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Old Norse Cultural Influence in the Work of Christina M. Costie
Ragnhild Ljosland

Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 4 (2013): 177–188

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177 R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 Introduction: Christina Costie and Orkney “Viking Literature” Christina Mackay Costie (1902–1967), from Kirkwall on the Orkney Mainland, was part of a generation of Orkney writers that included the more famous Edwin Muir (1887–1959) and Eric Linklater (1899–1974), the locally very popular Robert Rendall (1898–1967), and the somewhat younger George Mackay Brown (1921–1996). To Costie, writing was a hobby that she did in addition to her daytime job in a lawyer’s office in Kirkwall. Her poems, short stories, and articles enjoyed popularity in the local Orkney newspapers in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, and her work was also published in two volumes: But- End Ballans (1949) and Benjie’s Bodle (1956). Three posthumous collections have since followed. Most of her output is in the medium of Orkney dialect, which might go some way to explain why Costie has not received wider recognition, and which led George Mackay Brown’s biographer Maggie Fergusson (2006:94) to describe her as “a spinster lawyer who wrote dialect verse in her spare time.” Since the 19th century, Orkney literature has been very much inspired by translated Old Norse literature such as the Icelandic sagas and skaldic poetry, which became increasingly available in English translation during this period. Of particular interest to the Orkney reading (and writing) audience were Shetlander Gilbert Goudie et al.’s (1873) translation of the Orkneyinga Saga and Orcadian Samuel Laing and Snorri Sturluson’s (1844) translation of Heimskringla. As people’s awareness of Orkney’s past as a Norse Earldom rose, and the availability of saga literature in English translation improved, Orkney writers were inspired to utilize their islands’ history and the newly available texts as background for their own work. Sebastian Seibert (2008) has successfully shown how the idea of Orkney’s Norse past was discovered, constructed, and received from the 18th century to today, and Julian D’Arcy (1996) has shown how Old Norse literature has inspired modern Scottish literature, including that from Orkney. A recently published history of Orkney literature by Simon Hall (2010) goes further in identifying Old Norse inspiration as a main theme running through Orkney literature from the Victorian era until today. He summarizes this inspiration as follows: “The medieval skalds and sagamen—warrior poets and Icelandic ecclesiastics—are the earliest literary artists associated with Orkney whose work has survived. The over-enthusiastic celebration of these shadowy Norse figures has often “awakened” false feelings of atavistic kinship. Such is the power of their writing—and such is the geographical rootedness of Orkneyinga Saga—that it has inspired generations of imitation and adaption, beginning in the age of [Sir Walter] Scott and continuing into the present, sometimes oblivious to the facts of vast historical and cultural distance” (Hall 2010:1). Examples of works directly inspired by Old Norse literary texts and the Norse past in Orkney in general are John Mooney’s Songs of the Norse and Other Poems (1883), J. Storer Clouston’s novel Vandrad the Viking: Or the Feud and the Spell (1898), Eric Linklater’s The Men of Ness (1932), George Mackay Brown’s Magnus (1973) and Vinland (1992), and Robert Rendall’s poem Shore Tullye, which imitates the dróttkvætt meter used by Old Norse Skalds (Rendall 1951). For a further discussion of the Old Norse influence on Orkney literature, see D’Arcy (1996:187–192, 205–216, 257–279). This paper will assess to what degree Christina Mackay Costie followed the trend set by writers such as Clouston, Linklater, and Rendall in letting her Old Norse Cultural Influence in the Work of Christina M. Costie Ragnhild Ljosland* Abstract - This paper examines the work of 20th century Orkney writer Christina Mackay Costie in order to assess whether it is possible to trace any Old Norse cultural influence. As awareness rose in Orkney in the 19th century onwards of Orkney’s past as a Norse earldom, and English translations of Old Norse literature became available to a British readership, Old Norse literature began to have a strong influence on Orcadian literature and continues to do so today. Most of Christina Mackay Costie’s work does not readily fit into the framework of this type of 20th-century Orcadian literature. However, closer inspection reveals another strand of influence arising from Old Norse folklore, myth, and legend which may have entered Costie’s work through Orkney’s living oral storytelling tradition and traditional customs and beliefs, making the Old Norse heritage found in her work something more genuine and different from that in literature inspired by the influence of Victorian translations of Old Norse literature, especially the sagas. Methodologically, the paper represents a cross-fertilization between folkloristics and literary analysis. Across the Sólundarhaf: Connections between Scotland and the Nordic World Selected Papers from the Inaugural St. Magnus Conference 2011 Journal of the North Atlantic *Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands, Kiln Korner, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1QX; ragnhild. ljosland@uhi.ac.uk. 2013 Special Volume 4:177–188 R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 178 writing be inspired by translated Old Norse literature. It will then proceed to explore whether there is any other traceable Old Norse cultural influence in her work which is not directly inspired by translated Old Norse texts but comes from a different background, namely shared folklore which goes back to the time at which Orkney was still part of Scandinavia. Christina Costie’s “Old Norse Stories” In Christina Costie’s published works, there is only one piece that stands out as having been clearly inspired by translated Old Norse literature. This is a short story from her collection Benjie’s Bodle, named “The Dog Called Vige”. This story draws its inspiration directly from a passage from Olaf Tryggvason’s Saga within Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, which Samuel Laing translated into English. The relevant extract from the saga goes as follows: “While Olaf was in Ireland he was once on an expedition which went by sea. As they required to make a foray for provisions on the coast, some of his men landed, and drove down a large herd of cattle to the strand. Now a peasant came up, and entreated Olaf to give him back the cows that belonged to him. Olaf told him to take his cows, if he could distinguish them; ‘but don't delay our march.’ The peasant had with him a large housedog, which he put in among the herd of cattle, in which many hundred head of beasts were driven together. The dog ran into the herd, and drove out exactly the number which the peasant had said he wanted; and all were marked with the same mark, which showed that the dog knew the right beasts, and was very sagacious. Olaf then asked the peasant if he would sell him the dog. ‘I would rather give him to you,’ said the peasant. Olaf immediately presented him with a gold ring in return, and promised him his friendship in future. This dog was called Vige, and was the very best of dogs, and Olaf owned him long afterwards” (Laing and Sturluson 1844:400–401). From this short account, Costie builds a longer tale with much more flesh and blood and life to it, using her imagination to fill in what the saga does not tell us, such as who the peasant is and what his circumstances are, and why he gives Olaf his dog so willingly. “The Dog Called Vige” comes across as clearly inspired by saga literature, for instance in its description of the Vikings’ excessive eating and drinking and vomiting, and by giving its characters nicknames such as Limp-leg, One-eye, and Great-sword. However, Costie also deviates from the saga style by entering into King Olaf Tryggvason’s head and describing his feelings, his fears, and worries. She also cares for the dog’s feelings, as might be observed in the final paragraph of the story: “[Vige] stood on the prow of Olav’s vessel and watched until the coast of Ireland became a blur in the distance and gradually faded from view. And that night, too, there was sorrow in the hut over the hill, and a little boy cried himself to sleep for the playmate who would not return. So Vige learned to obey commands in a strange tongue, and to dodge the kicks and blows aimed at him by the servants. He fought the older dogs and ignored the young ones and gradually found his own place in this new household, but to Olav Trygveson alone he gave his fealty and wisdom and courage as Thomas [the peasant] had ordered him to do. But sometimes when the high winds and snows of winter beat about his northern home, lying close by Olav’s feet in his own special place by the fire, he would shudder and yip in his sleep, for he was far away from Norway, romping with a little boy in the green fields of Ireland” (Costie 1956:86). As a whole, “The Dog Called Vige” must be characterized as clearly saga-inspired, but does not imitate the stylistic features of the saga genre. Whereas the Icelandic sagas characteristically only hint to their characters’ true feelings by describing their looks, speech, and behavior, “The Dog Called Vige” gives the reader direct insight into such matters. Letting part of the story be told from a dog’s point of view is also unheard of in Icelandic sagas. Although uncharacteristic for Costie and the saga style, “The Dog Called Vige” is not uncharacteristic when compared to trends in Orkney literature of the period. As D’Arcy (1996:187–192, 205–216, 257–279), Seibert (2008:204, 225–232), and Hall (2010:30–66, 138–151, 163–188) have demonstrated, letting a translated saga form the starting point or general inspiration of a fictional text was a popular method in 19th- and 20th-century Orkney literature. While texts may vary in how closely they try to imitate the saga style, an approach similar to Costie’s may for instance be found in George Mackay Brown’s novel Vinland (Brown 1992). This novel uses the Old Norse Vinland sagas as its inspiration, and bases some of its plot and characters on these sagas, while also developing an independent storyline. It starts off using short sentences and factual statements, in an imitation of the saga style: “There was a boy who lived in a hamlet in Orkney called Hamnavoe. The boy’s name was Ranald. Ranald’s father had a small ship called Snowgoose” (Brown 1992:1). However, the novel soon starts deviating from the saga style in a way reminiscent of “The Dog Called Vige” by giving the reader direct insight into the protagonist’s feelings: “Ranald said nothing. He was afraid to open his mouth. He disliked the sea. Even in a small row-boat he felt uneasy and squeamish” (Brown 1992:2). While being a much longer work of stronger literary quality than 179 R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 “The Dog Called Vige”, Vinland demonstrates the same technique of using a saga text as the basis of a story written in a more modern style. ”The Dog Called Vige” is omitted from the posthumous publication The Collected Orkney Dialect Tales of C.M. Costie, which in addition to a number of later stories contains all the stories from Benjie’s Bodle except this particular story. According to the foreword, the criterion for stories to be included in the posthumous collection was that Christina Costie herself or her sister Bessie Costie wished to see them preserved (Costie 1976:6). Apparently “The Dog Called Vige” failed this criterion, the author of the foreword, Costie’s close friend Ernest Marwick, deeming it a “slight and uncharacteristic” piece (Costie 1976:6). Christina Costie nonetheless made one more attempt to write in the saga style, as can be seen in a fragment of two pages in manuscript form, currently kept by her relative Nancy Scott of Orkney. The fragment is entitled “Gudrun Thorgilsdottir” and appears to be a translation of Njal’s saga into Orkney dialect. The surviving two pages follow the opening chapter of Njal’s saga closely, and based on the linguistic form of place-names used here, such as “Rangavollene” and “Breidfjord” and personal names such as “Unn”, “Torgerd”, and “Torstein”, it seems that Costie was translating from a Norwegian edition of the saga rather than from the Icelandic. The Norwegian translations of this saga, which were available before Costie’s death in 1967, were in the Bokmål form of Norwegian by Karl L. Sommerfelt, in 1871, by Fredrik Paasche, in 1922, and by Hallvard Lie, in 1941; and in the Nynorsk form by Olav Aasmundstad, in 1896, and Aslak Liestøl, in 1961. However, the “-ene” ending in “Rangavollene” suggests a Bokmål edition as Costie’s source rather than a Nynorsk edition. It is not known whether Costie intended the text to be a faithful translation or if she was planning to deviate from the saga text later on and develop her own story. The title “Gudrun Thorgilsdottir” does not refer to any character in Njal’s saga, although there are other characters in the saga by the first name of Gudrun. Perhaps the intention was to use Njal’s saga as a springboard to a saga-inspired story featuring Gudrun Thorgilsdottir as heroine? Viewing Costie’s literary production as a whole, Simon Hall’s description of early modern and modern Orkney literature as being an “over-enthusiastic celebration of [...] shadowy Norse figures” (Hall 2010:1) certainly does not seem to be characteristic of Costie’s work. It is nonetheless known that Costie herself was keenly interested in local history and was a member of the Orkney Records and Antiquarian Society (Ljosland 2011:19). She was also proficient in Norwegian and Icelandic and evidently read saga literature (Ljosland 2011:58), so her choice of not basing more of her writing on Old Norse literature is not through a lack of means or skills. Costie’s works thus demonstrate little of the overt inspiration from translated Old Norse poetry or saga literature like that found in the works of other Orkney authors