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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif K1971.1

Husband answers behind the statue when wife wants to know how to fool him. He says to feed him well. *Type 1380; *Taylor MPh XV 227 n. 1; Stiefel Zs. f. Vksk. VIII 74ff.; Panchatantra III 18, (tr. Ryder) 370; Russian: Andrejev No. 1380; India: *Thompson-Balys.

Part Two

The Folktale from Ireland to India

III – The Simple Tale

1. Jests and Anecdotes

I. Deception through Bluffing

In contests with stronger adherents, the weak or small hero always enjoys the favor of the taleteller. [320] Not only does the unpromising man or animal use his superior cleverness in escape and even in the overcoming of the odds against him, but sometimes he is able to effect his purposes through mere deceptive boasting. The large animal or the giant is thoroughly frightened by these bluffs, and either flees or sues for peace. In one story of this kind, told sometimes of animals (Type 126*) and sometimes of a man and an ogre (Type 1149), the weak hero makes the strong one believe that he has just finished eating a large number of the latter's companions (K1715). In a variant of this episode the weak hero has a confederate, who calls out to him and says, "What, only one tiger? You promised ten." The tiger thinks he is lucky to escape alive (K1715.2). This story goes back to the Panchatantra and the Sukasaptati in India, and was a part of the Roman de Renart in medieval France. In Europe it seems to be primarily confined to the eastern countries, and it is a familiar anecdote in India and Indonesia. African and American Negro versions are known, as well as two in Portuguese from Massachusetts. The Indian and Indonesian versions probably depend upon the older Hindu literary collections.

Rather slight variations from this incident tell how some sheep have found a sack with a wolf's head in it. They make the wolf believe that they have killed one of his companions, and he flees in terror (K1715.3; Type 125); or how a small hero overawes an ogre by boasting about marvelous relatives. The thunder is said to be the rolling of his brother's wagon; or millstones are spoken of as pearls of the hero's mother (K1718 and subdivisions; Types 1146, 1147).

An ogre tale represented by a Middle High German poem of the end of the thirteenth century and repeated in many Renaissance jestbooks is about the bear trainer whose bear drives the ogre away. The next year the ogre inquires, "Is the big cat still living?" When he hears that it has many kittens, he is overawed and never ventures near (K1728; Type 1161). This little anecdote is extraordinarily popular in northern Europe and is known in the northern Slavic countries, but has not been reported anywhere else.

A group of short tales, some of which have attained a world-wide popularity, concerns a boast that the hero is desirous of performing a much larger task than that which the ogre has assigned. When the ogre hears the new proposal, he is frightened and runs away. When he is told to bring in a tree, the hero asks "Why not the whole forest?" (K1741.1; Type 1049); instead of shooting one or two wild boars, the boaster suggests that he shoot a thousand with one shot (K1741.2; Type 1053). Most popular of the group is that in which he is told to carry in water. He demands a bucket large enough to [p. 206] bring in the whole well (K1741.3; Type 1049). In a similar vein are the hero's requests for a rope to pull a lake together and for one with which to haul away a warehouse (K1744, K.1745; Types 1045 and 1650, 1046).

Finally, two stories of bluffing sailors should be mentioned. In one of these, a swimming match starting from the ship is held. The bluffer takes a knap sack of provisions on his tack and when his rival sees this, he gives up without starting (K1761; Type 1612). In the contest in climbing the mast, the hero falls into the rigging. "You do the same thing," he challenges. The sailors are persuaded of his expertness (K1762; Type 1611). These last two stories have very peculiar distribution. They are well known in Finland and the first has been reported from Denmark, and they have both been heard from Portuguese speakers in Massachusetts and from American Indians in New Brunswick. Further study would probably bring others to light which would clarify this strange situation.

[320] The whole of Chapter "L" of the Motif-Index is devoted to this theme.


125, 126*, 1045, 1046, 1049, 1053, 1146, 1147, 1149, 1161, 1611, 1612, 1650


K1715, K1715.2, K1715.3, K1718, K1728, K1741.1, K1741.2, K1741.3, K1744, K.1745, K1761, K1762