5 folk tales from around the world
It’s story time! Every country has their own folk tales – stories that have been passed down through generations, usually involving some kind magic or sorcery, and representing a moral code or a life lesson. I assume each story says something about the psyche of the nation it comes from, so make of these what you will! I’ve given my verdict at the end of each story. Please let us know what you think though!
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…
Baba Yaga | Russia
A wicked stepmother wanted to get rid of her husband’s daughter, so she sent her to her sister, the girls “aunt”, to ask for a needle and thread. However this “aunt” was really a witch, Baba Yaga. The girl wasn’t silly – she went to her own aunt for advice first. “What shall I do, auntie?”
The girl’s aunt replied, “You will find a birch tree that will hit you in the face – tie a ribbon around it. You will find gates that squeak and bang – pour oil on them. You will find dogs that want to bite you – you must throw them fresh rolls, and you will find a cat that wants to scratch your eyes out – give her some ham.”
So the girl went to Baba Yaga’s house where the bony witch was spinning yarn on her wheel. As the girl arrived, Baba Yaga asked her maid to fill the pot with water and set the fire (ready to cook the girl) but to first give her a good wash. The maid did as she was told and the poor girl was terrified. She asked the maid, “Please do not burn the wood, carry the water in a sieve”, and gave her a handkerchief.
While Baba Yaga was waiting for the child to be prepared, the girl found a vicious cat, but she gave her some ham and the cat told her, “Take this comb and towel and run away. Baba Yaga will chase you. When you hear her coming, throw down the towel – a great river will appear. If you hear her coming again, throw down the comb – a dense forest will appear, that will stop her.”
As the little girl ran off, the witch’s dogs tried to tear her to pieces, but she threw them some rolls, and the gates tried to bang shut stopping her from leaving, but she poured oil on their hinges and they let her pass. As her aunt predicted, a birch tree’s branches tried to whip her face but she tied a ribbon around them and she was able to go past.
Meanwhile, the cat was pretending to be the little girl at the witch’s house, but she couldn’t keep it up forever and Baba Yaga realised the girl was gone. “Why didn’t you scratch her eyes out?”, screamed the witch, and the cat answered, “I have served you for years and you have never even given me a bone, but the girl gave me some ham.” Then, in a rage, Baba Yaga turned to her maid, her dogs, her gates and her tree. “Why did you let her go?” The dogs answered, “We have served you for years, and you have never even given us a crust but the girl gave us fresh rolls.” The gates answered, “We have served you for years and you have never even watered our hinges, but the girl oiled them for us.” The birch tree said, “I have served you for years and you have never even tied me with thread but the girl gave me a ribbon.” Finally, the maid said, “I have served you for years and you have never even given me a rag but the girl gave me a handkerchief.” While the witch fumed, the girl ran off, free and alive.
The meaning behind the story?
Always be prepared, and be nice to people. Or, bribe people. Depending on how you look at it!
The day it snowed tortillas | Spain
Long ago, there was a woodcutter who was very good at cutting wood, but he wasn’t very bright; he couldn’t read or write and he was always doing stupid things. However, his wife was very clever, which was lucky because she often had to help her husband out of the difficult situations he had got himself into.
One day, on his way back from cutting trees in the mountains, the woodcutter found three bags by the side of the road. Investigating further, he found that the bags were full of gold. The woodcutter couldn’t believe his luck and hurried back to his wife with the bags. While pleased, his wife was also worried. She knew that the true owners of the gold would be back to look for it, and she knew her husband wouldn’t be able to keep quiet about his find. So she asked him to buy lots of flour and once he had brought it to her, to go to bed.
Overnight, she hid the gold and made so many tortillas, the house was overflowing with them. When she had used up all the flour, she scattered the tortillas all over the ground outside. When the woodcutter awoke the next morning, he was puzzled to see the tortillas outside. The wife told him it must have snowed tortillas. He simply couldn’t understand how this could have happened, and as a result, the wife sent him to school telling him it was because he was so uneducated. At school, the woodcutter was disappointed to realise that even the very young children were much cleverer than him.
A week or so later, three robbers turned up at the woodcutter’s house while he was out. They demanded to know where their gold was, however the wife denied knowing anything about it. The robbers said they knew it was there because her husband had told the whole village that he had found the gold. Again, the wife denied all knowledge, so the robbers waited for the woodcutter to return home. When he returned, he immediately told the robbers his wife must have hidden the gold in the house. Again, the wife denied even knowing about the gold. The woodcutter continued, “Let me see… It was the day before it snowed tortillas, and the next morning you sent me to school…” Upon hearing this, the robbers concluded the woodcutter was insane and left him and his wife alone, where they lived, in comfort, happily ever after.
The meaning behind the story?
Well, to be honest, I’m not totally sure what the moral here is! Always marry a clever woman? It’s OK to lie and thieve? If you can work this out, please do get in touch!
Issun-bōshi | Japan
An old couple were very happy, except for one thing – they wanted a child. So they prayed at an altar, asking for a child, no matter how small he was. Their prayers were answered when they had a tiny baby, called Issun-bōshi. Despite his size (no bigger than a fingertip), the couple loved him greatly and he turned into a nice, well-respected young man, although he never grew any larger.
One day, Issun-bōshi told his parents he wanted to make his own way in the world. They were understandably worried about him, but knowing he was a nice boy, they trusted him, so let him go. They gave him a needle as a sword, a rice bowl as a boat, and a chopstick as an oar.
