Category Archives: Storytime Fridays
Here’s the next installment! Enjoy.
The next few weeks went by quickly, as if in a dream. The palace was huge and magnificent, and every day she discovered some new hidden treasure. There was a fountain made of solid gold, covered with magnificent carvings of fish that sprayed cool clear water out of their many mouths. There was a room made of mirrors of the finest crystal, and within it was a tree made of pure silver with glass leaves and marble apples. One night, when she had gone farther into the palace than she ever had before (there seemed to be no end to the place) she descended a spiral staircase deep into the earth, and came out in a huge cave whose walls sparkled in the candlelight with precious gems of all kinds, and whose ceiling was too high to see. These were just a few of the wonders she discovered.
The bear was usually gone, off on some secret business of his own. But some days he stayed with her in the palace, and they would eat and talk together. Once, when she was in a particularly playful mood, she snatched a fish right off the bear’s dinner plate and ran off into the garden, shouting “Catch me if you can!” The bear rumbled with his particular laugh, and chased her all through the garden. Though she knew he could have caught her in an instant if he chose, the bear instead let her stay just a little bit ahead, until he finally tackled her and wrestled the fish from her hands. Though his limbs were thick and strong enough to batter her to bits the bear was as gentle as could be. They played this way often, and it always ended with them both collapsing into a happily exhausted heap. Often she would curl up next to him and fall asleep in his warm, soft, fur. She liked those days the most.
Of course whether the bear was there during the day or not, she would always hear him come in and night, and sit in the chair beside her bed. She wondered how a bear his size could sit in that chair every night without crushing it to splinters, but she remembered the bear’s warning and tried not to let her curiosity get the best of her. She refused to look. Still, she found she couldn’t sleep soundly until she could hear him breathing next to her, and knew he was there.
Still, after some weeks had gone by, she began to miss her family. She wondered how they were doing, and whether they were worried about her. So when she next saw the bear she asked him if she could visit her family.
“Of course.” The bear replied. “You are not a prisoner. I can take you there today if you’d like, and you may stay with them as long as you wish. I’m sure they’ll be very pleased to see you.” The bear’s voice suddenly became very serious. “However, you must promise me one thing. Your mother will want to talk to you alone; do not let her. Only speak with her when there are others around. She will try her best to lead you into another room to speak privately, but you must not let her. If you do we will likely become unhappy, and great misfortune may come upon us.”
She was confused, but she would agree to almost anything if it would let her see her family. Besides, the bear had given her everything she had ever wanted. She trusted him. “I promise.” The bear simply nodded in reply, slowly.
After they had eaten a magnificent breakfast she climbed on to the bears back, and held on as tightly as she could. Immediately the bear began to run in his incredible way, and soon the world was a blur around her. A few minutes later the bear stopped, and she could see her old home. Or rather she could see the valley where the little shack and stunted farm once sat; but now where the shack once was there stood a grand white farmhouse, two stories tall with windows of real glass. The land around her had been transformed into beautiful fields and pastures, with hundreds of cattle, goats, and sheep. In front of the farmhouse many of her brothers and sisters were playing; when they spotted her they let out a shout of excitement, and ran to see her. She jumped off the bear’s back and found herself embraced by many arms, and the air was filled with exclamations of joy. “Welcome back!” You’re alive!” “Do you see our new house? Do you see it?” “Where did you get such a beautiful dress!” She laughed and gave them all a great big hug. “It’s so good to see you again!” She turned to thank the bear, but the bear was gone. He had left as silently as a cat.
End of Part 3
This installment was a bit on the short side. I usually like my cliffs to be a bit hangier at the end of a post, if you know what I mean. I might end up posting an extra storytime friday update next week (if only to make up for last friday, which had no storytime at all). So keep your eyes peeled for that.
And now the story continues (read part 1 here).
Though she was scared to go she had made up her mind. The bear nodded to her as she walked over to him in the cool evening air. “Climb on to my back” he said in a deep, but not unfriendly, voice. He kneeled down so that she could climb up, which she did with only a moment of hesitation. The bear smelled nice, like fir needles and earth. He rose to his feet and said “Hang on tightly to my fur, and do not let go.” She grabbed hold of his thick white fur until she was satisfied that she had a sure grip. She looked back at her family, who had gathered outside to see her off. Her mother looked worried and her father looked unsure. She gave them her best smile.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’ll be alright. I’m ready to go now, bear.”
Suddenly she found herself in a world of motion. The bear was running through the forest at incredible speed. Trees whipped past her on either side, but no branches touched her. She was so surprised that she nearly let go of his fur, and if she had she would have surely fallen off and been smashed to bits. She closed her eyes and concentrated on keeping her hold on his back. After a few minutes she couldn’t hear any more trees rushing past. She opened her eyes and found that they were traveling across a broad clearing beneath a tall mountain. The air of the alpine meadows was perfumed with the fragrance of wildflowers. She had never smelled anything so nice before, and it made her laugh. To her surprise the bear laughed too, a low and jolly rumbling noise.
Soon they were traveling at great speed up a steep mountain slope. Far ahead she could see lights coming from near the top of the peak. When they drew closer she gasped at what she saw. The lights came from a magnificent palace, built of beautiful and honey gold stone. The palace’s towers reached up into the evening sky toward the brilliant Northern Lights. Within moments they were there, standing before its magnificent gates. The bear slowed to a normal walking pace and as he approached the two tall and broad oak doors they opened before him as if by magic.
Inside was a large and magnificent garden, filled with every kind of beautiful plant of the high mountains. Wildflowers in all the colors of the rainbow seemed the paint the garden with streaks of light. She had never seen such beauty concentrated in one place before, and it filled her with awed silence.
