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Why the Sea Is Salt (Norwegian: Kvernen som maler på havsens bunn; the mill that grind at the bottom of the sea) is a Norwegian fairy tale collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in their Norske Folkeeventyr. Andrew Lang included it in The Blue Fairy Book (1889).
Georgios A. Megas collected a Greek variant The Mill in Folktales of Greece.
A poor man begged from his brother on Christmas Eve. The brother promised him, depending on the variant, ham or bacon or a lamb if he would do something. The poor brother promised; the rich one handed over the food and told him to go to Hell (in Lang's version, the Dead Men's Hall; in the Greek, the Devil's dam). Since he promised, he set out.
In the Norse variants, he meets an old man along the way. In some variants, the man begs from him, and he gives something; in all, the old man tells him that in Hell (or the hall), they will want to buy the food from him, but he must only sell it for the hand-mill behind the door, and come to him for directions to use it. It took a great deal of haggling, but the poor man succeeded, and the old man showed him how to use it.
In the Greek, he merely brought the lamb and told the devils that he would take whatever they would give him, and they gave him the mill.
He took it to his wife, and had it grind out everything they needed for Christmas, from lights to tablecloth to meat and ale. They ate well and on the third day, they had a great feast. His brother was astounded and when the poor man had drunk too much, or when the poor man's children innocently betrayed the secret, he showed his rich brother the hand-mill.
His brother finally persuaded him to sell it. In the Norse version, the poor brother didn't teach him how to handle it. He set to grind out herrings and broth, but it soon flooded his house. His brother wouldn't take it back until he paid him as much as he paid to have it. In the Greek, the brother set out to Constantinople by ship.
In the Norse, one day a skipper wanted to buy the hand-mill from him, and eventually persuaded him.
In all versions, the new owner took it to sea and set it to grind out salt. It ground out salt until it sank the boat, and then went on grinding in the sea, turning the sea salt.
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