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Norwegian fairy tale from Asbjørnsen and Moe's Norwegian Folk Tales (1841-1844).

This story is well known by Norwegian children, and has had enough influence that "Hello, Man! Axe Handle" (or rather "God dag, mann! Økseskaft", its Norwegian name) has become an expression in its own right - meaning that something is like talking to the wall.

The original, Norwegian text was (as usual) found at Project Runeberg, and translated to (retold in) English by me for E2. Enjoy!


There was once a ferry man who was so hard at hearing that he couldn't hear or understand what people said to him. He had a wife and two sons and a daughter, and they didn't care about the man, but lived merrily and well as long as there was something to live on, and then they moved to the innkeeper where they could hold parties every day on tick.

When no one would pay for them any more, the sheriff was to come and take mortgage for what they had lent and wasted; so the wife and kids went away and let the deaf husband stay at home and accept the sheriff.

The man walked around doing his thing, wondering what the sheriff would ask about, and what he should say when he arrived.

"I'll start making something," he said to himself, "then he'll ask me about that. I'll start whittling an axe handle.

Then he asks me what I'm making; and I'll say:

'Axe handle.'

Then he'll ask me how long it will be; and I'll say:

'Up to under this knot.'

Then he'll ask me where the ferry is; and I'll say:

'I'm going to tar her; she is lying on the beach and has a crack in each end.'

Then he asks: 'Where is your gray mare?' Then I'll say: 'She's in the stable, ready to foal.'

Then he asks: 'Where is your cattle and your summer cowshed?' And I'll say:

'It's not far; when you come up the hill, you're nearly there.'"

He thought this was well thought through.

After a while, the sheriff came. "Hello, man!" he said.

"Axe handle," said the ferry man.

"Oh yeah - -?" said the sheriff. "How far is it to the innkeeper's?" he asked.

"Up to under this knot," said the man and pointed to the axe handle.

The sheriff shook his head and stared at him.

"Where's your wife, man?" he said.

"I'm going to tar her," said the ferry man, "she is lying on the beach and has a crack in each end."

"Where's your daughter?"

"Oh, she's in the stable, ready to foal," said the man; he thought he answered very well.

"Go to -, you silly old man!" said the sheriff.

"Yes, it's not far; when you come up the hill, you're nearly there," said the man.

More fairy tales, please!

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