USC Digital Folklore Archives / Tales /märchen
Tales /märchen

Little Boy at Little Rock

In Little Rock, Arkansas, there is a ghost story about a young boy who wanders very early in the morning through the streets and enters any home that he finds open. They say that the little boy is lost and looking for family members to be with. This story comes as a result of “ghost” encounters and “poltergeist” events happening at homes.You can get rid of the little boy “ghost” by placing small toys outside of your BACK door so the “ghost” is tricked into leaving the home.


Eloisa is a Michoacan born lady who has lived in Arkansas since she has been a little girl. She used to be really religious, but after being opened up to human rights, and mostly women rights, she has taken a step back and tried to analyze everything to decide on what she can really identify as part of her.

Tales /märchen

The Drop Bears of Camp Orkila

Artist's rendition of a drop bear

Artists rendition of a drop bear

The summer camp councilor describes the legend of the Drop Bears at Camp Orkila, a traditional overnight summer camp on Orcus Island, WA.

When I was in middle school I went to Camp Orkila three summers. And the second time I was there, we had this councilor called Jim who had me completely convinced that drop bears are real.

Drop bears are a dangerous cousin of the koala bear. Jim described them as looking like koalas except with razor-sharp teeth. They live in trees and at night they drop onto your head, knocking up unconscious. Then they eat you. And he wore this skate helmet at night for protection. He warned us not to leave the cabins at night without a flashlight and he said even with a flashlight we still might be eaten. 

The source explained that the story was that the bears had been brought to the island by the Seattle Zoo in the 1930s after the zoo couldn’t contain them. The helmet is what convinced the source that the councilor wasn’t lying. After all, why would he bring a helmet and wear it every night if the threat wasn’t real.

All the other boys in our cabin didn’t believe Jim at all. They knew he was them but I totally bought it and I was really convinced and I would argue with them about it.

Well long story short, last summer I was the lead Grey Wolves councilor at Orkila—councilor for boys aged ten to thirteenand I brought my bicycle helmet and I told them all about drop bears.

Did they believe you?

[laughs] Well… they said that they did not but I know I scared some of them.

From internet research, it’s clear that drop bears are usually are typically an Australian story. Typically, Australians tell foreigners about drop bears as a prank. The drop bears at Camp Orkila function exactly the same way. The camp councilors and experienced campers are in on the joke and they try to trick newcomers. Because original camp councilor brought a helmet with him a prop, it’s possible that he heard about drop bears on the internet or elsewhere and planned to bring it to Camp Orikila. The camp is an ideal place to spread folklore of this kind because the campers are away from home in an unfamiliar place without access to cell service or the internet, making them much more likely to believe. As with other pranks, the drop bears story at Orkila can also serve as an initiation, or a mild hazing of newcomers.

Tales /märchen

Le Heron

The following French fairytale was told by my old high school French teacher:

First in French:

Un jour sur ses longs pieds allait je ne sais où
Le Héron au long bec emmanché d’un long cou.
Il côtoyait une rivière.
L’onde était transparente ainsi qu’aux plus beaux jours ;
Ma commère la Carpe y faisait mille tours
Avec le Brochet son compère.
Le Héron en eût fait aisément son profit :
Tous approchaient du bord, l’Oiseau n’avait qu’à prendre ;
Mais il crut mieux faire d’attendre
Qu’il eût un peu plus d’appétit.
Il vivait de régime, et mangeait à ses heures.
Après quelques moments l’appétit vint ; l’Oiseau
S’approchant du bord vit sur l’eau
Des Tanches qui sortaient du fond de ces demeures.
Le mets ne lui plut pas ; il s’attendait à mieux,
Et montrait un goût dédaigneux
Comme le Rat du bon Horace.
Moi des Tanches ? dit-il, moi Héron que je fasse
Une si pauvre chère ? Et pour qui me prend-on ?
La Tanche rebutée, il trouva du Goujon.
Du Goujon ! c’est bien là le dîné d’un Héron !
J’ouvrirais pour si peu le bec ! aux Dieux ne plaise !
Il l’ouvrit pour bien moins : tout alla de façon
Qu’il ne vit plus aucun Poisson.
La faim le prit ; il fut tout heureux et tout aise
De rencontrer un Limaçon.
Ne soyons pas si difficiles :
Les plus accommodants, ce sont les plus habiles :
On hasarde de perdre en voulant trop gagner.
Gardez-vous de rien dédaigner ;
Surtout quand vous avez à peu près votre compte.
Bien des gens y sont pris ; ce n’est pas aux Hérons
Que je parle ; écoutez, humains, un autre conte ;
Vous verrez que chez vous j’ai puisé ces leçons.


