To Book List

To Story List

To Main Page

International Folktales Collection

To Next Story

To Previous Story

Story No. 58

The Riddle

Book Name:

Gypsy Folk Tales

Tradition: Gypsy, Turkey

In those days there was a rich man. He had an only son, and the mother and the father loved him dearly., He went to school; all that there is in the world, he learned it. One day he arose; took four, five purses of money. Here, there he squandered it. Early next morning he arose again and went to his father. 'Give me more money.' He got more money, arose, went; by night he had spent it. Little by little he spent all the money.

And early once more he arose, and says to his father and mother, 'I want some money.'

'My child, there is no money left. Would you like the stew-pans? take them, go, sell them, and eat.'

He took and sold them: in a day or two he had spent it.

'I want some money.'

My son, we have no money. Take the clothes, go, sell them.'

In a day or two he had spent that money. He arose, and went to his father, 'I want some money.'

'My son, there is no money left us. If you like, sell the house.'

The lad took and sold the house. In a month he had spent the money; no money remained. 'Father I want some money.'

'My son, no riches remain to us, no house remains to us. If you like, take us to the slave-market, sell us.'

The lad took and sold them. His mother and his father said, 'Come this way, that we may see you.' The king bought the mother and father.

With the money for his mother the lad bought himself clothes, and with the money for his father got a horse.

One day, two days the father, the mother looked for the son that comes not; they fell a-weeping. The king's servants saw them weeping; they went, told it to the king. 'Those whom you bought weep loudly.'

'Call them to me.' The king called them. 'Why are you weeping.'

'We had a son; for him it is we weep.'

'Who are you, then? ' asked the king.

'We were not thus, my king; we had a son. He sold us, and we were weeping at his not coming to see us.'

Just as they were talking with the king, the lad arrived. The king set-to, wrote a letter, gave it him into his hand. 'Carry this letter to such and such a place.' In it the king wrote, 'The lad bearing this letter, cut his throat the minute you get it.'

The lad put on his new clothes, mounted his horse, put the letter in his bosom, took the road. He rode a long way; he was dying of thirst; and he sees a well. 'How am I to get water to drink? I will fasten this letter, and lower it into the well, and moisten my mouth a bit.' He lowered it, drew it up, squeezed it into his mouth.

'Let's see what this letter contains.'

See what it contains – 'The minute he delivers the letter, cut his throat.' The lad stood there fair mesmerised [Lit. 'the lad there became dry'; but that is how an English Gypsy would put it].

In a certain place there was a king's daughter. They go to propound a riddle to her. If she guesses it, she will cut off his head; and if she cannot, he will marry the maiden.

The lad arose, went to the king's palace.

'What are you come for, my lad?'

'I would speak with the king's daughter.'

'Speak with her you shall. If she guesses your riddle, she will cut off your head; and if she cannot, you will get the maiden.'

'That's what I'm come for.'

He sat down in front of the maiden. The maiden said, 'Tell your riddle.'

The lad said, 'My mother I wore her, my father I rode him, from my death I drank water.'

The maiden looked in her book, could not find it. 'Grant me a three days' respite.'

'I grant it you,' said the lad. The lad arose, went to an inn, goes to sleep there.

The maiden saw she cannot find it out. The maiden set-to, had an underground passage made to the place where the lad lies sleeping. At midnight the maid arose, went to him, took the lad in her arms.

'I am thine, thou art mine, only tell me the riddle.'

'Not likely I should tell you. Strip yourself,' said the lad to the maiden. The maiden stripped herself.

'Tell me it.' Then he told her.

The maiden clapped her hands; her servants came, took the maiden, and let her go. The maiden was wearing the lad's sark, and the lad was wearing the maiden's.

Day broke. They summoned the lad. The lad mounted his horse, and rides to the palace. The people see the lad. '’Tis a pity; they'll kill him.'

He went up, and stood face to face with the king.

'My daughter has guessed your riddle,' said the king.

'How did she guess it, my king? At night when I was asleep, there came a bird to my breast. I caught it, I killed it, I cooked it. Just as I was going to eat it, it flew away.'

The king says, 'Kill him; he's wandering.'

'I am not wandering, my king. I told your daughter the riddle. Your daughter had an underground passage made, and she came to where I was sleeping, came to my arms. I caught her, I stripped her, I took her to my bosom, I told her the riddle. She clapped her hands; her servants came and took her. And if you don't believe, I am wearing her sark, and she is wearing mine.'

The king saw it was true.

Forty days, forty nights they made a marriage. He took the maiden, went, bought back his father, his mother.


When I translated this story, I deemed it unique, though the Bellerophon letter is a familiar feature in Indian and European folk-tales, and so too is the princess who guesses or propounds riddles for the wager of her hand to the suitors' heads. She occurs in 'The Companion' of Asbjörnsen (Dasent's Tales from the Fjeld, p. 68, and so in our 'Jack the Giant-killer,' cf. p. 3), and in Ralston's 'The Blind Man and the Cripple' (p. 241), of both of which there are Gypsy versions, our Nos. 1 and 24. In Ralston's story, as here, the princess takes her magic book, her grimoire, and turns over the leaves to find out the answer (cf. also the Welsh-Gypsy tale of 'The Green Man of Noman's Land,' No. 62). Maive Stokes's Indian Fairy Tales has a story, 'Rájá Harichand's Punishment,' No. 29, p. 225, where a ráni is 'very wise and clever, for she had a book, which she read continually, called the Kop shástra; and this book told her everything.' I know myself of a Gypsy woman who told fortunes splendidly out of her 'magic book' – it was really a Treatise on Navigation, with diagrams. Fortune-tellers with 'sacred book' occur in Mary Frere's Old Deccan Days, p. 261. Now, since translating this story, I find it is largely identical with Campbell's West Highland tale, The Knight of Riddles,' No. 22 (ii. p. 36), with which cf. Grimm's 'The Riddle,' No. 22 (i. 100, 368). See also Reinhold Köhler in Orient and Occident (ii. 1864), p. 320.


To Next Story

To Previous Story