Issun-bōshi made his way to the city via his bowl in the river and after a few days, he reached the lord’s mansion. He told the guard at the gate that he had come to the city to work and he would like to become a servant. When the guard eventually noticed the tiny young man, he took him to the lord. In the palm of the lord’s hand, Issun-bōshi bowed and pledged his loyalty. Impressed with his bravery and manners, the lord employed him and soon he was a very popular member of staff at the mansion. He was especially popular with the lord’s daughter, and eventually became her personal assistant.
One day, the lord’s daughter took Issun-bōshi to the temple with her, but on the way they met two ogres. Jumping to the daughters defence, Issun-bōshi unleashed his needle sword, but alas, one of the monsters simply swallowed him whole. Issun-bōshi fiercely started to jab his miniature sword into the inside of the ogre’s stomach, making him throw the tiny lad up. Once he was free, Issun-bōshi started to jab the two ogres in the eyes, making them run off screaming. However, they left their magical hammer behind. Picking it up, the lord’s daughter said, “If you use this hammer, it will grant you a wish. What would you like? Money? Rice?” Issun-bōshi replied, “Neither. I would like to be a full-sized man.” So the daughter made the wish and waved the hammer. Before her eyes, the tiny young man grew into a full-sized handsome gentleman. Both the daughter and Issun-bōshi were delighted and they soon married, living happily ever after!
The meaning behind the story?
Bring up your children well, and with love, and they can overcome anything. And striking out on your own encourages personal growth and development.
The princess and the fisherman | Romania
There lived a fisherman, neither rich nor poor, but handsome with a wonderful moustache. Every time he passed the palace selling fish, the princess came out and bought some. Soon, the princess was buying fish everyday and as the weeks passed, she made it clear that she liked the fisherman. Eventually he plucked up the courage to speak to her, all the while being respectful and humble. As time went by, the princess and the fisherman fell in love.
One day, the princess gave the fisherman a purse full of coins and told him to buy some fine garments. The fisherman did as the princess had said, and he felt proud and stood tall whilst wearing his new clothes. The princess’s father, the emperor, wasn’t overly pleased with this union but he could see she was happy so gave their marriage his blessing.
At the opulent and grand wedding, a feast was served. As part of the traditional meal, the bride and groom were served a soft-boiled egg to eat together. As the fisherman went to dip his bread into the egg, his new bride said to him, “I must dip first because I am the daughter of the emperor and you are a fisherman.” With that, the fisherman simply stood up and walked away.
For days, the princess was distraught. She missed her beloved husband and she didn’t mean to offend him. Eventually, she decided she must find him. She searched high and low across the city and eventually found him working in a tavern. When she spoke to him, he pretended not to know her and continued about his business. The princess repeatedly tried to talk to him, but to no avail. Eventually, the landlord of the tavern said, “Why won’t you leave my servant in peace? Can’t you see he is dumb?” Shocked, the princess blurted out that he was in fact her husband, and he wasn’t dumb! No one in the tavern could believe what she was saying and a great argument ensued.
Eventually, the princess came to an agreement. She was allowed to stay with him for three days, and if she had not got him to speak within that time, she would be hanged. Days one and two passed, and not a word came from the fisherman’s lips, despite the princess’s pleading and begging.
On day three, the gallows were prepared and the princess lead to her death, everyone watching was weeping and wailing, including the princess. This was the first the fisherman had learnt of the contract the princess had entered into for him. Right at the last moment, the princess said, “Dear husband, you know how much I love you. Speak just one word and I will be saved.” With that, the fisherman said, “Hi! Stop!” The noose was removed from her neck and the fisherman asked her, “Will you say fisherman to me again?” She told him she would never say that again and she was sorry; she had said it by mistake. The princess came down from the gallows and the two went home together, living happily ever after.
The meaning behind the story?
Again, I’m not entirely sure! Social status is no boundary for love, perhaps? Or, never talk of social status? Or, sulk for long enough and your point will be made?
The gold-giving snake | India
A farmer worked and tended his field day and night, yet his yield was pitiful. One afternoon, he took a nap under a tree and when he awoke he saw a snake emerging from an ant hill. Suddenly he realised, this snake must be the guardian deity of his field, and as he was not paying his respects to him, his crops weren’t growing. “Forgive me, snake. I did not know you were here. I will pay my respects to you at once.”
From that moment on, the farmer took a bowl of milk to the ant hill everyday for the snake to drink, and every time he went to collect the empty bowl, he found the snake had left a gold coin in it for him.
One day, the farmer had to go into the village so he asked his son to take the milk to the snake. Seeing the gold coins, the son thought that the ant hill must be full of them, so he waited for the snake to emerge and when he did, he set about beating him over the head to kill him. The snake, however, did not die but bit the boy in self defence, killing him.
When the farmer returned after a couple of days, he was devastated to hear of the loss of his son. After a few days however, he returned to giving the snake milk. As he laid down the bowl, he praised the snake in a loud voice. Eventually, after a very long time, the wary snake poked his head out of the ant hill and spoke to the farmer, “It is greed that brings you here. A friendship between us is impossible. How can I forget being beaten about the head, and how can you forget that I have bitten your son to death? Never come back here.” With that, the snake gave the farmer an expensive pearl, which the farmer took, and the two never saw each other again.
The meaning behind the story?
Don’t do good things purely for selfish reasons. And don’t allow your son to feed the snake while you’re away.
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About Lizzie Brooks
The most beautiful place I have been (so far!) has been Norway. Coming in to land in Oslo was like coming in to land in a fairytale; pine trees that looked like velvet amongst frozen fjords, the occasional wisp of smoke coming up from a little yellow or red house within the trees. Beautiful!
I kind of expected to see a Moomin emerging (but they are from Finland, of course).
Lizzie works in our marketing team