|Beowulf slays Grendel, another famous|
Northern European ogre.
From Rumsford, J. B. Beowulf, Retold.
Note: Contains violence. Once upon a time, in Iceland, "in the days of yore, a king named Mani governed a certain realm. He had by his queen a daughter called Mjadveig, who was distinguished in all of the accomplishments that became a lady of her rank. " As Mjadveig grew to become a woman, her father had a luxurious tower built for her, and there she lived. "But it happened that the queen, her mother, fell sick and died." Such was the lamentation of the king that he refused to emerge from his bed chamber for many days. At last his ministers advised him that he must remarry, as this was the only way to restore his happiness. So they left the king, to begin the search for a new bride. "But at sea they were overcome by a strange fog, and lost their way, and knew not where they were nor whither to go. At last, they saw land and steered their ships thither." When they landed, they searched high and low for houses or humans, but found none. However, they did hear "harp playing so fine that they had heard nothing like it before, either in beauty or strangeness." By following the sound, they soon reached its source: a silken tent, in which sat a woman, with a girl by her side. "When the lady saw the men, she was so startled that she dropped her harp and fell into a swoon." When she recovered, they told her of their king, and how his wife had been taken from him before her time. She, in turn, told them of her husband, who had been killed by invaders. She herself had fled here to escape the same soldiers, or so she told them. And now the ministers told her that they would make her queen again, and bring her home with them. At first she did not agree, but soon, "she yielded, and embarked with them, and a fair wind they had to the realm of King Mani." The townsfolk came out to see the ship put in, and when the king caught a glimpse of his new bride, "all of his sorrows were gone". The wedding was held immediately, and the celebrations lasted for fourteen days. "Now the story turns to Mjadveig, the daughter of Mani." One day, her new stepmother asked her go walking in the woods with her own daughter, and herself. When Mjadveig agreed, they led her into the forest. There, the stepmother desired to see whether the two girls might share the same dress size, and so convinced them to switch clothing. Yet no sooner had she put on the other girl's dress than the queen said, "Now do I put that charm on you, that my daughter shall so have Mjadveig's face, and look, and mien, so that no one may be able to tell them apart." As she spoke her own daughter took on the look, and the walk and the mannerisms of King Mani's daughter. "Then, the queen and her daughter bound Mjadveig hand and foot, and left her lying helpless on the ground." When they got back to the castle, everyone noticed that Mjadveig, who looked and acted much as usual, seemed to be in a foul mood. Of course, this was really the stepdaughter, only made to look like the other. Mjadveig lay in the forest, and struggled until she was exhausted, then fell asleep. In her dreams, her mother came to her. She untied the ropes that held her, and gave her a napkin, which, she said, would always provide Mjadveig with food, so long as the girl left a crumb inside when she folded it. And when the girl awoke, she found that this had been no dream. She was free, and had means of feeding herself. But the wicked stepmother divined that the girl still lived, and now sent her daughter to finish her off. When her stepsister found her in the forest, the girl said, "My mother did ill in betraying you. I will share this exile with you, and we will share one and the same fate." Little did King Mani's daughter like this speech, for she suspected a trip. Soon, she was proved right. When evening came and the girls lay down to sleep, Mjadveig waited until she thought the other unaware. Then she took out her magic napkin to eat. And that is when the false sister jumped up and snatched it! She ran away then, leaving Mjadveig, once again, alone and hungry in the woods. At last, knowing not what else to do, she slept. In her dreams, her mother visited her once more. Now she said, "You have acted foolishly, but what is done cannot be undone. Go straight down to the shore of the sea. There you will find a tongue of land that stretches out into the waves. On this tongue of land, you will find a small house, locked, but with the key in the lock. Go three times forwards and three times backwards around the house, touching the key each time you pass by. If you do this, the house will open at the last touch of the key. There you shall dwell, and you shall not find your stay weary for: Three cuckoos sing, three onions spring, there wethers shed their covering."And this Mjadveig did, and all was as had been foretold, and the girl lived in the little house quite happily for some time. One day, she spied a flotilla of ships coming in to shore, and was so frightened by the sight that she ran away. This is how "one of her shoes got loose, and she lost it, and this shoe of hers was gold." As it turned out, aboard the ship was a prince, coming to "woo Mjadveig, the daughter of King Mani, to wife." As soon as he set foot on shore, however, he "found the delicate golden shoe, and he made a vow only to marry any lady but that one whom the golden shoe should fit." So the false queen asked to see the shoe, and when she had, said, "Oh, I know that shoe very well. It was lost by Mjadveig, my daughter, when she was out walking." So she took her own enchanted daughter, and the shoe, "to a room apart", so that she could try it on. With one look at shoe and foot together, the woman knew that the cause was lost. The foot was twice the size of the shoe! So the queen "cut her daughter's heel and toes off, and so she managed to get the shoe on." The girl, though in great pain, put on her "finest attire" and went out to meet the prince. The young man was fooled, and took the false Mjadveig, in the bloody shoe, aboard his vessel. He set sail with her for home, promising to return and host a feast. But as he sailed by the little house, where lived the true Mjadveig, "he heard a great sound of birds chirping together, and, being himself a good