“I’m glad you like it,” the bear said in his heavy voice. “I planted it just for you.” She was surprised. No one had ever made anything so beautiful for her before. “I made this whole palace just for you.”
At the far end of the garden was large door covered with silver engravings of trees, flowers, animals, and stars. When they reached it the bear went down to his knees and she carefully climbed off. She stared at the door. It was beautiful, but it had no handle or ring or knob to open it with. She reached out and touched its cold silver surface and drew her hand back in surprise. As soon as she had touched it the door began to open, its silver hinges making no sound. The bear nodded. “This is your palace. There are no doors you cannot open, and no room that is not yours to do with as you please.”
Beyond the silver door was a grand entrance hall, thirty feet wide, a hundred feet tall, and three hundred feet long. On either side of the hall and at its far end were three giant fireplaces with logs the size of tree trunks burning cheerfully and warming the massive space. Far above their heads the ceiling was made of a graceful spider web of silver framing panels of clear crystal. The Northern Lights shone above their heads, filling the hall with pulsating light. Doors lined the walls, and four grand staircases occupied the corners of the room.
They walked slowly down the hallway. She took it all in with amazement. It seemed like a dream; there was no way such a magnificent structure could exist, and if it could exist it was impossible that it could be hers.
The bear led her up one of the staircases, which slowly and gently spiraled up into the palaces tallest tower. Halfway up he stopped at a door covered with carvings of the sun, moon, and stars. The door opened and revealed a magnificent bedroom. The room itself was bigger than her entire house had been and contained a magnificent bed covered with fine furs and thick quilts. There were also dressers, and wardrobes, and a golden mirror. It was so luxurious and so outside of her experience that she almost began to cry at the sight of it all. It was too much to believe.
The bear walked slowly to an end table next to the bed, on which sat a small silver bell. “Right this bell and ask for whatever you wish and shall have it.” She said, with a hint of excitement in his voice. “Food, clothes, jewelry, anything you wish. You will want for nothing here.”
She walked over to the bell, and lifted it carefully. It was engraved with the sign of a bear. “Well…um. I guess I wish I had a good nightdress, one that would fit better in this beautiful room.” She rang the bell, and suddenly on the table before her appeared a beautiful white nightdress. She gasped in delight, and picked it up. It was as real all right, and made of fine silk. She turned the bear, her eyes moist. “I’ve never had my own clothes before. I mean clothes that were just mine, and not my sister’s old things. Thank you. Thank you so much for…well for everything. It all seems too much…” She almost was crying now. It had been an overwhelming evening.
The bear stared at her for a while, and then politely looked away as she wiped her wet eyes dry. “There is one thing you must know.” He said in a much more serious voice. “I have duties elsewhere, and must go now. But tonight, when you have put out all the lights and gone to sleep, I will come back.” He pointed his nose as a tall chair that sat facing the bed. “I will sit and watch, and sleep myself. I will do this each night. Whatever you do,” and now he looked her straight in the eyes “you must not light any candles or try to see my face. It must remain perfectly dark in this room when I am here at night. Do you understand?”
She was confused, but she nodded. It was a strange request but she felt like she would do anything in order to stay here in this magical place. “I understand.”
“Good.” The bear replied, sounding pleased. “I will go now. I will be back tonight, but when you wake in the morning I will be gone again. I have many duties, and my work will often take me away during the day.” The bear turned, and left the room. In the hallway he looked back at her. “Good night, love.” Then the door shut.
That night, as she slowly fell asleep in her bed (the largest and most comfortable bed she had ever slept in, and the first one she hadn’t had to share with her sisters), she wondered whether she would wake up the next morning and find it was all a dream. The last things she heard before nodding off were the door quietly opening, someone sitting down in a chair, and gentle breathing.
End of Part 2
Lets all give a shout, it’s time to start another story! Gather round, and hear the tale called “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”
East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Part 1
There was once in a small valley in Norway a poor farmer who had many children. The farmer worked hard but he could barely afford to keep his family fed and clothed. All of his daughters were pretty and his sons were handsome but the prettiest one of all was his youngest girl. She was almost too lovely, though she hardly knew it. Life as a farmer’s child had kept her from becoming proud. She was used to going to bed hungry and she had never worn a dress in her life that hadn’t already been worn out by her four older sisters. She was not neglected or mistreated, for her family all loved her. There simply wasn’t enough to go around.
One Thursday evening in autumn a powerful storm blew into the valley. The sky grew very dark, and the whole family huddled inside their tiny wooden cabin and tried to keep the fire lit as rain began to pour, the wind began to howl, and lighting flashed while thunder roared like an angry giant. The wind blew the rain against the sides of the house until the walls began to creak. The farmer was beginning to worry about wind when suddenly someone knocked three times on the door, so loud that he could be heard over the wind and the rain. The whole family looked to the door; who could be out on such a terrible night? “It must be some poor soul who got caught in the storm,” said the farmer’s wife who was a kind woman. “Let him in quick, before he catches his death of cold.”
The farmer opened up the door as quick as he could and there, in the midst of the howling wind and rolling thunder, stood a great white bear.
The farmer was so shocked that for a moment he could not move. His muscles were completely frozen. Before he could regain control over his body the bear looked him in the eyes with a benevolent expression and said “Good evening.”
“Good evening” replied the farmer, who knew his manners well. It always pays to be polite to talking bears.”
“I’ll get right to business,” replied the bear “I’m here to ask for your youngest daughter’s hand in marriage. I will take her off to live with me in a beautiful palace. In return I will make you and your family just as rich as you are now poor.”
The farmer was surprised to hear this, to say the least. Still a talking bear must surely be magic and he knew the bear would be true to his word. Still this was his youngest daughter, who he loved as much as any of his children. “That is an interesting offer, Mr. Bear.” said the farmer. “I’ll tell you what; come back in a week and I’ll have an answer for you.” The bear nodded, and lumbered off into the stormy night, disappearing into the darkness.
