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Once there was a boy who worked for a giant. It was a very hard job. The giant had a great big ox that made a horrible mess, and the boy had constantly to sweep out after the ox, and he still couldn’t keep the place clean. The giant was always bawling him out.
One day when he’d worked especially hard, the boy got a bright idea. He took a cork and pushed it into the ox’s rear end. In the morning the giant came to inspect the barn, and found everything nice and clean, but he couldn’t understand why the ox was so fat, or why it wouldn’t eat.
“Perhaps you’d better take a look, Pop,” said the boy.
“Perhaps I should,” answered the giant, and started his examination. When he got to the tail, he lifted it up, causing the cork to fly out of the ox’s behind. It hit the giant right in the temple so hard that he died on the spot and was buried under the manure.
The boy took over everything the giant owned and lived there happily for the rest of his days.
This narrative was taken from a collection of Swedish folktales, in which many of the stories featured bumbling, boisterous giants who posed problems for the humans. In some way, the human would always outsmart the giant and kill him or steal his riches. The tales, especially “The Clever Boy,” highlight the skill of those who appear underprivileged at first glance. What chance does a small boy have against a giant, who in this story and many others, is extremely wealthy and powerful? The answer is stressed in the title; with his cleverness and manipulation, the hero is able to thwart the giant and demonstrate the important of brains over brawn.
Furthermore, the giant himself would stand in for an abusive authority figure perhaps, particularly one who was corrupt and much richer than the rest of the townsfolk, who could pride themselves on nothing else but the cleverness they carried with them. It’s a typical triumphant tale of underdog beats bully, only with Nordic characters.
There is also quite a bit of humor in these tales, no matter if they are long or short. “The Clever Boy” features an ox’s behind and the giant dying in a pile of manure. We still have bathroom jokes and tales to this day, because as perverse and immature as they may be, they can still be funny, especially to those whom the stories are aimed at. Children would be satisfied and gleeful at this ending, in which the boy gets out of doing chores, something which they also probably dream about, and makes the authority figure die in a very undignified way. The boy even calls the giant, “Pop,” a term that’s too familiar for a employer-worker relationship, but very applicable in a parent-child one. Thus the children instantly see themselves as the hero and may strive to outsmart the giants in their lives, also known as their parents. All these features combined make the story a memorable one and lets it stand out from the other hero vs. giant tales.
Blecher, Lone Thygesen and Blecher, George. Swedish Folktales and Legends. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993. Print.