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Custom and Myth

Page: 36

‘I cleaned the stable, I laved the loch, and I clamb the tree,
And all for the love of thee,
And thou wilt not waken and speak to me.’

The king and the queen heard this, and came to the bonny young lady, and she said,

‘I canna get Nicht Nought Nothing to speak to me for all that I can do.’

Then were they greatly astonished when she spoke of Nicht Nought Nothing, and asked where he was, and she said, ‘He that sits there in the chair.’ Then they ran to him and kissed him and called him their own dear son, and he wakened, and told them all that the giant’s dochter had done for him, and of all her kindness. Then they took her in their arms and kissed her, and said she should now be their dochter, for their son should marry her.

And they lived happy all their days.

In this variant of the story, which we may use as our text, it is to be noticed that a lacuna exists. The narrative of the flight omits to mention that the runaways threw things behind them which became obstacles in the giant’s way. One of these objects probably turned into a lake, in which the giant was drowned. {92} A common incident is the throwing behind of a comb, which changes into a thicket. The formula of leaving obstacles behind occurs in the Indian collection, the ‘Kathasarit sagara’ (vii. xxxix.). The ‘Battle of the Birds,’ in Campbell’s ‘Tales of the West Highlands,’ is a very copious Gaelic variant. Russian parallels are ‘Vasilissa the Wise and the Water King,’ and ‘The King Bear.’ {93a} The incident of the flight and the magical obstacles is found in Japanese mythology. {93b} The ‘ugly woman of Hades’ is sent to pursue the hero. He casts down his black head-dress, and it is instantly turned into grapes; he fled while she was eating them. Again, ‘he cast down his multitudinous and close-toothed comb, and it instantly turned into bamboo sprouts.’ In the Gaelic version, the pursuer is detained by talkative objects which the pursued leave at home, and this marvel recurs in Zululand, and is found among the Bushmen. The Zulu versions are numerous. {93c} Oddly enough, in the last variant, the girl performs no magic feat, but merely throws sesamum on the ground to delay the cannibals, for cannibals are very fond of sesamum. {93d}

* * * * *

Here, then, we have the remarkable details of the flight, in Zulu, Gaelic, Norse, Malagasy, {93e} Russian, Italian, Japanese. Of all incidents in the myth, the incidents of the flight are most widely known. But the whole connected series of events—the coming of the wooer; the love of the hostile being’s daughter; the tasks imposed on the wooer; the aid rendered by the daughter; the flight of the pair; the defeat or destruction of the hostile being—all these, or most of these, are extant, in due sequence, among the following races. The Greeks have the tale, the people of Madagascar have it, the Lowland Scotch, the Celts, the Russians, the Italians, the Algonquins, the Finns, and the Samoans have it. Now if the story were confined to the Aryan race, we might account for its diffusion, by supposing it to be the common heritage of the Indo-European peoples, carried everywhere with them in their wanderings. But when the tale is found in Madagascar, North America, Samoa, and among the Finns, while many scattered incidents occur in even more widely severed races, such as Zulus, Bushmen, Japanese, Eskimo, Samoyeds, the Aryan hypothesis becomes inadequate.


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