Popular Tales From the Norse
rather as akin to men than beasts; that they say he has the strength of ten and the wit of twelve men. If they slay him, they formally beg his pardon, as do also the Ostjaks, a tribe akin to the Lapps, and bring him to their huts with great formalities and mystic songs. To the Wolf, whose nickname is "Graylegs," 1 these Tales are more complimentary. He is not the spiteful, stupid, greedy Isengrim of Germany and France. Not that Isengrim, of whom old English fables of the thirteenth century tell us that he became a monk, but when the brethren wished to teach him his letters that he might learn the Paternoster, all they could get out of him was lamb, lamb; nor could they ever get him to look to the cross, for his eyes, with his thoughts, "were ever to the woodward." 2 He appears, on the contrary, in "The Giant who had no Heart in his Body," p. 59, as a kindly, grateful beast, who repays tenfold out of the hidden store of his supernatural sagacity the gift of the old jade, which Boots had made over to him.
The horse was a sacred animal among the Teutonic tribes from the first moment
of their appearance in history, and Tacitus 3 has related, how
in the shade of those woods and groves which served them for temples, white
horses were fed at the public cost, whose backs no mortal man crossed, whose
neighings and snortings were carefully watched as auguries and omens, and who
were thought to be
1. Comp. Vict. Hug., Nôtre-Dame de Paris, where he tells us that the gipsies called the wolf piedgris. See also Grimm, D. M., 633, and Reinhart, lv, ccvii, and 446.
2. Douce, Illust. to Shakspeare, ii. 33, 344, quoted in Reinhart Fuchs, ccxxi.
3. German. 9, 10.
conscious of divine mysteries. In Persia, too, the classical reader will remember how the neighing of a horse decided the choice for the crown. Here, in England, at any rate, we have only to think of Hengist and Horsa, the twin-heroes of the Anglo-Saxon migration, as the legend ran,--heroes whose name meant "horse,"--and of the vale of the White Horse in Berks, where the sacred form still gleams along the down, to be reminded of the sacredness of the horse to our forefathers. The Eddas are filled with the names of famous horses, and the Sagas contain many stories of good steeds, in whom their owners trusted and believed as sacred to this or that particular god. Such a horse is Dapplegrim in these Tales (p. 272), who saves his master out of all his perils, and brings him to all fortune, and is another example of that mysterious connection with the higher powers which animals in all ages have been supposed to possess.
Such a friend, too, to the helpless lassie is the Dun Bull in "Katie Woodencloak," p. 357, out of whose ear comes the "Wishing Cloth," which serves up the choicest dishes. The story is probably imperfect, as we should expect to see him again in human shape after his head was cut off, and his skin flayed; but, after being the chief character up to that point, he remains from that time forth in the background, and we only see him darkly in the man who comes out of the face of the rock, and supplies the lassie's wants when she knocks on it. Dun, or blue, or mouse-colour, is the favourite colour for fairy kine. Thus the cow which Guy of Warwick killed was dun. The Huldror in Norway have large flocks of blue kine. In Scotland runs the story of the Mouse-coloured Elfin Bull. In
Iceland the colour of such kine is apalgrâr, dapple grey. This animal has been an object of adoration and respect from the earliest times, and we need only remind our readers of the sanctity of cows and bulls among the Indians and Egyptians, of "the Golden Calf" in the Bible; of Io and her wanderings from land to land; and, though last, not least, of Audhumla, the Mythic Cow in the Edda, who had so large a part in the creation of the first Giant in human form. 1
The Dog, to which, with all his sagacity and faithfulness, something unclean and impure clings, as Grimm well observes, plays no very prominent part in these Tales. 2
