Friday’s Fairytales: East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Theodor Kittelsen

“Are you afraid?” The White Bear said.

“No, I am not” replied the Girl.

(Lang 1965:20)

In this edition of “Friday’s Fairy Tales”, I will be discussing one of my favourite tales: East of the Sun, West of the Moon. This is a Norweigian Folk Tale, which dates back to around1842-1852, and was collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. I will be discussing the plot of the original tale, and the few re-tellings . This tale is a little different than The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, in that it hasn’t been retold in a variety of ways. The re-tellings I have read, both modern and not, have all followed the same synopsis per say. So this week I will mainly just be discussing the story in general.

I first read this tale back when I was around 15, and something about it just stayed with me. It just always jumped out at me. Maybe it is because I was obsessed with a cartoon called “Lars the Little Polar Bear” when I was a young child….who knows.

Also: before jumping into this tale, I found something pretty cool and geeky to add to these posts every week: For those who do not know, there is actually a legitimate “Scale”, which is known as the “Aarne Thompson Tale Type Index” which was developed to help those who study folklore to correctly organise, analyse and document the various tales from across the globe. East… is described as “Aarne-Thompson type 425A, the search for the lost husband”. For more details on the Aarne Thompson scale, click here:

Just for comparison’s sake, The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood falls under code “410: The Wife.

Original Source: For the rendition of the original story, I will be referring to Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book- pg 19.

The Story:

Once Upon a Time…

  • There was once a poor “husbandsman” who had many children, the prettiest of which was his youngest daughter. [It is always the youngest daughter who things seem to happen to- this does not bode well for me, unless I can marry a polar bear king?]

  • One day, a giant white polar bear knocks on the window [as you do…] and he asks straight out if the father will give him the youngest daughter, in exchange for endless wealth.

  • Like any good father, he tells the bear he has to ask the girl’s permission [which is nice, I guess?] The daughter refuses the offer and the White Bear, like any annoying cold caller, tells them he will return the next week and ask again.

  • Meanwhile, the father basically talks his daughter into agreeing to go with the Bear, since it would benefit the whole family. The next week, the Bear returns and she leaves with him.

  • They ride for days and weeks across the frozen lands, until they at last come to a great mountain.Inside the mountain, is a building which looks like a castle, with magnificent rooms, with a large hall and a well spread table.

  • That night, she goes to her bed, and just as she is about to doze off, she feels the weight of someone else getting into her bed- it was the Bear, who shed the form of a beast at night- however, she never saw him as he only ever appeared after she had put out her light, and disappeared long before daylight arrived.

  • After a while, she grew lonely for her family and bored. The Bear asks her what is wrong one day and she tells him she wishes to return home. The Bear allows this but makes her promise never to talk to her mother alone, but always be in company of the rest of her family to stop this from happening. They journey back to her family, who had since moved into a larger and better home, and the Bear reminds her of her promise, which if she broke could “do much harm to yourself, and me.”

  • She remains at home for a little while, and as predicted her mother tries to talk to her alone. Eventually, she caves and tells her mother the whole story. Her mother warns her she may be sleeping with a troll [HAHA no comment] and tells her to use a bit of candle to look upon him in the night. When the Bear collects her, she tells him her mother knows and he tells her she has made a grave mistake.

  • That night she lights the candle, sees him and falls in love with him. She wakes him up accidentally by dripping candle wax on him, and he reveals that if she had managed to not look upon him for one more year, he would have been free of his curse. His stepmother had cursed him to appear as a Bear by day and a man by night. But because the girl looked upon him, he must now go to his stepmother, who lives in a place “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, and marry some princess there instead.

  • She begs him to stay, and when he refuses, she promises to find the place East of the Sun and West of the Moon, to find him. In the morning, he is gone.The girl sets off that day to find this mysterious location, and along the way comes across three old crones sitting outside mountains who subsequently loan her: A horse, a golden apple, a golden carding-comb and a golden spinning wheel, along with advice to seek out the East Wind.

  • She rides for days and days and finds the East Wind, who offers to carry her on his back to see his brother, the West Wind.And the same again but for the West Wind to take her to see the South Wind, and then finally the North Wind [talk about Long winded! BA DUM TCH]

  • Once she arrives at the castle, the princess comes out, and asks how much she would like for her golden apple. The girl tells her she wants no money, only to see the prince- however when she sees him, she can’t wake him up. The next time she requests to be allowed to see him at night in exchange for the golden comb, the princess allows it and again she cannot wake him up. The same thing was requested in exchange for the golden spinning wheel.

  • During all of this, there had been some witnesses to the girl trying to wake up the prince, and they informed the prince when he was awake what had happened- for the Princess had been drugging him with a sleeping potion. That night, the prince only pretended to drink the sleeping potion the princess brought for him, and threw it behind him instead. So this time, when the girl arrived to see him, he was awake.

  • The prince devises a plan: he announces a contest of sorts between the princess and the girl to try to wash his shirt free of the candle wax, which had been dripped on it that night- but what the trolls don’t know is that no troll can wash it off, only one who is “born of christian folk”. He pretends not to know the “beggar girl” in the audience and after the troll queen and princess fail to wash the wax off, he calls the “beggar girl” over to attempt it, just to prove how useless the troll princess is.

