East of the Sun, West of the Moon

 Deep in the forests of Norway, on the darkest night of the shortest day, a man lived in a small house with his family.  He had many children, including his youngest daughter.  One night, an enormous, thick-furred bear knocks on the door and asks the man to give him his youngest daughter – in return the man and his family will live in prosperity and abundance – never wanting for anything.  The youngest daughter, to be treated as a princess in her own palace, will never want for any thing either.

A stunning illustration by Hilde Kramer

The man has always struggled to provide for his family and the winters are particularly threatening.  He tells the bear to come back the next night; his youngest daughter will be ready.

The following day the man spends much time with his youngest daughter imparting what wisdom he has, appreciating every moment.  He waits until the knock on the door to tell her what is to be her fate ….. and her gift to her family.

This is a long tale, filled with deep feelings and human failings.  There is a suitable villian and a heroine’s quest.  At first read I was deeply disappointed in a father who would sacrifice one child for the others.   

Of course, 

if he had not sent her out into that new world
of life with the bear, she would have missed an
opportunity to experience so much joy. 

As it is, his willingness to sacrifice her to protect the others, the girl’s mistakes and amends, the nature of the bear and the requisite alchemical, dark queen tell a deeply beautiful story of innocence, fall, redemption and sacred union.

My favorite version is from Rabbit Ears Productions – it veers sharply from the traditional, but does so with insight and elegance.

For story lovers of a more hardy nature, the original Norwegian can be found in many fine collections.

This story is best read or told on long, cold wintry nights.  Imagine the wailing of the winds, the chill of the small home, the sound of the knock in the dark of night.

Imagine the complexity of a father’s choice and the grief and confusion of a young girl  – as she is transported to a world of deep, soulful, transformative experience

Imagine how often our own lives take this type of turn – do our ‘inner’ fathers have the courage to send us out, too?

©copyright Zette Harbour 2011 all rights reserved www.ZetteHarbour.com