Tuesday 21 April 2020

Strong Fairy Tale Heroines #9: EDERLAND THE POULTRY-MAID

This light-hearted story comes from 'Danish Fairy Tales', collected by Svendt Grundtvig, (1824-1883) and is a good follow up to last week's tough Cinderella, employing several of the same motifs to very different effect. A dying mother leaves most of her possessions to her two eldest daughters, gifting the youngest, little Ederland, with nothing but a dough pan, an apron and a broom. Her sisters deride her, telling her that their mother thought nothing of her, but Ederland holds fast to a belief in her mother's love. When her sisters make further difficulties for her, she visits her mother's grave - again like Cinderella - where her faith in her mother is upheld, and her apparently poor legacy turns out to be the very thing that makes her fortune. 

Buoyed by her mother's advice, Ederland sets off on her adventures. With cheerful élan she tricks a family of trolls and wrests three precious things from them, one of which - the pig that never diminishes no matter how much bacon is sliced from it - perhaps hails back to the boar Sæhrímnir on which the Norse gods feast nightly in Valhallr (besides irresistably reminding me of the Dish of the Day in Douglas Adams'  'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe': see link here.) Ederland's marriage to a distinctly selfish master ('You could easily do it if you wanted to!' he keeps moaning) is the traditional fairy tale coda, denoting her worldly success. Fairy tales are almost never romances. 

I hope you'll agree with me that Ederland is another tough cookie. Just don't feel too sorry for the trolls!

Once upon a time there was a woman who had three daughters. She was very ill and she expected to hear death knock at her door from day to day; so she called together her three daughters and divided what she had among them. But she did not make an equal division: she gave the two older daughters, who were always nice to look at, and kept themselves well dressed, all that she had; and the youngest, little Ederland, received only a dough-pan, a broom-stick and an apron.

The mother lived but a short time, and when she had died, what she had left was divided between her children as she had arranged. Then the two older sisters said to Ederland, "That shows you once more, Ederland, that our mother thought more of us than she did of you, for all she gave you was that wretched dough-pan, and the broom-stick and apron."

But little Ederland was patient, and held her tongue, and still believed that her mother had loved her just as much as she had her two sisters.

In the course of time all three sisters took service in a fine house. The two older sisters were in the house itself, and helped with all the housework; but little Ederland was only the poultry-maid. Yet before long the master of the house noticed that his poultry had never been in better condition than since Ederland had taken charge; and therefore he praised her continually in her sisters' presence.
They did not enjoy hearing it at all. At last they decided to tell their master that Ederland could do much more, if only she felt like it. They knew positively, that she could get him a candlestick that would give light without a candle; and if she said she could not, it merely showed that she would not.

When their master heard this, he at once sent for Ederland and said to her, "I hear that you can get me a candlestick that gives light without a candle. I want to have it very much, and you must get it for me. It is useless for you to refuse, for I know that you can if you feel like it."

Little Ederland cried, and said she would like to oblige him if only she knew how; but that he had set her a task she really could not accomplish. Yet her master would not believe her.

"All your speeches won't help you," he said. "You must get the candlestick for me, but you shall have two bushels of gold for getting it!"

Little Ederland left the house in tears, and went straight to her mother's grave. As she stood there and cried, her mother rose from the grave and said, "Do not cry! Go back home, and ask your master for two bushels of salt, take your broomstick, set it up as a mast in the dough-pan, tie your apron to it for a sail, and sail out to sea with your two bushels of salt. Then you will come to the place where you can get the candlestick that gives light without a candle!"

And with that the mother sank back into her grave, and little Ederland went home and asked her master for the two bushels of salt. She got them, and then set up her dough-pan with the broom-stick for a mast, and the apron for a sail, took her two bushels of salt, and sailed out on the stormy sea, letting the waves carry her along as they chose.

She sailed a long way, but at last she landed on the island of the trolls, and went ashore with the two bushels of salt. Somewhere about she saw a house. She went up to it, climbed on the roof, and looked down the chimney. Down below stood the old troll mother, cooking mush for her sons. On the hearth, beside the kettle of mush, stood the candlestick that gave light without a candle. This was just what Ederland wanted, and when the old troll mother turned her back, she poured down her two bushels of salt into the mush. The old troll mother turned right around again, and tasted the mush; but it was terribly salty. So she took up a bucket to get some water to cook over the mush. Then Ederland slipped down the chimney in a trice and ran after her, and as the old troll mother was stooping over the edge of the well to draw up the bucket, Ederland gave her a push so that she fell in head over heels, and did not come up again. Ederland now quickly secured the candlestick and ran down to her ship. She was no more than a short distance from land, when she saw the trolls come home, and a moment later they ran down to the strand and called after her, "Ederland, Ederland! You have thrown our mother into the well and taken our candlestick! If you ever come here again you will have to pay the price!"

But Ederland called back, "Well, I am coming back twice!" and sailed gaily home.

Her master was filled with joy when he saw the candlestick that gave light without a candle, and little Ederland received her two bushels of gold and was happy as well. But her two sisters grew more angry with each passing day at her good fortune, and their only thought was of how they might mar her pleasure. At last they again told their master that Ederland could do much more if she only would. She could get a horse with bells on all four legs, one that could be heard long before it was seen, and that could be found again, no matter how far it had strayed. Their master would much rather have had a horse of that kind even than the candlestick he already possessed. He had Ederland called at once, and told her that he was well aware that she could obtain a horse that had bells on all four of its legs, which one could hear in the distance, and could always find if it strayed. She must get him that horse! Ederland cried and said she was only too willing to get it, but she did not know how. Yet her master would not content himself with her answer.

