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Literature / The Story of King Odd

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"The Story of King Odd" (Sagan af Oddi kóngi) is an Icelandic fairy tale collected and printed by Jón Árnason in Icelandic Folktales and Fairy Tales, 1862.

An old king is popular, but childless and single. Suddenly, a viking army lands in his realm. The vikings' leader, a certain Odd, challenges the king to battle. The king bites the dust, and Odd declares himself the new king. Despite his violent takeover, Odd is soon a popular ruler, even though no one knows where he came from or what his ancestry is.

The autumn after Odd's conquest, a wandering man comes to the palace and pleads to be taken in as a winter guest. The king agrees on the condition that the stranger must disclose the secret of his, Odd's, origin and identity on the first day of summer. If he cannot do this, he will be executed. The man agrees.

Summer comes and the winter guest has no more idea about what is the king's secret than last autumn. And so he is executed.

Next autumn, another traveller asks to stay for winter. Odd agrees on the same condition as before. Like his predecessor, the guest is not able to unearth any clue about Odd's past, so to the executioner he goes. And so do four more winter-guests in four subsequent years.

The seventh year of Odd's reign, yet another wanderer asks for winter quarters. Hearing the king's condition, he answers he will accept the deal if he can sleep in the king's own bedchamber. The king agrees.

All winter, the guest keeps a close watch on the king, but nothing happens until the night of Christmas when Odd, believing the guest is asleep, sneaks out of the bedroom. But the guest is awake and follows him stealthily to a lake in a bog. When Odd dives into the lake, the guest follows him and finds himself on a beautiful meadow: It is the Nether World — and the guest knows he is on the track of King Odd's true identity.

This fairy tales has examples of the following tropes:

  • Curse: King Odd has been banished to the human world by a curse.
  • Curse Escape Clause: An oddly specific one: Only if a human discovers Odd's true identity without without any help, the curse will be lifted.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: The winter-guest, mixing into the elvish crowd, manages to eavesdrop all the private table-talk of the royal couple in the Nether World, and yet nobody recognizes him as a human.
  • Land of Faerie: The "Nether World" is the Icelandic variant of Faerie.
  • Nameless Narrative: King Odd is the only named character in the tale.
  • Offered the Crown: The people plans to depose Odd and make the winter-guest king, should Oddur try to have him executed. Yet Oddur, in parting, makes the winter-guest king himself.
  • The Reveal: Odd is an elf-queen, banished to the Upper World by a curse.
  • Rule of Seven: There are seven winter-guests in seven winters, and the curse granted a deadline of seven years for the chance to break the curse.
  • She Is the King: Odd.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: King Odd. It is not quite clear if her posing as a man was a stipulation of the Curse Escape Clause, or if she decided on that for pragmatic reasons.
  • Tongue-Tied: Odd cannot simply tell the secret, as it would invalidate the escape clause.

Alternative Title(s): King Oddur