The Bear Trainer and His Cat

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1161
(also categorized as migratory legends of Christiansen type 6015)

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2013


Contents

  1. Peer Gynt and the Trolls (Norway).

  2. The Cat on the Dovrefjell (Norway).

  3. The Cat of Norrhult (Sweden).

  4. The Troll and the Bear (Denmark).

  5. The Kobold and the Polar Bear (Germany).

  6. The Cat Mill (Germany).

  7. The Water Nix in the Oil Mill near Frauendorf (Germany).

  8. The Water-Man (Moravia).

  9. Kelpie and the Boar (Scotland).


Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Peer Gynt and the Trolls

Norway

In the olden days there lived in Kvam a hunter, whose name was Peer Gynt, and who was always roaming about in the mountains after bears and elks, for in those days there were more forests on the mountains than there are now, and consequently plenty of wild beasts....

Shortly before Christmas, Peer set out again on another expedition. He had heard of a farm on Dovrefell which was invaded by such a number of trolls every Christmas Eve that the people on the farm had to move out, and get shelter at some of their neighbors. He was anxious to go there, for he had a great fancy to come across the trolls again. He dressed himself in some old ragged clothes, and took a tame white bear, which he had, with him, as well as an awl, some pitch, and twine.

When he came to the farm he went in and asked for lodgings.

"God help us!" said the farmer; " we can't give you any lodgings. We have to clear out of the house ourselves soon and look for lodgings, for every Christmas Eve we have the trolls here."

But Peer thought he should be able to clear the trolls out -- he had done such a thing before; and then he got leave to stay, and a pig's skin into the bargain. The bear lay down behind the fireplace, and Peer took out his awl, and pitch, and twine, and began making a big, big shoe, which it took the whole pig's skin to make. He put a strong rope in for laces, that he might pull the shoe tightly together, and, finally, he armed himself with a couple of handspikes.

Shortly he heard the trolls coming. They had a fiddler with them, and some began dancing, while others fell to eating the Christmas fare on the table -- some fried bacon, and some fried frogs and toads, and other nasty things which they had brought with them.

During this some of the trolls found the shoe Peer had made. They thought it must belong to a very big foot. They all wanted to try it on at once, so they put a foot each into it; but Peer made haste and tightened the rope, took one of the handspikes and fastened the rope round it, and got them at last securely tied up in the shoe.

Just then the bear put his nose out from behind the fireplace, where he was lying, and smelt they were frying something.

"Will you have a sausage, pussy?" said one of the trolls, and threw a hot frog right into the bear's jaw.

"Scratch them, pussy!" said Peer

The bear got so angry that he rushed at the trolls and scratched them all over, while Peer took the other handspike and hammered away at them as if he wanted to beat their brains out. The trolls had to clear out at last, but Peer stayed and enjoyed himself with all the Christmas fare the whole week. After that the trolls were not heard of there for many years.

Some years afterwards, about Christmastime, the farmer was out in the forest cutting wood for the holidays, when a troll came up to him and shouted: "Have you got that big pussy of yours, yet?"

"Oh, yes, she is at home behind the fireplace," said the farmer; "and she has got seven kittens all bigger and larger than herself."

"We'll never come to you any more, then," said the troll.




The Cat on the Dovrefjell

Norway

Once upon a time there was a man up in Finnmark who had caught a large white bear, which he was going to take to the King of Denmark. It so happened that he came to the Dovrefjell on Christmas Eve. He went to a cottage where a man lived whose name was Halvor, and he asked the man for lodging for himself and his white bear.

"God bless us!" said the man, "but we can't give anyone lodging just now, for every Christmas Eve the house is so full of trolls that we are forced to move out, and we'll have no shelter over our own heads, to say nothing of providing for anyone else."

"Oh?" said the man, "If that's all, you can very well let me use your house. My bear can sleep under the stove here, and I can sleep in the storeroom."

Well, he begged so hard, that at last he got permission to stay there. The people of the house moved out, but before they went, everything was made ready for the trolls. The table was set with cream porridge and fish and sausages and everything else that was good, just as for any other grand feast.

