Saturday, July 11, 2015

Story Saturday: The King of the Frozen Lands

Once again, I promised a fellow storyteller to give them the bones of a Hungarian folktale - and since I am scheduling this post ahead of time, I might as well do it now. In the middle of a heat wave in Hungary, maybe a winter tale will cool things off a little...

Jégország királya (The King of the Frozen Lands)
Collected & published by Elek Benedek here.
(Not quite the way I tell it, but this is the original version)

- Poor man has an incredible number of sons, each apprentices for a different craft; the youngest doesn't have anything left for him - decides that he will be a king, or die trying
- blacksmith brother makes him three pairs of iron shoes, mother bakes him three pieces of ash bread, off he goes, travels for a long time, wears down the first pair of shoes
- arrives to the Black Kingdom (everything is black), asks the steward of the castle if they need a king - he laughs at the boy, the king has many children
- goes on, wears off second pair of shoes, arrives to the Red Kingdom (everything is red), goes to the king and asks if he is looking for an heir
- Red King has an only daughter, and is at war with his neighbor, the King of the Frozen Lands; sent many soldiers, but they all froze. The Ice King is all made of ice, he can freeze half the lands with his breath
- with the last pair of iron shoes the boy sets out to defeat the Ice King. He arrives to a little hut and asks the old woman there for shelter. The old woman says her son is the Sun, and they should not wake him
- in the morning János (the boy) asks the Sun politely to shine on the Frozen Kingdom. The Sun says he only helps people who deserve it - János has to prove his worth first
- János goes north and arrives to mountains that touch the sky - the border of the Frozen Lands
- hears a noise - finds a polar bear that has a splinter in its foot - the Ice King was hunting, and the bear got over the mountains to get away
- János helps the bear - gets a hair from him to be able to call when in need
- climbs halfway up the mountain - meets three dwarves around a fire - their beards are frozen - they escaped from the Frozen Lands, try to talk János out of going there - he helps them thaw their beards out, and in exchange they give him a whistle and a promise to help
- János gets to the top - has to lie down and crawl through between the sky and the mountaintop
- on the inside everything is frozen ("I should have become a shoemaker...")
- pulls out the hair, the polar bear appears - asks him to take him down the mountain - bear warns him, "you will freeze" - goes anyway
- they get to the bottom of the mountain, János falls off the bear, starts to freeze from the ground up
- blows the whistle - dwarves appear - sends them to the Sun to tell the story
- János freezes completely, polar bear lies down to guard him
- dwarves go and tell the Sun everything - the next day the Sun makes a change on his way and shines above the Frozen Lands - everything thaws, the animals, the plants, the red armies
- János thaws - now he has a crown of ice and a specter of ice
- mounts the polar bear and leads the armies to the castle of the Ice King - it has already melted, with the king in it
- János becomes the new Ice King - marries the Red Princess - they spend winters in the Red Kingdom, and summers in the Frozen Lands - brings all his family to his kingdom as well

(It was fun to re-read the original version, after I have been telling this story for several years. My version is essentially still the same, but there were also changes I didn't even notice I made. Note: It is an interesting exercise to sometimes go back and see how much your stories changed through repeated telling...)


  1. I love this! Good for him, became king without being a fratricidal backstabber.

    1. I like it that the one brother that becomes king is the one that couldn't get any other job XD

  2. What a lovely story. I like how he helps the dwarves by helping them thaw their beards. :D

  3. I guess we'll never know whether the Ice King went out like the Wicked Witch of the West, screaming "I'm mellltinggg..." Isn't this a very unusual tale, in that in order to win, Janos never has to fight, only to be kind?

    1. Apparently, yes. Although this story was collected in an era when tweaking folktales was not frowned upon by collectors, so I guess we'll never know...

  4. These stories are so interesting. I'd love to hear them told out loud.

    1. It is a lot of fun :) It is about 20 minutes long the way I tell it. Kids love it :)