East of the Sun and West of the Moon

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

“East of the Sun and West of the Moon” is a Scandinavian fairy tale. Many of the Scandinavian countries have fierce winters. The polar bear in this tale is probably a symbol of this cold, windy season.

Once upon a time there was a poor husband and wife who had many children. They were all beautiful, but the most beautiful of all was their youngest daughter.

One day the man heard a knock on the door so he went to answer it. When he opened the door, he found a great white bear.

“Will you give me your youngest daughter?” asked the white bear. “If you will, I'll make you rich.”

The father asked his daughter, who at first said no. Eventually, though, when he told her many times how nice it would be to have wealth, she agreed to go with the bear.

So the white bear came to fetch her and he asked, “Are you afraid?”

“No,” she said.

Off they went through the air, for the white bear could fly, until they came to a great mountain. The white bear knocked on it, and a door opened. They were inside a castle where there were many brilliantly lit rooms that shone with gold and jewels. The white bear gave the girl a silver bell. He told her that when she needed anything, she should ring it and what she desired would appear. She was sleepy after her journey and thought she would like to go to bed. She rang the bell, and instantly a bed appeared before her.

When she had tucked herself in and put out the light, a man came in and lay down beside her. It was the white bear. He could shed the form of the bear during the night. She never saw him, however, for he always came after she had turned out her light and went away before daylight appeared.

So all went well for a time, but then she began to be very sad because she missed her family. She told the bear why she was sad. He agreed that she could go visit her family if she promised never to talk with her mother alone.

Next day, the white bear took her to visit her family. Now, though, they lived in a grand home. As the white bear had promised, they had great wealth.

Her family was delighted to see her and they cried with joy. Everyone was grateful to her for all she had done for them.

One afternoon, her mother wanted to talk with her alone in her bedroom. But she remembered what the white bear had said and wouldn't go. But somehow or other her mother at last persuaded her, and she spilled the beans. She told how every night a man came and lay down beside her when the lights were all out. She also told how she never saw him, because he always went away before it grew light in the morning, and how she was sad because she missed her family.

Her mother listened. She then gave her a candle, so the girl could light it at night and see who crept into her bed. The girl took the candle and hid it in her pocket, and when evening came the white bear came to get her.

When they reached the white bear's home, she went right to bed. As it had happened before, a man came and lay down beside her. Late at night, when she could hear that he was sleeping, she got up and lit her candle. She saw the handsomest prince she had ever seen and fell in love with him. She leaned over to kiss him and accidentally dropped three spots of candle wax on his nightshirt.

This caused the white bear to wake up.

“What have you done?” he asked. “You have brought misery on both of us. If you had waited for just one year I would have been free. My stepmother bewitched me so that I am a white bear by day and a man by night. Now all is at an end between us. I must now go to her. She lives in a castle that lies east of the sun and west of the moon. There lives a princess with a nose that is monstrously long. Because you spied me with your candle, the enchantment won't be broken. Now I must marry the long-nosed princess.”

She cried, but there was nothing she could do. The white bear had to go.

“Where is this castle? I will find you,” she sobbed.

“You will never find it,” he said. “It lies east of the sun and west of the moon, and you'd never find your way there.”

When she awoke in the morning, both the prince and the castle were gone. She was lying on a small green patch in the midst of a dark, thick wood. By her side lay the same bundle of rotten rags that she had brought with her from her own home.

She set out on her way to find the prince. She walked until she came to a great mountain. Next to the mountain sat an old woman. In her hand she held a golden apple. The girl asked her if she knew the way to the castle that lay east of the sun and west of the moon.

“I really don't know how to get to the castle, but I'll lend you my horse. You can ride on it to an old woman who is a neighbor of mine. Perhaps she can tell you about him. When you get there, send the horse back to me, but you may take the golden apple with you.”

So the girl rode for a long, long way. At last she came to the mountain, where an old woman was sitting outside with a gold carding comb. The girl asked her if she knew the way to the castle that lay east of the sun and west of the moon.

“I know nothing about it, but that it is east of the sun and west of the moon, and that you will be a long time in getting to it, if ever you get there at all. But you may borrow my horse and ride to an old woman who lives near me. Perhaps she may know where the castle is. When you get to her, send the horse back to me. You may keep the gold carding-comb, though.”

So the girl rode a long way. After a time she came to a great mountain, where an old woman was sitting, spinning at a golden spinning wheel. This woman couldn't help the girl either, but she offered her the use of her horse.

“Ride to the East Wind, and ask him,” the old woman said. “When you get to the East Wind, send my horse back to me. You can keep my gold spinning wheel, though.”