scholar in the language of birds" he listened closely. They were singing,"Heel-chopped-off sits in the stern, and full of blood is her shoe. Here, on the sea-side, does Mjadveig abide, a far better bride to woo. Turn back then, king's son, o turn!' At first, he would not believe this bird chatter, but then the prince took a spell-dissolving plate and put it upon his bride's shoulders." That's when she turned into a "huge and ugly troll", so he killed her, then "salted her down, the flesh filling at least twelve barrels". Then he went back to the tongue of land, and went to the little house. He asked the birds if they knew how to unlock the door, and they did. He followed their instructions, and was rewarded with the company of the delightful young lady locked inside. As soon as he enetered the hosue, he "took forth the shoe and found that not only did it fit Mjadveig's foot, but that she had another golden shoe to match." When she told him that she was the real Mjadveig, he rejoiced! Those two were already bound to be married, and now that the troll-girl had been removed, they would go and tell King Mani. But first, he gave orders that his fleet of ships sail around the hillside, so that they could not be seen from the cove. Then he invited Mjadveig's father and stepmother to a feast onboard his personal ship. But once on board, the troll-queen retired to her chamber, and refused all food. Now the prince went to her and discreetly asked her trouble. "My health is so poor, I can never eat at the usual meal hours. I would appreciate it if you can get me some meat." When the prince told her that he knew of some salted meat, but that it was raw, she smiled, and asked that he bring it to her. "Now, the truth was that whenever the queen ate, she would change into the most hideous of trolls. She ate a barrel of meat on the first eleven days. On the twelfth day, the prince took Mani and showed him the cannibal in her fiendish feast. When the king learned that he had been charmed by trolls, he was astonished beyond telling. They set fire to that ship so that the troll queen found a speedy end." And the prince and Mjadveig married, and a feast was held. Before twelve months had passed, she was "delivered of a male child". Yet the very next day, as Queen Mjadveig was in her bath, she found that the soap had gone missing. She sent a servant to fetch some, but it was not the same who returned. In her place was one who spoke soft words, and charmed the good queen into giving up her gown in exchange for that of the stranger. And now the enchantment deepened, and again one who was not Mjadveig took the place of one who was. The real one disappeared. By chance, a shepherd was walking along the shore, and he saw "a glass chamber rise up to the top of the wave, and inside it was a woman who looked exactly like Queen Mjadveig. Looped around the glass chamber was an iron chain, and the end of the chain was held by a horrid giant." After some minutes, this ogre once more lowered the glass ball into the waves. The shepherd walked on, and soon came to a place where a brook trickled past, and a child approached it for water. He "gave the child a gold ring. The child took the ring and disappeared into a rock that stood nearby." And then a dwarf stood before him, offering him the granting of one wish in exchange for his generosity. So the shepherd wished that he knew who the lady in the glass ball was, and the dwarf told it that was the real Queen Mjadveig. Her captor was the brother of the false queen left in her place. The dwarf told him that he had also given this good lady a wish, and that she had chosen to be able to be brought to shore four times, so that, if anyone were near, she could be rescued. He was just about to bring her in for the last time. He gave the shepherd a magical ax, that would instantly cut through the chain that held the glass ball. So, when the ogre came to shore, the man was ready. He chopped the chain, and the glass bauble floated free. But the ogre stormed ashore, ready to kill the man that had cut his chain. The dwarf was ready this time, and drew out a small bag and threw its contents into the face of the giant. This creature was blinded then, and and toppled into the sea. And now the shepherd released Mjadveig. They went straight to the palace. When they told him what had happened, the king placed the enchantment breaking plate on the shoulders of the false queen, and she "turned into an ugly giantess, who confessed what she had done." She was put to death. Then the King rewarded the good shepherd with "wealth, and title, and a goodly share of the realm to rule over." The joy that enveloped all the court was of the sweetest kind. And: Cuckoos will sing, onions would spring, and wethers would shed their covering. And the baby prince, as he lay in his cradle kept peace, both night and day." From Sierra, J. The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series: Cinderella
Notes: I love the ending, and the image of a "baby prince"! A cradle lined with velvet of course, for that precious one. This is a long, strange story, and an ancient one. The trolls are the lowest humanoid form, illustrating here the archetypal caveman/cavewoman kind of being. These are bad trolls, dumb and mean and with terrible personal habits. It is a good reminder that not all magic is fun, and not all spells delightful. Note to kings seeking queens: Beware following haunting music on islands, and watch out for those beautiful women in sequestered luxury.
Montessori Connection: World Literature/Northern Europe/Lore and Legend
1. Read this story, then find Iceland on the globe.
2. Make a list of all of the magical beings and enchantments in this story. (troll, dwarf, ogre, transformation by changing clothes, etc.)
3. Learn more about the myth and legend of Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway:D'Aulaire's Norse Gods & Giants or D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths or D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls (New York Review Children's Collection)
4. Learn about Beowulf: Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Bilingual Edition)
5. Try out some of the many children's versions of this ancient epic:Beowulf or Kid Beowulf and the Blood-Bound Oath or Beowulf: A New Telling