When everything was ready, in came the trolls. Some were large, and some were small. Some had long tails, and some had no tails at all. And some had long, long noses. They ate and drank and tasted everything.

Then one of the troll youngsters saw the white bear lying under the stove, so he took a piece of sausage, stuck it onto a fork, and went and poked it against the white bear's nose, burning it. Then he shrieked, "Kitty, do you want some sausage?"

The white bear rose up and growled, and then chased the whole pack of them out, both large and small.

A year later Halvor was out in the woods at midday of Christmas Eve, gathering wood for the holidays, for he expected the trolls again. As he was chopping, he heard a voice shouting from the woods, "Halvor! Halvor!"

"Yes?" said Halvor.

"Do you still have that big cat?"

"Yes," said Halvor. "She's lying at home under the stove, and what's more, she now has seven kittens, far bigger and fiercer than she is herself."

"Then, we'll never come to your place again," shouted the troll in the woods, and since that time the trolls have never eaten their Yule porridge with Halvor on the Dovrefjell."




The Cat of Norrhult

Sweden

On the estate of Norrhult, in the parish of Rumskulla, the people in olden times were very much troubled by trolls and ghosts. The disturbances finally became so unbearable that they were compelled to desert house and home, and seek an asylum with their neighbors. One old man was left behind, and he, because he was so feeble that he could not move with the rest.

Some time thereafter, there came one evening a man having with him a bear, and asked for lodgings for himself and companion. The old man consented, but expressed doubts about his guest being able to endure the disturbances that were likely to occur during the night.

The stranger replied that he was not afraid of noises, and laid himself down, with his bear, near the old man's bed.

Only a few hours had passed, when a multitude of trolls came into the hut and began their usual clatter. Some of them built the fire in the fireplace, others set the kettle upon the fire, and others again put into the kettle a mess of filth, such as lizards, frogs, worms, etc. When the mess was cooked, the table was laid, and the trolls sat down to the repast. One of them threw a worm to the bear, and said, "Will you have a fish, kitty?"

Another went to the bear-keeper and asked him if he would not have some of their food. At this the latter let loose the bear, which struck about him so lustily that soon the whole swarm was flying through the door.

Some time after, the door was again opened, and a troll with mouth so large that it filled the whole opening peeked in.

"Sic him!" said the bear-keeper, and the bear soon hunted him away also.

In the morning the stranger gathered the people of the village around him and directed them to raise a cross upon the estate, and to engrave a prayer on Cross Mountain, where the trolls dwelt, and they would be freed from their troublesome visitors.

Seven years later a resident of Norrhult went to Norrköping. On his way home he met a man who asked him where he came from, and, upon being informed, claimed to be a neighbor, and invited the peasant to ride with him on his black horse Away they went at a lively trot along the road, the peasant supposed, but in fact high up in the air. When it became quite dark the horse stumbled so that the peasant came near falling off.

"It is well you were able to hold on," said the horseman. "That was the point of the steeple of Linköping's cathedral that the horse stumbled against. Listen!" continued he. "Seven years ago I visited Norrhult. You then had a vicious cat there. Is it still alive?"

"Yes, truly, and many more," said the peasant.

After a time the rider checked his horse and bade the peasant dismount. When the latter looked around him he found himself at Cross Mountain, near his home.

Some time later another troll came to the peasant's cottage and asked if that great savage cat still lived.

"Look out!" said the peasant. "She is lying there by the oven, and has seven young ones, all worse than she."

"Oh!" cried the troll, and rushed for the door.

From that time no trolls have ever visited Norrhult.




The Troll and the Bear

Norway

In Højegaard in old days no one could stay over Christmas Eve. All the folk had to go down to the old farm in Rønnebæk, which has long been given up, and stay there till Christmas morning, for every Christmas Eve there came an ugly troll from Dragehøi, with a sackful of toads on his back, which he roasted at the fire in the sitting room, and ate one after another; but if any one ventured to stay there over night, he might be prepared to be torn in pieces by the troll.

One time, just as the folk were leaving the farm, there came a man who went about with a bear, exhibiting it. They told him why they had to leave, and advised him also to get away from there; but the man begged to be allowed to stay overnight, and as he was bent on doing so they finally gave him leave.

Towards evening, the troll came with his sack on his back, sat down by the fire, opened it and pulled out the one toad after the other, took each by a hind leg and held it over the fire till it was roasted, and then swallowed it. So one toad after the other went into him for some time, till he began to be satisfied.

Then he turned to the man, and said, "What's your dog's name?"

"Toad," said the man.

The troll took a toad, roasted it, and held it out to the bear, saying, "Toad shall have a toad," but the bear growled, and began to rise.

"Yes," said the man to the troll, "just you take care, and not make him angry, or he'll tear you in pieces."

The troll looked quite frightened, and asked, "Have you any more like him?"

"Yes," said the man, "this one has five young ones, which are lying outside on the baking oven."

The troll made haste to tie up the toads he had left in the sack, threw it on his back, and went out at the door in a hurry.

Next morning, when the people of the farm came home, the man was lying all right in the bed, and the bear beside the fire, both quite comfortable. When the man told them how he had got on, they were very glad, and bade him come again next Christmas Eve, which he did, but the troll did not come, and has never shown himself there since.




The Kobold and the Polar Bear

Germany

The king of Norway sends a polar bear (wazzerber) as a gift to the king of Denmark. The bear and its leader have just landed in Denmark when night overtakes them and they hasten on to a house by the roadside. The Norseman explains to the fanner that the bear is not a dangerous monster and asks quarters for the night.

This request the farmer would gladly grant, but he confesses that he has no power over his homestead after nightfall, for a malicious kobold (schretel) drives him and his cattle away each evening. The stranger declares his reliance on God, and repeats his request, to which the host gives unwilling assent. Well supplied with food, man and bear prepare to spend the night in the bakery.

While both are asleep a red-capped kobold scarcely three spans long comes up to the fire and begins to roast some meat on an iron spit. Jealously it eyes the interlopers, particularly the bear, until passion so overcomes it that it strikes the bear on the back of the head.

The bear snarls but makes no move. When the meat drips fat the schretel deals another blow and the bear "turns the other cheek." Finally, when the chop sizzles with the heat, the little fellow raises spit and all high above his head and brings it down on the bear's mouth.

Then the bear does not prove to be so lazy after all, and the scuffle begins in earnest. For some time neither side has an advantage, but ultimately the kobold is obliged to give in. All the while the bear's master has been watching the melee from a safe retreat in the oven, and even when the disturber of the peace has fled he does not venture forth.

On the morrow the householder inquires somewhat anxiously about the health of his visitors, and before they go on learns the events of the night.

Later that morning when the farmer has gone out into the field to plow, the disheveled kobold comes running up to him with the query: "Is your big cat still alive?"

With ready wit the farmer grasps the situation, and assures the kobold that the "old cat" in addition to being alive is now the mother of five young ones. Thereupon the kobold flees forever, and since then the farmer and his family have lived happily in the farmhouse.




The Cat Mill

Germany

There is a mill called the Cat Mill near Schwanditz in the vicinity of Altenburg. This is how it received its name.

In times past, a kobold frequented a hill above the mill, and every evening he would enter the mill and demand a certain measure of beer, which he then drank.

Once a bear trainer was spending the night in the mill with his bears. The kobold arrived, jumping onto first one and then onto another one of the bears, when they turned on him and mauled him terribly. Injured, he was barely able to escape.

He did not return to the mill, and one day, looking down from the hilltop, he saw the miller and asked, "Miller, do you still have those mean cats?"

And that is how the mill came to be known as the Cat Mill.




The Water Nix in the Oil Mill near Frauendorf

Germany

Ages ago a water nix would bring fish to the so-called Oil Mill located at Frauendorf Manor on a channel of the River Spree near Cottbus. The nix would ask the miller to cook the fish, after which the nix would eat them right at the mill. With time these uncanny visits came to annoy the miller, but he never dared to turn down his uninvited visitor's requests.

