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In the 1980s, I heard a recording of a story (probably on an LP) that was either a retelling of an actual European folktale or a modern story written to sound like a classic fairy tale.

I don't remember how it began, but the hero somehow ends up shipwrecked, but before he drowns he is rescued by the daughter of the villain, who is some kind of sea troll king. (He has a proper name, perhaps beginning with H, but I don't remember it.) The two fall in love, and they plot how they will be able to escape from her father together. (They cannot just kill the villain, because he his body is invulnerable; his life force is hidden away elsewhere.)

Their plan is that she will help the man escape, with the villain not having known that he had even visited the villain's undersea realm. Then he somehow finds his was in again, as if he was seeking some kind of assistance from the villain. However, he makes a nuisance of himself and the villain's palace and breaks things. So the villain declares that the hero will be put to death unless he can successfully answer four questions.

However, the daughter knows what the four questions will be in advance:

  • Where is my daughter? Answer: In a palace at the bottom of the sea.

  • Then which of these is my daughter? The villain teleports in hundreds of identical looking women, but the real daughter makes a hand signal to the hero so he can identify her.

  • Where is my life force hidden? Answer: In the heart of a fish in the deep ocean.

  • Which of these fish contains my life? The villain teleports in hundreds of identical fish, but the daughter, who is still present, points out the right one, so the hero can cut its heart out, dispatching the villain.

Does anybody recognize this story?

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This is one of the Dänische Volksmärchen ["Danish Folk Tales"] by Svend Grundtvig, published in 1878.

It's famous enough to merit a reference in The Golden Bough;

“Where is my daughter?” asked the sorcerer. Here the court Fool cut in and said, “She is at the bottom of the sea.” “Would you know her if you saw her?” enquired the magician. “To be sure I would,” answered the Fool. So the magician caused a whole regiment of girls to defile before him, one after the other; but they were mere phantoms and apparitions. Almost the last of all came the magician's daughter, and when she passed the young man she pinched his arm so hard that he almost shrieked with pain. However, he dissembled his agony and putting his arm round her waist held her fast. The magician now played his last trump. “Where is my heart?” said he. “In a fish,” said the Fool. “Would you know the fish if you saw it?” asked the magician. “To be sure I would,” answered the Fool

  • This must be the right story, although it would be nice to locate the English translation. – Buzz Apr 25 '18 at 14:40
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EDIT: Looks like both of the below are variations on a fairy tale called The Troll's Daughter, included by Andrew Lang in The Pink Fairy Book. From Wikipedia summary:

Deep in the sea, he found a palace where a beautiful maiden lived.

...

Then he should offer to pay the king's debts in return for coming; once he came, he would make trouble for the troll until it demanded the king answer three questions for his life. They would be where his daughter was, and then to pick her out, and then to find the troll's heart, which was in a fish.

He went back to the troll and refused to stay in his service. He served the king and did as the troll's daughter had said. When he got to the troll's castle with the king, he broke all sorts of glass things. Then he answered the troll's questions. When he picked out his daughter, the maiden appeared and stayed by him; when he picked out the fish the maiden indicated, he cut it open and killed the troll.


Original answer:

With complete credit to Valorum's answer, looks like an English translation can be found here (Danish Fairy Tales by by Svend Grundtvig , translation by J. Grant Cramer). Ebook in the public domain here.

The story is called The Wizard's Daughter.

...the wizard will sentence him to death in spite of the fact that he has paid his debt, unless he can answer correctly questions that my father will put to him. The first question that my father will ask, will be: 'Where is my daughter?' Then you must step forth and say, 'She is at the bottom of the sea.' He will also ask whether you can recognize her, and you must answer, 'Yes.' Then a large number of young women will be led past you in order that you may point out which one you take to be his daughter. As you might not recognize me, I shall nudge you as I pass, and you must immediately seize me and hold me fast. The wizard's next question will be, ' Where is my heart?' and you must again step forward and answer, 'It is in a fish.' He will then ask, 'Do you know this fish?' and you must again answer, 'Yes.' Then he will have all kinds of fish appear before you, and you will have to choose the right one from among them. But I will take good care to be by your side and when the right fish comes I will touch you gently, and you must seize him and quickly cut him open. Then the wizard will be discouraged and will ask you no more questions.

Could also be this version of the same story by Chris Conover entitled The Wizard's Daughter: A Viking Legend. From Goodreads reviews:

In it an evil Wizard has taken away all the animals from the land and is pushing human-kind to starvation. There is a strong-hearted young man and a hidden princess and a test. The test is what lodged the story so firmly in my mind. The Wizard hid his heart in a fish and to save his own life the young man must find this fish. Of course he does and everyone lives happily ever after.

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