cited above. The remainder of this article will nonetheless attempt to show that Costie’s literary works tap into a different and more indirect strand of Old Norse cultural influence, making use of preserved Old Norse beliefs, mythology, and folklore which seem to have survived in Orkney independently of the written sources. This strand of living Old Norse cultural influence has made its way into Costie’s poetry and short stories as a result of her use of the Orcadian oral storytelling culture as inspiration for her work. Old Norse Cultural Continuity in Christina Costie’s Works The second part of the article will examine Christina Costie’s short stories “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” and “Bora the Coo fae the Sea” (to be found in Costie 1976) and the poems “Islesman’s Request”, “The Shore Below Wir Hoose”, and “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind” (Costie 1997), with a view to identifying those elements that seem to have roots in Old Norse traditions and beliefs which may have survived as part of Orkney’s oral culture, entering Costie’s poems through her contact with key 19thand 20th-century Orcadian cultural traditions. In the late 19th and early 20th century, there was a budding interest among scholars in exploring connections between Orcadian and Old Norse folklore (Seibert 2008:161). Costie, however, seems to have based her work not mainly on scholarly literature, but on genuine contact with Orkney’s oral culture, as will be shown below. Costie’s interest in cultural traditions and folklore is plain to be seen in her works. Coming from a family where stories were told, Costie was “steeped from her childhood in the lore of both North and South Isles [of Orkney]” (Hewison 1998:29). At the time of its release, her short-story collection Benjie’s Bodle was compared to the work of the Orkney folklorist Walter Traill Dennison, who also based his written stories on traditional tales and anecdotes which he combined and developed in new ways (Ljosland 2011:31–32). Both in terms of technique and style, Costie’s work in these stories is comparable to Dennison’s, as they both drew on the rich oral culture of the local Orkney community but used their imagination and writing talent in order to combine and transform these sources into tales which—while R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 180 still recognizably based in the oral tradition—are clearly their own (see Dennison 1880, Dennison and Clouston 1904). In terms of style, Costie’s and Dennison’s short stories base themselves on the “fireside tale” oral style, with extensive use of first person narrative and writing in dialect. Compare for instance Dennison’s opening of the story “Why the Hoose o’ Hellsness wus Brunt” (in Dennison 1880:1–25) to the opening of Costie’s “When the Aald Man o’ Hoy Took a Holiday” (in Costie 1976:65–71): “Aye bairns, he’s jeust fower scor’ an’ fifeteen year sin’ de Forty-five. Sheu wus a sair ga’n year amang the gentry. The’ wur t’ree hooses brunt i’ the Nort’ Isles. An’ I’me ga’n tae tell you why de hoose o’ Hellsness wus aen o’ them” (Dennison 1880:1). “Yaas, A’ll tell thee a story indeed, if thoo bees a geud boy an’ taks up thee supper. No’ hid’s no aboot Tammie Norrie ither, hid’s aboot the Aald Man o’ Hoy, an’ wan time that he gaed aff for a holiday” (Costie 1976:65). As noted above, when Benjie’s Bodle was published in 1956, the reviewers immediately saw the likeness to Dennison’s works; as Ernest Marwick (foreword, in Costie 1976:5) notes, “Despite the lapse of time [76 years], and the changes that had affected Orkney speech, she was immediately recognised as Dennison’s true successor”. Marwick also remarks that Costie is the first among Orkney writers after Dennison to follow his lead (Costie 1976:5). In the following examination, I mean to illustrate Costie’s use of Orkney oral culture in the works noted above (“The Story o’ Peerie Fool”, “Bora the Coo fae the Sea”, “Islesman’s Request”, “The Shore Below Wir Hoose”, and “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind”), assessing whether a continuity with Old Norse culture can be found here. When examining “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” and “Bora the Coo fae the Sea”, my analysis will focus on folklore creatures and tales with a Nordic/Old Norse background, while in “Islesman’s Request”, “The Shore Below Wir Hoose”, and “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind”, emphasis will be placed on Old Norse world view and beliefs, especially concerning the nature of death and concept of the soul. “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” is based on a traditional fairy tale from the island of Rousay, Orkney, concerning three princesses being kidnapped by a giant. The story is from Rousay both in the sense that it has been collected in Rousay (Marwick 1972:180) and that it is set in Rousay, as can be seen in the opening words “There were once a king and queen in Rousay who had three daughters” (Marwick 1975:144). In “The Story o Peerie Fool”, we meet three princesses who, after their father’s death, live with their mother in a small house in Rousay. Like most Orkney crofters, they grow cabbage in a “kailyard”. One day they discover that some of the cabbage has been stolen. It turns out to have been stolen by a giant, and the princesses decide to take it in turns to be on guard in order to confront him. Over the course of three nights, the giant picks up each of the princesses and carries them home in his straw basket. On their arrival at the giant’s house, the princesses are told that they have to milk the cow, put her to the hill, make food, tease, card and spin the wool, and make cloth before the giant comes back. The first two princesses make a poor job of their work, and it is made worse by their refusal to share their food with a group of fairy folk who arrive at the house. The giant then peels the skin off them and flings them into the hen house. When it is the turn of the third princess, she agrees to share her food. A little yellow-headed boy of the fairy folk then offers to help her with her wool work and the weaving. All he wants in return is for her to guess his name when he comes back. The group of fairies then goes away with the wool. Later, an old woman arrives and asks if she can stay the night. The princess is worried what the giant might say, and sends her away. She instead finds a restingplace at a nearby mound, where she suddenly hears and sees the fairy-folk through a crack. They are busy teasing, carding, and spinning, and urging them on is the yellow-headed boy saying “Tease, teasers, tease! Card, carders, card! Spin, spinners, spin! For Peerie Fool, Peerie Fool is my name.” The old wife runs back to the princess with these news, so when the yellow-headed boy comes back with the cloth, she is able – after pretending to guess some wrong names – to tell him his name. He and all the fairyfolk run away, and on their way they meet the giant, who notices their ugly looks. The fairy-folk tell him that the hard work with the wool is to blame for their looks, and he vows that the princess shall never work again. He is also very pleased when he sees the cloth. Sometime later, the princess is longing for home. She finds her sisters, gets their skins back on, and manages to smuggle them home by tricking the giant into carrying them home hidden in his straw basket with hay on top. Last, she smuggles herself home in the same way, where the mother and sisters await the giant with boiling water. This kills the giant, and the queen and princesses live happily ever after. The story has been passed down orally, as well as having been published in several printed versions. The Orkney folklorist Ernest Marwick wrote 181 R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 down two versions of the story, one in Orkney dialect (Marwick and Robertson 1991:290–292, “The Peerie Fool and the Princess”) and one in Standard English (Marwick 1975:144–146, “The Giant, the Princesses, and Peerie-Fool”). The story also appears in County Folklore Volume III (Black and Thomas 1994 [1903]:222–226, “Peeriefool”) and in Muir (1998:127–131, “Peerie Fool”). Of these, only Black and Thomas’ version was available in print in Costie’s lifetime. The Orkney wonder tale which lies behind Costie’s story seems to be a blend of two wonder tale types, one of which originates in Norway (see below) and the other having a more general European distribution. The framework of the Peerie Fool story (all versions) corresponds to that of AT 311: Rescued By Their Sister (Thompson 1946:36, 173, 482; Hodne 1984:68–72; see Førlandsaas 1872:no page numbers). Embedded within this framework is a story corresponding to AT 500 (The Name of the Helper: Thompson 1946:48, see Grimm et al. 2009:136–137). It also has elements of another fairy tale, AT 501 (The Three Spinners: Thompson 1946:48–49; see Asbjørnsen and Moe’s Norwegian version “The Three Aunts” in Dasent 1800:225–229; “The Three Spinning Women” in Grimm et al. 2009:41–42). See Ljosland (2012) for a more detailed comparison of the Peerie Fool tale to AT 311, 500, and 501. Regarding its wider distribution, Thompson (1946:36) says the area of greatest popularity of AT 311 is Norway and the Baltic. Thompson (1946:36) suggests Norway as “an important centre of dissemination of this tale, if not its original home.” The Orcadian Peerie Fool story thus clearly belongs to the Nordic fairy tale tradition. Especially noteworthy, however, are certain features in Costie’s version that are not found in the other Orkney versions, and thus seem to have come from local oral tradition that she herself knew. These are detailed below. Costie’s version of the story is written in Orkney dialect as if told orally by a storyteller, and contains details and dialogue which the other versions lack. An example of dialogue that is not found in any of the other printed versions of the tale is the following refreshing exclamation from the old woman: “‘Ill-oor, ill-oor!’ cried the aald wife, makkan for the door, beesoms an’ a’. ‘Raither wad I sit apae the tap o’ the Twal’ ’oors Toor i’ the teeth o’ a westerly gale than rin foul o’ a Giant. Let me win oot o’ here for ony favour.’” The eerie-sounding Twal’ ’oors Toor (Twelve Hours Tower) is the name of a high hill in the North- West of Rousay. Most of the dialogue and some of the details, such as the names of the princesses (Leezo, Maggie Ann, and Bella Jean), are probably of Costie’s own invention (see Ljosland 2011:64–71 for further details). Other details, however, have probably been drawn from genuine oral tradition that Costie would have heard from relatives in Rousay, as her father’s side of the family hailed from that island. Such a detail is the location of the story to the farm of Faraclett, which still exists today as a farm in the northeast corner of Rousay, something not noted in the other versions. Another detail occurring in the Norwegian reflex of AT311 known as “Risen som ville gifte seg”(Førlandsaas 1872:no page numbers), which is paralleled in Costie’s “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” (Costie 1976:73) but missing from the other versions of the Peerie Fool story (Marwick and Robertson 1991:290–292; Marwick 1975:144–146; Black and Thomas 1994 [1903]:222–226; Muir 1998:127–131) is that the girl has to go and search for the cattle high up in the hills. At the end of the story, Costie provides another very interesting detail, which is also missing from the other written accounts (Marwick 1975:146, Marwick and Robertson1991:292, Black and Thomas 1994:226, Muir 1998:131): the description of where the body of the giant was disposed of. Black and Thomas’ (1994:226) version of the story simply ends by saying: “They couped it about him when he was under the window, and that was the end of the giant.” The exact same sentence occurs also in Marwick’s (1975:146) Standard English version, while in his (1991:292) dialect version he adds: “Wae all the fine things they had got fae the giant’s hoose, the Queen an’ the three Princesses were as happy as could be.” Costie (1976:78), on the other hand, has much more information: “Some folk’ll tell thee that they yoked ousen tae ’im, an’ dreggid ’im tae the hill awa up under Knitchen, bit hid’s me belief, an’ A’m sheur A’m right, that they harled ’im tae the shore, an’ twat’ree boats towed ’im oot tae the middle o’ Longatong, an sank ’im there (…)”. This makes it sound like there have been alternative living traditions in Rousay about what happened to the giant’s body, which Costie has heard. Costie’s account of the disposal of the giant’s body also ties in with the wider Nordic tradition of employing giant stories to explain landscape features such as boulders, ravines, skerries, and land bridges (Hodne 1990:9–14, 40–50, 71–73; Schön 2004:183–4). This last example also demonstrates living Nordic giant lore having been preserved in the island of Rousay and used as a feature of Costie’s “The Story o’ Peerie Fool”. The underlying folktale is only one of numerous stories and legends from Orkney involving giants. Landscape features in Orkney such R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 182 in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk (see, for example, Alexander 2002:54, 111–112, 148). Marwick (1972:178–180) nonetheless argues that the numerous Orcadian stories of giants are more likely to share their cultural ancestry with Nordic stories. He notes the similarities between the Orcadian stories and stories of trolls from Norwegian folk tales or the jǫtnar of Old Norse myth, who “[…] liked to spirit away beautiful girls, princesses in particular, whom they forced to spin all day and to scratch the troll’s head all night” (Marwick 1972:180). Even if the idea of a giant has a much wider distribution and may not be safely attributed to Old Norse cultural influence in Orkney, and the fairy tale itself is related to European fairy tales such as Rumpelstiltskin and The Three Aunts/Spinners, there are obvious elements of Costie’s story which seem directly attributable to Old Norse or Norwegian cultural influence. As has been shown above, the fairy-name Tirso appears to be of Old Norse origin, and the tale type AT 311, on which “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” is closely based, originates or has its center of distribution in Norway. It is clear that the additional traditions to which Costie refers are also Nordic. “Bora, the Coo fae the Sea” Christina Costie’s short story “Bora, the Coo fae the Sea” (Costie 1976:56–64) is another amalgam of motifs and characters found in living Orkney folklore. The central plot element is that of a fairy cow emerging from the sea and being captured by a human farmer. Tales of fairy cattle emerging out of the water are common in Scottish, Irish, and Welsh folklore (McNeill 1957–68:133, Simpson 1972:96), but the motif is also found in Nordic folklore, in Iceland, going back to the 16th century (see Simpson 1972:94–96; for an account from Denmark, see Kvideland and Sehmsdorf 1988:260). The central folktale underlying “Bora, the Coo fae the Sea” also exists in a published version (Scott 1967:157); however, as the year of this publication corresponds to the year of Costie’s death, it is unlikely to have been Costie’s source. Hugh Marwick (1929:162) also summarizes the folktale by saying that it is a story from North Ronaldsay concerning a mermaid who was married to a human man (this, as well as that of seal-women, being a common motif in Orkney folklore). One day she found her “seaskin”, put it on, and went back to the sea. However, she would subsequently come and visit her children when her husband was away from home. The last time she returned, when her children were grown up, she took away the cow she had brought with her, and with the cow also all its calves, speaking a verse to call the cow and calves (Marwick 1929:162). as standing stones, boulders and land spits are often explained in folklore as resulting from the actions of giants; for example, a boulder in the district of Sourin in Rousay is known as the “Finger Steen” and is said to have been thrown by a giant named Cubbie Roo, his finger marks allegedly still being visible on it (Marwick 1972:178–179). For further examples, see Marwick (1972:178–179). One also notes in some of the giant legends recorded by Marwick (1972:178–179) and Muir (1998:10–11) the recurring theme of giants possessing a straw or heather basket, known in Orkney as a “kaesy” (with variant spellings) or “cubbie” (also with variant spellings), a feature which also occurs in Costie’s “The Story o’ Peerie Fool”. Given Costie’s location of “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” in Faraclett, it is also interesting to note that this farm contains a standing stone known as the Yetnasteen. This name incorporates the Old Norse word for giant: Jǫtunn, and Hugh Marwick (1947:95) gives the etymology of the name as jǫtna-steinn1: stone of the giants. This particular stone is said to wake up once a year at New Year and go to a nearby lake for a drink (Marwick 1975:32). Another interesting detail in Costie’s version of “The Story of Peedie Fool” (not found in other versions) is the youngest princess’s list of names she suggests for the “little yellow-headed boy” before arriving at the correct answer, Peerie Fool. Her three final guesses before revealing the true name are “Tirso”, “Ervo”, and “Dockanblade” (Costie 1976:77). It is noteworthy that these are all plant names in the local dialect: Tirso means march ragwort, ervo means chickweed, and dockanblade is dock (Flaws and Lamb 2001:15; Marwick 1929:5, 191). Interestingly, however, the name Tirso might be related to the Old Norse word þurs, another word for giant. This is phonetically possible with the addition of the diminutive ending –o in combination with the development of þ → t, as occurs, for instance, in the place-names Trussins Geo in Papa Westray, Orkney (Marwick 1972:178) and Tirsawater, Shetland (Jennings 2010:5), both containing the word þurs. If Tirso was a trow (troll/ fairy) name in Orcadian folk tradition, perhaps Costie, understanding its other meaning as a plant name, then chose the names Ervo (from Old Norse: arfi, Marwick 1929:5) and Dockanblade to match? The preservation of giant lore in Orcadian folk memory reflected in “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” and these place names may thus be an indication of cultural continuity which goes back to Old Norse culture. While giants are also found in British and other European folklore—one only needs to think of the Biblical Goliath or the Greek Cyclops, or numerous British giants such as Cormoran and Cormelian, Gog and Magog, or the giant encountered by Jack 183 R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 It is said about Grýla that she has fifteen tails and is dressed in animal skin, and thus looks more like an animal than a woman (Gunnell 2001:35–36). Her appearance is similar to another figure in Orcadian folklore known as the “gyro”, a word deriving from Old Norse gýgr, meaning ogress. Like the Grýla, the “gyro” was also “a dark repellent monster with many horns and several tails” (Marwick 1975:32). On the island of Papa Westray, a festival known as Gyro Night, where males dressed up as the “gyro”, was celebrated at least until 1914 (Marwick 1975:107). That it was males, in particular, who dressed up as the ogress, was also typical of the medieval Icelandic Grýla community drama tradition (Gunnell 2001:35). It is uncertain whether Costie was basing her “Muckle Grullyan” character in the story “Bora, the Coo fae the Sea” on a genuine Orkney tradition or whether she used academic sources for this particular piece of folklore. A Grýla verse from Shetland, in Norn, is recorded by Jakob Jakobsen (1897:19, see also discussion in Gunnell 2001 and Helgadóttir 2010). Another Grýla verse is recorded by the Orcadian linguist Hugh Marwick (1929:xxxv–xxxvi), who got it “many years ago phonetically from the lips of a Stronsay fisherman, who said he had learned [it] from a Fair Isle fisherman.” Costie may have read about Grýla in these sources. On the other hand, the Papa Westray tradition of Gyro Night, if word of it reached Kirkwall, would have been within living memory for Costie, who was 12 years old when it was last celebrated in 1914 and later a close friend of Ernest Marwick, who recorded the custom (Marwick 1975:107). Death, the Afterlife, and the Concept of the Soul I will now turn the attention from stories to poetry, and in particular to poems by Costie dealing with death and the question of what happens to humans when they die. Although Costie was a Protestant Christian (Ljosland 2011:110), some of her poetry reaches beyond Christian ideas when dealing with death. An example may be the poem “Islesman’s Request” (Costie 1997:52). In this poem, an old man who has ended up in town requests of his daughter that he should be buried, not in town, but in the churchyard on the island where he originally came from, and where his wife is already buried. The reason this is important is that there he believes he will be able to hear all the sounds he was used to hearing when he lived on the island, and he will be able to keep an eye on his son, who presumably is now running the family farm: “Hoo wad I ken and hear/ If Johnnie’s ahint wae his neeps?” The poem beautifully and perceptibly describes all