Man dreams in themes.
He works through his angst in night-time stories which weave bits of the day into bits of his psyche. The result is invariably unsettling.
His fairytales – the waking stories generated by the imagination of a whole community – are often similarly strange. Odd to the point of uncomfortable, we have all heard tales of serial killers, cannibal-witches, firebirds and living biscuits – gingerbread men – which are so much part of our background that we never stop to question how unutterably weird they really are.
And men have catalogued these tales. There are categories for each; animal brides, beauty-and-the-beast variants, legendary farts and suchlike.
There is even an Abducted By Aliens category.
By this, I think the folklorists mean not ones from outer space, but those who live just beyond our ken. Strange earth dwellers about whom we do not have the faintest idea.
Like the ones in this story, which hails from the rugged Shetland Islands.
Yell. The white island, or the barren island in Old Norse. People have been living on Yell since Neolithic times, and they’re still there, numbering 966 in the 2011 Census. They settle along the coast, and those beaches of white sand, communities nestled amongst some strange old souvenirs of the past. When archaeologists excavated an eroding grave, it’s rumoured they found seven skeletons; one of which was over seven feet tall and had small but perfectly formed horns above the temples.
And at the top of a hill on the island is an ancient stone footprint, 12 inches by 4 inches. They call it the wartie, and to stand in it is to rid oneself of warts.
Strangers indeed, some of those who have lived in this wild place in the midst of the seas.
Anyhow: the story goes that a rather gifted fiddler was in demand all over the island. To employ him was a guarantee that your gathering would go with a bang. His brilliance was unparalleled; his melodies could set feet tapping and tempt long lapsed dancers to try once again some of the steps of their youth.
Halloween drew near. And the villagers begged the fiddler to stay and play for their hallowe’en dance, but the next village had offered more, and he took it and set off along the path by the sea, heading for a night of merriment.
He got that, all right.
There’s a class of creature who only exists in the Shetlands and the Orkneys. It almost does not bear thinking about: a small, squat cross between a fairy and a troll. It goes by the name of a trow. They love music and they are not averse to recruiting musicians in a rather imperative fashion.
They kidnapped the fiddler. They bore him away to their party; and the fiddler knew it did not do to offend a trow, and he went along with it, though the party was long and his feet grew weary. At length, the party died down, the guests drifted away in ones and twos, and the fiddler was allowed on his way.
But when he got to his house,ready to tumble into bed after the night’s exertion, he found it in ruins. The roof was gone, grass had grown across the floor and the walls were decayed. And when he looked further, he found he knew not a soul; no one could remember the house being whole and inhabited in their lifetime, they told him. It was rumoured that the master of the house had once, centuries ago, mysteriously disappeared and never returned.
He stayed the night with a kindly old man, and went to church as the next day was Sunday. And the moment he took communion, the fiddler and all his glorious talent simply crumbled away to dust.
I’ve heard some alien abduction stories in my time.
But if that doesn’t beat all.
34 thoughts on “The Abduction of the Fiddler.”
So is the moral to be wary of partying with trows, or to stay away from communion after a night (or more) of revelry? This is one of the strangest of tales, Kate. I don’t know where you find them. 🙂 I’d like to know more about those graves, though. If I can imagine aliens, I can also imagine giants!
There are some very strange tales from Yell, Debra – they don’t stop at giants!
I think the mistake was going to church:)
You’re right, Roger. If only he had been a heathen, he might be alive to this day.
And Rome only burned as Nero fiddled.
It seems to pale into insignificance beside this, doesn’t it, Lou?
Ah, what these old, old tales do tell. This bringing to mind a much newer one, Rip Van Winkle, and descendant tale of this Shetland one, perhaps. This is the first I’ve heard of a trow. Thanks, Kate.
It is a little Rip Van Winkle, Penny, isn’t it? Pleasure to bring you the trows; they are mercifully a very long way off from the Cutoff.
That’s a wonderful story. No wonder the fiddler’s feet hurt if was standing for centuries. What a party that was.
Indeed. Imagine the hangovers the morning after. Perhaps that was the fiddler’s problem.
Scary stuff! I wonder if it’s a thinly veiled temperance tale… 😉
I agree. And a warning to stick to your own village and not go gallivanting further afield for cash!
I was gearing up for a fiddler on the roof gag Kate……
Aha! my chief weapon is surprise, Jim. Surprise and fear. And a fanatical devotion to the Pope.
I’ll come in again.
A very strange and spine-chilling tale, Kate.
An oddity, isn’t it? Nighmarish.
I’m still stuck on the giant with horns…………Loved this tale, Kate.
It demands a more extensive telling, Andra. Maybe one day I’ll go and stay on Yell, and tell all their tales properly.
Fantastic telling of a fantastic tale. Thanks, Kate! My great aunt and grandmother summered in the Orkneys. I wonder whether they met a Trow or a Troll?
Thanks, Nancy! Did they leave any writings? I have never read any trow sightings. Project: I’m off to look for some.
Of course, I’m distracted by that “legendary farts” throwaway line – you cater for all levels of maturity, don’t you, Kate? 😀
I know of one legendary fart story, concerning one of Sydney’s radio personalities and Barry Manilow. You can read it here, in the last paragraph:
if you are so inclined 😉
Ha, I LOVE it, BB! Farting Barry, as we like to call him. Excellent.
Strange tale. The moral of it is that communion should be avoided at all costs by musicians who give gigs to trows?
I think that about sums it up, Col 😀
A very entertaining tale, Kate, but with a population “numbering 966” is it possible that all the inbreeding in Yell is a factor in this story’s strangeness factor? Think about it: who the hell would move to Yell?
Virginia, as someone living in New York I think you must be the polar opposite of the Yell residents….I looked at the pictures during the research and did fantasise briefly about living there. But I think the people on the island must be a singular culture. Out there at the edge of the world, anything might seem possible.
A familiar fairytale motif, and good to know a variant survived in the Shetlands.
I particularly liked your reference to the stone footprint known as the wartie. These are not unknown in Celtic Britain, especially along the western fringe — there’s one in Cornwall at Tintagel and another at Dunadd hillfort, Argyll & Bute (http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/img_fullsize/90477.jpg) — and it’s thought they might have been part of regal inauguration rituals in the Dark Ages.
Now you have me thinking, Chris. That’s a great link. I keep remembering the footprints which appear now and then at a beach on the West Coast of England at Formby. What would the storytellers have made of those?
The fantastic Formby footprints also bring to mind the Mesolithic prints on the other side of the Severn on the mudflats near Newport: http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=28542
Mind you, they’re so ephemeral would many folk in the past have recognised them for what they are?
I also always admired the Bronze Age cist slab in Bristol Museum, with human footprints pecked out on the stone and picked out in red for modern visitors: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bristol/content/articles/2008/05/14/curator_slab_feature.shtml
Why did folk nearly four thousand years outline these feet? A journey to the afterlife perhaps?
I’ve heard people say that if they went to church (after an exceedingly long absence), that the roof would fall in. But your terrific tale tops all. Loved it, Kate.
Lovely piece of writing Kate. This is amongst my favorites of your pieces. I have never been to the Shetland Islands, you?
We have trows in USA. They live in a city called Washington. They abduct our earnings and redistribute the wealth to non contributing members of society.
It’s nearing midnight here, and me all tucked up and reading in bed. Shivers!!