The Brown Bear of Norway

The Brown Bear of Norway is an Irish fairy tale collected by Patrick Kennedy which appeared in his Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts (1866).[1] It was later included by Andrew Lang in his anthology The Lilac Fairy Book (1910), though Lang misattributed his source as West Highland Tales (cf. The Brown Bear of the Green Glen).[2]

The tale is classed as Aarne-Thompson type 425A, the search for the lost husband. Others of this type include The Black Bull of Norroway, The King of Love, The Daughter of the Skies, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, The Enchanted Pig, The Tale of the Hoodie, Master Semolina, The Enchanted Snake, The Sprig of Rosemary, and White-Bear-King-Valemon.[3]


A king in Ireland asked his daughters whom they wanted to marry. The oldest wanted the king of Ulster, the second the king of Munster, and the youngest the Brown Bear of Norway. That night, the youngest princess woke to find herself in a grand hall, and a handsome prince on his knees before her, asking her to marry him. They were married at once, and the prince explained that a witch had transformed him into a bear to get him to marry her daughter. Now that she had married him, he would be freed if she endured five years of trials.

They had three children in succession, but an eagle, a greyhound, and a lady took each one, and the princess, after losing the last child, told her husband that she wanted to visit her family. He told her that to return, she had only to wish it while lying down at night, and the next morning, she would wake in her old bed.. he told her family her tale, and while she did not want to lose any more children, she was certain it was not her husband's fault, and she missed him. A woman told her to burn his bear fur, and then he would have to be a man both night and day. She stopped drinking a drink he gave her before she went to bed, and woke up and burned his fur. The man woke and told her that now he had to marry a witch's daughter; it had been the witch who had given her that advice.

The princess chased after her husband, and just as the night fell, they both reached a little house. A little boy played before the hearth, and her husband told her that the boy was their son, and the woman whose house it was, was the eagle who had carried the boy away. The woman made them welcome, and her husband gave her a pair of scissors, that would turn anything they cut into silk. He told her he would forget her during the day, but remember at night. At the second night, they found a house with their daughter, and he gave her a comb that would make pearls and diamonds fall from her hair.

At the third night, they found a house with their third child, and he gave her a hand-reel with golden thread that has no end, and half their wedding ring. He told her that once he entered a wood the next day, he would forget her and the children utterly, unless she reached his home and put her half of the ring to his. The wood tried to keep her own, but she commanded it, by the gifts she bore, to let her in, and found a great house and a woodman's cottage nearby. She went to the cottage and persuaded the woodman and his wife to take her as their servant, saying she would take no wages, but give them silk, diamonds, pearls, and golden thread whenever they wanted. She heard that a prince had come to live at the witch's castle.

The servants at the castle annoyed her with their attentions. She invited the head footman, the most persistent, and asked him to pick her some honeysuckle; when he did, she used the gifts she bore to give him horns and make him sing back to the great house. His fellow servants made mock of him until she let the charm drop. The prince, having heard of this, went to look at her and was puzzled by the sight. The witch's daughter came and saw the scissors, and the princess would only exchange them for a night outside the prince's chamber. She took the night and could not wake the prince, and the head footman ridiculed her as he put her out again. She tried again, with the comb, to no better success.

The third day, the prince did not merely look at her but stopped to ask if he could do anything for her, and she asked if he heard anything in the night. He said he had thought he heard singing in his dreams. She asked him if he had drunk anything before he slept, and when he said he had, she asked him to not drink it. That night, bargained for with the reel, she sang, and the prince roused. The princess was able to put the half-rings together, and he regained his memory. The castle fell apart, with the witch and her daughter vanishing. The prince and the princess soon regained their children and set out for their own castle.

See also


  1. Kennedy, Patrick, ed. (1866), "The Brown Bear of Norway", Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, Macmillan and Company, pp. 5767
  2. Lang, Andrew, ed. (1910), "The Brown Bear of Norway", The Lilac Fairy Book, Longmans, Green, and Company, pp. 118131
  3. Heidi Anne Heiner, "Tales Similar to East of the Sun & West of the Moon"
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