the sounds of the Scott’s (1967:157) version of the story is also said to hail from North Ronaldsay, but the plot is quite different. The mermaid does not appear here; instead, a sea-bull “bulls” an ordinary cow, and the resulting female calf has unusual qualities and gives birth to many calves before disappearing into the sea with her calves in response to a call. Of these two accounts, Costie’s (1976:56–64) version is closer to Scott’s, but not identical. In Costie’s version, the cow itself is a sea-cow which gives an abundance of milk and has a large progeny before being called back to the sea. The substantial difference between Costie’s and Marwick’s accounts makes it unlikely that Marwick was Costie’s source, and taking the publication date of Scott (1967) into account it seems probable that Marwick’s, Scott’s and Costie’s versions were independently based on the same living, oral tradition. A verse spoken in all three versions of the tale supports this interpretation. In Costie’s version it appears as “Come back, Borey, wae a’ thee skorey, an follow thoo me tae the sea”(Costie 1976:61). In Hugh Marwick’s version (1929:162): “Come oot, Green Gorey, wi’ a’ thee skory, an’ follow thoo me tae the sea!” In Scott’s version (1967:157): - “Brak thee baund, Boro, Tak wi’ thee aull thee store-o.” The “skory” in the verse refers to the flock of calves (cf. Old Norse:skari – flock: Marwick 1929:162). While the distribution of the motif of sea cattle seems to suggest that it is not necessarily of Old Norse origin, another character in Costie’s tale more arguably is. The character in question is called “The Muckle Grullyan”. The protagonist of the story, Olav, is about to fall asleep on the shore when he hears a supernatural voice calling to him. The voice identifies itself as “the muckle Grullyan that sits apae the lum”, the “Grullyan” being explained in the story as “a sea monster” (Costie 1976:57). This character is clearly related to the Old Norse female monster Grýla (Marwick 1929:62). The Grýla was also known about in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Fair Isle, and Shetland (Helgadóttir 2010:200–213). Helgadóttir (2010:210) also finds it likely that “Grýla must have been known in continental Scandinavia already in the Middle Ages.” Not noting Marwick’s (1929:62) Orkney/Fair Isle Grýla verse (see below), Gunnell (2001:34) gives the distribution of the Grýla tradition as “from the Swedish lakes to Western Norway, and from Shetland to the north of Iceland.” Unlike in Costie’s tale where she is a sea monster, Grýla is usually thought of as an ogress who lives in the hills and wilderness for most of the year, but who sometimes comes down to the farms where she frightens people. However, as might be noted from the quote from Gunnell (2001:34) above, the Grýla has been recorded in Sweden as a lake monster. R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 184 island, from the drone of the bees in the heather to the rumble of carts from the mill and the clash and thunder of the sea as it hits the land: “[If I were buried in town] I wad miss the soond o’ the folk/Gaan aaf tae shaer i’ the hill,/An’ the drone o’ the bees i’ the heather/An’ the rumble o’ cairts fae the mill. […] An’ the roarin o’ howe-backid waves,/For the clash an’ the thunder o’ land sea/Tearan the rocks an’ the caves.” This is where the old man wants to stay after death. It is noteworthy that there is no mention of Heaven or Hell. What makes “Islesman’s Request” interesting from the point of view of Old Norse influence or the survival of Old Norse ideas, is the idea of the deceased living on, in some form, in his homeland and thereby inhabiting or becoming part of the land. The existence of this idea in the poem does not, of course, prove the existence of any continuous tradition surviving in Orkney. It does, however, suggest that Costie had the idea from somewhere, and expressed it in her poetry. That said, an abundance of parallels can be found in Old Norse literature and Scandinavian folklore. Gunnell (in press:17) lists a number of examples from Old Norse literature of the dead living on either in their graves or in the local landscape: “in Landnámabók (1968:98 [S68], 125 [S85], 140 [S97], 233 [S197]); Grettis saga Ásmundssonar (1936:57–59); Brennu- Njáls saga (1954:192–194); Eyrbyggja saga (1935:9); Harðar saga (1991:40–43); Ynglinga saga (Heimskringla 1941–1951 I:24–25); Flateyjarbók (1944–1945 II: 76 and 78); and Hrómundar saga Grípssonar (1944:276–278).” In traditional Norwegian folk belief, there are likewise stories of the dead remaining on their home farm or near it (Visted and Stigum 1971:368–374). The original farmer who cleared the land had a special status. He, or alternatively someone from the family who had been particularly well renowned and respected, became the farm’s special guardian spirit. This guardian spirit was called “alv” (elf), “gardvord” (farm protector), “haugbu” (mound dweller), “nisse”, or other names (Visted and Stigum 1971:368, 373). Gunnell (in press) notes that this type of spirit was also imported from Norway to Orkney and Shetland, but not to Iceland or the Faeroes. The name “haugbu” for such a spirit may be related to the Orcadian dialect words “hogboy” and “hogboon”; as Marwick notes, “the hogboy or hogboon [is] the equivalent of the Old Norse haug-búi or haug-búinn (mound-dweller) and of the Norwegian haugbonde. At one time almost every mound in Orkney had its hogboon” (Marwick 1975:39, see also Marwick 1972:188–189). A similar idea of the dead or the spirit of the dead remaining in the landscape can be seen in a wonderful pair of Costie’s poems named “The Shore below Wir Hoose” (Costie 1997:46) and “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind” (Costie 1997:14). There is nothing in the published collections of Costie’s poetry to say that these two poems were intended as a pair. However, I have grouped them together on the basis of similarities in contents. In both, we hear of a young man named John who has drowned some years previously. Both are narrated in first person by someone close to John, and both share the common theme of mourning for John and raising the question of where he is now. “The Shore Below Wir Hoose” is narrated by John’s mother. She has been to church and been told by the minister that in Heaven she will be able to paint beautiful paintings. But the only motif she wants to paint is the shore just below her house. The reason is that this is the shore where she goes to remember her son John. Curiously, she does not seem to expect a reunion with John in Heaven. On account of what she has been told by the church minister, she pictures herself as eventually going to Heaven, but she does not seem to think of John or John’s soul as being there. Instead, John’s mother’s daily reunion with John takes place down by the shore below her house: “I t’owt o’ his bitto life, feenished sae seun an’ by,/Hoo he’d played on de banks abeun me wae twa partan back for kye” (Costie 1997:46). This is where she sat just before he was born. This is where he played when he was little. And this is where she goes to remember him. Therefore, her