The girl had to ride for a great many days before she got there. But at last she did arrive, and then she asked the East Wind if he could tell her the way to the prince. “Well,” said the East Wind, “I have heard of the prince and of his castle, but I do not know the way to it, for I have never blown so far. If you like, I will go with you to my brother, the West Wind. He may know, for he is much stronger than I am. You may sit on my back, and then I can carry you there.”

So she seated herself on his back and off they went! When they got there, the East Wind went in and said that the girl he had brought was looking for the prince at the castle that lay east of the sun and west of the moon.

“I don't know where the castle is,” said the West Wind. “I've never blown that far. If you like I will go with you to the South Wind, for he is much stronger than either of us. He has roamed so far and wide that perhaps he can tell you what you want to know.”

So they all journeyed to the South Wind. And they asked him if he knew the way to the castle that lay east of the sun and west of the moon, for she was the girl who ought to marry the prince who lived there.

“Well,” he said, “I have wandered about a great deal in my time, and in all kinds of places, but I have never blown so far as that. If you like, however, I will go with you to my brother, the North Wind. He is the oldest and strongest. You may sit upon my back, and then I will carry you there.”

Off they went to the North Wind's dwelling.

“What do you want?” he roared, and they froze as they heard his booming voice. Said the South Wind, “It is your brother, and this is she who should have married the prince who lives in the castle that lies east of the sun and west of the moon. And now she wishes to ask you if you have ever been there, and can tell her the way, for she would like to find him again.”

“Yes,” said the North Wind, “I know where it is. I once blew an aspen leaf there, but I was so tired that for many days afterward I was not able to blow at all. I will take you on my back, and try to see if I can blow you there.”

“Okay,” she said. “Let's go!”

“Very well then,” said the North Wind.

They set out in the morning, and the North Wind blew and blew until he finally threw the girl onto the shore, immediately under the windows of a castle that lay east of the sun and west of the moon.

Next morning she sat down beneath the walls of the castle to play with the golden apple. The first person she saw was the maiden with the long nose, who was to marry the prince. “How much do you want for that golden apple of yours, girl?” she said.

“It can't be bought with money,” answered the girl.

“If it cannot be bought with money, what will buy it?” asked the princess.

“Well, if I may go to the prince who is here, you shall have it,” said the girl who had come with the North Wind.

“You may do that,” said the princess. So the princess got the golden apple, but when the girl went up to the prince's apartment that night he was asleep, for the princess had put a spell on him. The poor girl called to him and shook him, but she could not wake him.

In the morning, in came the princess with the long nose and drove her out again. In the daytime she sat down once more beneath the windows of the castle and began to card with her golden carding comb. And all happened as it had happened before. The princess asked her what she wanted for it, and she replied that it was not for sale for money.

If, though, she could go to the prince and be with him during the night, the princess could have the carding comb. the princess agreed, but when the girl went up to the prince's room, he was again asleep. No matter what she did, the prince continued to sleep. When daylight came, the princess with the long nose came too, and once more drove her away.

Next day, the girl seated herself under the castle windows to spin with her golden spinning wheel, and the princess with the long nose wanted to have that also. They agreed to the same bargain.

This time, though, the prince was awake, because he didn't take the magic potion the long-nosed princess had given him.

“You have come just in time,” said the prince when he saw the girl, “for I was to be married tomorrow. I will not have the long-nosed princess, but you alone can save me. I will say that I want to see what my bride can do, and I will ask her to wash the shirt that has the wax on it. She won't be able to do it because she is not really human. She is a troll.”

The next day, the prince said, “I must see what my bride can do. I have a fine shirt that I want to wear as my wedding shirt, but three drops of wax have gotten on it, which I want to have washed off. I have vowed to marry only the woman who is able to do it. If she cannot do that, she is not worth having.”

The princess with the long nose began to wash the shirt as well as she could, but the more she washed and rubbed, the larger the spots grew.

“Oh! You can't wash at all,” said the old troll-hag, who was her mother. “Give it to me.” But she had not had the shirt very long in her hands before it looked worse still. The more she washed it and rubbed it, the larger and blacker grew the spots.

So the other trolls had to come and wash, but the more they did, the blacker and uglier grew the shirt. Finally the shirt was as black as if it had been used to scrub a chimney.

“Oh,” cried the prince, “not one of you is good for anything at all! There is a beggar-girl sitting outside the window. I'll bet that she can wash better than any of you! Come in, you girl there!” he cried. So she came in. “Can you wash this shirt clean?” he cried.

“Oh! I don't know,” she said, “but I will try.” And no sooner had she taken the shirt and dipped it in the water than it was white as snow.

“I will marry you,” said the prince.

Then the old troll-hag flew into such a rage that she exploded. The princess with the long nose and all the little trolls must have burst too, for they have never been heard of again.

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