Well, this was an interesting development. The farmer went back into the house and explained what had occurred. Everyone was astonished, but no one more so than the youngest daughter. She certainly didn’t want to marry a bear and leave her family behind. And that was that.
Or it would have been, except that her family very much wanted to be rich. They weren’t heartless, mind you; but the bear had said she would be kept in a beautiful palace so they knew she would be safe and comfortable. She’d certainly have better food and clothes than they could give her. So all week long they talked it over with her. They told her how rich she would become, how they would be much better off, and how excellent it would be for her to have a fine palace to live in. Slowly they began to change her mind until Thursday came again and she agreed to marry the bear. So she washed and mended the few raggedy clothes she had and made herself look as pretty as she could. She didn’t have any luggage to bring with her, because she didn’t own anything besides the clothes on her back.
That evening was calm and the stars shone bright. There came a knock at the door and when the farmer opened it the white bear was there, standing tall and proud in the moonlight. It was time to go.
End of Part 1
Alright! Last week I put up the potential new folktales to write up for Storytime Fridays. Nobody voted here on the blog, but two people commented on Facebook with their votes. Sadly it was a tie with one vote for “The Widow’s Son” and one vote for “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”. So it’s up to me to decide between the two. I’ve thought about it and made my choice. Starting next Friday there will be weekly installments of (drumroll please)….“East of the Sun and West of the Moon”!
They’re both good stories but I really do want to write “East of the Sun” for my children’s book project. Ever since I heard its name I’ve wanted to do something with it, and it is a good solid story with conflict, rising action, climax, and resolution. Do you know how hard that is to get in a folktale? Surprisingly hard. Most are based on jokes, slapstick humor, or explaining odd local events like how a giant rock ended up next to the church (a giant threw it at the church because he hated the sound of the church bells but he missed, just in case you were wondering). A great deal of them are also gory, violent, and macabre which doesn’t suit them very well to a children’s story. Some of them are almost incomprehensible without having specific cultural knowledge of the time and place the story was written in. So let me tell you, “East of the Sun” is a gem.
But since “The Widow’s Son” got half the vote I’ll do it after this one. See you next week for the start of the story!
By the way, interesting bit of history; Don Bluth, the animation genius behind The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, An American Tale, and many others originally planned on making an animated film out of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”. Only in his version it all took place in the year 2500 AD in outer space. You can’t make this stuff up. They got seven months into production too, but an animators strike in the 80s led to its cancellation. I managed to dredge up some concept art for it to help whet your appetite. Just take note that the original tale was not in space, and mine won’t be either.
Here it is! Without further ado, may I present the conclusion to the story of the Giant Who Had No Heart.
The Giant Who Had No Heart, Part 3
Askeladen told the wolf all about the past three days at the giant’s castle, and what he had learned there. Sadly the wolf did not know where the lake was, for the woods contained many lakes, and many of them had islands. There was nothing for it but to search. The wolf could move as fast as the wind but the woods were wide and deep. They spent many days searching it. They came to dozens of lakes, some large, some small, some clear and clean, some stagnant and muddy, and when the lake had an island they would swim to it and search; but there was no sign of any church or well. As the days passed it became difficult to find food and the wolf began to slow and weaken. Askeladen was hungry as well and began to despair in spirit; every day that passed made it seem all the more likely that their strength would give out and they would die in the woods, never to save the princess or his brothers. Perhaps that is what would have happened, but on the ninth day of searching they came to a lake the wolf had never seen before.
Its waters were still and its surface was like brilliant silver. In the morning mists Askeladen could just make out the shadow of an island far out in the cold and deep waters. The wolf plunged in with Askeladen clinging to his back as he slowly swam to the island’s shore. As they swam the fog thickened until all around them was solid grey and white. The only sound was the wolf’s paws paddling through the water. It was an eerie crossing, and Askeladen’s heart began to beat quickly. He felt that this lake was different from the others. It was only a few moments later when they reached the island’s pebbly beach that he saw that he was right. Rising out of the mist was a stone steeple which sat over a stone archway whose wooden doors stood cold and black in the white fog. It was a small stone church that had been abandoned many decades ago. Many bricks had fallen from the walls, and the whole building was crawling with moss and ivy. Askeladen went up to the archway, but he found that the thick oak doors had grown as hard as iron with age, and were locked tightly shut. He slowly made his way around the outside of the church, looking for a hole or a gap in the walls that he could slip through; but there was none. He came back to the door and was still puzzling over how he would get inside the building when he saw a gleam of silver light coming from the top of the ruined steeple.
Askeladen looked closer and saw that the reflecting light came from a small silver key that hung from an iron hook near the steeple’s top. “Well this is good luck!” he said “I’ll bet that silver key will unlock the doors. On the other hand, bad luck too. That steeple is far too broken up and ruined for me to climb.” Askeladen considered this problem for some time, but the longer he thought the more hopeless he became. Finally he cried aloud “Blast it all! Unless I suddenly sprout wings I’ll never be able to get that key!”
The wolf, who had been watching from the shade of a small pine tree, turned to him and said “Didn’t you tell me that you had saved a ravens life once? Call him, and maybe he can help.”
That’s right! Askeladen had forgotten about the bird entirely. Still, would the bird come to his aid? There was nothing for it but to try. He called out over the misty lake, “Raven! Raven! My need is great! Come now and repay your debt!” Askeladen did not have to wait long, for only a few minutes later a raven’s caw rang out from the fog. Soon after the raven landed on the shore, bowed, and croaked “I am here! How may I show my gratitude?”
