Illustration by Vilhelm Pedersen

“The Elfin Hill” was written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in April, 1845. It doesn’t have the distinctly Christian viewpoint that many of his fairy tales do, but he does emphasize the importance of manners and politeness . As always, I enjoy his descriptions and, in this one, I like the variety of characters, from the elves to the woodland creatures to the goblins and the will-o’-the-wisps.

Two lizards scramble about a tree near the entrance to the elfin hill, commenting on the hustle and bustle within. They have heard the elf maidens are practicing new dances and both wonder the reason why.

An old maid elf hurries out and summons a raven to deliver invitations to an important event. “All the world may come to the great ball, even human beings, if they can only talk in their sleep, or do something after our fashion. But for the feast the company must be carefully selected; we can only admit persons of high rank; I have had a dispute myself with the elf king, as he thought we could not admit ghosts. The merman and his daughter must be invited first, although it may not be agreeable to them to remain so long on dry land, but they shall have a wet stone to sit on, or perhaps something better; so I think they will not refuse this time. We must have all the old demons of the first class, with tails, and the hobgoblins and imps; and then I think we ought not to leave out the death-horse, or the grave-pig, or even the church dwarf, although they do belong to the clergy, and are not reckoned among our people; but that is merely their office, they are nearly related to us, and visit us very frequently.”

The elf maidens begin their misty dances. The king polishes his crown and tells his inquisitive youngest daughter that he has arranged marriages between two of his daughters and two of the sons of the Goblin Chief of Norway, who all arrive at that moment with great ceremony.

The feast is held and the two sons are rowdy, boisterous, and rude. The elf maidens are paraded as potential brides, declaiming their most notable talents. The youngest can vanish, another plays the harp in a way that forces others to do what she tells them. One can make a figure of herself that would follow her like a shadow. One maiden knows how to “lard elfin puddings with glow-worms” which she learned from a witch, and another  can only tell the truth. One elf maiden can tell stories, and the Goblin Chief is so delighted by her that he chooses her for his own wife. (He is a widower.)

In the mean-time his sons, bored, had gone outside to harass the will-o’-the-wisps. They come back in, but declare they have no intention of marrying, that they much prefer to talk and drink and just enjoy themselves. Then they fall asleep on the table, never having chosen brides.

Dawn approaches, and the old maid elf closes the shutters.

The Goblin King was polite and interesting throughout the party, unlike his sons. “But their father, the old goblin, was very different; he talked pleasantly about the stately Norwegian rocks, and told fine tales of the waterfalls which dashed over them with a clattering noise like thunder or the sound of an organ, spreading their white foam on every side. He told of the salmon that leaps in the rushing waters, while the water-god plays on his golden harp. He spoke of the bright winter nights, when the sledge bells are ringing, and the boys run with burning torches across the smooth ice, which is so transparent that they can see the fishes dart forward beneath their feet. He described everything so clearly, that those who listened could see it all; they could see the saw-mills going, the men-servants and the maidens singing songs, and dancing a rattling dance.” I think the elf maiden who becomes his wife will be happy, but I think the rest are lucky that they don’t have to marry his sons.

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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