Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds The folktale The Riddle has, in relation to the church and religiosity, for example, a clear compensatory function. In other words, for its users - the narrators and the listeners - it has functioned as a kind of safety-valve for suppression and aggression towards the official religion. The travelling companion and helper of the main character, i.e. the youth, is called the boy in the folktale. He is the one who carries out everything that is forbidden, norm-breaking and blasphemous. He tears down the pulpit and uses the pages of the hymnbook so that they can make a fire to keep warm. And the sudden flood has associations with the Flood of the Old Testament.
Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds Those listening - who for the most part belonged to the peasantry - could gloat over the courage, that the boy displayed in defacing the church, which as an institution had a great power as well as the right to demand taxes.
Skip to 1 minute and 29 seconds At the same time, it is clear that the tale springs out of a medieval popular tradition in which the supernatural is an integral part of Christian culture. If one interprets the tale at a deeper level, what at first sight seems to be norm-breaking and immoral - or perhaps even evil - turns out perhaps to be the true and, in an ethical sense, the ‘right’. For the boy acts as the helper of the main character, and the tale ends with a form of delivery or release.
Skip to 2 minutes and 12 seconds The travelling companion in Andersen’s fairy tale, however, is also a helper, though without being norm-breaking and provocative in the same way. But in what way do both helpers actually help the main character, and why do they finally decide to remove themselves from the lives of the protagonists? Can one understand the two helpers as a kind of alter ego?
Skip to 2 minutes and 44 seconds In both tales heads are separated from bodies on a number of occasions. How do you interpret these violent incidents in relation to the overall meaning of the texts?
Skip to 3 minutes and 1 second The princess in The Travelling Companion by Andersen is subjugated to demonic powers.
Skip to 3 minutes and 8 seconds We are now going to hear three passages from the fairy tale: first, a description of the princess, then her visit to the troll in the mountain and lastly her final transformation and release. What is the actual nature of the spell cast on the princess?
Skip to 3 minutes and 34 seconds The princess was passing, and she really was so lovely that everyone forgot how wicked she was, and therefore they shouted hurrah. Twelve beautiful maidens, all in white silk dresses and with a golden tulip in their hand, rode on jet-black horses beside her; the princess herself was on a milk-white steed adorned with diamonds and rubies, her riding costume was of pure gold, and the whip she carried in her hand looked as if it was a sunbeam; the gold crown on her head was like small stars from the night sky, and her cloak had been sewn from thousands of lovely butterfly wings. Despite all this, she was much more beautiful than her clothes were.
Skip to 4 minutes and 29 seconds Here the princess arrives at the troll’s mountain: Finally, she arrived at the mountain and knocked. It rolled just like thunder when the mountain opened up, and the princess entered, as did the travelling companion, for no one could see him, he was invisible.
Skip to 4 minutes and 49 seconds They went along a large, long passage where the walls glistened in a very odd way - there were more than a thousand gleaming spiders running up and down the wall and they gleamed like fire.
Skip to 5 minutes and 7 seconds They now came to a great hall, made of silver and gold, flowers as large as sunflowers, red and blue, shone from the walls; but no one could pick the flowers, for their stalks were horrible, poisonous snakes, and the flowers were fire coming out of their mouths.
Skip to 5 minutes and 31 seconds The entire ceiling was studded with gleaming glow-worms and sky-blue bats that beat their thin wings - it all looked very strange. In the middle of the hall was a throne that was borne by four horse skeletons that had harnesses made by the red fire-spiders, the throne itself was of milk-white glass, and the cushions to sit on were small black mice that bit each other’s tail. Above it was a baldachin of pink gossamer, studded with the loveliest small green flies that gleamed like precious stones.
Skip to 6 minutes and 12 seconds In the middle of throne sat an old troll, with a crown on his ugly head and a sceptre in his hand. He kissed the princess on her forehead, let her sit next to him on the precious throne, and now the music began. Finally, listen here to the transformation
Skip to 6 minutes and 33 seconds the princess finally undergoes: But the princess was still a witch, and wasn’t the least fond of Johannes; the travelling companion remembered that, so he gave Johannes three feathers from the swan’s wings, along with a small phial with some drops in it, said to him that he was to have a large tub placed beside the wedding bed, full of water, and when the princess wanted to get into bed, he was to give her a slight push so she fell into the water, where he was to duck her three times after first having thrown the feathers and emptied the phial in it; then she would be freed from her magic spell and come to grow so very fond of him.
Skip to 7 minutes and 26 seconds Johannes did everything the travelling companion advised him to; the princess screamed very loudly when he ducked her under the water, and squirmed beneath his hands like a large, jet-black swan with glittering eyes; when she came up to the surface for the second time, the swan was white, with just a single black ring round its neck. Johannes prayed devoutly to the Good Lord, and then let the water wash over the bird for a third time, and at once it was transformed into the most beautiful princess.
Skip to 8 minutes and 6 seconds She was even more beautiful than before, and thanked him with tears in her lovely eyes, for now he had broken the spell. About five years earlier, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a first version of The Travelling Companion, to which he gave the title The Spectre - a Funen folktale. The tale is interesting, because it gives us direct insight into Andersen’s intense work on language and style. We can see how in The Travelling Companion he has attempted to achieve a natural, simple and more idiomatic mode of expression.
Skip to 8 minutes and 51 seconds Here you can read the introduction to The Spectre. What concrete features has Andersen decided to change when he wrote The Travelling Companion? I hope you have enjoyed listening to the passages from the folktale The Riddle and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Travelling Companion, and that my questions on the texts have proved inspiring, so that you now wish to continue work on interpreting the tales.
The function of the helper in ‘The Riddle’ and ‘The Travelling Companion’
In the video above, Ivy will go deeper into the comparison between the folk tale ‘The Riddle’ and the fairy tale ‘The Travelling Companion’.
She will raise the question of the function of the folk tale and the fairy tale for the users: the narrators and the listeners. She will also explain why it is important in this context to analyse the function of the helpers in particular.
You will also hear storyteller Kari Brinch read relevant new extracts from ‘The Riddle’ as well as ‘The Travelling Companion’.
© The Hans Christian Andersen Centre