Project Fairy Tale: East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Alison from The Cheap Reader has created a fun project for fans of Fairy Tales, appropriately called Project: Fairy Tale.  Basically, a blogger can choose a fairytale (only one fairytale per blogger), and read the original story.  Then the blogger will read at least three retellings of that fairytale.  All of the posts will be up in February.  So much fun, right?  Be sure to check out Alison’s master post!

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East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Plot Summary

So, a poor farmer had a ton of kids, but his youngest is a beautiful, sweet young woman.  One day a white  bear knocks on his door white bear 3and says that if the farmer gives the white bear his youngest daughter, that farmer will become rich.  Being a “nice” father, he asks his youngest daughter, who naturally refuses.  The farmer tells the white bear to come back in a week, and the farmer will talk to his daughter.  And Daddy talks Daughter into going with the bear (I know right!?).  So the youngest daughter rides on the white bear’s back for a long, long time to a castle in an icy land.  Along the way, the white bear asks if the youngest daughter is afraid, and she says no.

Anyway, now that the youngest daughter is at the white bear’s castle, things are going okay.  Except, every night a man climbs into bed with the youngest daughter, but she can never see him since it’s so dark.  The youngest daughter misses her family, so the bear lets her go home for a little visit.

The youngest daughter is home, and she is happy.  But Mama gets Daughter alone, and when Mama learns that a man has been sleeping in bed with Daughter, Mama says that she must see who it is, because it could be a troll.

white bear 2You can guess what happens, next.  Daughter goes back with the white bear, but one night she lights the candle her mother gave her.  She sees that the man is, in fact, not a troll, but a handsome prince.  As she gazes at the man, some tallow from the candle lands on the man’s nightshirt, and he wakes up.  He is all “what have you done?  All you had to do was not see me in my human form for a year, and then it would break the spell.  Now I have to marry a troll princess who lives East of the Sun, West of the Moon!”  He disappears, and the youngest daughter is left alone, weeping.

Here’s the good part.  She decides to rescue him!  She walks a lot, and meets some old women who give her a golden apple,  a golden carding-comb, and a gold spinning wheel.  Then the youngest daughter rides the East Wind, West Wind, South Wind, and, finally the North Wind which brings her to the castle that is East of the sun and West of the  moon.

When the troll princess sees the youngest daughter with the golden apple, the princess asks to buy it.  The youngest daughter says it isn’t for sale, unless she can see the prince.  The princess agrees, but gives the prince a sleeping potion before the youngest daughter can see him.  So he sleeps through the night and the youngest daughter can’t talk to him.  The same thing happens the next day when the princess wants the carding-comb.  But the next day, the prince is told by some “Christian folk” that a girl has been weeping and calling his name at night, and so he throws out his drink with the sleeping potion.

The prince and the youngest daughter come up with a plan.  The prince will declare he will only marry the woman who can clean his shirt with the tallow from the candle that the girl dripped on him.  And everyone knows trolls can’t clean anything.  So the wedding day comes, and of course the troll princess can’t clean the shirt, but the youngest daughter can.  Then they get married, rescue the Christian folk, and live happily every after.  Ta-Da!

My Thoughts on East of the Sun and West of the Moon

I have always loved fairytales.  Even when I was a little girl, when I went to the library with my mother, I would only look at the fairytale section of the library.  In fact, I didn’t even like Dr. Seuss because there were no princesses in his books.  Of course, now that I am an adult, I love Dr. Seuss.  But fairytales have a special place in my heart.

If you’ve ever been the library looking for folk & fairy tales you might notice that they are located in the non-fiction section of the library.  This is because these tales have been passed down through the oral tradition for hundreds and hundreds of years (a few exceptions – Hans Christian Anderson).  These stories tell a lot about a particular culture.  What is important to that culture, how things are done in that culture, etc.

However, because these stories were passed down through the oral tradition, when people actually got to writing down the stories (think, the Brothers Grimm), the basic stories are actually very bare bones, with not a lot of detail.  I imagine that each storyteller embellished the story he was telling based on the audience’s reactions.

So, when I read folk & fairy tales today, their is usually very little character development.  There are some exceptions, of course, but, for the most part it’s pretty bare bones.

