Friday, December 23, 2011

Obscure Fairy Tales "The Traveling Companion"

 “The fairy tale speaks to us all; that is its particular charm.  The beggar and the prince pause in the marketplace to hear the storyteller, and for a moment, they are merely men, subject to the passions that rule us all.”  -Erik Haugaard, Hans Christian Andersen:  The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories 
Since there seems to be a horrible lack of knowledge about Hans Christian Andersen's "The Traveling Companion," I've decided to talk about it here here.  (And, not to mention, I want to do a good re-telling of this tale.)

I pulled this straight from my paper with a correction:
The first fairy tale to ever leap off Andersen’s pen was “The Spectre.”  It was published in 1829.  The tradition of the fairy tale had great potential, and Andersen realized it shortly after penning “The Spectre.”  Later, in [1835], it was re-written, and would be forever known as “The Traveling Companion.”  Hans Christian Andersen is known as the father of the modern fairy tale, and is considered the first great fantasy storyteller. [emphasis new]

Some further research later showed that this was based off an older folk tale that he'd heard as a child.

So, for those of you that are curious about this fairy tale, here's a pdf of the Erik Haugaard translation.

Now for the short version:  John's father dies and he goes out into the world to seek his fortune.  When stopping by in a church one night, he sees two men who want to throw one of the bodies out of the church because the man died before he could pay his debts to them.  Wanting the man to be left alone, John uses his inheritance to pay them.

Shortly after, he meets a stranger on the road, the traveling companion.  They travel together and the stranger acquires some switches, a sword, and a pair of swan wings.  They come to the capital city (or I'm assuming it is) where they hear tales of a horrible princess.  Anybody can propose, they just have to answer her questions correctly.  If they guess wrong, they are beheaded or hanged.

When John hears this, he says that if that were his daughter, he'd beat her with a switch until he drew blood.  When he sees her, however, he falls in love with her.  So he makes his proposal and starts the game.  Well, if you can call it a game.

The first night, the traveling companion takes the swan's wings and follows the princess (and beats her with the switches the entire way) to a troll's cave.  The troll tells her what question to ask and the answer, and then she leaves.

The traveling companion goes back to John and tells him the answer.  This proves successful, and the traveling companion does it again the second night.

On the third night, the traveling companion beats her harder with the switches.  The troll tells the princess that the answer should be his head.  After the princess leaves, the traveling companion cuts the troll's head off, sticks it in a sack, and goes back to John.  He gives the sack to John to give to the princess.

So, John wins the game, but the princess is still evil.  (Now that I think about it, usually when you kill the magic-user, all the spells unravel.  Apparently, this is a new trope, because she was still wicked after the troll died, and it does say she was bewitched.)  The traveling companion tells John how to make the princess good again.

Anyway, you find out at the end of the story that the traveling companion was the dead man that John had paid his debts.  John gets everything all because of one good deed.

I looked around for adaptations of "The Traveling Companion."  There's some kind of musical based off of it.  There's an animated movie (which is a horrible adaptation).

I found two porn stories in eroticized fairy tale re-telling collections.  And then, I didn't even see the books, I just read reviews of these collections online where they mentioned "The Traveling Companion."  So, it has been retold, but in a rated R way.

Also, I found a storybook on Amazon that I just had to have.  I got it in today, and it's a great translation from the Danish.  

There's no new tropes in the story, though.

A man comes back because he's not done, or thinks he's not done.  OR, turns out he has to do something before he can move on to the next life.  Toothless, Heaven Can Wait, Over Her Dead Body.

And the princess?  What fairy tale is complete without a princess?  Well, plenty are, but it's indicative of fairy tales.  And this princess really, really needed rescuing.

Another big element here is John's debt-paying.  Perhaps not the fact that he'd paid the debt, but the kindness behind it.  All over literature, you see heroes who were kind to people, and then that person did them a kindness in return.  If not for their good deeds to the people they met, they would have never received help from them, and they would never had attained their goal.  Simple as that.

It's a good story, even if it is a little gruesome.


  1. I believe that "The Traveling Companion" is an allegory. The traveling companion is Christ. John represents the Apostles, early Church, or even St. Peter (who had to tell the truth 3 times to make up for denying Christ 3 times?) The Princess represents fallen mankind, who can only be saved through baptism. (Dunked three times: in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit). The Princess was beautiful, but had to repent/ suffer (the lashings from the traveling companion) and then be baptized in order to be saved.

  2. I can't thank you enough for the detailed post! My whole life I have been looking for the original source material to the Arabic translation I had as a child and only now was I able to find it! thank you so much thank you thank you thank you

    May your own good deed not go unnoticed


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