Multilingual Folk Tale Database


Author: Alexander Afanasyev - 1855

Translated into English
  by Irina Zheleznova

Original title (Russian):

Country of origin: Russia


English - aligned

Add a translation

Ivan the Fool

Alexander Afanasyev / Irina Zheleznova

There once lived an old man and an old woman who had three sons, two of them clever young men, but the third, who was named Ivan, a fool. The clever sons grazed sheep, but the fool did nothing save sit on the stove and catch flies. One day the old woman made some rye dumplings and she said to the fool: "Here, take these dumplings to your brothers." She filled a pot full of soup and dumplings and gave it to him, and the fool set out for the field. The day was a sunny one, and as soon as he left the village he saw his shadow on the road beside him. "Who is that man walking at my side and never falling a step behind me?" thought he. "He must want some of my dumplings." And he began throwing the dumplings to the shadow one after another. Soon not one was left, but there was the shadow beside him still. "What a glutton!" said the fool, vexed, and he flung the pot at the shadow. The pot broke, and the crocks flew to all sides.
He came to the field empty-handed, and the brothers asked him what he was there for. "I have brought you your dinner," said he. "Where is it, then? Give it to us and be quick about it!" "Well, you see, brothers, a man, a stranger, tagged after me all the way here and ate up everything!" "What man was that?" "There he is, still standing beside me!" The brothers began scolding and beating the fool, they gave him a sound thrashing, and, leaving him to tend the sheep, went home to have their dinner.
The fool began grazing the sheep, and. seeing them straying over the field, ran after them. He caught them, one after another, and put out their eyes, and, when he had blinded them all, gathered them round him and sat there looking as pleased as if he had done something praiseworthy. The brothers had their dinner and came back to the field. "What have you done, you fool!" they cried.
"Who has put out the sheep's eyes?" "What do they need eyes for!" the fool said. "As soon as you left they strayed all over the field, so I caught them, put out their eyes, and here they are all in a bunch again. And I'm that tired I can hardly stand!" "Wait till we get through with you, see how you'll feel then!" the brothers said, and they went at him with their fists and gave him a sound trouncing.
Some time passed, there was soon to be a holiday, and the old man and old woman sent the fool to town to buy a number of things for the house. Ivan bought all he had been told to, a sack of salt, a table, a set of spoons and one of cups, and lots of other things too, and his wagon was very heavy by the time he had finished loading it. He drove home,
but it was slow going, for his old nag was barely able to put one leg in front of the other. "Come to think of it," said the fool to himself, "the table has four legs, too, just like the horse, so why can't it get home by itself!" And he picked up the table and set it down on the road. He drove on, and whether he was near or far from home nobody knows, but by and by the crows began circling over him, cawing loudly as they did so. "They must be hungry to be making such a noise!" thought the fool, and, placing dishes of food on the ground, he called to the crows, inviting them to eat their fill. "Come, my sisters, come, loves, eat and enjoy yourselves!" he cried, and he urged the horse on.
The wagon bumped slowly along. Thinking the fire-scorched three stumps along the road to be young boys, and hatless, the fool said to himself: "Those lads will freeze, bareheaded as they are!" He stopped the wagon, put the pots he had bought on the stumps and drove on again. He came to a river and began urging the horse to drink, but when it would not, told himself that it did not like the water because it was unsalted. He began salting the water and kept on doing it till no salt was left in the sack, and still the horse refused to drink. "Why don't you drink, you old nag, may the wolves get you!" he cried. "Why, I used up a whole sack of salt just to please you!" He struck the horse on the head with a log and killed it outright. There was nothing left in the cart save the bag in which the spoons were, and this the fool put over his shoulder. He walked along, and with every step he took the spoons went clank-clank as they knocked against each other, and he thought they were saying, "Ivan's a crank!" So he threw them to the ground and began stamping on them, saying as he did so: "Take that, you no-good spoons you! How dare you tease me!"
He came back home and said to his brothers: "I have bought all the things you asked me to buy, brothers!" "Thank you, fool, but where are they?" "Well, the table I set on its legs and it's running after me, the dishes I filled with food and left behind for the crows, the pots I put on the lads' heads so they wouldn't catch cold, the salt I used up for the horse's swill, and the spoons I threw out for teasing me." "All right, then, fool, make haste and bring back all you left on the road."
Back went the fool to the forest, he took the pots from the tree stumps, knocked out their bottoms, strung a dozen of them, big and small, on a stick and brought them home. His brothers gave him a beating, and, leaving him at home to take care of things, rode off to market. The fool sat there and listened for sounds, and he heard the gurgling of the beer fermenting in a barrel. "Stop gurgling, beer, stop teasing me!" said he. But as the beer did not heed him but went on gurgling, he went up to the barrel, pulled out the spigot and let the beer
flow over the floor. Then he climbed into a trough, and, using his legs like paddles to push it over the floor, sang songs at the top of his voice. The brothers came home and when they saw what the fool was doing they put him in a sack, sewed it up and dragged it to the river. They put the sack on the bank and went looking for an ice hole. Now, a landlord happened to be driving past just then in a coach drawn by three chestnuts, and, hearing the pounding of hooves, the fool called out from the sack: "They want to make a governor of me for me to rule people and to judge them, and I know not how to rule or how to judge." "Wait, fool," said the landlord, "you don't, but I do. Come, now, get out of the sack!" He cut the sack open, and when the fool had climbed out of it, crawled into it in his stead. The fool then sewed up the sack again, and, getting into the landlord's coach, drove away. The brothers came back, picked up the sack and let it down into an ice hole, and they heard a bubbling coming from the water. "The fool must be sending up his last bubbles," said they and set out for home. All of a sudden whom should they see driving toward them in a coach drawn by three chestnuts but the fool himself! "Just see what beautiful horses I caught in the river!" he called out boastfully. "And a fourth, a fine bay, is down there still!" The brothers were filled with envy. "Come, fool," said they, "help us get into a sack, sew it up and let it down into the ice hole, and be quick about it! We don't want the bay to get away from us!" Ivan did as they asked and drove home to drink what was
left of the beer and to say prayers for his brothers.
The fool had a well, in the well lived a whale, and now I have come
to the end of my tale.