Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Folklore Snippets: The Silver Cup

The Silver Cup from Dagberg Daas

From Scandinavian Folklore, ed William Craigie, 1896

Here’s a version of an old tale I used in ‘Troll Fell’, although for my version the cup was golden, and my troll girl was rather more attractive. ( I love the practical but horrific way the 'berg-woman' deals with her long, drooping breasts.) A ‘berg-man’ is a mound dweller, hill-man, elf or troll.

In Dagberg Daas there formerly lived a berg-man with his family.  It happened once that a man who came riding past there took it into his head to ask the berg-woman for a little to drink.  She went to get some for him, but her husband bade her take it out of the poisoned barrel.  The traveller heard all this, however, and when the berg-woman handed him the cup with the drink, he threw the contents over his shoulder and rode off with the cup in his hand, as fast as his horse could gallop. The berg-woman threw her breasts over her shoulders, and ran after him as hard as she could. (The man rode off over some ploughed land where she had difficulty in following him, as she had to keep to the line of the furrows.)  When he reached the spot where Karup Stream crosses the road from Viborg to Holtebro, she was so near him that she snapped a hook (hage) off the horse’s shoe, and therefore the place has been called Hagebro ever since.  She could not cross the running water, and so the man was saved.  It was seen afterwards that some drops of the liquor had fallen on the horse’s loins and taken off both hide and hair.

'Troll Fell' by David Wyatt

In 'Troll Fell', Ralf tells the tale thus:

I was halfway over Troll Fell, tired and wet and weary, when I saw a bright light glowing from the top of the crag, and heard snatches of music gusting on the wind.  I turned the pony off the road and kicked him into a trot up the hillside.  I was in one of our own fields, the high one called the Stonemeadow.  At the top of the slope I could hardly believe my eyes.  The whole rocky summit of the hill had been lifted up, like a great stone lid!  It was resting on four stout red pillars.  The space underneath was shining with golden light and there were scores, maybe hundreds of trolls, skipping and dancing.

But the pony shied.  I'd been so busy staring, I hadn't noticed this troll girl creeping up on me till she popped up right by the pony's shoulder.  She held out a beautiful golden cup filled to the brim with something steaming hot - spiced ale I thought it was, and I took it gratefully from her, cold and wet as I was.

Just before I gulped it down I noticed the look on her face.  There was a gleam in her slanting eyes, a wicked sparkle!  And her ears, her hairy, pointed ears, twitched forward.  I saw she was up to no good!

So I lifted the cup, pretending to sip.  Then I jerked the whole drink out over my shoulder.  It splashed out smoking, some on to the ground and some on to the pony's tail, where it singed off half his hair!  There's an awful yell from the troll girl, and the next thing the pony and I are off down the hill, galloping for our lives.  I've still got the golden cup on one hand - and half the trolls of Troll Fell are tearing after us!

I had one chance.  At the tall stone called the Finger, I turned off the road on to the big ploughed field above the mill.  The pony could go quicker over the soft ground, you see, but the trolls found it heavy going across the furrows. I got to the mill stream ahead off them, jumped off and dragged the pony through the water.  I was safe!  The trolls couldn't follow me over the brook.  They were spitting like cats and hissing like kettles.  They threw stones and clods at me, but it was nearly dawn and off they scuttled back up the hillside.  And I heard - no, I felt, through the soles of my feet, a sort of far-off grating shudder as the top of Troll Fell sank into its place again...

[Troll Fell, HarperCollins, 2004]

Picture credit: 'Troll Fell': unpublished illustration by David Wyatt. Copyright David Wyatt 2004


  1. I read your book only recently. Fascinating to see where you got that bit from!:-)

  2. Brilliant! I do love the way these 'faery hills' are so ingrained in folklore. Personally, I cleave to the view that these are folklore memories of ancient burial mounds that subsequent ages peopled with faeries, elves, golden men, King Arthur, and, of course, trolls :)

  3. Thanks, Sue! In fact there are several variants of this tale, and I think I might have used a slightly different one, from Thomas Keighley's Fairy Mythology, in which the farmer ends up presenting the cup to a church. But the dangerous nature of the drink is always stressed! Don't eat fairy food. Especially of course, esmeraldamac, if it's actually the food of the dead...