The Change

Noel Patons – The Fairy Raid – Carrying Off a Changeling – detail

There once lived in a village in Sweden, a farmer, his wife and their little child. One market – day, they set out as usual for the nearby town, with their child, their carriage piled high with their farm-produce. On the way, a wild-hare ran across the road, suddenly, startling the horse, which reared, tilting the carriage causing the child to fall out. A troll couple, who happened to be passing by, were attracted to the child and quickly substituted their own child for the human child. Before the farmer and his wife could retrieve him and before they could realise what had happened, the trolls disappeared.

The farmer was very angry, and wanted to abandon the troll-child, but his wife, a kind-hearted woman, persuaded him to take it home.

As time passed, the troll- child created havoc teasing the animals, spilling the milk, frightening the chickens, breaking the eggs, and in a hundred other ways, making life difficult for the couple. The farmer got more and more exasperated, and one day, picked up a stick, and was about to strike the troll child with it, when his wife intervened, and protected the child, monstrous though its behaviour was.

The farmer started resenting it. Slowly, the tension in the family grew, and the farmer distanced himself from his wife. Years passed in this unhappy manner, with the troll creating more mischief. One day, the farmer’s wife was surprised to see a change in her husband’s attitude to her. He suggested they go to the fair in the town. The wife, happy at the change, readily agreed. When the farmer suggested that they take the troll also, her joy knew no bound

The farmer offered to carry the troll on his shoulders, and urged his wife to walk ahead. As they neared a narrow ravine, the wife walked very gingerly. Suddenly, to her horror, she saw her husband about to throw the; troll child into the ravine. She grabbed the child in time, and saved his life. Needless to say, the tension between the farmer and his wife increased and finally climaxed, when the incorrigible troll set fire to the barn in which all their grain was stored. Understandably, the farmer was livid, but he consoled himself thinking the troll would finally perish.

However, the farmer’s wife rushed to the child’s rescue, and though she got badly burned, she rescued him.

This was more than the farmer could bear. Seeing his wife burned and bald, was the last straw. He announced angrily, “1 have had enough of you and that monster. I am leaving you for good. With that, he stamped out of the house and the farm.

He had walked for about an hour, when he saw a child, grubby and dressed in tattered clothes, walking towards him. The farmer thought to himself:

“Had my own son been with us, he would be exactly that age.” On drawing closer, he saw that the child was indeed his own son, and he hugged him and wept. His son told him how the trolls has taken him to their home in the forest, and when the farmer had taken a stick to beat the child, they had threatened to beat him, and how, when his mother had intervened, and saved the troll-child from a beating, the troll-mother had done the same for him, and of how, when he had been on the brink of throwing the troll- child into the ravine, the troll- father had held him over the ravine, and when his own mother had-rushed to save the troll-child, the troll-mother had rushed to save his own life.

And how, finally, when the farmer’s wife had saved the troll-child from the burning barn, the troll-couple had decided to set him free.

The farmer, overcome with emotion, sank on his knees in the middle of the forest, murmuring a prayer of thanksgiving.