Isak Dinesen’s ‘‘The Sailor-Boy’s Tale,’’ was first published in 1942 in Winter’s Tales, her second collection of short stories.
In this story, Simon, a young sailor boy, rescues a falcon, which has gotten tangled in the ropes of the main mast of a ship. Two years later, Simon, now seventeen and working on a different boat, goes ashore at a port town on the northern coast of Norway. There he meets Nora, a girl of thirteen or fourteen, who promises to give him a kiss if he comes back the next day. The next night, however, he accidentally kills Ivan, a Russian sailor whom he has befriended. He runs to Nora, who gives him the promised kiss. He is eventually taken in by Sunniva, an old woman, who helps him to evade capture for the murder by pretending that he is her son. She then explains to him that she herself was the falcon he rescued (as she sometimes changes into a bird) and that she is now rescuing him in return.
This story contains several stylistic elements typical of Dinesen’s fiction. It is narrated in the style of a fairy tale and includes the supernatural element of the old woman, presumably a witch, who is able to change herself into a falcon. It is also a coming-of-age story, in which the sailor boy, through the rites of passage enacted by the act of murdering a man and the kissing of a girl, is transformed into a man. Destiny is another theme central to the story, as Simon seems to have been destined to meet the falcon/old woman just when he is in need of her help; his passage into manhood is also marked by his ability to accept his destiny. The theme of storytelling is indicated both by the title of the story and by the ending line, which assures the reader that Simon lived ‘‘to tell the story.’’