Are you ready for a Norwegian Christmas tale featuring trolls, beheadings and two flowers? Tatterhood is another tale collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, although it never saw its way into Andrew Lang’s collections, and it’s weird, creepy and unsettling, but I also find it extraordinarily charming and has a really nice ending, […]
Are you ready for a Norwegian Christmas tale featuring trolls, beheadings and two flowers?
Tatterhood is another tale collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, although it never saw its way into Andrew Lang’s collections, and it’s weird, creepy and unsettling, but I also find it extraordinarily charming and has a really nice ending, so here we go.
A King and Queen had no children, and the Queen was so distressed that she sought comfort in raising an orphaned girl in their household. One day, however, their adopted child was playing with a poor beggar’s girl, and the Queen scolded her for keeping such an unbecoming company. Trying to defend herself, the adoptive Princess revealed her friend’s secret: the beggar’s mother was a witch, and she possessed great knowledge, including the way for the Queen to conceive a long-awaited child.
The Queen immediately summoned the beggar’s mother to court, but the woman denied possessing such knowledge and kept denying it until, treated with much wine, she finally admitted she knew of one way: the Queen had to bathe herself in exactly two pails of water right before bedtime and, before retiring, she should pour the two buckets under the bed. The next morning, she would find that two flowers had blossomed from the wet floor: one would be fair and sweet, but the second one will be a rare one. The Queen is to eat only from the fair flower, and she’ll be pregnant with the most wonderful girl.
Obeying the instructions, it’s no wonder the Queen wakes up to find the two flowers exactly as the woman has predicted: one is bright and lovely, with soft petals and a sweet scent, but the supposedly rare one is black and foul, strange in shape and unsettling to the touch. The Queen obeys instructions easily enough, and she eats the fair flower. Its taste is so sweet, however, that she succumbs to temptation and eventually eats the black one as well.
Everything plays out as the beggar woman has predicted and the Queen is immediately pregnant with a girl but, to her extreme dismay, she gives birth to a foul and strange creature: the newly born Princess is born with a wooden spoon in her hand and rides on top of a goat (it’s unclear to me whether the Queen gave birth to the goat as well, but let’s drop the subject before it gets unpleasant). She’s loud and ugly, headstrong, and is called Tatterhead because she wears a tattered cowl on her head (possibly a reference to en caul birth).
The Queen despairs her disobedience, but the adopted Princess comes to her aid once more, and she tells her that another girl will be born, springing from the fair flower, and she’ll be everything the beggar woman has promised.
And so it happens: the Queen gives birth to a second daughter and the new Princess is fair and sweet.
The girls grow up together and, although very different in both apparel and temperament, they are very fond of each other.
Time passes and one night on Christmas Eve, when the girls are still children, they hear a great racket coming from the gallery outside the Queen’s rooms.
Tatterhood, being curious and headstrong, demands to know what is causing the turmoil and eventually the Queen is forced to reveal that trolls and witches come to the palace every seven years due to an ancient curse and nothing can be done about it.
Tatterhood immediately decides she’ll drive away the infernal pack, instructs her mother to keep the door shut, and rides out on her goat. Worried about the sister, however, the younger princess opens one of the doors during the battle and takes a peek. Her head is instantly snatched off and replaced with a calf’s head.
Tatterhood is victorious, and the creatures are chased away from the castle, but there’s no joy in the Queen’s chambers.
Angry and vengeful, Tatterhood leaves her heartbroken mother and sets off on a quest to retrieve her sister’s head.
She embarks on a boat, with no crew aside from her faithful goat and her sister (the Adopted Princess is nowhere to be seen, at this point of the story, and I don’t want to know). Upon reaching the Troll’s kingdom on a distant island, they do battle and emerge victorious: the younger sister regains her head, and everything seems to be for the best.
On their return voyage, however, they are surprised by a storm and they end up on the shores of an unknown realm.
The widowed King of the realm falls immediately in love with the young, fair Princess and she seems to reciprocate. She’s however determined not to marry before her older beloved sister Tatterhood and refuses to consent to the King until he manages to convince his own son to marry the ugly princess.
Reluctant, the prince agrees, and the two weddings are to be celebrated on the same day.
While they’re conjointly riding towards the place for the ceremony, Tatterhood addresses her distressed betrothed.
“You didn’t ask me why I’m riding a goat”, she remarks.
Resigned to what he thinks will be a life of abuse from his ugly wife, the Prince resolves to obey. “Why are you riding a goat?”, he mutters.
Tatterhood answers she’s not riding a goat, but a beautiful horse. To everyone’s surprise, the goat turns into the most beautiful mare one has ever seen.
Without reacting to anyone’s surprise, Tatterhood carries on. “You didn’t ask me why I’m holding a wooden spoon”.
Now doubtful and with aroused interest, the Prince obeys once more. “Why are you holding a wooden spoon, princess?”.
Tatterhood smiles and answers she’s not holding a wooden spoon but a jewelled sceptre and the object reveals itself to be such.
“You didn’t ask me why I’m dressed in rags”, she carries on, and the Prince knows what to do.
“Why are you dressed in rags, Princess mine?”
She proceeds to reveal she’s wearing a crown and splendid robes.
The last question is the most important one. She remarks the Prince didn’t ask her why she’s so ugly and reveals herself to be far more beautiful than her sister.
Tatterhood chooses to appear ragged and this matters not: the Prince is now happy to marry such a rare woman and they’ll live happily ever after.