As we have already told you in the post about the Shepherd of Silfrúnarstaðir, trolls are popular in legends and fairy tales. They are usually described as very hideous, evil and somewhat dumb.
They might have been a way for people to explain things that happened to them, why they got lost or how someone died, why it took them so long to herd back the sheep or cattle or how they lost them. But one thing is for sure, the stories are fun, and you root for the main person of the story.
Búkolla, like the Deacon of Myrká, has been depicted in art many times and is a popular children’s story. Búkolla is a cow that can speak which is not unusual in Icelandic tales. For example, cows are believed to be able to talk on New Year’s Eve and on the Thirteenth Day of Christmas.
As with many tales all over the world, there are certain motifs in Búkolla that you can find in tales from other countries. The motif of fleeing from a troll or a monster where the human escapes by throwing something behind himself that turns into water, a mountain, a fire, or a forest is familiar to many fairytales. It first appeared in Japanese heroic stories (Isanagi and Isanami) from around 700, later in Indian fairy tales (Kathasaritsagara) from about 1100, and also in the magic story of Saxo Grammaticus around 1200.
Read other legends and fairytales:
- Sæmundir the Learned and the Devil
- The Shepherd of Silfrúnarstaðir
- The Genesis of the Hidden People
- The Deacon of Myrká
- White Cap
- Dear Mother in the Pen, Pen
- The Story of Mjaðveig Mánadóttir
- The Bishop and The Elves
The Tale of Búkolla – Version 1
There were once, in a cottage, an old man and his old wife, who had one son but were, by no means, fond of him. In the cottage, there were only these three people. The old man and his wife had one cow only and no other beasts. This cow was called Búkolla.
Once the cow calved, the old woman gave it her aid. The old dame returned to the cottage for a bit when the cow had calved, and all was right again. But when she returned to look after the cow, nothing could be seen of it. Now the old man and his wife went in search of the cow. They sought far and near but returned empty-handed.
This made them mighty wroth, and they bade their son go immediately in search of the cow, forbidding him to return unless he brought Búkolla with him. They fitted the boy out, giving him provisions and new shoes, and thus he went forth into the wide world, not knowing whither to turn.
The Search Begins
He walked for a long time and finally sat down to eat. While eating, he said: “Bellow now, my Búkolla, if thou art anywhere alive.” Then he heard the cow bellow, far, far away.
After this, the carl’s son went on for a long time and then sat down to eat, saying, “Bellow now, my Búkolla, if thou art anywhere alive.”
He heard Búkolla bellow, somewhat nearer than the first time. Still, the carl’s son walked on for a long time till he reached the top of some high rocks. He sat down to eat and said: “Bellow now, my Búkolla, if thou art anywhere alive.”
He heard then that the cow bellowed under his feet. Then he clambered down the rocks till he saw a huge cave and, going into it, found Búkolla chained up under a sloping rock. He undid at once the chain and took Búkolla away with him homewards. When he had gone some distance on his homeward way, he saw an immense ogress striding after him, accompanied by another, somewhat smaller.
The Troll Follows
He saw that the giant troll was so long-striding that she would overtake him at once. Therefore, he said, “What shall we do now, my Búkolla?”
She answered: “Take a hair from my tail and lay it on the earth.” He did so, and the cow said to the hair: “I will and spell that you become so big a river that flying bird alone can cross it.”
In the same moment, the hair became a great river. And when the giant troll came to it, she stopped and said: “This shall not avail you, lad! Run home, wench,” she said to the smaller ogress, “and fetch my father’s big bull.” The other went and returned with a bull of gigantic size, which at once drank up all the river.
The Great Flame
Then saw the carl’s son that the long-stepping troll would soon overtake him; he said to Búkolla: “What shall we do now, my Búkolla?”
“Take a hair from my tail,” she said, “and lay it on the earth.” Then she said to the hair: “I will and spell that you become so great a flame that none but flying birds can cross it.”
At once, the hair was turned into a flame. When the troll came to the flame, she said: “This shall not avail you, wretch! Go,” she said to the lesser troll, “and fetch my father’s big bull.” The other went and fetched the bull, which spirted all the water it had drunk from the river into the flame and put it out.
The carl’s son saw that the long-stalking troll must soon overtake him. Therefore, he said: ”What shall we do now, my Búkolla?”
“Take a hair from my tail, and lay it on the earth,” said Búkolla, and then she said to the hair: “I will and spell that you become so high a mountain that none, but the flying bird can pass it.”
