Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is for the word Huldre

(Hoo-ld-ur) (alternatively:  Hool-drah)
This is a topic that's very near and dear to my heart.

For many of you, my beloved and most gentle of readers, it will be obvious why. For the rest of you... well you're already along for the ride so what have you got to lose? And come on, the 'mystery' here isn't really THAT hard to figure out.

It's a blog post I've been trying not to write for the last year. It's going to be hard to share because of how personally connected I am to the whole story. It's worth sharing though, since what the hell else am I going to write about here except for navel gazing monologues, kitty-cat stories and horrifying bugs you could have lived the rest of your life not thinking about? Eh?

Right? Am I right?

Well, the Huldra is a special kind of character that encapsulates all kinds of different stories and entities. The stem: Huldr, just means "hidden". The "a" on the end of it is a feminine "the". So it's like saying "the hidden one"... or "the hidden-ette" I guess. Geh, it's ghastly to see it translated like that... let's go back to calling her "huldra".

You may have heard your much-adored scandinavian tundra-monkey friends talking about the hidden-folk, or the Huldr-folk. A broad-strokes analogue to English for the term "huldr-folk" would simply be "fay", "fey", "fae". Or "she", maybe, if you're a Harry Dresden fan. The hidden folk are the ones who are hidden (!!!) from us human types. We're neither allowed to see them nor permitted to directly interact with them; although, if we catch their fancy with offerings of food or drink they might help us around the farm or keep our grandmas from dying on a cold winter night. Or sometimes they're just OCD and really like making shoes and fancy clothes.

But you've heard the stories. You know all about the elves, the fairies, the gnomes, the slobbery-goblins and the trolls. Lots of great film comes from that whole pot and about ten zillion times better literature has been spooned from the same pot for the last (at least) four thousand years. Well, before writing I guess it wasn't literature - it was just storytelling. But it all comes from the same soup of human brain-ery.

And now I'm going to introduce you to a character called "Huldra". She's just a normal girl, you see, with some very unusual distinctions. She's a child of the mountains, or the forests... depending on who you talk to. She looks perfectly human but a careful observer will notice a few things that set her apart. She's beautiful and graceful and quite a temptress. But she has a cow's tail. And many stories will say that she has a hollow back of wood, like a rotten oak tree or something that's split down the side and all empty within (unless a family of owls or something moves in, in which case the tree is no longer empty per se) (owls do NOT live in Huldra's back, mind you. too itchy.)

Anyway, so now you have this gorgeous woman/girl strolling about in the woods with her long skirts and her cow's tail and then the story will tell you that she is pretty isolated from the rest of the people but she doesn't terribly mind so much. She's captivating though, and all in good time she hooks the attention of a brave young man out a-hunting. Wellsir, she sees him and one thing leads to another and the stories diverge a little here but usually after they're finished um... doing what hormone-addled youngfolk do... she kills and eats him and carries on about her day.

Sometimes, however, the young lad is terribly handsome and sweet and so good at... well... 'everything'... that she falls for him. They get married in a church, see, and then her tail falls off and her back gets all soft and fleshy and she becomes a real person (just like a little wooden boy we all know). But there's a catch... it's a risk for both of them. If he should ever be cruel to her, if he should beat her or abuse her in any way (many great stories take careful liberties with the lessons on spousal kindness here), if she is at all scorned or bruised or finds herself abused by her beloved spouse... she will revert to her wild form, grow long claws and fangs, tear out his organs one by one and kill him until he's dead. By eating. Largely. And she, after this mess, will be cursed to remain ugly and mean for the rest of her life. Which will be ages. Since she's of the fairy-realm, as one might say.

So yeah, it's scary the whole getting married thing. Right? And the story as an archetype works for both parties in a marriage (gay, straight or otherwise, frankly). Love is strong and can cure a lot of things that would make you horribly, horribly awkward amongst your peers. But treat it poorly and you'll either be devoured in a punishingly brutal demise AND/OR you'll be so broken and bitter that your ugliness will rain hellfire on what's left of your future on the planet. Powerful stuff there, yeah?

