) in any of the tales.
Hence, being assisted by medicine, animals, and good tools are topics that lie embedded in many of the most well-known Norwegian folk tales. And how would mankind have fared without medicine, animals, and equipment? Many tales serve to socialise children into accepting and establishing that domestic animals can be used big time and slaughtered after their services, and so on. There is a strain of cruelty in such schemes. And is it really to an animal's advantage to be ridden and used by humans? That is another question.
As with the previous and next page, The tales referred to on this page are described briefly in various versions and adaptations of the International Folktale Catalogue by Ørnulf Hodne [Tyno] and Ashliman [Agha], Aarne and Thomson [Ttf], and Hans-Jörg Uther [Ti]. Uther's work is best. You will find the titles and classification numbers of the tales in them, and described with nuances that differ slightly too. That hardly matters. I have added a few comments for the sake of indicating many practical uses of folk tales. The presentation is pragmatic.
Help by animals form part of the plots of many fairy tales
Why did ancients, old Norse people, and Norwegians (and Danes, Fins, and Swedes, etc.) tell tales about being helped by gentle animals?
They wanted help from animals, they enforced their ways and plans on many animals, and learnt to make use of animals and live in close contact with them too. Most people on our altitudes survive through "helping animals" that in the end get slaughtered, when they have "served their turn" - just as in many fairy tales. Many tales tell us between the lines how to treat animals, then, they tend to help in socialising young ones. At first it is a friendly contact where the animal helps a lot, whether it is ploughing, transporting people, or scaring off unwelcome visitors. Farm dogs may be for that - too. But finally the time has come to make do without the animal - it is not as long-lived as humans. And so we may ascertain that many tales give nudges about old attitudes about how to treat animals: Be friends first, get helped a lot, and then discard them - it is a part of the plot of many tales where animals are helpers.
In earlier times people lived much closer to farm animals than today, where most people live in urban settings (cities, towns and villages), walk the dog and pick up strongly smelling things that come out of its rear - where many people feel lonely, isolated, and miss good company. But some are happy owners of cats - Nowadays many citizens are thankful for the company of pets, and some even bury them in pet churchyards - as if that helps the animals. "Give me a flower when I'm alive rather than when I'm dead" contains a lesson for that. Give pussy a hug before it is too late.
In earlier times farm people depended on animals more directly and acutely than in the modern, much more alienated society. To have a cow that gave milk, was a great help.
Even in Viking times animals were great helpers and tended to by Norse gods. Many a god had helping animals. How could Thor have travelled across the sky if he did not have had two goats to pull his wagon (or pull his trick)? How could Freya have travelled about if two (remarkably strong and willing) cats had not pulled the wagon? The point is: Even in Norse times people envisioned help from animals, even gods had such (remark)able helpers.
In former times some animals got an undeserved bad reputation due to gross superstitions. Gentle goats, too, for example. The superstitions differed from country to country, though. Suffice to say that in England it is good luck if a black cat crosses the road in front of you. It is good luck for the cat too if he makes it across the road and is not run over. (Source: Den lille overtro).
In many fables and animal tales the animals speak and teach one another - they instruct us through that. We have not included such animal tales here because they are so many. Our focus has been miracle tales, wonder tales, and then we have added the other tales where animals are helpers in the chain of action (plot). The overarching point is that animals in very many tales have helped humans conduct themselves.
RESUME: A boy with three dogs kills a monster (sea-troll, ogre, dragon) that a king has promised his daughter to. Another man (Riddar Raud) claims to be her rescuer and wins the princess. By means of the dogs the hero gains admittance to the wedding table, produces his proofs (a ring, comb, the dragon's tongue) and is recognized. The false hero is punished.
RESUME: A boy helps some animals to divide a meal in a fair manner, and is rewarded with the ability to transform himself into their shapes. He finds a bewitched princess in a mountain, and she tricks the ogre into revealing his life-secret (where his heart is, how he can be killed etc.). The boy finds the hiding-place by means of his supernatural powers/animal helpers, and kills the ogre in the prescribed manner.