As the characters of the story are always the most important to me, I have to keep in mind why there is little development in the folktales, and appreciate them for what they are.  But while there is limited character development in these folktales, this fact lends itself very well to retellings!!!!  Authors can create characters with almost any kind of personality. Yay!!!

East of the Sun and West of the Moon is a Norwegian fairytale.  I am not familiar with most of the Norwegian folktales, and I really like that I wasn’t very knowledgeable about this tale.  Growing up with Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the like, it is nice to come across a tale that I don’t really know much about.

Even though I wasn’t familiar with this story, there are some similarities to other European fairytales.  But what I think is a bit different from other folktales is that the young woman sort of rescues the prince.  I that like 🙂

Granted, she rescues him by being able to clean his shirt (womanly duties and all), but still.  She isn’t being rescued by the prince.  I’m also quite fascinated by this whole idea of trolls.  They really aren’t mentioned much, but I believe they are a common element in Norwegian tales.  I could be so wrong on this, though.

I also like the similarities to Beauty and the Beast.  B&B is probably my favorite fairytale, and I like to imagine that, like in B&B, the girl falls in love with the bear before she sees he is a handsome prince.  Although, the bear was definitely liking that the girl is pretty.  But, what are you gonna do?

I did like the fairytale, but mostly I am excited to read the retellings.  I think there is a lot here to expand into a full novel.  I’m super excited to see how trolls play into the story, as well as how the youngest daughter felt living with the bear.

Fairytales are in the public domain (copyright free).  Read the original tale here from Project Gutenberg.
Also, the images relating to the fairytale are from Project Gutenberg.

About Quinn

I'm a twenty-something children's librarian at a public library in Central New York. I've long left my teen years behind me, but I love to read YA and children's books. I have two adorable dogs. Ginger is a mix between a poodle and havanese, and Daphne is Bichon Frise. Other things I love: Favorite Movie: Singing in the Rain Favorite Book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Favorite TV Show: Monk
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14 Responses to Project Fairy Tale: East of the Sun and West of the Moon

  1. Suzanne says:

    I hadn’t heard this particular fairy tale until I read Thee Woodcutter by Kate Danley, which includes pieces of lots of stories, including this one. I’ve been trying to read the Lucy Crane translation of the Grimm fairy tales and it is such rough going — and I think you hit on part of it — character development is why books become my favorites, and while I know why these tales lack that depth, it makes for very rough going. I have too many questions! I want to know more about the whys and the wherefores!

    I am really enjoying all of these project fairy tale posts (so much so that I’m doing it unofficially on my own blog), and look forward to hearing about the retellings you get to read! I am anticipating that I’ll be adding lots of books to my TBR pile.

  2. This was one of my favorites growing up! I think I was an odd child… Can’t wait to hear about the retellings!

  3. Fairytales have a special place in my heart too 🙂 I’ve always read them when I was little and I’m now even more obsessed with them (and like you, Beauty and the Beast is my favorite) I have heard a lot about this story, but I haven’t read it yet. I’m going to have to change that soon!

  4. Rhin says:

    I didn’t know about this fairy tale until I saw this title on Alison’s list. There’s, indeed, a bit similarity to Beauty and the Beast, but it’s also different, if that makes sense. Can’t wait for your other reviews. I’m curious how the authors are going to retell the story.

  5. Liesel Hill says:

    I’d never heard this fairy tale before. Totally love it, though. 😀 Thanks for sharing it! 😀

  6. Candice says:

    There is also a Greek myth that follows this same plot – girl has a nighttime visitor who she is not allowed to look upon – Cupid and Psyche. Definitely interesting to see how these two stories are similar and different!

  7. That is a really cool fairy tale! I can’t wait to read your reviews of the retellings!

  8. Heidi says:

    This is among my absolute favorite fairy tales Quinn, I’m so glad you’re doing it–especially because it’s so under-known!

  9. The whole climbing in the bed with the girl is a little creepy. Some Beauty and the Beast variants also feature that plotline. Animal bridegroom tales are sometimes weird, but it’s crazy how many are out there! Much more common than animal brides. This is definitely one of my favorites though. Can’t wait to read more!

  10. Christine says:

    Are you reading East by Edith Pattou? Because if you aren’t, you should!

  11. Cool! I’d never heard of this fairy tale before, but I totally dig the fact that the princess rescues the prince!

  12. Pingback: Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George | Perfect Nostalgia

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