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The Mis-Understood Owl

In days of yore, when people were terribly frightful of the unknown, and far from being so crafty and cunning as nowadays, an extraordinary event took place in a remote little township.

By some mischance a great horned owl had come from the neighboring woods into the barn of one of the townsfolk in the night-time in search for a meal, and when morn-tide broke brightly forth dared not venture forth again from her retreat, for fear of the blinding rays of Sunna, and of the other birds, who raised such a terrible outcry whenever she appeared.

When the Thrall went into the barn that morn to fetch some straw, he was so mightily alarmed at the sight of the owl sitting there in a corner, that he quickly ran forth and announced to his master that a monster, the like of which he had never set eyes on in all his life, and which could devour a man without the slightest difficulty, was sitting in the barn, rolling its eyes about in its head.

"I know you already," said the Karl, "you have courage enough to chase a blackbird about the fields, but when you see a dead hen lying, you needs get a stick before you go near it. I must go and see for myself what kind of a monster this truly is," added the Karl, and went quite boldly into the granary and looked round him.

When, however, he saw the strange grim creature with his own eyes, he was no less afraid than his Thrall had been. With two great bounds he sprang out, ran to his nearest neighbors, and begged them imploringly to lend him assistance against an unknown and dangerous beast, or else the whole land might be in danger if it were to break loose out of his barn, where it was now shut up.

A great clamor and noise then arose all through the township, and as word began to spread, the folk came together armed with spears, hay-forks, scythes, and axes, as if they were going out against a great enemy force; finally the Jarl appeared, whence they all marched to the barn, and surrounded it. Thereupon one of the more courageous of them stepped forth and entered with her spear lowered, but she came out immediately afterwards with a shriek, and as pale as death, and could not utter a single word. Yet two other folk ventured in, but they fared no better.

At last one stepped forth, a great strong man who was locally famous for his warlike deeds, and said, "You will not drive away the monster by merely looking at him; we must be in earnest here, but I see that you have all turned into weak-kneed children, and nary a one of you dares to encounter the creature." He ordered them to give him some armor, had a sword and spear brought, and thus armed himself. All praised his courage, though many feared for his life.

The two barn doors were opened, and they all saw the owl, which in the meantime had perched herself upon the middle of a great cross-beam. The hero had a ladder brought, and when he raised it, and made ready to climb up, they all cried out to him that he was to bear himself bravely, and commended him to Sigurd, who slew the dragon Fafnir. When he had just got to the top, and the owl perceived that he had designs on her, and was also bewildered by the crowd and the shouting, and knew not how to escape, she rolled her eyes, ruffled her feathers, flapped her wings, snapped her beak, and cried, "Tu-Whit, Tu-Whoo," in a harsh voice.

"Strike home! Strike home!" screamed the crowd outside to the valiant hero.

"Any who was standing where I am standing," answered he, "would not cry 'strike home!'" He certainly did plant his foot one rung higher on the ladder, but then he began to tremble, and half-fainting, went back again. And now there was no one left who dared to put themself in such danger, and so they quickly closed the barn doors, after recovering the hero.

"The monster," said they, "has poisoned and mortally wounded the very strongest man among us, by snapping and breathing upon him! Are we, too, to risk our lives?!"

They then took counsel as to what they ought to do to prevent the whole township from being destroyed. For a long while everything seemed to be of no use, but at length the Jarl came upon a solution.

"My opinion," said he in his best voice, "is that we ought, out of the common purse, buy this barn, and whatsoever it contains, and hence out of compassion, repay the owner, and then burn down the whole of the building, and the terrible beast with it. Thus no one will have to endanger their life. This is no time for thinking of expense, and stingy pettiness would be ill applied."

All readily agreed with him. So they set afire the barn at all four corners, and with it the owl was miserably burnt to death, thereby ending this tale.

Source: Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales ~ published 1815


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