RESUME: A boy is seeking his sister, who is captured by a troll. In company with many animals he reaches the ogre's/witch's house. Instead of scratching the troll, the animals tear it to pieces. Some variants begin with a daughter who goes into the forest to look for her father's jacket.
RESUME: A boy becomes a servant in a devil's/ogre's house, and is forbidden to enter certain chambers. The boy disobeys and discovers curious things: a stick, a bottle of water, a stone, etc. In the last chamber he finds a magic horse/donkey, which helps him to flee. The devil pursues them, but as he approaches the boy throws the magic objects behind him. They become obstacles and stop the devil. The boy covers his golden hair with a wig, saying he has a scald head, and takes service at a king's court as a gardener. The princess falls in love with him, and they are punished. With the magic horse's help he displays his prowess in battle to the king, but remains unknown until after the third day. He marries the princess, the horse begs to be decapitated, and is transformed into a prince.
RESUME: A poor boy finds a caterpillar on his parents' grave and feeds it. It grows to become an ox, which carries him out into the world. They come to woods with leaves of brass, silver, and gold, and at each place the ox must fight against an ogre because the youth breaks a taboo against touching. Finally the ox wants to be killed, and is transformed to a prince. The youth marries his sister and divides the kingdom with him.
RESUME: Three brothers are one after another sent to guard a barn/meadow which is devastated at night by a monster. The elder brothers are frightened away, but the youngest succeeds and secures horses and armour. By means of them he rides up incognito and brings down golden apples/chains from a princess, installed on the top of a (glass-)mountain. All the suitors are summoned, but only the hero can verify that he is the winner. He marries the princess.
RESUME: The hero obtains/inherits a supernatural horse. He is in service at a king's court, where envious fellow-servants are falsely asserting that he can rescue the princess. He succeeds, assisted by the horse. To win the princess he is, however, assigned new dangerous tasks, e.g. to remove a mountain for the king and fetch from hell a magic horse like his own. On the way he saves himself by throwing his supply of meat to the animals that try to stop him, and captures the magic horse assisted by his own, which fights against the other. Then the hero and the princess compete in transforming and hiding themselves from each other, and he wins. Finally he obtains her, and the magic horse changes himself into a prince.
RESUME: The youngest of three brothers inherits a cat, which becomes his true helper. It catches and sends various fine animals as gifts to a king's court, dresses up the boy and introduces him to the king. It forbids him to be impressed, and the king is provoked into visiting the boy's palace. The cat goes ahead and has herdsmen say that they are working for his master. It goes to a giant's castle and through trickery kills the giant and takes possession of it for his master. Then the cat's head is cut off and it becomes a prince/princess.
RESUME: A golden bird (which steals apples from the king's orchard at night) drops a feather, and three brothers/sons of the king go on a quest for the bird. The two elder remain in an inn, the youngest goes further in company with an animal (fox, wolf), which he has helped. He reaches the tree/the cage of the golden bird, but breaks some taboos and must undertake further quests. The fox helps him and tricks the pursuing ogres by transforming or disguising itself. When he meets his brothers again, they rob him of the bird, horse and maiden he brings back, and try to kill him. But he is helped and has his gains restored by his animal helper. The fox/wolf is decapitated and becomes a prince. The hero marries the maiden, and the evil brothers are punished.
RESUME: An old king has heard about the land/book of youth, and sends out his sons to find it. The two elder stop at an inn, the youngest is helped to the goal by a witch, whale, bird, horse, etc., and finds the elixir of life in a distant castle. On his way home he makes his old helpers young again. The brothers rob him and present themselves as true heroes. The swindle is cleared up when the princess in the land of youth arrives to marry the prince she has fallen in love with/to search for the father of her child.
RESUME: A bankrupt man promises his daughters in marriage in return for money to three animals, which sometimes are human beings. Their brother goes in search of them and is recognized. The animals help him to free a princess from an ogre.
RESUME: A poor boy going on a quest for a princess rescues on his way many animals (ducks, flies, mole, mouse, etc.), and in gratitude they help him to win the princess by performing various difficult tasks: choosing her from others identically dad, building a magic palace, bringing a ring from the bottom of the sea, etc.
