The Boar with the Golden Bristles
by William Elliot Griffis
Long, long ago, there were brave fighters and skilful hunters in
Holland, but neither men nor women ever dreamed that food was to be got
out of the ground, but only from the trees and bushes, such as berries,
acorns and honey. They thought the crust of the earth was too hard to be
broken up for seed, even if they knew what grain and bread were. They
supposed that what nature provided in the forest was the only food for
men. Besides this, they made their women do all the work and cook the
acorns and brew the honey into mead, while they went out to fish and
hunt and fight.
So the fairies took pity on the cold, northern people, who lived where
it rained and snowed a great deal. They held a council and agreed that
it was time to send down to the earth an animal, with tusks, to tear up
the ground. Then the people would see the riches of the earth and learn
what soil was. They would be blessed with farms and gardens, barns and
stalls, hay and grain, horses and cattle, wheat and barley, pigs and
Now there were powerful fairies, of a certain kind, who lived in a Happy
Land far, far away, who had charge of everything in the air and water.
One of them was named Fro, who became lord of the summer sunshine and
warm showers, that make all things grow. It was in this bright region
that the white elves lived.
It was a pretty custom in fairy-land that when a fairy baby cut its
first tooth, the mother's friends should make the little one some pretty
When Nerthus, the mother of the infant Fro, looked into its mouth and
saw the little white thing that had come up through the baby's gums, she
went in great glee and told the glad news to all the other fairies. It
was a great event and she tried to guess what present her wonderful
boy-baby should receive.
There was one giant-like fairy as strong as a polar bear, who agreed to
get, for little Fro, a creature that could put his nose under the sod
and root up the ground. In this way he would show men what the earth,
just under its surface, contained, without their going into mines and
One day this giant fairy heard two stout dwarfs talking loudly in the
region under the earth. They were boasting as to which could beat the
other at the fire and bellows, for both were blacksmiths. One was the
king of the dwarfs, who made a bet that he could excel the other. So he
set them to work as rivals, while a third dwarf worked the bellows. The
dwarf-king threw some gold in the flames to melt; but, fearing he might
not win the bet, he went away to get other fairies to help him. He told
the bellows dwarf to keep on pumping air on the fire, no matter what
might happen to him.
So when one giant fairy, in the form of a gadfly, flew at him, and bit
him in the hand, the bellows-blower did not stop for the pain, but kept
on until the fire roared loudly, as to make the cavern echo. Then all
the gold melted and could be transformed. As soon as the dwarf-king came
back, the bellows-blower took up the tongs and drew out of the fire a
boar having golden bristles.
This fire-born golden boar had the power of travelling through the air
as swiftly as a streak of lightning. It was named Gullin, or Golden, and
was given to the fairy Fro, and he, when grown, used the wonderful
creature as his steed. All the other good fairies and the elves
rejoiced, because men on the earth would now be helped to do great
Even more wonderful to tell, this fire-born creature became the father
of all the animals that have tusks and that roam in the woods. A tusk is
a big tooth, of which the hardest and sharpest part grows, long and
sharp, outside of the mouth and it stays there, even when the mouth is
When Gullin was not occupied, or being ridden by Fro on his errands over
the world, he taught his sons, that is, the wild boars of the forest,
how to root up the ground and make it soft for things to grow in. Then
his master Fro sent the sunbeams and the warm showers to make the
turned-up earth fruitful.
To do this, the wild boars were given two long tusks, as pointed as
needles and sharp as knives. With one sweep of his head a boar could rip
open a dog or a wolf, a bull or a bear, or furrow the earth like a
Now there were several cousins in the Tusk family. The elephant on land,
and the walrus and narwhal in the seas; but none of these could plough
ground, but because the boar's tusks grew out so long and were so sharp,
and hooked at the end, it could tear open the earth's hard crust and
root up the ground. This made a soil fit for tender plants to grow in,
and even the wild flowers sprang up in them.
All this, when they first noticed it, was very wonderful to human
beings. The children called one to the other to come and see the unusual
sight. The little troughs, made first by the ripping of the boar's
tusks, were widened by rooting with their snouts. These were welcomed by
the birds, for they hopped into the lines thus made, to feed on the
worms. So the birds, supposing that these little gutters in the ground
were made especially for them, made great friends with the boars. They
would even perch near by, or fly to their backs, and ride on them.
