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Changelings An Essay by D. L. Ashliman

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« Reply #15 on: October 13, 2009, 12:14:41 am »

Selma Lagerlöf
An even happier conclusion (this time for all parties concerned) is given to us by Selma Lagerlöf, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1909, in her children's book "The Changeling." {footnote 27} This artful fairy tale weaves the primitive motifs of troll-lore into a humane and satisfying fantasy story.

True to tradition, the author describes the kidnapping of a mortal child by an old troll woman, who leaves her own misshapen baby in its place. Following the pattern of countless folk legends, the parents are told to beat the changeling child with a heavy cane if they want to recover their own baby. The father is only too willing to abuse the ugly troll child, but the mother's maternal instincts cause her to intercede on the changeling's behalf. Several episodes are described in which the father attempts to follow the community's expectations by cruelly punishing or even killing the unwanted child, but each time the mother selflessly protects the troll baby.

Her kindness and perseverance are rewarded in the end, and the two children are restored to their original parents. Only then do we learn that during his absence the human child had lived in an unseen parallel world to that of his parents. Every act of cruelty or of kindness visited upon the troll child by his human guardians had been duplicated upon him by his troll stepmother. It was a mother's kindness and humanity rather than the expected abuse and neglect that rescued her child. Lagerlöf thus cloaks an ancient and cruel superstition in a modern and humane dress.
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« Reply #16 on: October 13, 2009, 12:14:54 am »

Conclusion
The advance of science during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries slowly but surely eroded the popular belief that malformed and retarded children likely were not human at all, but rather the offspring of some demonic being, offspring that could be neglected, abused, and even put to death with no moral compunctions. As these theological explanations for retardation gave way to medical explanations, community values and personal attitudes changed to such an extent that the very word "changeling," its synonym "killcrop," and their equivalents in other languages now have become historical curiosities, survivals of beliefs and practices that helped our northern European forebears -- for good or for bad -- face the problems of life and death when confronted with mentally or physically defective children.
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« Reply #17 on: October 13, 2009, 12:15:11 am »

Footnotes

   1. "The Elves," Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Children's and Household Tales (1812), no. 39/III; migratory legend type 5085. Translated by D. L. Ashliman.

   2. "A Changeling is Beaten with a Switch," Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Legends (1816), no. 88; migratory legend type 5085. Translated by D. L. Ashliman. Other descriptions of changelings in the Grimms' German Legends are found in nos. 60, 82, 83, 89, 90, 91, 153.

   3. Studies of changeling beliefs and practices include:
          * Heinrich Appel, Die Wechselbalgsage, diss. Heidelberg (Berlin, 1937).
          * Hanns Bächtold-Stäubli, Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1927-1942), v. 9, col. 835-864.
          * Katherine M. Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and other Supernatural Creatures. (New York: Pantheon, 1976), pp. 69-72).
          * Edwin Sidney Hartland, The Science of Fairy Tales: An Inquiry into Fairy Mythology. (London: Walter Scott, 1891), pp. 93-134.
          * Gisela Piaschewski, Der Wechselbalg: Ein Beitrag zum Aberglauben der nordeuropäischen Völker (Breslau I.: Maruschke & Berendt Verlag, 1935).
          * Lewis Spence, The Fairy Tradition in Britain (London; New York: Rider, 1948), pp. 228-254.

   4. Edwin Sidney Hartland, The Science of Fairy Tales: An Inquiry into Fairy Mythology. (London: Walter Scott, 1891), p. 118.

   5. Friedrich Ranke, Die deutschen Volkssagen (München: C. H. Becksche Verlagsbuchhandlung Oskar Beck, 1924), p. 138.

      See also Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Wander, Sprichwörter-Lexikon: Ein Hausschatz für das deutsche Volk (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1867-1880), v. 4, col. 1840.
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« Reply #18 on: October 13, 2009, 12:15:30 am »

#

# Hasan M. El-Shamy, Folktales of Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 179.

# Foreword to Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Donald Ward (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1981), v. 1, pp. 1-2.

# "Watching Out for the Children," Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Legends (1816), no. 89.

# Martin Luther, Werke, kritische Gesamtausgabe: Tischreden (Weimar: Böhlau, 1912-1921), v. 4, pp. 357-358.

# Martin Luther, Werke, kritische Gesamtausgabe: Tischreden (Weimar: Böhlau, 1912-1921), v. 5, p. 9.

# Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Children's and Household Tales (1812), no. 39/III.

# Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Märchen aus dem Nachlaß, edited by Heinz Rölleke (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag Herbert Grundmann, 1979), p. 91.

# Edwin Sidney Hartland, The Science of Fairy Tales: An Inquiry into Fairy Mythology (London: Walter Scott, 1891), pp. 121-122. Gisela Piaschewski, Der Wechselbalg: Ein Beitrag zum Aberglauben der nordeuropäischen Völker (Breslau I.: Maruschke & Berendt Verlag, 1935), pp. 141-146.

# For an account of this case see Ilmar Arens and Bengt af Klintberg, "Bortbytingssägner i en gotländsk dombok fran 1690," Rig, v. 62, no. 3 (1979), pp. 89-97.

# Jacob Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1981 [reprint of 4th edition of 1876]), v. I, pp. 387-389.

# Jacqueline Simpson, Icelandic Folktales and Legends (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 25-26.
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« Reply #19 on: October 13, 2009, 12:15:54 am »

  16.

  17. Reidar Christiansen, Folktales of Norway, translated by Pat Shaw Iversen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), no. 40.

  18. The Grimm brothers supply this information in a footnote to their German Legends (1816), no. 82.

  19. Jacob Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1981 [reprint of 4th edition of 1876]), v. 3, p. 451, par. 510.

  20. For example: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Legends (1816), nos. 88, 90.

  21. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Legends (1816), , no. 90.

  22. Jacob Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1981 [reprint of 4th edition of 1876]), v. 3, p. 442. In the same work similar post-confinement beliefs are described in the following entries, v. 3, pp. 434-477, nos. 1, 35, 36, 240, 308, 451, 458, 509, 510, 538, 654, 672, 733, 765, 782, 844, 845, 885, 900, 1049, 1064, 1084.

  23. E. Estyn Evans, Irish Folkways (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), p. 289.

  24. Jacob Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1981 [reprint of 4th edition of 1876]), v. 3, p. 460.

  25. Gisela Piaschewski, Der Wechselbalg: Ein Beitrag zum Aberglauben der nordeuropäischen Völker (Breslau I.: Maruschke & Berendt Verlag, 1935), pp. 86-91, 110-113.

  26. August von Löwis of Menar, Finnische und estnische Märchen (Düsseldorf: Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1962), no. 19.

  27. Swedish title: Bortbytingen. English translation: The Changeling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992).

Additional notes and links

    * Return to the top of this document.

    * Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts

    * Changeling Legends from the British Isles. Electronic Texts.

    * German Changeling Legends. Electronic Texts.

    * Scandinavian Changeling Legends. Electronic Texts.

    * Selected poems about changelings

          o The Changeling by James Russell Lowell.

          o The Changeling by John Greenleaf Whittier.

    * Return to the top of this document.

Revised September 3, 1997.
http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/changeling.html#legends
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