Black Bull of Norroway

Episode 13: The Black Bull of Norroway

Tales of Britain and Ireland
Tales of Britain and Ireland

A storytelling and folklore podcast.

Telling some of the famous and not so famous British and Irish myths, legends and folktales, in no particular order.

Coming direct from South Yorkshire it is currently regularish, and will feature all of the above and whatever other miscellaneous snippets take my fancy.

Presented by Graeme. Website at

13: The Black Bull of Norroway
byTales of Britain and Ireland.

A Scottish fairy tale, name checked by none other than J.R.R. Tolkien features a whole lot of threes, an Epic Battle (off camera), a very valuable apple (no Steve Jobs required) and a fast and loose attitude to tying up narrative threads. Musical credits, sources and more at: #myth #mythology #folklore #legends #fairytales

Bake me a bannock and roast me a collop…..

Climbing the Glass Hill
This brings back memories of the Snow-Zone for me

This time we’ve a Scottish fairy tale, name checked by none other than J.R.R. Tolkien.

It features a whole lot of threes, an Epic Battle (off camera), a very valuable apple (no Steve Jobs required) and a fast and loose attitude to tying up narrative threads.

It also features a eucatastrophe… which despite how it might sound is not when things go wrong with the Eucharist, or what my friends call me when I’ve had another drunken night on the town.

Story in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)

The story in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.

If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…

The Black Bull of Norroway
I’m not quite sure where she’s got the crown from in this picture

Variants: East of the Sun and West of the Moon

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

In the episode I mention there are many variants of this tale, or parts of it at least.

Stories about marrying animals (perfectly normal in fairy tale land) are often described as Cupid and Psyche tales because of some similarity to that Greek legend.

Other parts of the story fall under “The Search for the Lost Husband” tale type. Which is number 425A according to the always confusing Aarne-Thomson classification system.

The most similar variation to the tale is probably the Brown Bull of Norway, an Irish tale with many of the same elements, but also with some radically different ones.

There seems to be a quiet large potential set of pieces that go to making one of these stories and different writers consciously or not chose different combinations from the grab bag.

So in all these variants lots of ideas crop up time and time again (e.g. The fruit with jewels, riding a non horse animal, drugging the knight, the washing challenge) but in a surprising number of different combinations with omissions and additions.

But of all the variants I’ve found the most famous, far more than the Black Bull of Norroway, and also my favourite is “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. It features a Polar Bear, the North Wind, a troll Princess and more.

Coming from Norway it wont be a tale ever featuring on the podcast, but it’s well worth knowing. You can read the whole story here: East of the Sun, West of the Moon along with Kay Nielson’s unique, striking and beautiful illustrations.

On Fairy Stories – Tolkein

Tolkien in the 1940s

In the podcast episode I mention J.R.R Tolkein’s lecture on faerie stories, which has become a real classic in the field. Tolkein discusses at lengths his ideas of what constitutes a “fairy story” and how this interacts with ideas of faeries as beings and faerie as another place.

In so doing he touches on a lot of stories that have been or will be covered on this podcast, including a lengthy quote from Thomas the Rhymer.

Rather than me try to sum it up in prose far less redoubtable and beautiful than Tolkein’s you can read the whole thing here: On Fairy stories – Tolkein and if you’re at all interested I strongly suggest you do.

Do not take it as gospel though as much as what is said here is hotly open for debate, and indeed in many areas knowledge is much greater than the many years ago Tolkein was writing. Even so it’s a cracking read with a lot of good in it if you like that kind of thing.

What a load of Bannocks and Collops..


For those of you still struggling to picture a bannock, well here one is in all its calorie dense, carborific glory.

Collops is a more debated term, potentially just covering meat. There is a bit of a discussion all about Collops and in particularly the old tradition of Collop Monday here: Collop Monday

Selected Sources

Musical credits for Episode 13: The Black Bull of Norroway

Intro and outro theme from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music

Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses:

Lionell Schmitt
Land of snow
Before the dawn
The beast

Railroad’s whiskey co
Roads that burned our boots

Hot October
Cross Contamination

Damiano Baldoni
A Long Story

Lee Rosevere
What’s behind the door

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Welcome to Tales of Britain & Ireland: A podcast telling folktales, myths and legends from across Britain and Ireland. Hosted by Graeme Cooke.

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