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Búkolla the Magic Cow

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This week I decided to delve into Icelandic folk tales and translate a fan favorite, the story of Búkolla the cow, so you can enjoy it too (disclaimer, includes moderate tweaks by me):

Up in the sullen Icelandic countryside there once lived an old farmer and his crumpled wife. They had a son but weren’t too crazy about him, on a scale of one to ten he was like a six in their eyes (on a good day).

This farmer couple had but one animal on their farm. Their cow, Búkolla, she was all they needed because as cows go, she was exquisite. She was milked three times a day but still managed to pump out gallons of superb milk.

One day Búkolla was gone like the sun in Icelandic winter.

“Where did the cow go for the love of Odin’s glistening grey beard!” lamented the farmer and his wrinkled woman.

Deciding it socially acceptable to abandon their young child for days at a time the couple left the farm to look for the cow on their own but their search was as fruitless as the old woman’s womb.

The couple ganged up on their neglected and quiet son and demanded he venture out to find the cow, “and we don’t want to set sight on you again unless you have the cow in tow.”

So the little boy wandered off and began his journey into the merciless Icelandic countryside equipped with a new pair of shoes and a packed lunch.

After a bit of a trek the little farmer’s boy plopped down and decided to have a snack. Wearily he shouted: “Moo Búkolla! If you’re alive some place!”

Much to his surprise, the little boy heard a little “moo” in the distance. Motivated by the call he pushed on until he felt he had walked long enough to deserve another snack (comfort eating is a pattern that starts early).

In between bites the little boy shouted again: “Moo Búkolla! If you’re alive some place!” This time the moo was even closer. He started up again, climbing up a huge hill to get nearer the moo.

Once the little boy had conquered the hill he felt another snack was well deserved and in between bites he shouted as he had done the other times: “Moo Búkolla! If you’re alive some place!”

This time the moo came from underneath his feet. Shocked, the boy went looking (after he was done eating, obviously) for some way to get to Búkolla the cow.

The boy found a cave entrance and leapt fearlessly into the abyss until he bumped into his cow. As the boy undid the cow’s restraints and left the cave, two ugly troll ladies came upon them. One of the trolls was big and sloppy and the other small and stocky (it rhymes!).

The trolls started to chase the little boy and Búkolla. Because the one was so immense and took such large strides the little boy started to panic: “Oh no, Búkolla! What are we going to do?”

“Well,” Búkolla started (Búkolla is a supernatural talking cow – who knew?) “grab a couple of hairs from my tail and throw them to the ground.”

The boy followed Búkolla’s instructions and Búkolla turned to the hair and said: “I suggest that you turn into a great waterfall so that only a winged bird could fly over you.”

Thinking Búkolla’s suggestion reasonable enough the hair magically transformed into a gushing waterfall blocking the path of the two trolls.

The bigger sloppy troll, not deterred by the setback, told the smaller stockier one to get their father’s giant bull. Once at the waterfall the bull drank up all the water and the three of them continued in the chase.

“Oh, no Búkolla! What are we going to do now?” the little boy repeated once he realized the trolls had overcome the first obstacle.

Like before Búkolla told him to throw some of her tail hair on the ground and this time she told the hair: “I suggest you turn into a great bonfire so tall only a winged bird could fly over you.”

But what did the trolls do? They got the bull—whose bladder was about to burst, I might add, from having drunk a giant, seemingly endless waterfall, and lagoon—to piss on the bonfire and such was the magnitude of his bladder that the bull managed to extinguish the flame and continue in the chase.

For the third time the boy shouted as the trolls began to gain on them again: “Oh no, Búkolla! What are we going to do now?” and for the final time Búkolla ordered him to draw hair from her tail and said: “I suggest you turn into a great mountain so high only a winged bird could fly over you.”

This time the big troll sent the little one to get a hand-operated drill and then tried to forge a hole in the mountain. The big troll then tried to force her way through but got stuck in the middle and there she remains stuck in the mountain to this day.

When the little boy and Búkolla made it back to the farm, it is said that the little boy’s parents were relieved.

Relieved? That’s what the kid gets for his trouble? Relief? No happy ending here, he merely returns to a life of mediocrity in a rural home with parents who rate him as a six. Still, cracking story.

Nanna Árnadóttir – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.