Detail from "A Nis Eating His Porridge" by Abilgaard
Troll Fell - Folklore
Tales of the Nis
There are lots of stories in Scandinavian folklore about the mischievous Nisses. Helpful but touchy, they did all sorts of odd jobs around the farm. Here are two traditional tales:
A Fight Between Two Nisses
Two Nisses, each carrying a load of hay, met in the middle of a narrow bridge. As they could not pass each other, and neither would give way, they finally threw all the hay into the river and came to blows. A farmer who saw them, burst out laughing. “What fools you both are!” he called as he went his way.
That evening the farmer came home, carrying a lantern to light his steps. As he came to the farm gate, he saw the two Nisses sitting there, one on each gatepost. As he tried to pass, one shouted to him, ‘Light high!’ Obediently he held his lantern high – but the Nis on the other side boxed him on the ear and shouted, ‘Light low!’ The confused farmer lowered his lantern – and got another slap from the first Nis. ‘Light high, I said!’ And this went on, with the farmer raising and lowering the lantern, and the Nisses boxing his ears, till the poor man took to his heels and ran.
The Old Barrel
A little Nis lived on a farm. The farmer was a mean man who never gave the Nis any porridge with butter in it, not even on Christmas Eve – and so, perhaps not surprisingly, the farmer’s luck was bad. He ended up having to sell his farm and live in a poor cottage nearby.
The farmer’s young son, however, missed the little Nis, and one day went back to have a chat with him. “How are you all?” asked the Nis. “Miserable,” said the farmer’s son gloomily. “Dad’s luck is no better than before.” The Nis felt sorry for him. “Then tell him to come here and ask the new owner if he can have that old barrel at the back of the house. Say you forgot to take it with you when you moved out.” “That rotten old thing? But we didn’t forget it,” said the farmer’s son, “we just didn’t want it.” “Never mind,” said the Nis, “do as I say.”
The farmer’s son told his father what the Nis had advised, so the farmer went over to ask the new owner if he could take the barrel. “Have it by all means,” said the new owner, “it’s an eyesore. Good enough for you, I suppose – but I can afford a new one.”
When the farmer got home with the barrel, it fell apart, and gold coins spilled on to the floor. There had been a double bottom in the barrel, with enough money hidden in it to buy the old farm back again – which the farmer lost no time in doing. After that, he made sure to put down hot buttered porridge for the Nis every night – with a layer of sugar and cinnamon for good measure.
[adapted from ‘Scandinavian Folklore’, William Craigie, 1896]