"Why the Sea is Salt"
A Norwegian Fairy Tale
Why the Sea Is Salty (Norwegian: Kvernen som maler på havsens bunn; the mill that grind at the bottom of the sea) is a Norwegian fairy tale collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in their Norske Folkeeventyr. Andrew Lang included it in The Blue Fairy Book (1889).
It is a late derivation of the Old Norse poem Grottasöngr, found in Snorri Sturluson's Skáldskaparmál.
Georgios A. Megas collected a Greek variant The Mill in Folktales of Greece.
It is Aarne-Thompson type 565, the Magic Mill. Other tales of this type include The Water Mother and Sweet porridge.
A poor man begged from his brother on Christmas Eve. The brother promised him, depending on the variant, ham or bacon or a lamb if he would do something. The poor brother promised; the rich one handed over the food and told him to go to Hell (in Lang's version, the Dead Men's Hall; in the Greek, the Devil's dam). Since he promised, he set out. In the Norse variants, he meets an old man along the way. In some variants, the man begs from him, and he gives something; in all, the old man tells him that in Hell (or the hall), they will want to buy the food from him, but he must only sell it for the hand-mill behind the door, and come to him for directions to use it. It took a great deal of haggling, but the poor man succeeded, and the old man showed him how to use it. In the Greek, he merely brought the lamb and told the devils that he would take whatever they would give him, and they gave him the mill. He took it to his wife, and had it grind out everything they needed for Christmas, from lights to tablecloth to meat and ale. They ate well and on the third day, they had a great feast. His brother was astounded and when the poor man had drunk too much, or when the poor man's children innocently betrayed the secret, he showed his rich brother the hand-mill. His brother finally persuaded him to sell it. In the Norse version, the poor brother didn't teach him how to handle it. He set to grind out herrings and broth, but it soon flooded his house. His brother wouldn't take it back until he paid him as much as he paid to have it. In the Greek, the brother set out to Constantinople by ship. In the Norse, one day a skipper wanted to buy the hand-mill from him, and eventually persuaded him. In all versions, the new owner took it to sea and set it to grind out salt. It ground out salt until it sank the boat, and then went on grinding in the sea, turning the sea salt.
English Translation by:
George Webbe Dasent
Sir George Webbe Dasent (1817–1896) was a translator of folk tales and contributor to The Times.
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Dasent was born 22 May 1817 at St. Vincent, West Indies, the son of the attorney general, John Roche Dasent. His mother was the second wife of his father, Charlotte Martha was the daughter of Captain Alexander Burrowes Irwin.
He was educated at Westminster School, King's College London, and Oxford University, where he was a contemporary of J.T. Delane, whose friend he had become at King's College. On leaving the university in 1840 he was appointed to a diplomatic post in Stockholm, Sweden. There he met Jakob Grimm, at whose recommendation he first became interested in Scandinavian literature and mythology.
In 1842 he published the first result of his studies, an English translation of The Prose or Younger Edda. In the following year he translated Rask's Grammar of the Icelandic or Old-Norse Tongue, taken from the Danish.
Returning to England in 1845 he became assistant editor of The Times under Delane, whose sister he married; but he still continued his Scandinavian studies, publishing translations of various Norse stories. He also read for the Bar and was called in 1852.
In 1853, he was appointed professor of English literature and modern history at King's College London and in 1859 he translated Popular Tales from the Norse (Norske Folkeeventyr) by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, including in it an "Introductory Essay on the Origin and Diffusion of Popular Tales."
Perhaps his most well-known work, The Story of Burnt Njal, a translation of the Icelandic Njal's Saga that he had first attempted while in Stockholm, was issued in 1861. This was followed in 1861-1862 with a visit to Iceland, where he was hailed in Reykjavík as one of the saga lovers who had strengthened ties between the English and Norse. Subsequent to that visit, he published in 1866 his translation of Gisli the Outlaw from the Icelandic.
Another well-known work is East O' the Sun and West O' the Moon, a collection of Norwegian fairy stories (including the tale of that name), charmingly translated from Norwegian Folktales by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe.
In 1870, he was appointed a civil service commissioner and consequently resigned his post at The Times. In 1876 he was knighted in England, though he was already a Danish knight.
Dasent retired from the public service in 1892 and died at Ascot on the 11th of June, 1896.[
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