How the Bear Got its Tail

This is a Norwegian folk tale told in a 7th Grade English class (for 13 year old students) by Lise Lunge-Larsen, a storyteller and author who lives in Duluth, Minnesota.  It is part of the broader project, Goats, Trolls & Numbskulls.

The English Story

Lise Lunge-Larsen tells this story to a 7th Grade English class.  This is the third story in her lecture, so it is in the middle of the lecture.  She ends with a Norwegian phrase, “Snipp, snapp, snuteHaar eventurye ute.”  Which means “Snip, snap snout.  This tale’s told out.”


Transcript of Story

Another kind of story that’s very popular with both younger and older kids and often borders on the area of myth is a story that’s called explanatory story. And they’re called explanatory because they explain how something gets to be the way they are. You’ve heard a lot of native American stories, maybe, that explains different natural phenomena, why trees, why birch bark has black spots on it, or why the sun and the moon live in the sky.

I told a story that I really like to the other class that is the story of how Bear got a stubby tail. That’s a classic Norwegian story. And what’s cool about it is you can find a very similar version of it in Native American collections of stories, which shows you how universal some of these stories are. Do a lot of you know that story, about Bear? I’ll tell it. It’s very short.

Once upon a time, one year, they got this really early winter. It came way earlier than any animals expected. And it was really rough on Bear be- cause he had not planned ahead of time, he had not eaten enough food and now he needed to go hibernate, and he was just starving. You cant’ sleep when you’re hungry! He was lying on a rock one day and he was mad, be- cause the lakes were frozen over, all the berries and roots and everything was covered under layers of ice and snow and he didn’t know how he was going to get through the winter. He was lying there feeling all grumpy and growly and suddenly, he sees Mr. Fox! A fox comes walking by and he’s got this huge stringer of fish in his mouth! He can’t believe it!

He goes, “Mr. Fox, where did you get that fish?” “Why,” said the fox, “I went ice fishing.”

“How’d you do that?” said the bear. “It’s easy for you. What you do is you go out on to the lake, and dig a hole in the ice, and then you take your tail” – and he pointed to bear’s tail, for in those days bear had beautiful bushy tails to match the rest of him – “you take your tail and you stick it in the hole and you sit down and you wait. You’ve got to be really quiet and you mustn’t move, because if you do you’re going to scare away the fish. After awhile, it’s going to start to hurt on your tail and that’s a good sign because that means the fish are biting. When it hurts so much that you think you don’t need any more fish, you’ve got to jerk up as fast as you can so the fish won’t have time to let go. And then you’ll get all the fish you can eat.”

“Great idea!” said Bear. “I’m going.” And he jumped off of his rock and lumbered on to the ice and dug a nice big hole in it. He took his big beautiful tail and stuck it inside the hole, and he sat down, waiting. “Ah, I’m so hungry, I can’t wait.”

After awhile, he went, “oh, ho, that hurt. That was probably a pike. Pretty sharp teeth there. Oh! Probably a sturgeon. Oo-hoo-hoo! Some lake trout and probably walleye too! Oh-how-ow!” He said, “This is probably more than I know how to eat! I’ll be okay.” When he finally had sat there long enough and it hurt so bad he couldn’t stand it, he jerked up and he jerked his tail right off. The ice had frozen solid around his tail, so that when he jerked up, he ripped his tail off. And all that bear was left with was this stubby little stump of a tail. And from that day on, bear has had only a little stumpy tail to this very day.

Snipp snapp snute her er eventyret ute!

You can do better. Some of you are a little too quiet!

ASL Translation

Here’s an ASL translation done by Doug Bowen-Bailey

Doug’s Reflection on This Work

On interpreting for a expressive speaker: Lise uses an incredible amount of expression, both vocal and facial, in her storytelling. In my interpretations of the video file, I think I gave more of an animated interpretation than I actually would have done in the situation. Given that her performance was part “theater,” I may have made more choices to reference her actions rather than reproduce them as a part of my interpretation. For instance, when she is squatting over the hole in the ice, I might draw the Deaf student’s attention to that, and then go on with my interpretation. I find that sometimes too much expressiveness in an interpretation can sometimes be seen as “competing” with the speaker. While it is important to have engaging features in an interpretation, we must walk the fine line of not having the event become all about the interpreter, rather than about the speaker.