Scandinavian Folklore and Folktales #5: Chain Tale from Norway

This month’s Folklore/Folktale is from Norway. It is called the Nanny Who Wouldn’t Go Home For Supper. It is part of a large collection of folktales from around the world called Chain Tales or Cumulative Tales.

Some popular chain tales include Green Eggs and Ham, Old McDonald’s Farm, the Gingerbread Man, and even The 12 Days of Christmas. They have very little plot and rely on  repetition and sometimes rhyme.

You are probably familiar with two popular Chain Tales – There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly:

and The House That Jack Built.

You can find more Norwegian Folk Tales in this book

The Nanny Who Wouldn’t Go Home For Supper is the story of a boy, Espen, who was in charge of a goat, Nanny, and apparently Espen was not allowed to have dinner until Nanny had been returned home safely. When Nanny refuses to return home Espen asks his mother (who is never given a name) and she gives him some ideas on how to make Nanny come home. Some of these ideas involve a fox, an ox, a wolf, and a Finn among other suggestions.

The story is found in Fairy Tales from the Far North by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, , translated from the Norwegian by H. L. Brækstad (London: David Nutt, 1897), pp. 246-52. (If you want to read it in Norwegian you can find it here.)  It begins like this:

There was once upon a time a woman who had a son and a goat. The son was called Espen and the goat they called Nanny. But they were not good friends, and did not get on together, for the goat was perverse and wayward, as goats will be, and she would never go home at the right time for her supper. So it happened one evening that Espen went out to fetch her home, and when he had been looking for her a while he saw Nanny high, high up on a crag:

“My dear Nanny, you must not stay any longer up there; you must come home now, it is just supper time. I am so hungry and want my supper.”

“No, I shan’t,” said Nanny, “not before I have finished the grass on this tussock, and that tussock and this and that tussock.”

“Then I’ll go and tell mother,” said the lad.

“That you may, and then I shall be left to eat in peace,” said Nanny.

So Espen went and told his mother.

“Go to the fox and ask him to bite Nanny,” said his mother.

The lad went to the fox. “My dear fox, bite Nanny, for Nanny won’t come home in time. I am so hungry, and I want my supper,” said Espen.

“No, I don’t want to spoil my snout on pig’s bristles and goat’s beard,” said the fox.

You can find the whole story from Asbjørnsen’s book here: The Nanny Who Wouldn’t Come Home For Dinner.

Ingebretsen’s continues to have books that tell the folktales and folklore of Scandinavia. You can find them here.