1. Snorro's Edda, ch. vi., English trans., Stockholm, 1842.
2. Thus from the earliest times "dog," "hound," has been
a term of reproach. Great instances of fidelity, such as "Gellert"
or the "Dog of Montargis," both of which are Eastern and primeval,
have scarcely redeemed the cringing currish nature of the race in general from
disgrace. M. Francisque Michel, in his Histoire des Races Maudites de la France
et de l'Espagne, thinks it probable that Cagot, the nickname by which the heretical
Goths who fled into Aquitaine in the time of Charles Martel, and received protection
from that king and his successors, were called by the Franks, was derived from
the term Canis Gothicus or Canes Gothi. In modern French the word means 'hypocrite,'
and this would come from the notion of the outward conformity to the Catholic
formularies imposed on the Arian Goths by their orthodox protectors. Etymologically,
the derivation is good enough, according to Diez, Romanisches Worterbuch; Provençal
ca, dog; Got, Gothic. Before quitting Cagot, we may observe that the derivation
of bigot, our 'bigot,' another word of the same kind, is not so p. cli clear.
Michel says it comes from Vizigothus, Bizigothus. Diez says this is too far-fetched,
especially as "Bigot," "Bigod," was a term applied to the
Normans, and not to the population of the South of France. There is, besides,
another derivation given by Ducange from a Latin chronicle of the twelfth century.
In speaking of the homage done by Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, to the
King of France, he says--
"Hic non dignatus pedem Caroli osculari nisi ad os suum levaret, cumque sui comites illum admonerent ut pedem Regis in acceptione tanti muneris, Neustriæ provinciæ, oscularetur, Anglicâ linguâ respondit 'ne se bi got,' quod interpretatur 'ne per deum.' Rex vero et sui illum deridentes, et sermonem ejus corruptè referentes, illum vocaverunt Bigottum; unde Normanni adhuc Bigothi vocantur."
Wace, too, says, in the Roman de Rou, that the French had abused the Normans in many ways, calling them Bigos. It is also termed, in a French record of the year 1425, "un mot tres injurieux." Diez says it was not used in its present sense before the sixteenth century.
We find him, however, in "Not a Pin to choose between them," p. 173, where his sagacity fails to detect his mistress; and, as "the foe of his own house," the half-bred foxy hound, who chases away the cunning Fox in "Well Done and Ill Paid," p. 266. Still he, too, in popular superstition, is gifted with a sense of the supernatural; he howls when death impends, and in "Buttercup," p. 124, it is Goldtooth, their dog, who warns Buttercup and his mother of the approach of the old hag. In "Bushy Bride," p. 322, he appears only as the lassie's lap-dog, is thrown away as one of her sacrifices, and at last goes to the wedding in her coach; yet in that tale he has something weird about him, and he is sent out by his mistress three times to see if the dawn is coming.
In one tale (p. 264) the Goat appears in full force, and dashes out the brains of the Troll, who lived under the bridge over the burn. In another, "Tatterhood," p. 345, he helps the lassie in her onslaught on the witches. He, too, was sacred to Thor in the old mythology, and drew his thundering car. Here something of the divine nature of his former lord, who was the great foe of all Trolls, seems to have been passed on in popular tradition to the animal who had seen so many adventures with the great God who swayed the thunder. This feud between the Goat and the Trolls comes out curiously in "The Old Dame and her Hen," p. 14, where a goat falls down the trapdoor to the Troll's house: "Who sent for you, I should like to know, you lone-bearded beast?" said the Man o' the Hill, who was in an awful rage; and with that he whipped up the Goat, wrung his head off, and threw him down into the cellar." Still he belonged to one of the heathen gods, and so in later Middle-Age superstition he is assigned to the Devil, who even takes his shape when he presides at the Witches' Sabbath.
Nor in this list must the little birds be forgotten which taught the man's daughter, in the tale of "The Two Step-sisters," p. 113, how to act in her trials. So, too, in "Katie Woodencloak," p. 357, the little bird tells the Prince, "who understood the song of birds very well," that blood is gushing out of the golden shoe. The belief that some persons had the gift of understanding what the birds said is primeval. We pay homage to it in our proverbial expression, "A little bird told me." Popular traditions and rhymes protect their nests, as in the case of the wren, the robin, and the swallow. Occasionally this gift seems
to have been acquired by eating or tasting the flesh of a snake or dragon, as Sigurd, in the Volsung tale, first became aware of Regin's designs against his life, when he accidentally tasted the heart-blood of Fafnir, whom he had slain in dragon shape, and then all at once the swallow's song, perched above him, became as intelligible as human speech.