However, the time came when fate freed him from the nix.

One evening a bear trainer came to Frauendorf with his tamed bear and asked the miller for a night's lodging. The latter, a good-hearted man, did not refuse him. To keep it from harming anyone, the bear was chained up behind the table in the main room.

Not long afterward the nix entered the mill with a catch of fish. With the miller's permission he cooked them, and then sat down next to the bear behind the table and began to eat them. The hungry bear could not resist the tempting smell of the tasty meal, and wasted no time in helping himself from the nix's plate. This angered the nix, who struck at the bear's paws with his spoon. The bear let this happen a few times, but when the blows became more painful, he became furious. He grabbed the nix and crushed him terribly, until the bear trainer jumped up and rescued the nearly dead nix from the beast's claws.

The nix ran quickly out the door, jumped into the water, and was not seen again for a whole year. At the end of this time, the miller was one day working near his waterway, when the nix, wearing his red cap, suddenly emerged from the water, greeted the miller, then asked with a whining voice, "Master miller, do you still have that large cat?"

The miller, fearing that the nix wanted to take up his regular visits again, quickly answered, "Yes, she is lying behind the stove, and she has ninety-nine young ones!"

To this the nix replied, "I'll never again come to your place!" Then he disappeared beneath the water and was never seen there again.




The Water-Man

Moravia

A bear trainer with his dancing bear once came to an isolated mill and asked the miller to take them in for the night, as there was no village far and wide, and night was already falling.

"I would be glad to take you in," said the miller, "if you are not afraid, for a water-man comes into the mill every night and plays pranks on anyone sleeping or even just passing time in the grinding room, and I don't have room for you anywhere else."

"What sort of pranks?" asked the bear trainer.

"Just practical jokes," replied the miller, "but they make the people who come to the mill angry, and they won't come back. I've lost a lot of customers because of this. Once he smeared pitch on someone's boot soles, so that he stuck to the floor when he stood up. He poured water into someone else's boots, or sprinkled bran in their hair. He sewed another person's pockets shut. Once he even put someone who was sleeping in the mill into a sack and hung it on a beam, and more such pranks."

"If that's all there is, it won' bother me," said the bear trainer. "I'll stay."

So the miller put a bundle of straw on the floor for him, and the man lay down with the bear at his side, and they slept until twelve o'clock. The trainer was awakened by the bear's roaring. He jumped up and saw the bear wrestling with the water-man. The latter had never seen a bear before, and when he took hold of the bear's fur, the bear held him tightly with his paws.

The trainer quickly went to the mill and started it running. Then he grabbed the water-man by his feet. The bear held him up, and thus they set him on the millstone and held him there, in spite of his cries, until half of his behind had been ground away. Then they let him go, and went back to sleep.

Early the next morning the miller came out and was amazed that both of them were sleeping so soundly. When the trainer woke up he told the miller about their last night's adventure, at which the miller had to laugh until he held his belly.

As they parted, the miller gave presents to the bear trainer, and invited him to stay with him the next time he came that way. Then he lit his pipe and lay down contentedly near the window.

A little dwarf came up to him. He was wearing yellow trousers, a bright-red vest, a green jacket, and a blue cap. He said to the smoker, "Miller, do you still have that big cat?"

"Yes," said the latter, "I still have her."

"Farewell then. You'll never see me again," he said, and trotted away.




The Kelpie and the Boar

Scotland

A miller was annoyed by a kelpie entering his mill during night and playing havoc among the grain and meal. One night he shut up in the mill his boar, for a miller generally kept a good many pigs and a breeding sow or two. As usual kelpie entered the mill. The boar stood on his defence, and fought the kelpie.

Next night the creature appeared at the miller's window, and called to him, "Is there a chattie i' the mill the nicht?"

"Aye, there is a chattie i' the mill, an will be for ever mair," was the answer.

Kelpie returned no more to the mill.




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Revised February 11, 1013.