Friday Night Folklore: Father of eighteen in Elfland

Once upon a time there was a farmer’s wife. One summer day she was at home and looking after the house with only her young son, some three or four years old, for company. The boy had grown big and strong for his age, a bright child who had learned to speak correctly and clearly and was the pride of his parents.

The mother had some chores to do besides guarding the house and looking after her son, and had to leave him alone while she went to a nearby brook to wash the milk pails. She left the child in the doorway of the house and was gone for some time.

When she returned and spoke to the boy, he cried out and started yelling, kicking and crying in a strange and frightening way, which was surprising as he had always been a very quiet child, gentle and sweet-tempered. But all she could get from him now were yells and screams.

After this the boy never spoke a word, but was always crying and acting up and could not be consoled, so that his mother no longer knew him for the same child. This went on for some time, during which he also stopped growing.

His mother was saddened and bothered by this turn of events and finally in her despair she went to see her neighbour, a woman both wise and knowing, and told her about her child's condition. The woman questioned her closely about everything that had happened, how it had happened and when and where. When she had heard the whole story, the wise woman said to the mother:

“Do you not think, my dear, that the boy is a changeling? It is my belief that he was switched when you left him alone in the doorway.”

“I don't know,” she replied. “Can you tell me how to find out?”

“That I can. Leave the child so that he thinks he is all alone and make sure he sees something new and curious. He will speak if he thinks he is alone. Hide and listen to what he says and if you think his words strange, take a rod and beat him mercilessly until something happens.”

Thus ended their conversation, and the mother thanked her neighbour for the good advice and went home.

Once she came home, the mother took a small cauldron and put it in the middle of the kitchen floor. Then she took a number of sticks and tied them together so that she could poke the end up the chimney, and at the lower end she tied a wooden spoon and put it in the cauldron. Then she went and got the boy and put him on the kitchen floor and left him there, but hid just outside the door and listened closely to what was happening within, keeping an eye on the boy through a chink in the door.

Shortly after she had walked out she saw the boy stand up. He started circling the cauldron and looking curiously at the elongated spoon. Then he said: “Now I am as old as my beard may show, a father of eighteen in Elfland, but I have never seen such a long shaft in such a wide pot.”

Hearing this, the woman opened the door and walked into the kitchen with birch rod in her hand and proceeded to beat the changeling with it, hard and without any mercy, which made him
scream loudly in pain. When she hand been at it for a while she saw a strange woman enter the kitchen, carrying a beautiful boy child in her arms.

“Our actions are unlike.” she said, “I caress your son and you beat my husband.”

With these words she set down the child and walked out with the changeling. But the little boy grew up to be a good and useful man.

Stories of changelings and children stolen by elves are very common in the folklore of many countries, and some folk-tales suggest that elves are few in number and slow breeders and that they steal children in order to improve their breeding stock and increase fertility. The same has, at least in Icelandic folk-tales, been said about trolls. 

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.


Rose said…
These tales are very enjoyable. Thanks for sharing, and please keep it up!
Bibliophile said…
Thanks. I intend to.

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