only wish is that when she eventually goes to Heaven, she may have a view of the shore below her house from there: “So du sees hoo wir knit taegither, me an’ de hoose an’ de shore./An’ gin I can see hid i’ Heaven, A’ll no lippen2 anyt’ing more” (Costie 1997:47). It is almost as if she feels that she would lose contact with John if she loses sight of the shore. The shore seems to represent the border between the living world of John’s mother and the eternal world of the ocean which took her son, where he still somehow seems to reside. The poem “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind” also involves someone in communication with John. It is not clear who the narrator of this poem is; it might be John’s mother, or girlfriend, or another close friend or relative. The poem’s narrator is in communication with John by sending messages with the west wind: “And many a message/I’ve sent ower the sea./Speir thoo the Wast wind,/He’ll tak id for thee” (Costie 1997:14). John here seems to exist in the wind, the sky, and the elements. The key point in “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind” lies in the last stanza. Here it is explained what the narrator believes has happened to John’s soul or spirit: “For he, like the grey goose,/ Maan wander sae 185 R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 the grey goose, light such as the Northern Lights, or wind, in other words, as part of nature. The poem’s flock of grey geese may, on one level, represent the real geese that may be seen high up in the sky, ploughing the heavens, on their journey to or from faraway lands. One need not employ Old Norse beliefs to read the geese as a symbol for John’s long journey from mortal life to the next, wherever that may be. But is it also possible to read them as an aspect of the soul? In shamanic tradition, some humans were believed to have the ability to send their spirit in the form of an animal out on expeditions, making it possible to visit the otherworld, while the human was left unconscious, a skill also attributed to Odin (Sanmark 2010:161–162). One possible shape for the travelling soul or spirit is that of a bird. One notes that Alver (1989:110) feels that “the unaccountable presence we call the soul” is “best symbolized, perhaps, as a bird.” In the same way, fylgjur and the hugr could both take animal form, including bird form (Heide 2006b:135, Mundal 1974:33). For example, the swan, eagles, and hawk that appear in a dream in Gunnlaug’s saga ormstungu, chapter 2, may be seen as bird fylgjur, and are interpreted as such in the saga text itself: “stórra manna fylgjur” (“the fetches of important people”: translation by Katrina C. Atwood 2000:563). Hilda Ellis Davidson also suggests that Odin’s ravens Hugin and Munin “may symbolise the sending out of his spirit into other worlds” (Davidson 1996:49). On the basis of Norwegian folk tradition, Alver (1989:122–123) also records fylgjur taking on bird form. The motif of a bird symbolizing a dead person’s spirit is also known from Orkney folklore, as two tales from North Ronaldsay show. In one tale, “uncanny white birds flew upward” after dark from the spot where two children were buried, and the birds vanished after the bodies’ reburial in the churchyard (Scott 1967:163). In the other tale, a woman with a newborn baby is found dead by the shore, “with two white birds sitting at her head” (Scott 1967:156). It is thus possible to read the grey geese in “Speir thoo the Wast Wind” as symbolic of the soul or a spirit travelling in this world or between worlds, following beliefs already existent in Old Norse. May the soul or spirit then also take the form of light? Alver (1989:111) lists “fog, light, vapour or fire” as the more abstract forms that the spirit can take. In the folktale from North Ronaldsay, Orkney, noted above, where “uncanny white birds” were seen above a grave, there is also the presence of “strange lights” which follow the bodies after their reburial in the churchyard, where “they may still be seen” (Scott 1967:163). In the Orkney and Shetland dialects, there is also a word, gamfer or ganfer (Marwick 1929:51, Jakobsen 1928–32:211), which can free,/And flit like the dancers3/In lands far fae thee” (Costie 1997:14). In other words: John has been set free and become part of the wind, the weather, and the sky. He can fly like the grey geese and dance like the Northern Lights. But he can also still hear messages from his loved ones when they send their messages to him with the west wind. John can wander freely among the elements, and with him perhaps the spirits of all drowned seamen. If one is to attempt a reading of the poem which is informed by Old Norse beliefs, one may start by observing the three forms in which John’s spirit or soul seems to be embedded: (1) As a grey goose or among the grey geese, (2) As part of the Northern Lights or among the Northern Lights, and (3) Present in the wind or in communication with the wind. Old Norse belief and later Norwegian folk tradition contains an array of representations of the spirit or soul (see Alver 1989 for details). What we now might term the ego-soul, or the psyche, representing thought, wish, desire, and temperament, is in the Old Norse tradition called hugr (Alver 1989:110–111). Interestingly, the hugr may leave the body on independent journeys, sometimes in visible and sometimes in invisible form (Alver 1989:111–120). When visible, the hugr usually takes the form of the person it belongs to, or an animal that has some relationship to the person’s character, or a more abstract shape such as fog, light, vapor, or fire (Alver 1989:111). Other, but related, concepts of the soul include those of vord and fylgja, the difference being that these seem to have a more passive and permanent existence alongside the human, over which the human has little control, whereas the hugr’s journeys are limited in time and may be controlled (Alver 1989:121). Heide (2006b:153), however, points out that the terms may also be used interchangeably in Old Norse literature. Interestingly, the independent life of the soul was not seen as ceasing at the moment of death. As Alver writes: “The vor(d) can designate that which leaves a person at the moment of death. It was widespread custom [in Norway] to leave the door ajar when someone died, to let the vor(d) out” (Alver 1989:121). After a person’s death, the fylgja could also “start leading her own independent existence” (Sanmark 2010:161). In order to connect Costie’s poem to these Old Norse concepts of the soul, it is necessary to connect the three forms John’s spirit or soul takes in the poem to the various forms the spirit or soul can take in Old Norse belief. It is therefore necessary to examine whether the spirit or soul in Old Norse belief can also be seen as taking the form of a bird such as R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 186 2006a:350 with references). A similar tradition in relation to the vord is recorded in Norwegian folk belief by Alver (1989:122), who recounts a description from 1786 where the spirit of the dead person is seen leaving the body in the form of “a thick, narrow, long, whitish