And in English:

One day,─no matter when or where,─

A long-legg’d heron chanced to fare

By a certain river’s brink,

With his long, sharp beak

Helved on his slender neck;

“Twas a fish-spear, you might think.

The water was clear and still,

The carp and the pike there at will

Pursued their silent fun,

Turning up, ever and anon,

A golden side to the sun.

With ease might the heron have made

Great profits in his fishing trade.

So near came the scaly fry,

They might be caught by the passer-by.

But he thought he better might

Wait for a better appetite─

For he lived by rule, and could not eat,

Except at his hours, the best of meat.

Anon his appetite return’d once more;

So, approaching again the shore,

He saw some tench taking their leaps,

Now and then, from their lowest deeps.

With as dainty a taste as Horace’s rat,

He turn’d away from such food as that.

“What, tench for a heron! poh!

I scorn the thought, and let them go.”

The tench refused, there came a gudgeon;

“For all that,” said the bird, “I budge on.

I’ll ne’er open my beak, if the gods please,

For such mean little fishes as these.”

He did it for less;

For it came to pass,

That not another fish could he see;

And, at last, so hungry was he,

That he thought it of some avail

To find on the bank a single snail.

Such is the sure result

Of being too difficult.

Would you be strong and great,

Learn to accommodate.

Get what you can, and trust for the rest;

The whole is oft lost by seeking the best.

Above all things beware of disdain;

Where, at most, you have little to gain.

The people are many that make

Every day this sad mistake.

‘Tis not for the herons I put this case,

Ye featherless people, of human race.

─List to another tale as true,

And you’ll hear the lesson brought home with you


Analysis: My old teacher first heard this fable when on a French exchange program in high school.  Since hearing it, she has shared it with her daughters and every French class she has taught at the high school.  It spotlights the theme of taking good things as they come to you rather than waiting for something better.  This piece of folklore has special significance to me because I heard it from my French teacher rather than finding it on a website or in a book where you can find the fable today along with any similar tales.  The Heron is a classic example of a French fable because of the use of animal characters and inclusion of a moral to the story.  In my opinion I think it is better written and easier to listen to in French but translating the fable to English has helped the popularity of this particular fable grow.

Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

The Cook and the Cowhands

There was a joke that my grandpa used to tell. It’s a little off color but not so bad. But he told the story, and then my mom told the story, and I haven’t really told it but I can tell it to you so you can hear it. It’s a little bit racist but you can take the race out of it and it works just the same. This is a story that my grandfather’s older brother and father told him. So there was a ranch in the West somewhere, probably Colorado or California. There were cowhands, and they were working all day on the ranch, and they had a cook named Wong. They thought they would play some practical jokes on him. When Wong was sleeping, the cowhands they would tie his shoes together with lots of knots. The next day they waited for a reactions, but nothing happened—he just fixed his shoes and didn’t mention it. The next day they put thumbtacks on his seat. They waited to see his reaction, and when he sat down he kind of grimaced, but just swept them away and didn’t really care. The next day they either short-sheeted his bed or soaked his sheets with water—I don’t really remember. They waited for a reaction, and no reaction. So they finally decided to talk to him. “So Wong, you’ve been a really good sport, tying your shoes in knots and putting thumbtacks on your seat, and messing with your sheets, so we won’t do that to you anymore.” In a different voice; “You no more put knots in my shoes?” “No, no more knots in your shoes.” “You no more put tackies on my seat?” “No, no more tacks on your seat.” “You no more soak my sheets in water?” “No, we won’t soak your sheets in water anymore.” “Good, well I no more pee pee in your soup.”

This story is important to the informant because of its history, and it having been passed down for multiple generations. It reminds him of how different the world used to be regarding the treatment of minorities, and their portrayal.

I find it interesting that the racist aspect of this narrative isn’t actually essential to the story– it could be told just about the same, without making stereotypical voices or mentioning the races of the characters.

Tales /märchen

Gatto Mammone

Gatto Mammone, meaning Mammon cat, is one of the creatures of myth in Italy. Long time ago there was a woman who had two daughters, one is ugly and one is very beautiful. Surprisingly, the woman loved the ugly daughter more and they were jealous of another daughters’s beauty. One day they decided to sent the beautiful daughter to a curse fairy to ask for a sieve. On her way to the castle of the fairy, she met a man who helped her and told her how to behave to find the object she sough after. In the castle, she must help the cats to do housework. The Gatto Mammone, who lives in the castle, is thankful and gives her what she asked for, along with a warning: on her way back home, she must not turn at the call of the donkey, but only when she hears a rooster. As she does so, a beautiful star is magically embedded in her forehead. After she came back, her sister also wanted to get the beautiful star so she went to the castle as well. However, she was shunned away by the cats. On her way back, she turns at the bray of the ass, and a donkey’s tail is magically embedded in her forehead.