Askeladen soon explained the problem and as quick as wink the raven flew to the steeple’s top and retrieved the silver key. Askeladen tried the key in the door’s lock and with the sound of a click the doors swung open, revealing a dim and ruined sanctuary within. With another bow the raven said “Farewell! I wish you luck on your quest.” Then the raven flew away to parts unknown.
Askeladen and the wolf carefully made their way into the church. The only light came from holes in ceiling and the air smelled musty with mildew. There were several rows of wooden pews that had fallen to pieces and rotted over the years. Hanging from the walls were torn and moldy tapestries, black with age. It was an unfriendly place. At the far end of the room, near the southern wall, was a small stone well that sunk through the church’s stone floor. Askeladen hurried to it and looked down its shaft. The water was cloudy and dark, but its surface was only a few feet down. Sure enough, a duck was swimming peacefully atop the water.
Askeladen immediately called out to the duck, talking softly to it, doing his best to coax it out of the well. He searched his pockets for old breadcrumbs and offered them with an outstretched hand. Eventually the duck gave in, and with a great flap of its wings flew to the wells edge; but wouldn’t you know it as soon as the duck landed it laid its egg, which fell and sunk to the very bottom of the well.
Meanwhile, not too many miles away in another part of the forest, the giant was walking through the woods as he did every day. Today he was very annoyed, for there were less and less things to eat or turn to stone, and he never did find the magpie who had dropped bones down his chimney. Suddenly, as the egg that held his heart fell into the cold water of the well miles and miles away, he knew that something was very wrong. “Ug!” He yelled in a voice like an earthquake. “Something feels very off.” The giant began to feel a bit afraid. He did not fear swords or spears or arrows for they could not harm him as long as his heart was locked safely away; but if someone ever found his heart he’d be in a lot of trouble indeed. Stroking his chin, he began to run toward the island as fast as his long legs could take him.
Askeladen did not know this of course, or else he would have become very frightened indeed. All he knew was that the egg had fallen to the well’s bottom, and he was stumped on how to get it back. The well was small and the sides were slippery with algae and mold. If Askeladen tried to swim down he’d probably never be able to get out again. The wolf watched him for a time, and then said “Didn’t you tell me that you’d saved a salmon’s life once?”
Askeladen grinned; to tell the truth, he’d forgotten the salmon entirely. Askeladen ran out to the lakeshore and called out in a loud voice: “Salmon! Salmon! My need is great! Come now and repay your debt!” Askeladen did not have to wait long, for only a few minutes later he could see silver scales flashing through the water heading his way. Soon after the salmon leaped out of the lake with a brilliant spray of water, and cried “I am here! How may I show my gratitude?”
Askeladen explained his problem to the salmon, and the noble fish began to search around the island until he found a passageway into the bottom of the well. Askeladen ran back inside, and stared down the well. Soon enough the salmon squeezed his way in, and grabbed the egg in its mouth. With a burst of speed the salmon leaped out of the well and dropped the egg into Askeladen’s hands. “I’ve paid my debt.” the fish called out, “Farewell!”
Askeladen held the egg carefully in his hands. Though it had been sitting in ice cold water the egg itself was warm to the touch. He took it outside into the morning light and studied it carefully. It gently and slowly throbbed in his hand, and when Askeladen put it to his ear he could hear a thudding heartbeat.
Suddenly the air rang out with the sharp crack of breaking tree limbs. On the far side of the lake the giant appeared, his eyes peering from place to place. When he spotted Askeladen he howled with anger; but when he saw the egg in his hands he shuddered with fear. The giant leaped into the lake and ran with incredible speed toward the island.
The wolf, his voice wavering with fear, yelped “Quickly master, quickly master! Squeeze the egg as hard as you can! Hurry!” Askeladen wasted no time and began to squeeze the egg between his hands. The giant stopped in his tracks and howled with pain, clutching his chest where his heart had once sat. “That’s it! That’s it! Squeeze again master, we’ve got him now!” howled the wolf with glee. Askeladen squeezed a little harder and the giant screamed and shouted, falling to his knees. The once proud giant began to whimper, and reached out his hand toward Askeladen. “Please!” he cried. “Please stop! I beg you! If you spare my life I shall give you all your heart desires. Money, fame, and power, it will all be yours! Just let me go!”
I would be lying if I said that Askeladen was not tempted by the giant’s words. But he only considered them for a moment. No good comes from giant wishes, if they are even granted at all (for giants are notorious liars when their lives are in danger). Instead he took the egg and squeezed it again, with all his might. The giant shouted, and raised his hand to crush Askeladen to the ground; but it was too late. Askeladen had squeezed the egg until it burst, and the giant breathed his last. His body sunk into the water, never to be seen again. Soon after the waters of that lake became strangely black and stagnant. To this day all animals of the forest avoid it, no matter how thirsty they are.
When Askeladen saw that the giant was dead he let out a whoop of triumph, and the wolf danced a doggie dance of joy. Soon songbirds came, each one singing “The giant is dead! We all will be fed! All hail Askeladen, Giant Slayer of men!” Soon the whole forest began rang out with the happy calls of animals that had lived in fear of the giant’s wrath. Askeladen didn’t celebrate too long before saying “Come wolf! We must ride to the castle and see if my brothers are still turned to stone!” So he hopped on the wolf and they were away in a flash, running like the wind through the forest.
Before long they emerged from the trees in front of the giant’s mountain. There they found a joyous sight, for in the road his brothers and their loves were dancing and singing, celebrating their freedom. The giant’s spell was broken, never to return again. And there, coming down the mountainside, was the princess herself, a wide smile on her face. Askeladen ran to meet her and they embraced. She was free.
