Tales from Denmark (Andrew Lang)

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I Know What I Have Learned

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

Hans was the example of the fool whose life works like a charm: even though he decided not to remain in human society, he managed to overcome every obstacle that was placed in his path. Although he was a "fool," Hans turned out to have prowess and abilities that allowed him to outwit everyone around him. You are going to see something quite the opposite in the story of "I Know What I Have Learned." The foolish character in this story is the father whose three daughters are all married to trolls. And unlike Hans, this fool really is an idiot!
There was once a man who had three daughters, and they were all married to trolls, who lived underground. One day the man thought that he would pay them a visit, and his wife gave him some dry bread to eat by the way. After he had walked some distance he grew both tired and hungry, so he sat down on the east side of a mound and began to eat his dry bread. The mound then opened, and his youngest daughter came out of it, and said, 'Why, father! why are you not coming in to see me?'

'Oh,' said he, 'if I had known that you lived here, and had seen any entrance, I would have come in.'

Then he entered the mound along with her.

The troll came home soon after this, and his wife told him that her father was come, and asked him to go and buy some beef to make broth with.

'We can get it easier than that!' said the troll.

He fixed an iron spike into one of the beams of the roof, and ran his head against this till he had knocked several large pieces off his head. He was just as well as ever after doing this, and they got their broth without further trouble.

The troll then gave the old man a sackful of money, and laden with this he betook himself homewards. When he came near his home he remembered that he had a cow about to calve, so he laid down the money on the ground, ran home as fast as he could, and asked his wife whether the cow had calved yet.

'What kind of a hurry is this to come home in?' said she. 'No, the cow has not calved yet.'

'Then you must come out and help me in with a sackful of money,' said the man.

'A sackful of money?' cried his wife.

'Yes, a sackful of money,' said he. 'Is that so very wonderful?'

His wife did not believe very much what he told her, but she humoured him, and went out with him.

When they came to the spot where he had left it there was no money there; a thief had come along and stolen it. His wife then grew angry and scolded him heartily.

'Well, well!' said he, 'hang the money! I know what I have learned.'

'What have you learned?' said she.

'Ah! I know that,' said the man.

After some time had passed the man had a mind to visit his second eldest daughter. His wife again gave him some dry bread to eat, and when he grew tired and hungry he sat down on the east side of a mound and began to eat it. As he sat there his daughter came up out of the mound, and invited him to come inside, which he did very willingly.

Soon after this the troll came home. It was dark by that time, and his wife bade him go and buy some candles.

'Oh, we shall soon get a light,' said the troll. With that he dipped his fingers into the fire, and they then gave light without being burned in the least.

The old man got two sacks of money here, and plodded away homewards with these. When he was very nearly home he again thought of the cow that was with calf, so he laid down the money, ran home, and asked his wife whether the cow had calved yet.

'Whatever is the matter with you?' said she. 'You come hurrying as if the whole house was about to fall. You may set your mind at rest: the cow has not calved yet.'

The man now asked her to come and help him home with the two sacks of money. She did not believe him very much, but he continued to assure her that it was quite true, till at last she gave in and went with him. When they came to the spot there had again been a thief there and taken the money. It was no wonder that the woman was angry about this, but the man only said, 'Ah, if you only knew what I have learned.'

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • where the first troll get beef for broth? what did the man bring home from visiting this troll?
  • where did the second troll get light without candles? what did the man bring home from visiting this troll?
  • why was the man's wife getting frustrated with him?

Source: Andrew Lang: Pink Fairy Book (1897). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM