THE TROLL'S HAMMER
WHEN a great famine prevails in a country even the
rich suffer. Hard, indeed, must the lot of the poor
peasant be at such a time.
During a famine a poor peasant, unable to support all
his family, told his eldest son, Niels, that he would
have to go out in the world and provide for himself.
Niels left home and went out to seek his fortune. As
the evening of the first day drew on, he found himself
in a dense forest, and fearing lest the wild beasts
might do him harm during the night, he climbed into a
tree. Hardly had he reached his perch, when he saw a
little man running toward the tree. He was
hunchbacked, and had crooked legs, a long beard, and
wore on his head a red cap. He was pursued by a wolf,
which attacked him just under the tree in which Niels
was sitting. The little man began to scream; he bit
and scratched, and defended himself as well as he
could. But the wolf was stronger, and would have torn
the little fellow to pieces if Niels had not sprung
down from the tree. As soon as the wolf saw that he
had two to contend with, he fled back into the forest.
The troll then said to Niels:
 "Thou hast preserved my life and done me a good
service; in return I will give thee something that
will be of use. See! here is a hammer with which thou
shalt be able to do smith's work that no one shall be
able to equal." When the troll had spoken these words,
he sank into the ground and disappeared.
The next day the boy wandered on until he came to the
neighborhood of the royal palace, and here he engaged
himself to a smith.
Now it just happened that a few days before a thief
had broken into the King's treasury and stolen a large
bag of money. All the smiths in the city were
therefore sent for to palace, and the King promised
that he who could make the best lock should be
appointed court locksmith, and have a handsome reward
into the bargain. The lock had to be finished in eight
days, and so constructed that it could not be picked
When the smith, with whom Niels lived, returned home
and related this, the boy thought he should like to
try whether his hammer really possessed those
qualities which the troll had said. He therefore
begged his master to allow him to make a lock, and
promised that it should be finished by the appointed
time. Although the smith had no great opinion of the
boy's abilities, he permitted the trial.
Niels then requested a separate workshop, locked
himself in, and began hammering the iron. One day
went, and then another, and the master began to be
curious; but Niels let no one come into his shop, and
the smith was obliged to remain outside, and peep
through the keyhole. The work, however, succeeded far
better than the boy himself had expected; and without
his really knowing how it came to pass, the lock was
finished on the evening of the third day.
The following morning he went down to his master and
asked for some money. "Yesterday I worked hard," said
Niels, "and to-day I will enjoy myself."
He went out of the city, and did not return to the
workshop till late in the evening. The next day and
 next he did the same, and so through the rest of
His master was very angry at this, and threatened to
turn him away unless he finished his work at the
appointed time. But Niels told him to rest easy, and
engaged that his lock should be the best.
When the day arrived, Niels brought his work forth,
and carried it up to the palace. His lock was so
ingenious and so delicately made, that it far excelled
all the others. Niels's master was acknowledged as the
most skillful, and he received the promised office and
The smith was delighted, but he took good care not to
confess to anyone who it was that had made the curious
lock. He received one job after another from the King,
and let Niels do them all.
In the meantime, the report spread from place to place
of the wonderful lock the King had got for his
treasury. Travelers came from a distance to see it,
and a foreign King came among them. When he had
examined the work a long time he said that the man who
had made such a lock deserved to be honored and
"But however good a smith he may be," added the
foreign King, "I have his master at home."
He continued boasting in this manner, till at length
the two kings made a wager as to which smith could
execute the most skillful piece of workmanship. The
smiths were sent for, and the two kings determined
that each smith should make a knife.
The smith related to Niels what had passed, and
desired him to try whether he could make as good a
knife as the lock he had made. Niels promised to do
so, although his last work had not brought him much.
The smith was in truth a mean man, and treated Niels
so niggardly that sometimes he had not enough to eat
One day, as he was out buying steel to make the knife,
he met a man from his own village, and, in the course
of conversation, Niels learned that his father was in
 and misery. Then he asked his master for
some money, but this was the answer: "You shall not
have a shilling until you have made the knife."
Thereupon Niels shut himself up in the workshop for a
whole day, and, as on the former occasion, the knife
was made without his knowing how it had happened.
When the day arrived on which the work was to be
exhibited, Niels dressed himself in his best clothes,
and went with his master up to the palace where the
two kings were expecting them.
The strange smith first showed his knife. It was so
beautiful, and so curiously wrought, that it was a
pleasure to look at; it was, moreover, so sharp and
well-tempered that it would cut through a millstone as
easily as through a cheese. Niels's knife, on the
contrary, looked very poor and common.
The King already began to think he had lost his wager,
and spoke harshly to the master-smith, when his boy
begged leave to examine the stranger's knife a little
After having looked at it for some time, he said: "This
is a beautiful piece of workmanship which you have
made, and shame on those who would say otherwise; but
my master is, nevertheless, your superior, as you
shall soon experience."
Saying this, he took the stranger's knife and split it
lengthwise from point to handle with his own knife as
easily as one splits a twig of willow. The kings could
scarcely believe their eyes, and the consequence was
that Niels's master was declared the victor.
When Niels asked for payment, the master refused to
give him anything, although knowing full well that
the poor boy only wanted the money to help his father.
Upon this Niels grew angry, went to the King, and told
who it was that had made both the lock and the knife.
The master was then called, but he denied everything,
and accused Niels of being an idle boy, whom he had
taken into service out of charity and compassion.
"We shall soon find out the truth of this story," said
 King, who sided with the master. "Since thou
sayest it is thou who hast made this wonderful knife,
and thy master says it is he who has done it, I will
adjudge each of you to make a sword for me within
eight days. He who can make the most perfect one shall
be my master-smith; but he who loses shall forfeit his
Niels was well satisfied with this agreement. He went
home, packed up all his things, and bade his master
farewell. The smith would gladly have made all good
again, but Niels appeared not to understand him, and
went on his way. He engaged with another master, and
began cheerfully to work on the sword.
When the appointed day arrived, both Niels and his
former master met at the palace, and the master
produced a sword of the most beautiful workmanship
that anyone could wish to see. It was inlaid with gold
and set with precious stones. The King was greatly
delighted with it.
"Now, little Niels," said he, "what dost thou say to
"It is not so badly made as one might expect from such
a bungler," said the boy.
"Canst thou show anything like it?" asked the King.
"I believe I can," answered Niels.
"Well, where is thy sword?" said the King.
"In my waistcoat pocket," replied Niels.
Hereupon there was a general laugh which was increased
when they saw the boy take a little packet out of his
waistcoat pocket. Niels opened the paper in which the
blade was rolled up like a watch-spring. "Here is my
work," said he. "Will you just cut the thread,
The smith did it willingly, and in a moment the blade
straightened out and struck him in the face.
Niels took out of his other pocket a hilt of gold and
screwed it fast to the blade; then he presented the
sword to the King; and all present were obliged to
confess that they never before had seen such matchless
Niels was declared the victor, and the master was
 to acknowledge that the boy had made both the
lock and the knife.
The King in his indignation would have had the master
put to death if the boy had not begged for mercy on
Niels received a handsome reward from the King, and
from that day all the work from the palace was
intrusted to him. He took his old father to reside
with him, and lived in comfort and happiness till his
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics