Boots, who made a Princess say:

"That's a story!"


"Once upon a time there was a king who had a daughter, and she was such a dreadful story-teller that the like of her was not to be found far or near. So the king gave out, that if any one could tell such a string of lies as would get her to say, "That's a story," he should have her to wife, and half the kingdom besides. Well , many came, as you may fancy, to try their luck, for every one would have been very glad to have the Princess, to say nothing of the kingdom; but they all cut a sorry figure, for the Princess was so given to story-telling, that all their lies went in at one ear and out of the other. Among the rest came three brothers to try their luck, and the two elder went first, but they fared no better than those who had gone before them. Last of all the third, Boots, set off and found the Princess in the farmyard.
"Good morning," he said, "and thank you for nothing."
"Good morning,"said she,"and the same to you."
Then she went on-
"You haven't such a big ox, after all, as ours yonder; for when two men sit, one on each horn, they can't touch each other with a twenty-foot rule."
"Stuff!" said Boots; is that all? why, we have an ox who is so big, that when two men sit, one on each horn, and each blows his great mountain-trumpet, they can't hear one another."
"I daresay!" said the princess; "but you haven't so much milk as we, I'll be bound ; for we milk our kine into great pails, and carry them indoors, and empty them into great tubs, and so we make great, great cheeses."
"Oh you do, do you?" said Boots. "Well, we milk ours into great tubs, and then we put them in carts and drive them indoors, and then we turn them out into great brewing vats, and so we make cheeses as big as a great house. We had, too, a dun mare to tread the cheese well together when it was making ;but once she tumbled down into the cheese, and we lost her; and after we had eaten at this cheese seven years, we came upon a great dun mare, alive and kicking. Well, once after that I was going to drive this mare to the mill, and her backbone snapped in two; but I wasn't put out, not I, for I took a spruce sapling, and put it into her for a backbone, and she had no other backbone all the while we had her. But the sapling grew into such a tall tree, that I climbed right up to heaven by it, and when I got there, I saw an angel sitting and spinning the foam of the sea into pigs bristle ropes; but just then, the spruce-fir broke short off, and I couldn't get down again; so the kind angel let me down by one of the ropes, and down I slipped straight into a fox's hole, and who should sit there but my mother and your father cobbling shoes; and just as I stepped in, my mother gave your father such a box on the ear, that it made his whiskers curl."
"That's a story! said the Princess; "my father never did any such thing in all his born days!"
So Boots got the Princess to wife, and half the kingdom besides.
[10]

I don't want to read too much into this story. Suffice it to say that this story has been retold, adapted and bowdlerised for children, but still contains some elements of earlier myths. It is similar to the Irish story of The Liar, as well as Jack and the beanstalk. Boots' story is not just surrealism: The horses backbone and the tree trunk are both symbols of the axis mundi, around which the heavens were believed to rotate, and which Shamen claimed to climb during altered states of consciousness.
In some Siberian traditions, the Shamen rides a "hobby horse" consisting of a stick with a horses head attached, to symbolise the journey to the world tree, before entering his trance[12].
Yggdrasil was the world tree of the vikings, but the word can also be translated as "The horse of Ygg" Ygg was apparently another name for Odin.
The mill is also a symbol for the rotating heavens. An ancient Greek term for the sky meant "corn mill". Once again, I am reminded of the story of Samson

There is an episode in the Kalevala (a collection of Finnish myths told in verse), in which Vainamoinen and Ilmarinen go to seek the world tree:

"When they reached the spot they sought for,
On the edge of Osmo's cornfield,
Then the smith his steps arrested,
In amazement at the spruce tree,
With the great Bear in it's branches,
And the moon upon it's summit.

Then the aged Vainamoinen,
Spoke the very words which follow:
"Now thou smith, my dearest brother,
Climb and fetch the moon above us.
Bring thou, too, the Great Bear shining
On the spruce-tree's golden summit!""

Curiously the tree is described as reaching up to both the Great Bear and to the moon. If it's summit is at the great bear, then the tree is probably meant to represent the axis mundi, as the great bear is close to the pole star, and roughly overhead in Finland (the word "arctic" derives from the Greek "arctos" or bear; meaning the area underneath the Great and Little bears). The moon would never be overhead as far north as Finland, and it is hard to see how the tree could have the moon at its summit, unless it was leaning quite dramatically. In any case, the Great Bear and the moon could not both be at the summit (at least not at the same time, maybe the tree was leaning about 30-40 degrees off vertical, pointing at the moon, when Vainamoinen and Ilmarinen first arrived, but they stood there astonished for several hours before Vainamoinen spoke, by which time the earth's rotation meant that the tree was now pointing roughly at the Great Bear). More likely two versions of the story have been confused by a poet with a poor understanding of astronomy.
For more about the Great and little bears and the axis mundi, click here




Click here for the Tale of Michael and the Nixie (another fairy tale which didn't seem to belong anywhere else)

Links to other sites on the Web

For more on the cosmic axis and other fascinating topics
Another great mythology page
A navajo story about the creation of the sun moon, stars and the axis mundi
More about the Kalevala

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