Thursday, April 5, 2012
"Schretel and the Polar Bear"
"In conclusion, we quote a legend of the Domestic Spirit, which is in a Heidelberg Codex, and the contents, perfectly agreeing with the still current traditions, are as remarkable as the manner in which it is told is agreeable. The MS. is of the fourteenth century, the poem in probability still older, and composed in the thirteenth century. Respecting the source of this tale, it seems most natural to assume, that a German had heard the tale in the North, or that a travelling Norwegian related it in Germany.
The king of Norway wishes to make the king of Denmark a present of a tame white bear. The Norseman who conducts him thither stops in a village on the road, and begs a lodging for the night of a Dane. He does not refuse him, but explains to the stranger that he is not master of his house, because a spirit torments him in it:
'I cannot by any means discover what kind of creature it is. Its hand is as heavy as lead; whoever it reaches with its blow, it strikes so hard that he falls to the ground. Its form and its limbs I have unfortunately never seen. I must tell you for truth that I never knew a spirit so strong or so nimble; tables, chairs, and benches it tosses like a ball; it throws about all the dishes and pots; it rattles everything before it, oven stones and boards, baskets and all the chests: in short, it breaks to pieces everything that is in my house.'
Upon this he had quitted his house with all his servants, choosing rather to build a hut in the fields. The Norseman, who had only to stop in the house for that night, takes up his quarters in the kitchen, roasts his meat at the fire, and is quite merry; at length he lays himself down to sleep. The bear, who has also finished his meal, and is tired with his journey, stretches himself by the fireside.
'Now when the good man laid down and enjoyed sleep after his fatigue, and the wearied bear was also sleeping, hark! how a Schretel, scarce three spans high, comes running along, and goes up quickly towards the fire. It was dressed quite eislich (Elfish?) and wore a red cap. That you may know the truth, he had put a piece of meat upon an iron spit, which he was carrying in his hand. The Schretel monster sat down near the fire, and roasted his meat; and when he perceived the bear, he said within himself: "What does this creature here! It is so hideously dressed! And if it should remain here with thee, thou mightest easily receive some hurt. No, troth! it shall not abide here. The others I have scared away, and I am not so cowardly but it shall quit this room for me!" With anxious look he gazed upon the bear, he looked all round; at length he roused himself, and gave the bear a blow upon the neck with the spit. The bear raised himself and grinned upon him; the Schretel jumped from him, and continued to roast his meat; and when it was well basted he gave the bear a blow; but Bruin bore it patiently: he continued roasting his meat; and when he saw that it began to hiss and froth, he lifted the meat on the spit over his head, and with all his might struck the bear across the snout. Now the bear was not so lazy; he sprang up and ran at him.'
A scene of scuffling and scratching now commences between the Bear and the Schretel; the bear growls so loud his master awakes, and in his terror creeps into the oven:
"nu biza biz,nu limma limm!
nu kratza kratz, nu krimma krim!
sie bizzen unde lummen
sie kratzen unde krummen."
The combat is for a long time uncertain; at length, however, the bear is victorious, and the Schretel suddenly disappears. The bear, quite fatigued and hurt, lies down on the ground and rests his weary limbs. Early in the morning the Norseman creeps out of the oven, takes leave of the Dane, who is surprised to see him alive, and then continues his journey with his bear. Meantime the Dane is preparing his plow:
'He went with it to his field and drove his oxen before him. Now the Schretel ran that way, and stepped before him on a stone; his legs were all besmeared with blood, his body was all over scratched and bitten, and the cap he wore was rumpled and torn. He called out like an Elf, and loudly enough, said to the farmer, "Dost thou hear? Dost thou hear? Dost thou hear, fellow? Is thy great cat still alive?" He turned and looked at it, and thus the farmer answered him; "Yes, yes, my great cat, to spite thee, is still alive, thou evil wight! To-day she has had five kittens, which are all fine and handsome, white and beautiful, all like the old cat."__"Five kittens!" says the Schretlin. "Yes! By my troth; run and look at them; you never saw such fine kittens in all your life: go and see if it is true."__"No, indeed," says the Schretel, "no; if I were to look at them it would be the worse for me--no, no, I shall not go there. Now there are six of them--they might murder me: the one hurt me so much that I will never go into your house again as long as I live." This was just what the farmer wished to hear; the Schretel vanished, the farmer returned home immediately, took up his abode again in his house, where he dwelt in safety; he and his wife and children lived there happily.'"
--from Fairy Legends and Traditions of Southern Ireland (1825), by T. Crofton Croker.