Thursday’s Tale: The Ash Lad who Made the Princess Say, “You’re a Liar!”

Askeladden by Theodor Kittelsen (1900) Original painting owned by the National Museum , Oslo
Askeladden by Theodor Kittelsen (1900) Original painting owned by the National Museum , Oslo

“The Ash Lad who Made the Princess Say, ‘You’re a Liar!'” is Norwegian fairy tale collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in Norwegian Folktales. Ash Lad, Askeladden in Norwegian,  sometimes also known as Boots, is the main character in many Norwegian stories. In some ways, he represents the small man who succeeds where all others fail. He always wins in the end, often winning the princess and half the kingdom. He is often portrayed as the youngest of three brothers, as in this story. Early in a typical tale, the older brothers appear to have much greater chances of success in life. For example, one brother might be extremely well read, whereas another might be extremely competent in another area. In contrast, the Ash Lad is looked down upon as a seemingly drowsy ne’er do well, perhaps even as a loner or misunderstood eccentric, who spends too much time sitting by the fireplace lost in thought as he is poking the ashes. As the typical story unfolds, the oldest brothers try first to heroically overcome some major crisis or problem. The two older brothers, who are tied to conventional thinking, typically fall flat on their faces. In contrast, it is the Ash Lad who comes up with creative solutions. He is smarter, more tactical, more receptive and more aware of the needs of others. He outwits trolls, dodges charging unicorns or gets a magic Viking ship to transport him where he ultimately saves the princess. In today’s story, the quest might not be as “heroic” but he does get the princess.

There was once a king who had a daughter, and she was such a liar that no on could equal her. So the king made it known that the one who could lie so that he made her say, “You’re a liar!” would get both her and half the kingdom. There were many who tried, but they all failed.

Then there were three brothers who were bent upon trying their luck. The two eldest set out first, but they fared no better that the others. So the Ash Lad set out, and he met the princess in the stable, where he traded lies with her. The princess claimed a farmyard too large for a man at one end to hear the horn blown at the other end; the Ash Lad said that a just bred cow that crossed their farmyard would give birth at the other side. The princess claimed to have an ox so big that when a man sits on each horn, one can’t reach the other with a twelve-foot pole. The lad said their ox was so big that when someone is sitting on each horn blowing a “lure,” one can’t hear the other.

And on and on it went until the lad told a story about a big gray horse. “I took a spruce tree and put it in for a backbone and no other back did the horse have as long as we had it. But that tree grew, and became so big that I climbed up to Heaven through it, and when I got there, one of the saints was sitting weaving a bristle rope of barley broth. All at once the spruce broke and I couldn’t get down again, but the good saint lowered me down on one of the ropes, and I landed in a fox’s den. And there sat my mother and your father patching shoes,” and suddenly his mother boxed her father’s ears.

“You’re a liar!” said the princess, stating her father had never done such a thing.

Presumably the Ash Lad marries the princess and gets half the kingdom.

Insulting someone’s parent is certainly a time-honored tradition, guaranteed to get a rise.

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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