"You could, if you only would," he said. "You must get that horse for me and I will give you three bushels of gold for it."

Again Ederland went to her mother's grave and cried, and was very unhappy. And again her mother rose from the grave and said to her, "Do not cry, my little Ederland! Go home and ask your master for four bunches of tow, take them and sit down in your dough-pan with the broomstick and the apron as before. Then you will reach the place where you can obtain the horse with the bells on all four legs."

Thereupon her mother sank back into the grave; while little Ederland went home and asked her master for the four bunches of tow. He gave them to her at once, and she sailed out to sea in her dough pan, with the broomstick for a mast, and her apron for a sail. This time she also landed on the island of the trolls. 

It was just at the time when the trolls were at home, and were eating their dinner, and the horse with the bells on all four legs was grazing in the field before the house. Ederland slipped up to him, tied a bunch of tow around each leg, so that the bells could not ring, and led him down to the strand. Just as she was leading him into the boat, however, the bunch of tow about one of his legs fell off, the bell at once began to ring, and all the trolls hurried down to the strand. Little Ederland had led the horse safely aboard, and had just put a bit of water between the boat and the shore, when the trolls reached the beach. They fell into a terrible rage when they saw that Ederland was escaping with their horse, and called after her, "Ederland, Ederland! You pushed our old mother into the well, and took our candlestick, and now you have stolen our horse! When you come again you will have to pay for it!"

But Ederland called back to them, "Well, I am coming back once more!"

When Ederland reached home with the horse, her master was filled with joy. He gladly gave her the three bushels of gold he had promised her, and Ederland herself was very happy. But her two sisters were not at all pleased with her good fortune, and day and night they thought only of what harm they might do her. Before long they said to their master, "Ederland could get you something far better than she has already obtained for you: a pig that stays just as fat as it was, though you cut as much bacon from it as ever you will."

That seemed the best of all to their master. Ederland had to come to him at once and he said to her, "I have heard that you can get a pig for me from which I may cut as much bacon as ever I will, while it stays as fat as it was. That pig I must have."

In vain Ederland wept and said, "I would, if only I could; but I cannot get any such pig for you."
Her master would not listen to her. "You can and must obtain that pig for me," he said, "and in return I will give you all the beautiful things which you see here."

But little Ederland was very sad. She went to her mother's grave and wept bitterly. Then her mother rose from her grave, and said to her, "Do not cry, my little Ederland! Go home and ask your master for two flitches of bacon, seat yourself in your boat, and sail out to sea. Then you will come to the place where you can get the pig. " " When she had said this she sank back into her grave.
But Ederland went home and got the two flitches of bacon, put them in her dough-pan with the broomstick for a mast and the apron for a sail, and the wind blew her across the sea to the island of the trolls. It was just the time when the trolls were taking their after-dinner nap. The pig was in the meadow, but the trolls had hired a little boy to watch it.

Ederland ran up to the little boy and said to him, "These two flitches of bacon are for the trolls. Will you carry them over to them while I take care of the pig for you in the meantime?" The boy saw no harm in this, so he took the bacon and ran with it to the house. But as he was telling the trolls how he came by the two flitches of bacon, they at once thought that Ederland might have a hand in the matter again, so they ran down to the beach as fast as they could. And there Ederland had been unable to get the pig into the boat.

So the trolls seized her as well as the pig. They dragged Ederland into the house, and handed her over to the old troll father, telling him to slaughter her, and dish up a real tasty supper for them when they came back from work. Then the trolls went off, and Ederland stayed behind with the old troll father. He dragged up a great block of wood, put down the axe beside it and said to her, "Now lay down your head on the block so that I can chop it off."

"Yes," said little Ederland, "I'm willing to do so, but I do not know how. First you will have to show me."

"Why," said the old troll father, "it is quite simple, you only need to do like this," and as he spoke he laid his head down on the block. In a moment Ederland had seized the axe and chopped off his head with a single stroke. She at once put a nightcap on the head, laid it in bed, and thrust the body into the soup-kettle that hung over the hearth. Then she ran down to the beach, took the pig and sailed away in her boat.

Not long after the trolls came home, and at once fell on the supper cooking over the stove. They were much surprised to find the meat so tough, when the person who had furnished it was so young. But they were hungry and managed to get it down. At last it occurred to one of them that their old father should also have his share. He went over to the bed and shook him; but they all were much frightened when they realized that his head alone was lying on the bed. At last they saw how everything had happened, left their supper and ran down to the beach. But by that time Ederland was far out to sea. The trolls came down in the most furious rage, and called after her, "Ederland, Ederland! You pushed our old mother into the well, you took our candlestick, you stole our horse, and now you have killed our old father and robbed us of our pig. If you come here again you will have to pay for it!"

But Ederland called back, "I shall never, never come back, and you need not expect me!"

So little Ederland sailed home, and her master received her very joyfully, and soon after they married and lived in peace and contentment. Her sisters lived with her, but they did nothing day by day, save brood over Ederland's good fortune.

One day Ederland said to them, "If you feel like sailing, you are welcome to my boat." The sisters decided to try it at once. They got into the boat, set sail and came to the island of the trolls. But when they got there the trolls seized them, cooked them and fried them, and were pleased as pleased could be to have made such a haul. 

Picture credits: 

Ederland the Poultry Maid: 'She sailed out upon the stormy sea, letting the waves carry her as they chose' : by George W Hood
Troll mother and son, by John Bauer


  1. Golly! A bloddthirsty one alright. Thanks for this.

    1. Ah, those sisters, they deserved it... And didn't the trolls deserve a tasty breakfast after all they'd been through! :)