But here's what got my attention about this gorgeous femme-fatale of the forests: what about her whole life before she meets her soulmate? You know? How must it have been for her to have that cow's tail and to grow up with a body made half of wood when all of her peers were pure, giggling flesh and bone? How must she have felt when her friends were blooming into fashion and dating and her poor little frame just couldn't grasp what they were all going on about?

Well, she'd likely be a careful observer and a chameleon of sorts. She'd learn quickly how to hide her differences, and failing that, use them to her advantage. She would clearly have been extremely clever... the wierd weird kids always are... and she likely would have had a razor sharp wit to go along with a blessedly silver tongue. But ultimately, she'd never quite fit in. So she'd kindof HAVE to spend a lot of time alone, just to get her bearings back. She'd likely spend hours watching the water run downstream or listening to the grass grow or probably just sobbing uncontrollably while her friends rushed out to learn how to drive and dress sexy and meet boys. The whole "boys" thing likely wouldn't even cross her fuddled, splintery mind until she was well past ... oh, let's say highschool age?

She'd get the hang of it though, don't you worry about her. Our Huldra is a strong one, and she's maybe not the strongest person physically but she could tear your heart out with a word if she wanted to. Now that she's grown, she knows people and their programming like M'lady Jane Goodall knows those Chimps. Better even.

She's tough. She's a social mess, and is wont to go to pieces for no good reason, but she gets by with her centuries of practise in "blending in". She looks mostly normal. But to the careful observer, small differences can still be found.

And then one day, a man comes into her life. A real one. Not just a 'food' item of a man, this one is a mental equal and a seriously frustrating befuddlement. She lets him live. She watches him. She falls head over heels for him and decades later he finally admits that he loves her too. They get married and her tail falls off and her back fills in with warm flesh and blood and she is finally human just like everyone else. And as long as she has her husband, there's not a thing in the world that can go wrong.

But she knows better.

She has heard the stories.

She has a great marriage, and everyone knows it for the fairytale magic that it is. These two are the luckiest little lovebirds on the planet and they know it.

But they're both fully human now. And she wonders. We can see her sitting there, our Huldra, our little student of humans and mistress of disguise. We see her sitting and staring at the flames of the hearth and she knows how the story CAN go. She knows how the story OFTEN goes. She knows how the story, by most accounts, is SUPPOSED to go.

And we love her just the same, don't we? Knowing that things can go horribly wrong. We wish her the best and we love her for her happiness and we love her for her good luck and for the joy she infects us with.

But we can't help but wonder, too.

And that's why it's so hard for me to write this and share it and put it out there. You saw what happened with the vampires in modern pop culture. Heaven for-fend something like that go down with this character (There's already a movie due out this year called Halle... about which I'm terribly concerned). It's hard for me to share this, also, because knowing the Huldra and knowing that archetype, is acknowledging out loud to the gods and everyone that sometimes the story doesn't end well for those most centrally within it.

Join me, won't you? In wishing her luck and hoping that her story, like our own, gets to be the one that works out happily ever after.


Rainbow Hues said...

Wishing a happily ever after to Huldra...I could completely connect with her and I wish the same for me and for you too :)

RoseEssence said...

Interesting article. Only thing, weird not wierd(don't mean to be rude)

Karoline Fritz said...

Rose - don't sweat the spellcheck, I cranked this one out in the space of like... 20 minutes or something. Thanks!

Kristen Dyrr said...

Happily Ever After!!! :)

#atozchallenge, Kristen's blog: kristenhead.blogspot.com

Poke The Rock said...

I am ashamed to admit I never heard of this before, but I loved how you explained it! So is this myth you know pro marriage...or should she just end up with a lot of cats?

Timothy Brannan said...

Great post. Been reading more on Huldra since watching the Thale.

Tim Brannan
The Other Side and The Witch
Red Sonja: She-Devil with a Sword
The Freedom of Nonbelief