Tales /märchen

The rooster from Barcelos

Original Script: There is a legend about the rooster from Barcelos. Barcelos is a small town in Portugal, and one day there was a crime happened in the town but people could not find the criminal. Later a pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela was suspected by the police. He was caught by the police and nobody believe in his innocence. Finally, he was condemned to death by hanging. The pilgrim then argued for his innocence by saying that, “My innocence is as certain as the roasted rooster will crow three times if I should be hung.” Everybody laughed at him because the rooster was roasted and it was dead. However, when the man was to be hung, the roasted rooster stood up and began to crow. People then believed in his innocence and set him free. The rooster from Barcelos later represents honesty and trust in Portugal.

Background information: The rooster from Barcelos is a mascot in Portugal. It is a rooster with lively colors that appears on souvenirs such as the t-shirt, keychain, and tea cups.



Tales /märchen

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Interviewee: It starts with a boy who tricks nearby villagers into thinking wolves are attacking his flock. When the wolf actually appears, the boy calls for help but the villagers believe that this is another false alarm…and in the end, the sheep gets eaten by the wolf.

Interviewer: What does this mean to you?

Interviewee: okay, so when I was little I had a really rebellious attitude and was always looking for trouble. So that really made me stop and think twice before I did anything so I would make sure I didn’t regret it. it’s significance is that that story always stuck with me and it shaped how I go about approaching things


For another version of this fable, see: Adams, Elizabeth, Daniel Howarth, and Aesop. The boy who cried wolf. London: Franklin Watts, 2015. Print.

Tales /märchen

The Farmer

Interviewee: Once upon a time there was an elderly farmer. One day, his only horse ran away, That evening, all the neighbors came around and said, “Oh, we are so sorry to hear about your horse. That’s too bad.”

The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day, the horse came back, brining seven wild horses with it. That evening, the neighbors came and said, “What a great turn of events. You have eight horses now. You’re so lucky!

The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The day after that, the farmer’s son tried to break one of these wild horses. He was thrown off and broke his leg. That night, the neighbor’s said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

The farmer said, “maybe.”

The following day, the recruiting officers came to the farm to draft people into the army. They rejected the father’s son, due to his condition. That night, the neighbors returned and said, “Your son doesn’t have to go to war. Isn’t that great?”

And the farmer said, “maybe.”

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

Interviewee: My friend gave it to me at a retreat, it’s important because I know I don’t have to worry about the bad things that come my way because God will always bring good fortune.

After thoughts: Christians believe that God has a plan for his people. They believe that humans are rewarded with eternal life if they believe in his grace. They pray to thank God for everything He has given and believe that He will take care of his people.

Tales /märchen

Mullah Nasruddin

Informant: My friend’s grandfather is originally from Tehran, Iran. He moved to California as an adult but retold some of his favorite stories he heard from his parents as a child.

Original Script: “Mullah Nasruddin is a character who appears to be a joke but he tells the truth through satire and stuff like that. so, at times in some stories he’s hilarious, in some stories he’s an idiot, in some stories he’s wiser beyond belief. So it’s the same character but he goes through different iterations, so he’s definitely a folk character in Persian culture.”

Context of the Performance: Over dinner, family members exchanged old folk stories they remember from Iran.

Thoughts about the Piece: This is an introduction to the trickster character “Mullah Nasruddin”, who recurs in many Persian folktales. He is an interesting character in that he does not fit any universal archetype, but rather fills what ever character type the story needs, whether it be clever, dull, or anything in between.

Citation: for more Mullah Nasruddin tales, see Suresha, Ron Jackson. The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin: Stories, Jests, and Donkey Tales of the Beloved Persian Folk Hero. Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe, 2011. Print.

folk metaphor
Tales /märchen

Mullah’s Donkey in a Well

Informant: My friend’s mother told this story as one of her favorite Mullah Nasruddin narratives, saying she cannot remember where she originally heard it but she always thought it smart of Mullah.

Original Script: “A donkey falls into a well. And then everyone in town, they were thinking how they can actually rescue the donkey and no one can think of anything. And Mullah came and said if you put dirt on it. And everyone was accusing him, “why? it’s going to be buried under the dirt!” And it’s the smartest thing because if they were putting in the dirt and filling the hole so he could actually walk up. That was the smartest actually idea that he had at the time.”

Context of the Performance: Over dinner, family members exchanged old folk stories they remember from Iran.

Thoughts about the Piece: I liked this piece; it’s a good example of Mullah while being clever. I mostly enjoyed how excited the storyteller was, as it was clear this is her favorite story.