So the tale comes to a close. Askeladen returned as a hero to his father with his brothers following behind. There was a great celebration throughout the kingdom, and the king was so pleased that all his sons had returned home that he wept with joy. Askeladen was given the title Giant Slayer and was hailed as the bravest and most resourceful prince in all of Norway. He and the princess were soon wed; and when his father died (of old age and happiness, many years later) Askeladen became king after him. The people say that he was as just, wise, and brave a ruler as had ever lived. As for the wolf, he stayed at the castle and was given the title Royal Wolf and Steed, and never went hungry again to the end of his days. And that is the end of the story of Askeladen and the giant who had no heart.
I hope you all enjoyed the tale. I have several tales I’d like to write next. This coming friday I’ll post the names of two or three I’m intrested in and put it up to a vote.
NOTE: I mentioned in my last post that this would be the conclusion of our story. Unfortunately I vastly underestemated the amount of story there was left. To clarify: this is my longest post in the series, and I still haven’t gotten to the end. However I can say that next Friday will be the conclusion for certian!
The Giant Who Had No Heart, Part 3
The Wolf took Askeladen into one of the mountain’s craggy valleys, and they did not travel far before they came to the door of the giant’s castle. The castle itself was not built of stone bricks and mortar like most castles made by man, but instead was solid stone carved out of the face of the mountain. It was hard to tell where the castle ended and the mountain began, and it was not surprising that Askeladen’s brothers had failed to see it from the road. The most obvious sign of it was the door, which was a slab of solid rock carved words in Old Giantish, which nobody can read today and few could understand even then. Leading up to the doorway were five massive stone steps, so large that the wolf had to get a running start to leap over each one. It was there that the wolf left Askeladen.
“Here you are, here you are! The princess is inside. I will go hide in the woods now; but if you need me just whistle three times and I’ll be here as quick as the wind!” Before Askeladen could protest the wolf had leaped down the stairs and ran out of sight, moving at incredible speed. Askeladen found himself alone, and unsure.
“Well this is a fine spot I’m in;” he said to himself. “I suppose there’s nothing for it but go inside. Still, I hope the wolf was right about the giant not being at home. But how will I get his great door open anyway?” It was a good question, for the door was far too large and heavy for Askeladen to ever hope to move by himself. All was not lost though, for when Askeladen looked closer he saw that the door was open a little, and though the opening would only have been only a small crack for a giant it was more than wide enough for Askeladen to squeeze through. Still, Askeladen hesitated; though he was determined to save his brothers, I must say that he was very afraid (as any wise man would be before entering a giant’s home). Still he knew that he couldn’t stay on the doorstop forever. “Better to be caught and eaten in the castle while trying to rescue my brothers than caught and eaten on the doorstep shivering like a coward.” He said to himself, and with that in mind he entered the castle.
Beyond the door was a short front hall; short to a giant that is, but to Askeladen it was long indeed and the ceiling was many times higher than his own head. The floor was bare and the light dim, and Askeladen made his way through it as quietly as possible. At the far end was an open doorway, and beyond it glowed flickering orange firelight. Askeladen peeked his head into the doorway, and saw a large chamber beyond. It was a circular room, and sunken into the far wall was a large hearth with several great logs burning away, filling the room with warmth and light. In the center of the room stood a round wooden table, and a bed sat along the wall. There were several great wooden chests, and a wooden dresser that was likely filled with giantish clothes. All of it, of course, was giant sized. Way up high, on top of the wooden table, stood the princess. She was busy setting out the table for dinner, dragging a plate that was almost as big as she was next to a trident sized fork. She was so busy that she didn’t notice Askeladen peeking in, and Askeladen found her so beautiful that he could say nothing for a quite some time. Her hair was long and brown and slightly curly, and though she was wearing a dirty patchwork dress she was still a vision of loveliness to Askeladen’s eyes. He determined then and there that he would do anything to rescue her.
He stepped out into the room then, and when the princess saw him she gasped, and dropped the plate, she was so surprised. “Good heavens!” she said. “Who are you, and what’s brought you out here to this horrible place? Don’t you know that this is a giant’s castle?!” So Askeladen climbed up the table leg and sat and told her all about his long journey, his brothers fate, and how he must slay the giant and save them or his father would die of grief. “Well,” she said, “that’s very touching, and you must be brave. But it’s sure to be the death of you! No one can slay the giant, because he doesn’t have any heart. He used a spell to rip it out long ago, and now he’s as immortal as the mountains.” She looked at him with great concern and a little fear in her eyes, for she found him very handsome, if a bit foolish, and didn’t want him to be eaten or turned to stone.
Askeladen sighed, and was beginning to believe that his quest was hopeless. Still, he couldn’t leave his brothers as statues, and he certainly couldn’t leave the princess behind. He was already beginning to fall helplessly in love with her. So despite his fears he said “Well that may be, but since I came all the way out here I suppose I’d better try my strength anyway.” He looked into her eyes. “I must try to save my brothers, and I will try to save you as well, princess.”
Her heart softened at that. Though she hardly knew it she was beginning to fall in love with him as well. “Well, since you won’t go home, we’ll just have to try the best we can. Now listen! The giant will be home soon; hide under the bed and stay as quiet as can be. Listen well to what he says when I speak with him; I think I may have a plan.” So Askeladen hid himself under the giant’s bed, trying very hard not to sneeze from all the dust. The princess went back to setting the table, and she had just put out the giant’s food when Askeladen heard the great stone door creak open and then slam shut with a thunderous crack. The giant was home, and with footsteps like falling logs he came into the room.
The giant threw himself down in a huge wooden chair at the table, and stretched his arms out with a great yawn. “Aaaaaagh! What a day I have had, going to and fro, eating my fill of all living things and turning the rest to stone.” Suddenly he sniffed the air, and wrinkled his nose. “Ugh!” he shouted in a roar that almost made Askeladen to jump in fear, though he remembered himself and stayed still. “Where’s that terrible smell of man’s blood coming from?!” continued the giant.
