03 June 2011

Icelandic folk-tale: The Laughing Merman


Icelanders not only believed in the existence of selkies, but also in mer-people. The mermaids were said to be very beautiful, while the mermen were supposed to be ugly as sin but very wise and able to see things others did not.
Once upon a time a farmer went out fishing and pulled up a merman. He tried to get the merman to talk to him but he would not answer, except to beg him to release him back into the sea, but this the farmer refused to do.
The farmer rowed back to land, taking the captive merman with him. When he pulled up the boat on the shore, his wife came to him and greeted him with tenderness and kisses, which he received with pleasure. This made the merman laugh.

Then the man’s dog came to him and greeted him tenderly in the way of dogs, by jumping up to him, but the farmer hit the dog. Again the merman laughed.

Then the farmer walked up towards his house, but on the way he tripped over a tussock and hurt himself. He got angry and gave the tussock a good kicking. Then the merman laughed for the third time. 

Each time the merman laughed, the farmer asked him why he was laughing, but the merman kept his mouth shut and would not answer.

The farmer kept the merman with him for a year but was never able to get a word out of him. When approximately a year had passed since he caught the merman the merman asked him to please take him back out to sea and let him go home. The farmer said he would do that if he would tell him why he had laughed three times when they were coming back from the sea. The merman said he would do that, but only when they were out at sea and he was free.

The farmer agreed and rowed out with the merman to the area where he had caught him. When they arrived the merman said:

“The first time I laughed was when your wife greeted you so tenderly, because she is false and has been cheating on you. 

The second time I laughed was when you hit your dog, because he greeted you with sincere faithfulness and love.

The third time I laughed was when you kicked the tussock, because there is money hidden in it that you knew nothing about.”

The merman dived back down, but the farmer rowed back to land and dug up the tussock and found a great deal of money and became a wealthy man.


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.

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