Volume 2 Issue 54 | March 28 , 2009 |


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Peer Gynt

There once dwelt in Gudbransdale in the mountains of Norway a young man named Peer Gynt. He lived with his mother Aase in a tumbledown farm alongside a rushing mountain stream. Since his father's death, Peer had had to run the farm alone. But, alas, he'd let it go to ruin; for he was a lazy, good-for-nothing rascal whom his poor mother was forever scolding about his idle ways.

So it happened one summer's day: Peer had gone off for several weeks just when he was needed most; and now, on his return, Aase lashed him soundly with her tongue.

'You ragamuffin! You run off to the hills when you should be working in the fields. And now, here you are, your clothes are in tatters and you've lost your gun. What have you to say?'

'Well, Mother… it's like this,' said Peer mysteriously. And he launched into one of his rambling stories: how he had seen a giant reindeer up in the snow clad hills, how he had shot it and sat astride the beast to skin it when mercy on us the buck had suddenly come to life and dashed off like lightning, Peer clinging to its neck. Over misty crags and brooding lakes, then through clouds into a land of trolls. . .

'Finally, he said, 'we plunged into a mountain stream, spraying foam far around. I managed to escape, half-drowned, and scramble to the northern shore. And here I am, Mother, lucky to be alive.'

His mother stood and stared, wide-eyed; then she boxed his ears: for she had heard the tale before.

'You dress up your fibs in their Sunday best,' she complained, 'building castles in the air, lying left and right, you shameless scoundrel. It's all because of you that we are so poor and wretched.'

'Give me time,' exclaimed Peer cheerfully. 'I'll wed a princess one day and we'll live like royalty.'

'Who would have a tramp like you?' his mother scoffed. 'You could have married that girl at Heggstad if you'd gone about it right. Her father's made of money. But while you were riding reindeer through the sky, Mads Moen look her; the wedding's being held today.'

Peer grew serious. 'What, him? That fool! I'll go to Heggstad right away and stop that nonsense.'

Before his mother could prevent him, Peer had raced off down the wooded hill and vanished over a distant brow.

Meanwhile, in the courtyard of the richest farmhouse at Heggstad, guests were assembling for the wedding celebrations; a fiddler was playing merry tunes, young boys and girls were dancing, while those shorter in wind and sight were sitting gossiping or drinking ale.

When Peer arrived, untidy, unwashed and uninvited, he stared cockily around the laughing throng. But no one smiled to him in greeting; he was met in stony silence. None of the girls would consent to dance with him they all knew ho unkind he was towards his mother.

'Black looks and sneers, that's all they'll give!' muttered Peer, shrinking back towards the fence.

At that moment a young maid, Solveig, appeared with her parents: they were strangers in those parts, invited over from a village to the west, called Hedalen.

'Will you dance with me?' asked Peer of the shy young girls.

She smiled, somewhat bashful of the bold young man. But she consented, for despite his rough looks she found him rather handsome. As Peer and Soveig were whirling round, however, the girl's mother called her daughter in; she had heard the gossip about wild Peer Gynt. But he held on to Solveig more tightly.

'Please let go,' she cried. 'My mother's calling.' Thereupon, Peer grew angry. 'I won't. I wont. I won't,' he cried. 'If you go, I'll turn myself into a troll and visit you at midnight, hissing and spitting like a cat. I'll drink your blood and gobble you up.

He stopped as he saw a tear tremble in her eye; then he abruptly changed his tone, pleading, 'Dance with me, Solveig.'

But she tore herself away and ran crying to the house. With jeers and hoots of laughter ringing in his ears, Peer ran behind the farmhouse deeply hurt. He was soon forgotten in the merry-making as the guests awaited the bride-to-be. All of a sudden, a horrified silence fell on the courtyard and the fiddler dropped his bow.

'Look up there! He's carrying off the bride!' a voice shouted, and all eyes turned towards the hills.

They saw Peer Gynt scrambling up the hillside like a goat, dragging the weeping, white-clad bride behind him. In a moment, the two had vanished into the tree.

'That scoundrel's ruined the wedding,' roared the poor bride's father, white with fury. 'As God's my witness, I'll hunt him down and strike him dead.'

In no time at all, the guests had armed themselves with clubs and guns and set off in pursuit, the bride's father at their head.

In the meantime, once out of sight, Peer stole a kiss from the tearful bride and left her to be rescued, giving a cheery wave as he ran off, shouting back, 'The devil take all women ....'

And then he added, as the thought of Solveig, 'Excepting one.'With that he was gone, flinging his arms about and leaping in the air like a madman.

'I can swim rapids and pull up fir-trees like a bear,' he sang. 'I'll overturn the world. Peer Gynt, you're the greatest. You'll be a prince before long.'

Just then he tripped, bumped his nose against a rock and lay senseless on the ground.

When he awoke he found himself on a mountain slope thick with giant first and pines through which the wind was howling. Stars were twinkling in the evening sky as Peer shook himself and started to rise. All at one he caught his breaths: for there before him was a maid in green.

'Who are you? he asked amazed; he had never set eye on such a strange-looking girl.

'I am the daughter of King Brose of Dovre,' she replied Queen Aase of Gudbrandsdale- Prince Peer. Where is your home?'

'I live in the palace of the Mountain King,' she said. 'Perhaps she speaks the truth,' mused Peer. 'I've always wished to wed a real princess. Now's my chance.'

'Do you like my silken robes and fur cloak?' the maiden asked, catching his eyes upon her clothes.

'They look more like tow and mouldy sacks to me,' he snorted.

'Ah, that's because you have no gift of second sight,' she said. 'With us evil's good and black is white; big is little and dull looks bright. You'd likely say my father's hall is a pile of rock; though, in truth, it is a shining palace. Would you like to see it, Prince Peer?'

Peer would like nothing better; in any case, he'd nowhere else to go. She gave a shout and, to his surprise, a giant rosy pig came trotting over the hillside. Taking the pig's rope bridle in her hands, the girl in green stepped into the saddle, bidding Peer sit behind her.

'Gee-up, gee-up, my trusty steed,' she cried.
The two trotted off into the dark of night seated upon the pig.

By and by, Peer and the maid in green entered a deep cave in the hillside and followed a track on foot down into the mountain until; at last, they came to a well-lit hall. Peer stared about him in amazement: hundreds of ugly, tail-swinging trolls of every shape and size were making merry: dancing, singing, drinking. At the far end of the hall sat the Mountain King upon his throne; his daughter was now whispering in his ear.

To Be Continued

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