cloud, at times extinguishing candles […]” (see also Heide 2006b:203). It might be going too far to suggest direct parallels between Costie’s portrayal of the nature of the soul or spirit and any particular ancient Old Norse forms such as the “breath soul” or andi, the travelling hugr, the ganfer, or the fylgja. However, the very idea that the soul or spirit can take on an independent existence in this world and remain (as in “Islesman’s Request” and “The Shore Below wir Hoose”), perceive (as in “Islesman’s Request” and “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind”), and be visible (as in “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind”) is without question reminiscent of Old Norse beliefs that Costie might have encountered in Orkney oral tradition. While it is not possible to conclude that Costie definitely had Old Norse beliefs regarding the nature of the spirit or soul in mind when she wrote the poems “Islesman’s Request”, “The Shore Below Wir Hoose”, and “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind”, it is nonetheless easy, as I have shown, to read the poems in such a light. To my mind, this reading adds depth to an understanding of these three poems. Conclusion The aim of this paper has been to assess whether the work of Christina Costie follows the lead of other Orcadian writers in utilizing re-discovered Old Norse literary texts as inspiration, or whether other traces of Old Norse cultural influence can be found. In answer to this, it is not known whether Costie harbored any feelings of “atavistic kinship” (Hall 2010:1) with the figures of the Old Norse sagas. If she did, it does not show in her writing: Only one clearly saga-inspired story by her survives in complete form: “The Dog Called Vige” which was later excluded from her collected works on the grounds of it being uncharacteristic of Costie’s production as a whole. Costie’s work in general does not at all come across as an “over-enthusiastic celebration of these shadowy Norse figures” (Hall 2010:1), which is perhaps a reason why only three pages of Hall’s History of Orkney Literature (2010) deals with Costie (pp. 122–125). She is therefore less consciously Old Norse-inspired than many of her contemporary Orkney writers, and is better compared to Walter Traill Dennison than for instance George Mackay Brown or Eric Linklater. In spite of this, an analysis of Costie’s short stories “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” and “Bora the Coo denote very different meanings such as a person’s doppelganger, a sound or feeling of a person arriving before their arrival, a portent of a person’s death, or weather phenomena such as a mock sun, a halo around the sun or moon, a broken rainbow portending bad weather, or cold mist indicating snow. Heide (2006a:350–351) also explains that the gan- or gamprobably refers to a spirit sent forth, and the –fer refers to a journey, deriving from Old Norse *gandferð. Heide (2006b:207) shows how the Orkney and Shetland understanding of ganfer/gamfer is paralleled in the gandreið vision in Njál’s saga, where, among other things, a ring of fire appears in the sky, accompanied by a spirit rider and bad weather (Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson 1960:214–215). In both cases, the weather phenomena and atmospheric conditions seem to be the visible signs that travelling spirits are present. I have nonetheless not come across any reference to Northern Lights being understood as a ganfer/gamfer, even though, as noted, several other light phenomena such as a mock sun, a halo around the sun or moon, and a broken rainbow are covered by the term. Extending the understanding of light phenomena in the sky as observable signs of travelling spirits to cover Northern Lights does, however, not require a long stretch of the imagination, and may work as such in the poem. Once again, there is reason to connect such an idea to existing Nordic tradition. It is also clear that the spirit or soul may also take the form of wind, both in Old Norse literature and in later Norwegian folk belief. As Eldar Heide writes: “Det ser ut til at det har vori svært utbreidd frå gammalt av å oppfatte utsend sjel som vind […]” (“It seems to have been very widespread from old to understand a soul sent forth as wind”; Heide 2006b:196, my translation). Heide (2006b:196) also explains that there was a complex of ideas where the spirit or soul was thought of as wind, and could be visible in the form of bad weather. Heide (2006a:350) draws attention to the fact that “[...] the notion of soul or spirit is derived from breath, which is moving air, a form of wind. In languages from the Atlantic to Siberia the word for breath and soul/spirit is the same.” The Old Norse word in question here is andi. This “breath soul” (Sanmark 2010:160–161) could also be sent forth as wind by sorcerers (Heide 2006a:350–351). In a similar way, in the kennings of Old Norse Skaldic poetry, the mind may be paraphrased as an ogress’s wind (Heide 2006a:351, 2006b:196). Heide also notes that in death, the “breath soul” could sometimes be seen as it left the body: “It is a widespread belief that when someone dies, the spirit leaving the body may blow out candles, or make a gale, if the departed had a strong mind (Heide 187 R. Ljosland 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 fae the Sea” and her poems “Islesman’s Request”, “The Shore Below Wir Hoose”, and “Speir Thoo the Wast Wind” has identified traces of Old Norse traditions and beliefs which may have survived as part of Orkney’s later oral culture and entered into Costie’s work via that route. In the two short stories cited, and also in most of Costie’s other short stories (Costie 1976), her familiarity with Orkney’s oral storytelling culture generally comes across as something very real and genuine, and gives a definite strength to her writing. “The Story o’ Peerie Fool” and “Bora, the Coo fae the Sea” have both been shown to transmit Nordic folklore (in the form of tales and belief concerning creatures) which had been passed down orally before Costie’s use of them in her works. While the three poems discussed contain less certain evidence of Old Norse or Nordic influence, it is possible to see their understanding of the nature of the soul or spirit as having roots in Old Norse and later Nordic ways of thinking on the subject. It is not known how aware Costie was of these motifs and ideas being of Old Norse origin: She might have seen them as part of the 19th- and 20thcentury Orcadian culture which her writing reflects. All the same, rather than feeling put-on and awkward due to a “vast historical and cultural distance” (Hall 2010:1) between the time and culture of the sagas and 19th-/20th-century Orkney, the genuine preservation and passing down of these living Old Norse motifs, stories and ideas which were maintained in Orkney’s storytelling culture makes Costie’s works feel more genuinely Nordic and sincere. In Costie’s case, the historical and cultural distance between the Old Norse world and the present does not seem to be so vast after all. 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