As the name would suggest, this story is about a merman, the male counterpart to a mermaid.

Like mermaids, they are half men and half fish. They are sometimes described as having feet and hands and can be hideous even if it’s more likely they are handsome. In Icelandic sources, mermen are not considered evil and usually do not harm the people who find or fish them.

The Icelandic word for merman is “marbendill”. It is possible that the word was originally marmennill which means small sea-man (mennill means small man, mar means sea).

To read about more strange creatures in Iceland, check out our two blog posts: part 1 and part 2.

Read other fairytales and legends:

The Merman

Long ago, a farmer lived at Vogar, who was a mighty fisherman, and, of all the farms around, not one was as good as he was.

While fishing one day, he cast down his line from the boat. After a bit, he found it very hard to pull up again, as if there were something very heavy at the end of it. Imagine his astonishment when he discovered that he had caught a great fish with a man’s head and body! When he saw this creature alive, he addressed it and said, “Who and what are you?”

“A merman from the bottom of the sea,” was the reply.

The farmer then asked him what he had been doing when the hook caught his flesh.

The other replied, “I was turning the cowl of my mother’s chimney pot to suit it to the wind. So let me go again, will you?”

“Not for the present,” said the fisherman. “You shall serve me awhile first.”

So, without more words, he dragged him into the boat and rowed to shore with him.

When they got to the boathouse, the fisherman’s dog came to him and greeted him joyfully, barking and fawning on him and wagging his tail. But his master’s temper being none of the best, he struck the poor animal, at which point the merman laughed for the first time.

Having fastened the boat, he went towards his house, dragging his prize with him over the fields and stumbling over a hillock that lay in his way. He cursed it heartily; after that, the merman laughed for the second time.

When the fisherman arrived at the farm, his wife welcomed him and embraced him affectionately. He received her salutations with pleasure, at which point the merman laughed for the third time.

Then said the farmer to the merman, “You have laughed three times, and I am curious to know why you have laughed. Tell me, therefore.”

“Never will I tell you,” replied the merman, “unless you promise to take me to the same place in the sea wherefrom you caught me and there to let me go free again.” So, the farmer made him the promise.

“Well,” said the merman, “I laughed the first time because you struck your dog, whose joy at the meeting was honest and sincere. The second time, because you cursed the mound over which you stumbled, which is full of golden ducats. And the third time, because you received with pleasure your wife’s empty and flattering embrace, who is faithless to you, and a hypocrite. And now be an honest man and take me out to the sea whence you have brought me.

The former replied: “Two things that you have told me I have no means of proving, namely, my dog’s faithfulness and my wife’s faithlessness. But the third, I will try the truth, and if the hillock contains gold, then I will believe the rest.”

Accordingly, he went to the hillock and, having dug it up, found a great treasure of golden ducats, as the merman had told him. After this, the farmer took the merman down to the boat and to that place in the sea where he had caught him. Before he put him in, the latter said to him:

“Farmer, you have been an honest man. I will reward you for restoring me to my mother if only you have skill enough to take possession of property that I shall throw in your way. Be happy and prosper.”

Then the farmer put the merman into the sea, and he sank out of sight.

Sometime later, seven sea-grey cows were seen on the beach, close to the farmer’s land. These cows appeared unruly and ran away when the farmer approached them. So, he took a stick and ran after them. He believed that if he could burst the bladder that he saw on the nose of each of them, they would belong to him. He contrived to hit out the bladder on the nose of one cow. It then became so tame that he could easily catch it while the others leapt into the sea and disappeared. The farmer was convinced that this was the gift of the merman. And a handy gift it was, for better cow was never seen nor milked in all the land, and she was the mother of the race of grey cows so much esteemed now.

And the farmer prospered exceedingly but never caught any more mermen. As for his wife, nothing further is told about her so we can repeat nothing.

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