As for the men fathers, when they looked at the clods and the loose
earth thus turned over, they found them to be very soft. So the women
and girls were able to break them up with their sticks. Then the seeds,
dropped by the birds that came flying back every spring time, from
far-away lands, sprouted. It was noticed that new kinds of plants grew
up, which had stalks. In the heads or ears of these were a hundredfold
more seeds. When the children tasted them, they found, to their delight,
that the little grains were good to eat. They swallowed them whole, they
roasted them at the fire, or they pounded them with stones. Then they
baked the meal thus made or made it into mush, eating it with honey.
For the first time people in the Dutch world had bread. When they added
the honey, brought by the bees, they had sweet cakes with mead. Then,
saving the seeds over, from one summer to another, they in the spring
time planted them in the little trenches made by the animal's tusks.
Then the Dutch words for "boar" and "row" were put together, meaning
boar row, and there issued, in time, our word "furrow."
The women were the first to become skilful in baking. In the beginning
they used hot stones on which to lay the lump of meal, or flour and
water, or the batter. Then having learned about yeast, which "raised"
the flour, that is, lifted it up, with gas and bubbles, they made real
bread and cakes and baked them in the ovens which the men had made. When
they put a slice of meat between upper and lower layers of bread, they
called it "broodje," that is, little bread; or, sandwich. In time,
instead of one kind of bread, or cake, they had a dozen or twenty
different sorts, besides griddle cakes and waffles.
Now when the wise men of the mark, or neighborhood, saw that the women
did such wonderful things, they put their heads together and said one to
"We are quite ready to confess that fairies, and elves, and even the
kabouters are smarter than we are. Our women, also, are certainly
wonderful; but it will never do to let the boars think that they know
more than we do. They did indeed teach us how to make furrows, and the
birds brought us grain; but we are the greater, for we can hunt and kill
the boars with our spears.
"Although they can tear up the sod and root in the ground with tusk and
snout, they cannot make cakes, as our women can. So let us see if we
cannot beat both the boars and birds, and even excel our women. We shall
be more like the fairies, if we invent something that will outshine them
So they thought and planned, and, little by little, they made the
plough. First, with a sharp stick in their hands, the men scratched the
surface of the ground into lines that were not very deep. Then they
nailed plates of iron on those sticks. Next, they fixed this iron-shod
wood in a frame to be pulled forward, and, by and by, they added
handles. Men and women, harnessed together, pulled the plough. Indeed it
was ages before they had oxen to do this heavy work for them. At last
the perfect plough was seen. It had a knife in front to cut the clods, a
coulter, a beam, a mould board and handles, and, after a while, a wheel
to keep it straight. Then they set horses to draw it.
Fro the fairy was the owner, not only of the boar with the golden
bristles, but also of the lightning-like horse, Sleipnir, that could
ride through fire and water with the speed of light. Fro also owned the
magic ship, which could navigate both land and sea. It was so very
elastic that it could be stretched out to carry a host of warriors over
the seas to war, or fold up like a lady's handkerchief. With this flying
vessel, Fro was able to move about like a cloud and also to change like
them. He could also appear, or disappear, as he pleased, in one place or
By and by, the wild boars were all hunted to death and disappeared. Yet
in one way, and a glorious one also, their name and fame were kept in
men's memories. Brave knights had the boar's head painted on their
shields and coats of arms. When the faith of the Prince of Peace made
wars less frequent, the temples in honor of Fro were deserted, but the
yule log and the revels, held to celebrate the passing of the Mother
Night, in December, that is, the longest one of the year, were changed
for the Christmas festival.
Then again, the memory of man's teacher of the plough was still kept
green; for the boar was remembered as the giver, not only of nourishing
meat, but of ideas for men's brains. Baked in the oven, and made
delightful to the appetite, served on the dish, with its own savory
odors; withal, decorated with sprigs of rosemary, the boar's head was
brought in for the great dinner, with the singing of Christmas carols.