Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Romina Werth

Cinderella in the North

The Cinderella Paradigm in Laxdæla saga and Njáls saga

Fimmtudaginn 7. febrúar 2019 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 101

Romina Werth

Cinderella is probably the most popular fairy tale of all times, and has been innumerably adapted and translated within and across cultures. However, Cinderella is not only that one tale about a girl being persecuted by her evil stepmother and marrying a prince after fitting into a delicate slipper, which everybody tends to know or recognize. With its more than thousand variants disseminated throughout the world and with the oldest variants attested from Classical Antiquity, Cinderella is rather a whole tale cycle.

That Cinderella can also be detected in Old Norse literature has been shown by the British folklorist Marian Roalfe Cox as early as 1893. Cox claims Áslaug, daughter of the famous dragon slayer Sigurður in Ragnars saga loðbrókar, to be an early example of Cinderella. According to the Icelandic scholar Einar Ól. Sveinsson, the first recognizable Icelandic variant of this fairy tale is to be found in the chivalric saga Vilmundar saga viðutan, where a kitchen maid is named Öskubuska, which later became the Icelandic rendering of the name Cinderella.

However, no proper Cinderella has to that date been detected in the Sagas of Icelanders,
therefore, this presentation aims at showing how the Cinderella cycle or paradigm has been incorporated in Laxdæla saga and Njáls saga, sometimes with a considerable alteration of motifs in order to fit cultural and literary conventions.

Firstly, the paper focuses on the abducted Irish princess Melkorka in Laxdæla saga, who hides her identity and gets beaten with shoes. Melkorka as well as her illegitimate son Ólafur pái share common motifs belonging to the Cinderella cycle, where items known as recognition tokens play an important role. A more or less distorted adaptation of Melkorka may be found in Njáls saga, where the Irish slave Melkólfur almost loses a shoe after having convicted a crime and where oddly a chunk of cheese exposes the thief.

The paper offers a folkloristic-based reading of episodes of well-known saga texts with a focus on an international folktale pattern, which had been known and reworked in Iceland from the Middle Ages onwards.

Romina Werth holds an MA degree in Folkloristics and is currently a Ph.D. student in Icelandic literature and part-time teacher at the University of Iceland. Her research focuses on the fairy tale and its adaptation in Old Icelandic saga texts.

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