The Troll Gets its Comeuppance
Then the hair was turned into such a high mountain that the lad could only see straight up into the clear sky. When the troll came to the mountain, she said: “This shall avail you naught, wretch that you are.” Turning to the lesser troll, she said: “Fetch my father’s bore-iron, lass.” The other went back and returned with the bore-iron: the troll bored a hole through the mountain. But, as soon as she could see through, she was too eager to pass and, thrusting herself into the hole, became fixed in it, a stone, for it was too narrow for her, and there she is yet. But the carl’s son reached home with Búkolla, at which the old man and his wife were mighty glad.
The Tale of Búkolla – Version 2
Once there lived an old man in the cottage with his wife. They had three daughters named Sigríður, Signý, and Helga. The old man and his wife were very fond of Sigríður and Signý, but for Helga, they had no love whatever, wherefore she always rested on the ashes in the hearth. It is said that the old couple had nothing in their possession, but a cow called Búkolla. This cow was such a rare and choice creature that, being milked three times a day, she gave no less milk each time than forty pints. The old man rowed out fishing daily, always rowing in a huge tub. Sigríður, his daughter, always brought his dinner to his fishing bank in another tub.
The First Search of Búkolla
One day, it happened in the cottage that the cow Búkolla was lost, and nobody knew what had become of her. Now the old man and his wife discussed what they should do and finally decided to send Sigríður in search of the cow.
She was given provisions for the way and new shoes. She walked a long time till she came to a hillock. There she took refreshments and said: ”Bellow now, cow Búkolla if I shall find you at all.” But the cow did not bellow.
Now she went to another hillock, sat down, took refreshments, and said: “Bellow now, cow Búkolla if I shall find you at all.” But the cow did not bellow now either.
Then she went on till she came to a third hillock. There she took refreshments and said: “Bellow now, cow Búkolla if I shall find you at all.” Then bellowed the cow, far above, in the mountain. Sigríður climbed up the mountain till she came to the door of a cave, into which she went. Here she saw a wood-fire burn, ing, a pot of meat over the fire, and flatbreads on the embers. There was also Búkolla, standing linked with an iron chain to a manger full of hay.
Sigríður took a cake off the embers and a morsel of meat from the pot and ate both. Then she tried to undo Búkolla’s chain but could not; she sat down in front of the cow, underneath her neck, and began scratching her. After a bit of time had passed, the cave began to tremble and shake, and a great she-troll came into the cave, who said: ”Ah! Here you are, Sigríður, carl’s daughter. You shall not live long, for you have stolen from me.” This said, the troll took her, wrung her neck, and hurled the body towards a rift in the cave.
The Second Search of Búkolla
Now the story turns home to the cottage. Carl and his old wife began to find Sigríður’s search too long and thought she must be dead. Therefore, they decided to send Signý away, searching for Búkolla. She went away, but her fate was the same as that of Sigríður — ending in the troll woman’s killing her in the cave.
Now Helga asked the old couple to allow her to search for Búkolla. But they thought it would be of little avail, as their pet daughters had not found her, being now, most likely, dead.
The Third Search of Búkolla
At last, however, Helga got leave to go. She put shoes of shark skin on her feet; for provisions, she had only a mixture of cod-liver oil and tallow, fish skins, fins of dried cod, and scrapings from pots. She walked on till she came to a hillock. Then she said, “Here, my sisters have taken food; I shall take it also.” And now, she began to gnaw her unsavory provisions. She said while eating: “Bellow now, cow Búkolla if I shall ever find you.” But the cow bellowed not. On another hillock, where she did as she had done at the first one. She then walked to the third hillock and said: “Bellow now, cow Búkolla, if I shall ever find you.” Then she heard Búkolla bellow above her in the mountain. She walked on and climbed the mountain in the direction of the sound she had heard.
At last, she came to the door of a cave, into which she went. A meat pot stood over the fire, and flatbreads lay on the embers. She put the flatbreads in order and added to the fire under the pot but did not taste anything. After this, she sat beside Búkolla, who stood at a manger full of fine hay. In a little while, she heard a great rumbling noise outside, at which the whole cave trembled. Then an ogress came stalking into the cave, of wild looks.
She said to Helga: “Aha, here you are, Helga, carl’s daughter! You shall live, for you have stolen nothing from me.”
The First Task
Now the night passed, and the ogress gave Helga food. The next day the troll went hunting in the forest, but before she left, she said to Helga: “You shall do something for me today. You shall fetch a brooch I had when I was a maiden, sitting at home with my sister, the Dale-queen.” Helga asked where it was. ”That you must find out for yourself,” said the troll, “and if you have not brought it home before nightfall, this very day, I will surely kill you.”
The troll went away, and Helga seeing no possibility of doing the task, sat down on the steps of the cave and wept. Then a man of hideous appearance came to her: he was dressed in a skin-jacket, all rumpled and wrinkled from dryness, reaching in front down to the instep, but behind only down as far as the shoulderblade; and the phlegm was hanging down from the tip of his nose to his toes. He asked what she was weeping for. She said it would be of little use to tell him, as he was unlikely to be able to help her.
