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The motif Elves in HCA : Danish Popular Legends (1870)
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The motif Elves in HCA : Danish Popular Legends (1870)

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Keywords:

Nature, superstition, illusion

Description of this motif: Elves are in Andersen's oeuvre best known from the fairy tale "The Elf Mound", but are also represented in other tales, often as a part of supernatural sceneries.

Example :

Up in Jutland lived in a large hill such a mountain goblin, together with a great many other imps. One of his daughters was married to the smith of the village. The smith was a bad man, and beat his wife. At last she got tired of it, and one day as he was going again to beat her, she took a horse-shoe and broke it over him. She possessed such an immense strength, that she easily could have broken him in pieces too. He thought about it, and did not beat her any more. Yet it was rumored abroad, and her respect among the country-people was lost, and she was known as a »Trold barn« (an imp child). No one in the parish would have any intercourse with her. The mountain goblin got a hint of this; and one Sunday, when the smith and his wife, together with other parishioners, were standing in the church-yard, waiting for the minister, she looked out over the bay, where a fog was rising.

»Now comes father,« she said, »and he is angry!« He came, and angry he was.

»Will you throw them to me, or will you rather do the catching?« he asked, and looked with greedy eyes upon the churchpeople.

»The catching!« she said; for she knew well that he would not be so gentle when they fell into his hands. And so the mountain goblin seized one after another, and flung them over the roof of the church, while the daughter, standing on the other side, caught them gently. From that time she got along very well with the parishioners; they were all afraid of the mountain goblin, and many of that kind were scattered about the country. The best they could do was to avoid quarreling with him, and rather turn his acquaintance to their profit. They knew well that the imps had big kettles filled with gold money, and it was certainly worth while to get a handful of it; but for that they had to be cunning and ingenious, like the peasant of whom I am going to tell you; as also of his boy, who was still more cunning.

The peasant had a hill on his field, which he would not leave uncultivated; he ploughed it, but the mountain goblin, who lived in the hill, came out and asked, -

»How dare you plough upon my roof?«

»I did not know that it was yours!« said the peasant; »but it is not advantageous for any of us to let such a piece of land lie uncultivated. Let me plough and sow! and then you reap the first year what is growing over the earth, and I what grows in the earth. Next year we will change.« They agreed; and the peasant sowed the first year carrots, and the second corn. The mountain goblin got the top part of the carrots, and the roots of the corn. In this way they lived in harmony together.

But now it happened that there was to be a christening in the house of the peasant. The peasant was much embarrassed, as he could not well omit inviting the mountain goblin, with whom he lived in good accord; but if the imp accepted his invitation, the peasant would fall into bad repute with the minister and the other folk of the parish. Cunning as the peasant ordinarily was, this time he could not find out how to act. He spoke about it to his pig-boy, who was the more cunning of the two.

»I will help you!« said the boy; and taking a large bag, he went out to the hill of the mountain goblin; he knocked, and was let in. Then he said that he came to invite him to the christening. The mountain goblin accepted the invitation, and promised to come.

»I must give a christening-present, I suppose; mustn't I?«

»They usually do,« said the boy, and opened the bag. The imp poured money into it.

»Is that sufficient?« The boy lifted the bag.

»Most people give as much!« Then all the money in the large money kettle was poured into the bag.

»Nobody gives more – most less.«

»Let me know, now,« said the mountain goblin, »the great guests you are expecting.«

»Three priests and one bishop,« said the boy.

»That is fine; but such gentlemen look only for eating and drinking, – they don't care about me. Who else comes!« – »Mother Mary is expected!« – »Hm, hm! but I think there will always be a little place for me behind the stove! Well, and then?«

»Well, then comes »our Lord«.« – »Hm, hm, hm! that was mighty! but such highly distinguished guests usually come late and go away early. I shall therefore, while they are in, slink away a little. What sort of music shall you have?«

»Drum-music!« said the boy; »our Father has ordered a heavy thundering, after which we shall dance! drum-music it shall be.«

»O, is it not dreadful!« cried the mountain goblin. »Thank your master for the invitation, but I would rather stay at home. Did he not know, then, that thundering and drum are to me, and my whole race, a horror? Once, in my younger days, going out to take a walk, the thunder began to drum, and I got one of the drumsticks over my thigh-bone so that it cracked. I will not have more of that kind of music! Give my thanks and my greetings.«

And the boy took the bag on his back, and brought his master the great riches, and the imp's friendly greetings.

We have many legends of this sort, but those we have told ought to be enough for to-day!

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