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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Asbjornsen - The Seventh Father of the House - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

This illustration is from the 5th edition, 1874, of the original collection
For Father's Day I wanted to post a humorous story I recalled from Norwegian folklore collected by their own major collectors, Asbjornsen and Moe.  (That link is to earlier posts on my blog of their stories.)  I didn't want to post the well-known tale of "The Husband Who Was to Mind the House" as it shows the father as definitely foolish...maybe some other time.  This story, however, was not in their original series of tales, but in what was called the "New Collection" (Norske Folke-Eventyr. Ny Samling 1871) and I found it was not in my own collection of books, either Asbjornsen and Moe nor other anthologies until I checked the book published by Viking Press in 1960 -- so still under copyright.  It used the original illustrations, however, in this case dating back to 1879 by Erik Werenskiold and I will end with the one so often used with the story.

Of course this set me really hunting!  For one thing, it appears that Jorgen Moe wasn't involved with this story.  I'm going to take the version you can find on D.L. Ashliman's excellent folktale site.  (After it I'll pass along some other things I discovered, including some wild interpretations for the story.)

Old, Older, and Oldest

folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 726
about old men, their fathers, and their grandfathers
selected and translated by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2006

The Seventh Father of the House

Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen

Once upon a time there was a man who was traveling about, and he came at length to a big and fine farm. There was such a fine manor house there that it might well have been a little castle. "It would be a nice thing to get a night's rest here," said the man to himself, upon entering the gate. Close by stood an old man with gray hair and beard, chopping wood.
"Good evening, father," said the traveler. "Can I get lodgings here tonight?"
"I am not the father of the house," said the old man. "Go into the kitchen and speak to my father!" The traveler went into the kitchen. There he met a man who was still older, and he was lying on his knees in front of the hearth, blowing into the fire.
"Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?" asked the traveler.
"I am not the father of the house," said the old man. "But go in and speak to my father. He is sitting at the table in the parlor."
So the traveler went into the parlor and spoke to him who was sitting at the table. He was much older than the other two, and he sat there with chattering teeth, shaking, and reading in a big book, almost like a little child.
"Good evening, father. Can you give me lodgings here tonight?" said the man.
"I am not the father of the house. But speak to my father over there. He is sitting on the bench," said the man who was sitting at the table with chattering teeth, and shaking and shivering. So the traveler went to him who was sitting on the bench. He was getting a pipe of tobacco ready, but he was so bent with age, and his hands shook so much, that he was scarcely able to hold the pipe.
"Good evening, father," said the traveler again. "Can I get lodgings here tonight?"
"I am not the father of the house," said the old, bent-over man. "But speak to my father, who is in the bed over yonder."
The traveler went to the bed, and there lay an old, old man, and the only thing about him that seemed to be alive was a pair of big eyes.
"Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?" said the traveler.
"I am not the father of the house. But speak to my father, who lies in the cradle yonder," said the man with the big eyes. Yes, the traveler went to the cradle. There was a very old man lying, so shriveled up, that he was not larger than a baby, and one could not have told that there was life in him if it had not been for a sound in his throat now and then.
"Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?" said the man. It took some time before he got an answer, and still longer before he had finished it. He said, like the others, that he was not the father of the house. "But speak to my father. He is hanging up in the horn on the wall there."
The traveler stared around the walls, and at last he caught sight of the horn. But when he looked for him who hung in it, there was scarcely anything to be seen but a lump of white ashes, which had the appearance of a man's face. Then he was so frightened, that he cried aloud, "Good evening, father. Will you give me lodgings here tonight?"
Erik Werenskiold, 1879.

There was a sound like a little tomtit's chirping, and he was barely able to understand that it meant, "Yes, my child."
And now a table came in which was covered with the costliest dishes, with ale and brandy. And when he had eaten and drunk, in came a good bed with reindeer skins, and the traveler was very glad indeed that he at last had found the true father of the house.

  • Source: Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, Round the Yule Log: Norwegian Folk and Fairy Tales, translated by H. L. Brækstad (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, ca. 1930).
  • Translation modified by D. L. Ashliman.
  • Link to the original Norwegian text Den syvende far i huset

Professor Ashliman's site is definitely worth visiting for stories!

I took that story as just an enjoyable bit of nonsense about back in the days when a traveler sometimes was dependent on the hospitality of whatever place they found.  Imagine my surprise to find it on the blog of Simon Hughes selling Erotic Folktales from Norway, but also as part of his Norwegian Folktales Project to publish his translations of Asbjornsen and Moe's complete works.  Then the blog, Legends of the North,  said it was first published in 1840 and "it still remains as highly relevant to this day as the tale may be read as a witty satire on the disclaim that exist in everyday bureaucracy."  It also was discussed on Religious Forums mainly as a parable, although the original poster of the story, Willamena did eventually say, "And if there was no subtext there, then you're simply reading A LOT more into the story than I did."  While the viewpoint on that forum tended to Christian allegory, there was a very different view of "The Esoteric Meaning of the Fairy Tale of The Seventh Father of the House" on The Modern Alchemist blog, complete with chakras, sexuality, and meditation.  Someone else used it to ask who is the oldest in their readers' families.  There's an animated YouTube version and another version by the director, Ivo Caprino, which may explain linking it to bureaucracy. 

I think you can tell I tend to take it as just a bit of fun and hope you had fun with it, too, for Father's Day.
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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