RESUME: A youth gets in exchange a magic mouse and a flea, which do all he commands. He proposes in vain to a proud princess. By means of the animals he makes his rich rival behave in such a way in the bridal bed that the princess chooses him instead.
RESUME: A boy with magic objects he has obtained/inherited (a self-filling purse, wishing hat, horn that furnishes soldiers) wishes himself a princess/ proposes to her. She steals the objects from him and disappears. He finds and eats an apple that causes horns to grow on his head, or gives him a long nose. Later he finds another that removes them. He returns to the court and succeeds in causing the princess to eat the first apple. In payment for curing her he receives back the magic objects.
RESUME: A poor girl sacrifices her blood to defend a kitten she is fond of, and thus she rescues a bewitched princess. In the same way the princess restores her brother in the shape of a bear to human shape by smearing blood from her thumb on the face of the bear.
RESUME: A shepherd boy and a bear become good friends. The boy obeys the bear in all things. Finally it is transformed into a fine girl. The boy marries her.
RESUME: An evil stepmother tricks her stepson to a desolate island and buries him alive. The boy is rescued by the same white-bear he once released from a trap. The bear brings him back and kills the stepmother. Finally the boy must slay it, and it is transformed into a prince.
RESUME: 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 it now has many kittens. The ogres then promise never to come again.
RESUME: A poor lad goes abroad on a merchant's ship accompanied by a cat he has inherited, or has got in exchange for his only property: a righteous coin (a 'fourpenny'). They arrive in a mouse-infested land where cats are unknown, and he sells it three times for a fortune. When the merchant claims all the money for himself, they get into trouble, and he must promise the boy the whole profit. They return and the hero marries the merchant's daughter.
RESUME: An exiled queen has a calf as her only company. She carries it up and down the stairs every day until it is fully grown. Then she has become so strong that the king shows her mercy.
RESUME: A man gives his son to a magician/troll to be taught. He keeps the boy, and the father sets out to find him. Three old women act as guides, and by means of a great bird (eagle) he sets free his son, who is transformed to an animal. They escape the magician by throwing behind them magic objects in their flight. The son transforms himself to an animal (horse, ox), and begs the father to sell him to the magician without a halter. The third time the father forgets this, but the boy nevertheless gets rid of the halter and overcomes the magician in a transformation competition.
RESUME: A boy sets out in the world to learn what fear is. He tries various frightful experiences without becoming afraid: he plays cards with the devil, files the devil's nails, stays among the dead in the churchyard, under a gallows in a ghost-chamber, etc. He learns what fear is when cold water is thrown on him or eels are put down his back while he is asleep.
RESUME: A beggar-boy gets a bean from a witch in exchange for a lump of gold. He cultivates the bean so that it grows into a lofty tree, which he climbs up straight to heaven. From there he steals a hen that lays golden eggs, a willow-shrub, and a magic harp, which tells him what to do. Finally he cuts down the tree so that the witch falls down and is fatally injured. The harp is transformed to a princess.
AT- PLANT: The man who wanted to hang himself on Wednesday evening (Mannen som ville henge seg på onsdagskvelden)
RESUME: A ruined peasant tries to hang himself from the old oak on the farm, but the branch breaks on three successive Wednesday evenings. The last time the oak tells him that it hides a money-box guarded by a dragon, and explains how the man can get hold of it. He gets the box and regains his wealth.
24 Norwegian Fairy Tale Types Containing Animal Helpers - Norwegian Titles
But I would not count on it.
Agha: Ashliman, D. A Guide to Folktales in the English Language. New York: Greenwood, 1987.
Ti: 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.
Tm: Evans-Wentz, Walter Yeeling, ed. Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Ttf: Aarne, Antti. The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography. Translated and Enlarged by Stith Thompson. 2nd rev. ed. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia / FF Communications, 1961.
Tyno: Hodne, Ørnulf. The Types of the Norwegian Folktale. Bergen:
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