“Oh, doesn’t it stink?” said the princess. “A magpie flew over the castle this morning with a man’s bone and dropped it down the chimney. I threw it out as quickly as I could, but the smell does linger, doesn’t it?”
So the giant said nothing more about it and they had a quiet supper together. Finally, when evening came on, the giant went to his bed (causing Askeladen some fear as the bed sunk under his weight). The princess had her own little bed at the foot of the giant’s, and after they had lain under the covers for a while the princess said “There was something I very much wanted to ask you, if I dare.”
The giant stirred, and replied “Really? Well, what is it?”
“I was just wondering…wondering if you could tell me where your heart is, since you don’t carry it with you like everyone else.”
The giant was silent for almost a full minute, and Askeladen was afraid that he was about to get up and turn her to stone for asking such a question. But soon the giant yawned and said “Oh, that’s not something you need worry yourself about. If you must know, I keep it right under the front step. Now stop your silly questions and let me sleep.” Soon the giant was snoring away with a sound like a storm, but Askeladen was pleased. We’ll just see if we can’t find his heart, he thought to himself, and slowly went to sleep.
When morning came the giant awoke, dressed, and then went on his way to wander the woods. When he had been gone for some time Askeladen came out from his hiding spot, and he and the princess went out the front door and started searching for the heart. The slab that made the front step was far too large for them to move, but Askeladen found that by doing a little digging he could work his way underneath it from the sides. He and the princess dug and searched all day long, but they couldn’t find any trace of the giant’s heart. When they saw that the sun was getting low they filled in their holes and Askeladen went inside and hid. The princess however went out and picked the prettiest wildflowers she could find, and then strew them about the entire front step. Then she went in and prepared the giant’s supper.
When the giant returned that day it was the same as before. He yawned, stretched, and then wrinkled his nose. “Fie! It still reeks of man’s blood in here!”
The princess said “Oh yes, just horrible! That magpie came back again today with another man’s bone and dropped it down the chimney. I got it out as quick as I could, but the smell does linger.”
The giant grumbled some, but then said no more until he had finished eating. Then he leaned back and said, with a voice like falling boulders, “Who threw all those flowers over the front step?” The princess replied “I did, of course! You know I am so found of you, and I couldn’t help but do it when I learned your heart was lying under there.”
The giant stroked his chin, and looked pleased. “Of course, or course, that makes sense. But I was just teasing you girl. I wouldn’t keep my heart under the front step. How ridiculous!” The princess said nothing, but waited. When they had gone to bed that evening, and the giant was almost asleep, she asked him “If your heart isn’t under the front step then where is it? I really would like to know.” The giant yawned and said sleepily “Oh, it’s in the wooden chest, under all my odds and ends. Now go to sleep.”
The next day after the giant had left Askeladen and the princess opened up the great wooden chest and began to search it. The chest was full of odd things; giant wooden toys, statues, strange rocks, bits of fur, and a rusty iron clock that appeared to be broken. But when they’d searched it from top to bottom they still hadn’t found the giant’s heart. “I was afraid of that,” said the princess, “especially after he fooled us yesterday.” So while Askeladen put everything back where it was, she went out and picked more flowers, and began to twist many of them into beautiful garlands. Then she strew the flowers and garlands on the chest, and they waited for the giant to return.
When the giant returned, and stretched, he wrinkled his nose again. “Stones and bones! That man blood stench is worse than ever before!”
The princess nodded. “Isn’t it terrible? That magpie came back again and dropped another bone down the chimney! I threw it away as quick as I could, but the smell just stays in the air, doesn’t it?”
The giant grumbled and said “I think I’ll have to find that magpie, and teach it a lesson tomorrow.” After they finished eating supper the giant saw the flowers on his wooden chest and asked “Who did this?” The princess replied “I did, of course!”
The giant grumbled. “What’s the meaning of all this silly mess!” The princess looked very meek, and said “Well you know how much I care for you, and I couldn’t help but do it when I found out that your heart was in there.”
The giant snorted and said “How can you be foolish enough to believe that I’d actually keep my heart in that chest? Silly girl!” Now the princess folded her arms and looked quite exasperated. “Well how can I not believe it when you say it is so? I trust you so much. Besides, I want to go and lay flowers on your heart more than anything!” The giant laughed, saying “Such a foolish girl. You can never go where my heart is, it’s impossible!”
Then the princess looked so sad and meek that the giant stopped laughing. She quietly said to him “Oh. That makes me very sad, that I’ll never get to place flowers there to honor your heart. But I would like to know where it is, if I can, so that I can dream about it at least.”
Now the giant heart did not grow soft (for after all, he had taken it out long ago) but in order to keep the princess from asking any longer he said “Alright, I’ll tell you where it is, but you must never try to go there. Far, far away there is a lake, and in the middle of that lake is an island. On that island stands a church, and in that church there is a well, and in that well there swims a duck, and in that duck there is an egg, and inside that egg—that’s where my heart lies. Now I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
So the next day, after the giant had left, Askeladen and the princess made their plans. “I think he’s telling the truth,” said the princess. “Well then,” said Askeladen, “ I’d better go and find it. I only wish I knew where the lake was! Still, it’s a start.”
Before Askeladen left the princess hugged him tightly, and said “Be careful! If the giant finds you searching for his heart he’s sure to eat you up or turn you to stone!” Askeladen patted her on the back, kissed her forehead, and told her that he would stay safe and sound. Then he stood on the front step and whistled three times. As quick as the wind the wolf leaped up the steps, and Askeladen rode him into the woods, in search of the giant’s heart.
End of Part 3
Will Askeladen find the heart? And even if he does, can he escape the giant’s wrath? Come back next week for the thrilling conclusion!
