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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif K12.2

Wrestling match won by deception: bear as “grandfather.” A man challenged by an ogre persuades the latter to wrestle with his old grandfather instead. By this he means a bear. (Cf. K11.6, K15.1.) *Type 1071; Köhler-Bolte I 477ff.; *Hackman cf. K12.

The Folktale from Ireland to India

III – The Simple Tale

1. Jests and Anecdotes

C. Contests Won by Deception

The teller of popular tales does not always draw a sharp distinction between the fool and the clever man. It is not unusual to find that the numskull has suddenly acquired wisdom, so that he goes out on a successful career of cheating and deceiving. No doubt tales of clever adventurers and rascals are interesting for their own sake, but they have an added dramatic value if the successful cheater overcomes great handicaps, mental or physical. If the handicaps are mental, the success often comes from sheer luck. But if the hero is very small or weak or slow-footed he usually succeeds because he has a shrewd head on his shoulders.

Popular ever since the days of Aesop has been the story of the race between the hare and the tortoise. In its classical form it usually tells how the swift hare goes to sleep just short of his goal and permits the slow tortoise to beat him. Though this tale (K11.3) has passed on from Aesop into the folklore of most of the world, it is not nearly so popular as a similar race in which the turtle places his relatives, or at least other turtles that resemble him, at various points in the racecourse, so that the opponent always thinks the trickster is just ahead of him (K11.1; Type 1074). This story may be told either of animals or of men. Though not particularly popular anywhere in Europe, it is found from time to time all over the continent. It is especially well known in eastern Asia, in all parts of Africa, among the American Indians both North and South, among the American Negroes, and in the Portuguese tradition both of Massachusetts and Brazil.

Belonging to the same cycle, but nearly always told of a contest between two animals, is the story of how one of the contestants steals a ride on the other's back (K11.2, K25.1; Types 221, 250, 275). Sometimes the contestants are fish, sometimes birds, and sometimes other animals., This anecdote also [p. 197] goes back to Aesop and is known over Europe. It is a favorite in Africa and in the Negro and Indian tradition of America. It has also been reported in Indonesia.

A special form of the deceptive race has developed in eastern Europe (K11.6; Type 1072). In this tale a man challenged by an ogre to a running race persuades the ogre to race with his "little son" instead. It turns out that the little son is a rabbit. A similar ruse is used in a wrestling match in which the "grandfather" proves to be a bear (K12.2; Type 1071). In another wrestling contest, probably also eastern European in origin, but also recently collected in Virginia, the ogre squeezes the man so that his eyes bulge out. The man says that he is looking to see where to throw the ogre and thus frightens the ogre away (K12.1; Type 1070).

The story of The Brave Tailor (Type 1640) frequently contains a series of contests in throwing in which the weak hero makes the ogre believe that he can throw a prodigious distance. Sometimes he shows the ogre a bright spot on a cloud and contends that this is a golden club which he has thrown (K18.2; Type 1063). Or he throws a bird which flies out of sight and makes the ogre believe that it was a stone (K18.3; Type 1062). Both of these incidents are told as independent tales and have an extraordinary popularity in northern Europe. They have also been carried to the Philippines, to Africa, and to America. Other incidents belonging to this tale of The Brave Tailor, but also enjoying considerable popularity for their own sake, have to do with much less plausible contests. In one, the hero and the ogre try to outdo each other in pushing a hole in a tree, a hole which the hero has prepared beforehand (K61; Type 1085). In the other they are to squeeze water from a stone. The hero substitutes a cheese and deceives the ogre (K62; Type 1060). Both these anecdotes have attained extraordinary currency in northern Europe, but they are also known all over the continent, as well as in Indonesia and the western hemisphere. The incident about the cheese, which goes back to the Panchatantra, occurs in several hundred versions. A similar contest in biting, in which the trickster bites a nut rather than a stone (K63; Type 1061), is not nearly so popular.

This whole group of incidents which sometimes form part of the cycle of The Brave Tailor and which sometimes appear as self-sufficient anecdotes would make that tale one of the most interesting for a thorough comparative study. It would be very interesting to know with some certainty the relation between such independent incidents and a tale-type into which they may be appropriated and in which they become dependent members. But thus far no such study has been adequately carried out.

Anecdotes of various other kinds of contests are not hard to find in folk tales. Sufficient to illustrate these is the contest in eating or drinking in which the trickster provides a bag for the food or a hole through which the water escapes, while the ogre eats or drinks himself to death (K81.1, K82.1; Type 1088). [p. 198] As independent incidents these are popular in northern Europe and are also frequently found among the North American Indians. It is not entirely certain that all of the American Indian versions are derived from the European, since the idea is so simple that independent invention is not out of the question. [305]

[305] These incidents, as well as the one in which the hero stabs a bag of prepared blood and thus persuades the ogre to stab himself (G524), are frequently a part of the cycle of The Rich and the Poor Peasant (Type 1535).


221, 250, 275, 1060, 1061, 1062, 1063, 1070, 1071, 1072, 1074, 1085, 1088, 1535, 1640


G524, K11.1, K11.2, K11.3, K11.6, K12.1, K12.2, K18.2, K18.3, K25.1, K61, K62, K63, K81.1, K82.1