  • She, of course, manages to clean it off, the prince announces he will marry her- the trolls explode in a fit of rage. The prince and his bride free all of the trapped christian folk from the castle, and leave the place that is East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

PHEW. That was a long one! As you probably picked up throughout reading that, it is basically another rendition of Beauty and the Beast, which is interesting since East... is of Norweigian origin and Beauty and the Beast/La Belle é La Bete, is of French origin from around 1740, a century earlier than that of East. 

Similarities between East and BatB:

  • Prince is cursed by an enchantress, to appear in the form of a Beast.

  • The father promises his favourite daughter to a beast in exchange for wealth/his life.

  • The daughter agrees to go with the Beast, to save her father/family.

  • She lives with the Beast in a magical castle, with no idea about the Beast’s true identity.

  • Halfway through, she wishes to briefly return to her family- both instances putting the Beast’s life at peril, somehow.

  • Beast is taken away from the daughter, who must find a way to rescue/save him.

Only really then, does East take on it’s own story of adventure and bravery and taking on the Troll Queen.


The two re-tellings I have read for this tale are:

  1. East– Edith Pattou (5 stars- Review here)

  2. Ice– Sarah Beth Durst (4 stars- Review here)

There is a third re-telling, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow- by Jessica Day George, but I’ve not read that one yet.

The two re-tellings I have read though, as you can see from my reviews of both of them, are highly enjoyable. They both stick closely to the original tale and add an intense amount of originality to both the character development and the world building around the tale.

-Ice by Sarah Beth Durst is a much quicker read than East, which stands at around 500 pages. And the main difference that stands out from the original tale for Ice is that the Bear tricks Cassie into getting pregnant mid-story. This does not happen in the original tale or “East”. It kind of blindsided me and I’ve no idea where it came from, to be honest. She also basically goes to the Castle while heavily pregnant and falls into labour. So yeah, that is a thing. One good element about this re-telling though? The descriptions of the bear’s castle, which in this story is not in a mountain but rather a gigantic palace made of, you guessed it, Ice.


(I had to.)

-East is the retelling I recommend the most. It is full of wonderful detail and description. Pattou takes the time to allow the reader to form bonds with both the family and the Bear, and the story takes it’s time moving at a leisurely pace.

Another fun fact in regards to retellings- Don Bluth was hoping to make an animated film around this tale in the 1980s, but due to the loss of financial backing, the film never made it. This makes me quite sad actually, because I grew up wearing out my VHS tapes of Bluth’s Thumbelina, The Swan Princess and of course, Anastasia!

There is also a similar Norweigian Tale, known as the “White Bear King Valemon”, which I will link: mainly because if you glance through the synopsis, it pretty much is the same story, except it involves the girl strangely dreaming of a golden wreath.

Discussion Questions:

Could this be classed as a Cautionary Tale? If so, how?

I don’t think so, unless you believe it’s telling you that all good Christians must hand wash clothes…

It’s more of a simple adventure/romance bedtime story, in my opinion.

Do you think this tale is aimed towards Children, or can it be for Adults as well?

I think this is a tale which is more aimed at children, because of the elements of magic and grandure and adventure within the tale. I mean, telling yours kids that a bear will knock on the front door and take them away to some ice palace somewhere? That’s quite extraordinary. But you know, I’m an adult (surprising, I know) and I always seem to enjoy this tale.

Did you notice any interesting patterns or underlying themes in this story?

My main observation in writing up this tale, was definitely the similarities between this and Beauty and the Beast. I’d always known it was like Beauty and the Beast but I hadn’t realised just how much. But I always admire the daughter’s selflessness and bravery in going with the Beast to protect her family, even though there is a chance it could actually mean she may die a horrible death.

Is this a tale you would tell your children? If so, which version would you prefer? If not, why not?

Highly likely, since I believe it is one of those tales which not only applauds selflessness and bravery but also to always hope when everything seems to be going wrong. And of course, the importance of keeping your clothes clean.

Readers: Is there a specific tale you would like me to discuss/analyse in the future?

Next Week’s Friday Fairytale: Rumpelstiltskin- as requested by Booknerderie. Feel free to read up on it and join the discussion next week! 


13 thoughts on “Friday’s Fairytales: East of the Sun, West of the Moon

  1. arianrhod123 says:

    I love this fairy tale so much. It’s really interesting, although I hadn’t noticed the similarity to Beauty and the Beast before. And I love East so much, although I read it as North Child. I remember reading it ages ago before I knew about the fairy tale, and I loved it!

  2. AWESOME. POST! I loved this tale. It didn’t dawn on me that it was a BatB retelling until you said so! Hahaha. I was so wrapped up in the story that I wasn’t thinking about it. I will definitely read this to my children (when I have them). Your commentary was cracking me up, by the way. Clever, you are.


    • thebookheap says:

      Awh thanks. Haha Ikr I read two retellings before it occured to me that it was following the BATB formula!
      I try not to be overzealous with my commentary but sometimes I just can’t help the snark!

  3. I have never heard of this one before but it sounds really interesting. Probably because, as you mentioned, it is quite similar to Beauty & the Beast which I love. The re-tellings look really good too. Will have to check them out 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s