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Scottish Traditional Tales
The Boy and the Brüni

Track 3 (CD2) THE BOY AND THE BRÜNI Tom Tulloch, Yell

As the stay-at-home youngest of a family of twelve, brought up in a former laird's house in North Yell, the Haa o Midbrake, Tom Tulloch heard an immense amount of lore, ranging from little anecdotes of character to the ancient ballad of "King Orfeo", mainly from his mother and her sister, and still remembers a great deal of it. "Wir fokk", as he calls them, were clearly exceptional tradition bearers for their time even in this very traditional corner of Shetland, and there seems hardly to have been a person or a hill in the district about which they did not have a story. This tale was told by them of the Erne's Knowe, the Eagle's Hillock, a place in the hill to the north of their home, but Tom reckons that this sort of detail was left to the storyteller's fancy: "I suppose if it was told in different places o the isle or the parish 'at there would be a suitable knoll for the brüni to disappear doon through." Laurence Williamson took a brief note of the tale in the last century. Many of the details are unique to Shetland, but the story must belong to the same international family of children's stories as "Hansel and Gretel" (AT 327) and "Jack the Giant-Killer" (AT 328), where cannibal witches and ogres are pushed into their own ovens or cauldrons and the young heroes escape with their treasure. The version of the "Fee fo fi fum" formula is more like that in older Scots versions (e.g. Robert Chambers:93-94) than the English chapbook version which has affected the travellers.

According to Tom, the story was told to amuse children, but also with a moral purpose, "to expound the virtues o the oatmeal and the milk, and it was aye tellt to the bairns to entice them to sup their gruel or milk an meal or whatever it wis 'at they were gettin." A meal at the table was better than a bannock in the pocket, and a bannock in the pocket was for eating, not playing with, and who knows what dangers might lurk in a hole in the hill? (But as the boy escaped the ogre and came home rich, the warning may not have been very effective!) Tom mentioned the tale when I first visited him in 1970, and had it ready to tell me when I next saw him in 1973 (this version is published in Tocher 2:96-7). The version used here, recorded two years later, is rather longer, with a more leisurely opening, mentioning the Erne's Knowe and the term "to can the kye" which he digresses to explain; there are also a few more dialect words. Tom takes some trouble to explain away an inconsistency I had noticed in the earlier version, how the blind giantess could see if the water was boiling; but such inconsistencies are characteristic of international folktale, and this one may always have been part of the story. -AJB

THIS BOY ARRIVED hom fae the schül wän nyht, an his fokk telled him to go to the hill and 'can the kye': this meant to say 'at he had to go to the hill an see if the kye was all ryht and coont them, an if they were turn't them fir hom, that he was to turn them back to the hill an select a good piece o pasturage fir them tö aet upon atil it wis time to tak them hom an put i the byre. So . . . his mither baekit him a briini an pat in his poaket an sent him to the hill to look to the kye, to 'can them'. An he gud to the hill an he fand the kye all ryht an he turn't them up and lookit efter them an then he t'owt 'at he wid set him doon an aet his brüni. And this parteeclar nyht he wis fund the kye pretty near the Erne's Knowe, an it was ipo the Erne's Knowe 'at he'd set him doon to aet his bruni. An when he was takin the brüni oot o his poaket, the brüni haippen't to slip oot o his haund, an he row't doon the side o the knowe. And the boy t'owt 'at this wad be a very good game fir him to hae a bit o playfer wi the brüni afore he ett him, an he row'd him up an row'd him doon the knowe different times. But they were wän o the times 'at he row't the brüni doon the knowe, 'at he disappeared oot o his syht in amang a big clump o heather. And the boy wisna wantin to loss his brüni, and he was also curious to keen whar the brüni wis gone til.

So he pairtit the heather an he oagit in . . . amang it to see if he could find an retrieve his brüni. But when he oapen't up the heather, he cam upon a graet big gully o a holl leadin into the hill, an he oagit into this gully, and the farther he cam in, the bigger the gully turn't. And finally he laundit in atil a graet big cave, and they were nobody in i the cave aless a graet big owld wife, an he noaticed 'at shö wis blinnd an couldna see him.

So he güd some wey aboot the cave an he hoided him to see what wis goin to go on yondroo. An shö wis preparin eenormious diet o maet ipae the table. An he wätched all this moves o hirs, and efter a while he haerd a graet skraufling in yon same wey 'at he wis come in, an the first 'at appear't in i the cave was a giant, an he was come back fae his day's hontin cairryin all his booty. An he set doon his booty an he set him in to the table and he stairted to aet upon his denner. But all the time 'at he was aetin he was aye liftin his heid an snoffin aroont the cave, and then aut the latest he says,

'Fee faw fam,
I feel the smell o an earthly man,
But be he livin or be he deid
I'se hae his heid wi my sopper breid!'

But he güd on wi his denner until he was feenished, an when he was feenished his denner he rase op an he startit to search the cave, an he fand the boy.

An he took him oot an exaemined him, but he t'owt that he wisna warth t' aet that nyht. An he tell't the wife 'at shö wis to take the boy an binnd him to the stoop o the mill, an shö wis to feed him op wi milk an meal until the boy's wrist turned as big as whit his peerie finger wis, and then he wid be fit fir aetin. So day efter day the wife fed ipae the boy, an the giant älways güd oot till his hontin. But occasionally the giant exaemin't the boy to see what wey his condeetion was gettin on, an wän moarnin he pronounced 'at the boy would be fit fir aetin that nyht.

So when the giant was gone the owld wife got on a graet caudereen of wäter upon a huge fire, an efter a while shö said to the boy 'at he was bidden to com an clim op ipae her shooder to see if this wäter wis boilin. But the boy, although he wisna certain, he hed his suspeecions o what was goin to tak place, an he said that he kent naething aboot whether wäter was boilin or no, an although shö couldna see, shö would . . . hae mair sense abbot that as him, and the best 'at shö could do was to clim op ipae his shooder. And so, to allay his suspeecions shö fell in wi yon plän and he croopled him doon, an shö climmed op ipae his shooder to see whadder the waater wis boilin or no. An didn't the boy plomp her in i this caudereen o boilin wäter? An he boiled upon her an better boiled upon her till he t'owt 'at the giant would be comin hom, and then he laid her op ipo the table. An he lookit aroont the cave, an he fand twa 'r three peerie stons an he oagit up ipo some ledge op i the röf o the cave.

An efter a while the giant cam in, an he set him doon to the table, an he startit t' aet oot o the owld wife. An he ett, but every noo an ageen he was ay sayin, 'Tyoch, tyoch, tyoch!' But finally he feenished this denner, an he was kind o exhaustit, pairtly be what he was aeten and pairtly be . . . his day's hontin. An he drew this chair to the table and he laid back ower his heid, and he fell soond asleep, an he startit to snore an his mooth fell oapen. And the boy oot o the röf o the cave, he slippit doon yon peerie stons, and they güd ryht in the giant's t'rot an they shoakit him an he died.

An when the boy wis awaur 'at the giant was deid, he cam doon oot o his hoidie-holl i the röf o the cave, and he gaidered op the best o the giant's gold an silver an booty 'at he wis collected, an he made hom til his owen fokk wi hit. An needless to say they all lived in plenty and happiness ever efter!



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