Thursday’s Tale: The Obstinate Man

Man and wife from Angmagsalik
Man and wife from Angmagsalik

It’s finally winter around here. My feet have been cold all day, even with a space heater blowing on them. Tuesday, Amber had the day off of school because of the snow. Not my favorite time of year, but it did make me want to find a cold tale for today. This one comes from Greenland and was retold by Knud Rasmussen in Eskimo Folk-Tales, 1921, edited and translated by W. Worster.

There was once an Obstinate Man — no one in the world could be as obstinate as he. And no one dared come near him, so obstinate was he, and he would always have his own way in everything.

One day his wife was in mourning because her child had died. Therefore she was obliged to remain idle at home as was the custom.

And while she sat thus idle and in mourning, her husband, that Obstinate One, came in one day and told her to sew the skin of his kayak. Sher responded that she was not allowed to do any work, but he forced her to.

She went down to the shore and began sewing, but soon her thread began to make a little sound, and the little sound grew to a muttering, louder and louder. At last a monster in the shape of a dog came up out of the sea and asked, “Why are you sewing, you who are still in mourning?” She told him that her obstinate husband would not listen to her. The dog then attacked the husband, but the obstinate one, who was sure he would get his own, fought with the dog and killed it.

The owner of the dog appeared, and he turned out to be the Moon Man. The Moon Man attacked the husband and the husband almost killed him, but the Moon Man said if he was dead there would be no tides, the seals wouldn’t breed and there would never again be daylight, so the man let him go.

Then the Moon Man called his dog to life again, and got ready to leave. He took his team and cast the dogs up into the air one by one, and they never came down again, and at last there was the whole team of sledge dogs hovering in the air.

“May I come and visit you in the Moon?” asked the Obstinate One.

“Yes, come if you please,” said the Moon Man. “But when you see a great rock in your way, take great care to drive round behind it. Do not pass it on the sunny side, for if you do, your heart will be torn out of you.” And then the Moon Man cracked his whip, and drove off through the air.

Now the Obstinate One began to get ready for his journey to the moon. He had cleaned his dogs in the sea twice before they were clean enough to stay in the air when he threw them. He made himself a sledge, threw his team of dogs up in the air, and drove off.

But when he came to the rock he was to drive round, this Obstinate One said to himself, “Why should I drive round a rock at all? I will go by the sunny side.”

When he came up alongside, he heard a woman singing drum songs, and whetting her knife; she kept on singing, and he could hear how the steel hummed as she worked. He tried to overpower the old woman, but lost his senses. And when he came to himself, his heart was gone. “I had better go round after all,” he thought to himself. And he went round by the shady side.

He came to the moon and told how he had lost his heart. The Moon Man made him lie down at full length on his back, with a black sealskin under him. Then the Moon Man fetched his heart from the woman and stuffed it in again. While the husband was there, the Moon Man let him look down on to the earth. He saw his wife sitting on the bench, plaiting sinews for thread, even though she was still in mourning. A thick smoke rose from her body; the smoke of her evil thoughts, and her thoughts were evil because she was working before her mourning time was passed.

And her husband grew angry at this, forgetting that he had himself but newly bidden her work despite her mourning.

And after he had been there some time, the Moon Man opened a stone in the entrance to the passage way, and let him look down. The place was full of walrus, there were so many that they had to lie one on top of another. “It is a joy to catch such beasts,” said the Moon Man, and the Obstinate One felt a wanted to harpoon one of them. The Moon Man told him not to and offered him a share of his own catch, but the man insisted and , taking one of the harpoons form Moon Man, killed two walruses.

After his return from the Moon Man’s place, he left off being obstinate, and never again forced his wife to work while she was in mourning.

Honestly, I’m not sure what changed the man’s attitude. Everything seemed to work out pretty well for him when he was being obstinate. He got to visit the moon and killed the walruses. Really, the only bad thing was he lost his heart but the Moon Man returned it. But it wouldn’t be a good ending if he didn’t change, would it?

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

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