Here is Part 2 of The Giant Who Had No Heart. If you haven’t read Part 1 then you should do so now, or you’ll likely be a little confused. If you’re wondering what the heck Storytime Friday even is, then this is the post you’re looking for.
The Giant Who Had No Heart, Part 2
Askeladen traveled for many days in search of his brothers. Whenever he saw a farmhouse or a town he stopped and asked if they’d seen the six princes; but nobody had seen them since they had left on their quest months ago. Still Askeladen did not despair, but continued on his way. One day, as he was trying to encourage his old and tired horse to pick up the pace, he ran across a raven lying in the road and flapping its wings. The raven was so thin and weak from hunger that it could not even lift itself an inch. As Askeladen approached the raven tilted its tired head and said “Please stop, dear friend. Give me something to eat, and I will surely help you when you need it most.” Askeladen was not afraid (for the woods were full of mysterious things in those days, and it was not too strange to hear a wild animal talk like you or me) but said “I don’t have much food left, I’m afraid, and it doesn’t look like you could be much help to me.” He stopped and thought for a few moments. He only had some hard bread and cheese left in his pack, and it could be days or weeks before he could get more. Still, the bird was in a sad state and Askeladen’s heart grew soft. “Alright raven, here. I’ll give you some food.” He split his loaf of bread in half and gave it to the raven, who thanked him over and over between bites of bread. Askeladen just smiled and continued down the road, hoping he wouldn’t go hungry because of it.
A few days later Askeladen was beginning to regret his choice. The bread was all gone except for a crust, and he had only a small lump of cheese to last him after that. He came to a stream and something shining silver on the bank caught his eye. He couldn’t believe his luck; a fine long salmon had accidently leaped out of the river and was stuck on dry land! His mouth began to water as he thought about how good grilled salmon would taste to his empty belly. But as he picked the salmon up it opened its mouth and began to plead with him. “Oh, friend! I was so hungry that I leaped to catch a fly, but I missed and fell here on the dry ground. Please help me get back into the water! If you do I will help you in turn when you need it most.”
Askeladen would have laughed if he wasn’t so hungry. “What kind of help could a salmon give me? And I’m terribly hungry.” Askeladen thought for a moment, before groaning in frustration. “I may be hungry, but how can I refuse to help now that you’ve asked me? Alright fish, here you go.” And he threw the salmon back into the rushing stream. The salmon thanked him over and over before swimming downstream, but all Askeladen could do was worry about where he’d find his next meal.
Several days passed and the bread and cheese were long gone. Askeladen was in the deep woods now and he feared that he would surely starve to death if he didn’t find food soon. Even his old horse was weak and slow because there was hardly any grass for it in the shady woods. Suddenly Askeladen saw something move in the undergrowth. It came closer, and he saw that it was a thin wolf, so weak and hungry that it could only drag itself along the forest floor. When his horse saw the wolf it panicked, and was so scared that it’s old weak heart gave out, and it collapsed right under Askeladen’s legs. The wolf moved closer, its tongue drooling eagerly, but Askeladen moved quickly and pulled out his bright steel sword. “Don’t come any closer wolf, or I’ll cut you into pieces and eat you for supper.”
The wolf stopped and whimpered, bowing its head between its paws. “Please, please, friend, friend,” it said to him, “let me eat your horse. I am so hungry I can hear the wind whistling in my empty stomach. I’ve had nothing to eat for two years!” Askeladen could believe it; the wolf’s eyes were mad with hunger, and its body looked like a skeleton with fur. But Askeladen wasn’t afraid; he was just angry. “No!” said Askeladen. “I can’t do it! First I came to a raven, and gave him practically all my food. Then I found a nice fat salmon which instead of eating for supper I had to throw back into the water. And now if that wasn’t enough a wolf scares my horse to death and leaves me with nothing to ride in the middle of this empty forest, and now you want to eat it as well? If anyone is going to eat it it’s going to be me, thank you very much!”
Still the wolf looked at him and whined and pleaded. “True, true, very true my friend but still you must help me. Give me the horse and you can ride on me instead, and I will help you whenever you need me most.”
Askeladen sighed. He sat and thought for a moment. Slowly his heart grew soft for the wolf; sure he was hungry, but the wolf was even hungrier and in a sad state indeed. Finally Askeladen stood and said “I don’t know what help you can give me, and I don’t think I’ll be able to ride a wolf so tired and weak; but I suppose you can have my horse, since you’re in such need.”
The wolf howled with glee and ate the horse up in five minutes flat, he was so hungry. And as he ate Askeladen’s mouth opened in surprise. Before his very eyes the wolf’s boney frame grew thick and strong with muscle and he grew in size and stature until he was almost as large as a horse himself! When the wolf had finished Askeladen took the horse’s old bit and placed it in the wolf’s mouth, and put the saddle on his back. The wolf smiled at him as he climbed onto his back. “Thank you, thank you, friend, my friend. Now you’ll see how good a mount I can be!” The wolf set off through the woods at an incredible speed, and Askeladen whistled in amazement as the trees whipped by. The wolf turned his head and asked him where he wanted to go, so Askeladen told him all about his quest to find his six brothers. The wolf howled triumphantly and said “Just a little farther is a giant’s castle, and I think you might find your brothers there.” The wolf doubled his speed, and Askeladen had to hold on tightly to the wolf’s fur to keep from falling off. Soon they left the forest and came to a wide stone road. In the middle of the road were twelve stone statues of six men and six women riding horses. Askeladen got off the wolf and looked closer. Sure enough they were his six brothers, each with a smiling princess, and all turned to stone. “You were right, wolf,” said Askeladen, “these are my brothers alright and it looks like they found their brides sure enough. But now that I’ve found them I’m not sure what to do. I don’t know how to break a spell, and I can’t very well carry them back home as statues.” The wolf grinned and replied “Don’t worry, worry, master, master. Just over there is the door to the giant’s castle. You must go there and slay the giant to break the spell.”
Askeladen shuddered. “I dare not. As soon as the giant sees me he’ll turn me to stone, or squash me, or eat me for supper, and then my father will surely die of grief.” The wolf just shook its head and said “Not at all, not at all! The giant isn’t home right now; he’s wandering through the woods. He spends all day walking the woods for miles, eating all the food he finds. That’s why we animals are so terribly hungry, all the time.” The wolf whimpered just remembering it. “The only one at the castle right now is the princess he keeps there to cook and clean for him. If you go to her, I’m sure she’ll tell you how to put an end to that terrible giant, yes she will, yes she will! Only,” and here the wolf looked Askeladen in the eyes “you must do just as she tells you.”
So Askeladen mounted the wolf again, and headed to the castle of the giant.
End of Part 2
Be sure to come back next friday to see what happens to Askeladen when he enters the giant’s castle.
If you read Wednesday’s post then you already know about Storytime Firdays. If you haven’t read it then you should. Really. Go read it right now. I’ll wait.
Okay. We’ve all read it? Good. Because I’m not writing it again. Anyway here is the first installment. This is a retelling of the Norwegian folktale “The Giant Who Had No Heart”. I hope you enjoy it Part 1 of the tale, with two more parts to follow over the weeks to come. If you have any feedback or critiques, comment with them! Thanks!
The Giant Who Had No Heart, Part 1
Once upon a time, long, long ago in the cold and majestic mountain peaks of Norway there lived a king who had seven sons. Though the king’s castle was grand and his lands were beautiful he treasured nothing more than his children. No matter where he went he took one of his sons with him because he cared for them all dearly. However, little boys will always someday grow to be strong young men. When his boys had all grown they begged their father to let them leave the kingdom to have adventures and find princesses for themselves to marry. The king was sad to see them go, but he knew that he could not keep them home forever. So he let them go on one condition: the youngest son, named Askeladen, would stay in the castle with him. The other sons were to find him a princess as well and bring her home with them. The king gave the young princes who were leaving six sets of the finest clothes they had ever laid eyes on, and the six strongest, bravest, and most expensive white horses in the entire kingdom. The princes were so impressive in their new clothes and on their fine horses that you could see them gleaming from a mile away. They set off on their journey that same day, and all the people of the kingdom cheered and wished them luck as they passed.
The princes traveled for many months, visiting many fine palaces and seeing many great sights. They saw the fjords, the fields, and mighty lakes. The traveled from one corner of Norway to the other until they finally came to a small kingdom by the North Sea. There they found a king who had six daughters. In all their travels the princes had never found any princesses who were lovelier and they set about wooing them one by one. Soon the princes and princesses fell in love. The princesses’ father was glad to see them matched with such handsome and impressive princes, and he agreed they should be married at once. They were all married on the same day in a chapel on the cliffs over the North Sea, and then they feasted and celebrated for an entire week. After the feasting the princess said their goodbyes, and they set out to return home. They were all having so much fun that the princes completely forgot that they were meant to find a princess for little Askeladen as well.
When they had traveled many miles and were more than halfway home the princes passed close to a steep and desolate mountain. They did not know it but on that mountain was a castle of a cruel and terrible giant. The giant stepped out that morning to walk in the wood (which is his usual custom) when he saw the princes and princesses coming his way, their beautiful clothes glimmering in the morning light. As soon as he saw them he hid himself along the road, and waited for them to come by. The princes and princesses were so merry and carefree that they did not notice the giant until it was too late. As soon as they came close the giant leaped down into the road and bellowed “Noisy men travel on my road, and by my magic you’ll be quiet as stone!” And with a wave of his hand the princes and princesses were all turned to stone.
Meanwhile the King waited anxiously for his sons to return. As each week passed he grew more worried, and as the weeks tuned into months he began to fall into a deep sadness. He waited an entire year, and when they had not returned he began to weep. “Oh, my sons, my precious sons! They are dead or lost, and my heart is broken! I shall never be happy again.” The king was so saddened that he fell into a deep sickness. He spent all day in bed, and was too weak to eat anything other than cold water and bits of bread. Askeladen was very sad as well, but he wanted to find out what happened to his brothers. Perhaps they were still alive, and if he brought them home his father might be well again. So one day he went to his father’s bedside and said to him “Father, I want to ask your permission to go out and search for my brothers.” The king refused him, saying “If I were to lose you as well, I would not wish to live any longer! I forbid it!” But Askeladen begged and pleaded with his father for many days, until finally his father relented. “Alright. You may go, Askeladen, but return to me soon. I wish I could give you a fine set of clothes, but I gave them all to your brothers.” Askeladen smiled and said “Don’t worry; my thick brown cloak will keep me plenty warm.”
“Oh Askeladen, I wish I could give you a fine white horse, but I gave your brother’s my finest horses. All that is left is an old mare, whose strength and speed is all but gone.”
Askeladen smiled again, and said “Don’t worry, I don’t mind. An old horse is better than no horse at all.” So Askeladen packed his bags with food, put on his thick brown cloak and saddled up the old mare. She was more bones than muscle, and so old that she almost fell over when he got on his saddle. Still, Askeladen did not mind. He bid his father and the people of the town farewell, saying “I shall come back, sure enough, and who knows? Maybe I’ll have my six brothers with me as well.” And so he left, though hardly anyone cheered. They were all afraid, for if he failed to return the king would surely die of grief.
End of Part 1
Tune in next Friday to see what happens to Askeladen on his quest to save his brothers.