“I know,” he said, “what is the matter with you, and if you kiss me tonight, I will help you get the brooch.”
She promised to do as he bade her and asked him his name. He said it was Dordingull. Now they both went from the cave till they came to a little house, at the door of which were standing a pickaxe and a spade. Then said Dordingull: “Pickaxe, pick; spade, shovel.” Then pickaxe and spade set to work till they came to a brooch. Now Dordingull took up the brooch, gave it to Helga, and said: “Will you not kiss me now” She said she could not. So she returned to the cave and put the brooch into the troll’s bed. When the troll came home in the evening, she asked where the brooch was. “It is in your bed,” answered Helga. “Well done,” said the troll, “but you have not been alone at work.
The Second Task
The following day, the troll said to Helga: “I have a job for you today. You shall fetch a chess game which I have at my sister’s, the Dale-queen. I have long wanted to get it but never got it yet.”
Helga asked where the Dale-queen was. “That you must find out for yourself,” said the troll, “and if you do not bring me the chess, I shall assuredly kill you.”
The troll went away, but Helga was left to despair and sat at the cave door, weeping. Dordingull came thither and said he would aid her if she would kiss him that night. Helga said she would gladly agree to this condition, even were it a harder one.
After this, they walked from the cave for a long time, till they came to a palace far away. “In this palace,” said Dordingull, “lives the Dale-queen. Go in thither; she will welcome you well and give you up the chess. She will bring you food; eat not a bit of it but take three bits of it and put them in your pocket. Remember to bless and sign the cross over the things on the table when you sit down. She will send three savage wolves after you when you are gone, and you shall throw one morsel to each of them.”
Now Helga went to the palace. The Dale-queen received her well and set food on the table for her, saying she knew on what errand she had come thither. When all the dishes had been spread on the table, the Dale-queen said: “Cut her, knife; stick her, fork; and swallow her, cloth!” Then the knife, fork, and cloth answered: “We cannot do it; Helga has crossed us so well.”
Then the Dale-queen left Helga alone for a while, and Helga at once cut three bits of meat and put them in her pocket but tasted nothing. The Dale-queen gave the chess game to Helga, who went away with it. When she was a little way off from the palace, she saw three wolves coming, running after her and knew well that they were sent to be her bane.
Helga took the morsels and threw one to each of the wolves, who devoured them, and instantly fell dead to the ground. She went straight to the cave and put the chess into the troll’s bed. On coming home, the troll asked where the chess was in the evening. Helga answered that it was in the bed. “Well done,” said the troll, “but I fancy you are not alone at work.”
The Third Task
The following day, the troll said: “Today, I have a job for you, Helga. You shall cook for me, make my bed, empty the slops, and have all done by tonight. Otherwise, I will surely kill you.” Helga said this was an easy job enough.
But when the troll was gone, and Helga would make the bed, the bedclothes were so fixed that they could not be moved; it was the same thing when she tried to take the pail from under the bed; and, at last, she sat down in the cave-door, and wept.
Then Dordingull offered her his aid if she would kiss him tonight. She promised to do so, and Dordingull began to make the bed and cook; for him, everything was loose. At last, he put a big pot of boiling tar under the troll’s bed. He said to Helga: “Into this pot, she will fall tonight, I fancy, when she flings herself onto the bed, as she will do, for she will be exhausted and eat greedily. But under her pillow is her life egg, and you must break upon her face as she falls into the kettle; if you wish, you may call my name.”
Then Dordingull left Helga alone.
The Troll Comes Home
In the evening, when she came home, the troll said all was well done but found it strange that Helga could accomplish it all alone. She flung herself down on her bed but instantly tumbled into the kettle full of boiling tar. Helga flung the egg into her face and broke it, calling, at the same time, upon Dordingull. He came instantly. So the troll lost her life, and Dordingull and Helga burnt her at once.
Suddenly, thumps and rumblings were heard outside like loud thunder. Helga became so frightened that she kissed Dordingull three times. He said that the Dale-queen was also dying, for both sisters had the same life egg. This night Helga and Dordingull slept together. But, when Helga awoke in the morning, she saw a young and beautiful prince sleeping at her side. By him was lying the Dordingull-shape.
She burned the shape and sprinkled the prince with water. He was released from his spell, and anon took Helga as his wife. They gathered everything of value from the cave and did not forget Búkolla. Furthermore, they took all precious and valuable things from the palace of the Dale-queen. Which, all in all, amounted to mighty wealth. Búkolla they gave back to her owner, the carl in the cot.
They went abroad and took up their abode in the realm of the prince’s father. Later they succeeded him on the throne when he died. After this, they lived for a long time, and their life was full of true love; and so ends this tale.