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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif K1111.0.1

Dupe wishing to learn to play fiddle has finger caught in cleft of tree. *Type 151, 1159; *BP I 68; Lithuanian: Balys Index No. 1147A*.

Part Two

The Folktale from Ireland to India

III – The Simple Tale

1. Jests and Anecdotes

G. Cruel Deceptions

Objection has sometimes been raised to the teaching of the folktale to young children because of the frequent cruelty and ferocity they are likely to find in such tales. Whatever one may think of this argument, it cannot be denied that folktales everywhere are characterized by violence and suffering and sudden death. If these tales are a reflection of the simple society in which they flourish, whether in the islands of Oceania or in the fields of central Europe, just such violence is to be expected, for the stories come from people used to severe elemental conflicts in their own lives and interested in such conflicts when they hear tales of others.

Cruelty in plenty we have met already in various episodes of some of the more complex stories—Hansel burning the witch in her own fire, and the like—and in the animal tales it assumes even greater importance. [312] Some tales of cruelty tell how a victim is deceived into captivity, some of the way in which he is lured to his death or at least to serious injury of himself. A very considerable number of short anecdotes of such self-injury are very popular in Finland, Estonia, and other Baltic states, but with few or no parallels elsewhere. Several examples of these will suffice. In one of these the hero, like Odysseus, has assumed a name, "Such a one." He persuades an ogre that to improve his looks he should have his beard gilded. He covers the ogre's beard with tar and leaves him caught in the tar-kettle. The ogre wanders about everywhere with the tar-kettle inquiring, "Have you seen such a one?" (K1013.1; Type 1138). In another anecdote an ogre is tricked into eating very hot porridge and burning his throat (K1033; Type 1131).

Or he is persuaded to smoke a gun instead of a tobacco pipe, or to put his fingers in the cleft of a tree in order to learn to play a fiddle, or even to allow his beard to be caught in such a cleft [p. 202] (K1057, K1111.0.1, K1111.1; Types 1157, 1159 [cf. Type 151], and 1160). Finally, one anecdote of this group characteristic of the Baltic lands has a peculiar parallel in an apparently native story of the North American Indians. The dupe is deadly afraid of thunder and has asked the trickster to tell him when it thunders. The latter deliberately deceives him, so that he is killed by a thunderstroke (K1177; Type 1148A). In the North American Indian tale the hero rides a whale across a body of water. He deceives the whale as to the nearness to shore and also as to hearing the thunder. Just as they reach shore, the whale is killed by the thunder. [313]

Medieval storybooks are filled with tales of persons who are deceived into humiliating positions. Such stories are usually purely literary and often go back to much older sources. Many of them, as we shall see later, concern exposed adultery or discomfited lovers. Such motifs are also found in complicated tales, as in the story of the boy who threatens to tell of the queen's adultery, of the king's kissing the horse's rump, or of the princess's amorous conduct, and thus receives the desired reward. [314]

A separate anecdote, sometimes about persons but more frequently about animals, tells of how a trickster makes a dupe believe that he is holding up a great rock and how he induces the dupe to take his place for a while. Sometimes he steals the dupe's goods while he is thus occupied. Sometimes the rascal pretends to be holding up the rock or the roof so that he will not have to help with the common labor. The first form of this tale is well known in Africa and America; the second in Europe, particularly the Baltic states (K1251, K1251.1; Types 1530 and 9A). A very similar tale, told in various parts of America, in Indonesia, and in Lithuania, is about how the dupe is persuaded to guard a hat supposed to cover valuable treasure. After he has guarded it for a long time and his goods have been stolen, he finds underneath only a pile of dung (K1252; Type 1528).

[312] For such anecdotes, see pp. 219ff., below.

[313] See Thompson, Tales of the North American Indians, p. 327, n. 179 (17 versions). See also p. 334, below.

[314] Types 570 and 852, pp. 154 and 156, above.


9A, 151, 570, 852, 1131, 1138, 1148A, 1157, 1159, 1160, 1528, 1530


K1013.1, K1033, K1057, K1111.0.1, K1111.1, K1177, K1251, K1251.1, K1252