We now come to a class of beings which plays a large part, and always for
ill, in these Tales. These are the Giants or Trolls. In modern Norse tradition
there is little difference between the names, but originally Troll was a more
general expression for a supernatural being than Giant, 1 which
was rather confined to a race more dull than wicked. In the Giants we have the
wantonness of boundless bodily strength and size, which, trusting entirely to
these qualities, falls at last by its own weight. At first, it is true, that
proverbial wisdom, all the stores of traditional lore, all that could be learnt
by what may be called rule of thumb, was ascribed to them. One sympathises too
with them, and almost pities them as the representatives of a simple primitive
race, whose day is past and gone, but who still possessed something of the innocence
and virtue of ancient times, together with a stock of old experience, which,
however useful it might be as an example to others, was quite useless to help
1. The most common word for a giant in the Eddas was Jötunn (A.-Sax. eoten), which, strange to say, survives in the Scotch Etin. In one or two places the word Ogre has been used, which is properly a Romance word, and comes from the French ogre, Ital. orco, Lat. orcus. Here, too, we have an old Roman god of the nether world degraded.
They are the old Tories of mythology, as opposed to the Æsir, the advanced liberals. They can look back and say what has been, but to look forward to say what will be and shall be, and to mould the future, is beyond their ken. True as gold to the traditional and received, and worthless as dross for the new and progressive: such a nature, when unprovoked, is easy and simple; but rouse it, and its exuberant strength rises in a paroxysm of rage, though its clumsy awkward blows, guided by mere cunning, fail to strike the slight and lissom foe who waits for and eludes the stroke, until his reason gives him the mastery over sheer brute force which has wearied itself out by its own exertions. 1
This race, and that of the upstart Æsir, though almost always at feud, still had their intervals of common intercourse, and even social enjoyment. Marriages take place between them, visits are paid, feasts are given, ale is broached, and mirth is fast and furious. Thor was the worst foe the giants ever had, and yet he met them sometimes on good terms. They were destined to meet once for all on that awful day, "the twilight of the gods," but till then, they entertained for each other some sense of mutual respect.
The Trolls, on the other hand, with whom mankind had more to do, were supposed
to be less easy-tempered, and more systematically malignant, than the Giants,
and with the term were bound up notions of sorcery and
1. These paroxysms were called in Old Norse Jötunmodr, the Etin mood, as opposed to Asmodr, the mood of the Æsir, that diviner wrath which, though burning hot, was still under the control of reason.
unholy power. But mythology is a woof of many colours, in which the hues are shot and blended, so that the various races of supernatural beings are shaded off, and fade away almost imperceptibly into each other; and thus, even in heathen times, it must have been hard to say exactly where the Giant ended and the Troll began. But when Christianity came in, and heathendom fell, when the godlike race of the Æsir became evil demons instead of good genial powers, then all the objects of the old popular belief, whether Æsir, Giants, or Trolls, were mingled together in one superstition, as "no canny." They were all Trolls, all malignant; and thus it is that, in these Tales, the traditions about Odin and his underlings, about the Frost Giants, and about sorcerers and wizards, are confused and garbled; and all supernatural agency that plots man's ill is the work of Trolls, whether the agent be the arch-enemy himself, or giant, or witch, or wizard.
In tales such as "The Old Dame and her Hen," p. 14, "The Giant who had no Heart in his Body," p. 59, "Shortshanks," p. 131, "Boots and the Troll," p. 215, "Boots who ate a Match with the Troll," p. 36, the easy temper of the old Frost Giants predominates, and we almost pity them as we read. In another, "The Big Bird Dan," p. 382, we have a Troll Prince, who appears as a generous benefactor to the young Prince, and lends him a sword by help of which he slays the King of the Trolls, just as we sometimes find in the Edda friendly meetings between the Æsir and this or that Frost Giant. In "Tatterhood," p. 345, the Trolls are very near akin to the witches of the Middle Age. In other tales,