USC Digital Folklore Archives / Tales /märchen
Tales /märchen

Aesop Tales

Interviewer: What is being performed?


Informant: We have our own series of ‘Aesop Tale’ like folk stories and stories with moral lessons. By Jacqueline Jung


Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?


 Informant: I like these pieces because having exposure to Western and Eastern stories- it’s so interesting to see the cross over of  ‘moral lessons’ (air quotes) or the emphasis of compassion or community. I learned of these stories when I moved to Korea.


Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?


Informant: South Korea. (but born and raised in the US)


Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?


Informant: Not tied to a specific religion but they are Korean folktales.


Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?


Informant: When I was living in Korea, moved there in 2006 and when I was learning the language, reading various folktale books.


Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?


Informant: I think very similar to Aesop. They were developed as stories for kids to be compassionate and hardworking.


Interviewer: What does it mean to you?


Informant: They are very sweet stories. I find them particularly fascinating because they have really similar aspects with tales like Cinderella, The Ant and the Grasshopper and other Western Folktales.


Context of the performance- conversation with classmate before class


Thoughts about the piece- Reading a children’s book to learn a language is common and this exposure to cultural beliefs seems to have another purpose, to teach about societal values through story at a young age or to an immigrant. You can read a version of the Korean Ant and the Grasshopper here:


Tales /märchen

There Was a King

“Ek thaa raja.  Ek thee rani.  Dono margaye.  Khatam kahaani.”

That is a folk story in Hindi which roughly translates to:

“There was a king.  There was a queen.  They both died.  End of story.”


“When I was young I always wanted to hear a bedtime story before bed, but on nights when my parents didn’t feel like reading me a real one they would tell me that terrible story instead and then leave before I could ask for another one.  I hated it growing up, but now I do the same thing all the time to my little sister whenever she asks me for a bedtime story.”


What I especially like about this piece of folklore is how quickly it was passed down from the parents to the informant and then from the informant to the little sister.  It shows a very clear lineage of the folklore, which is what folklore’s all about.  There’s also a very unique and self-aware sense of humor to this piece that I find really charming and wish I saw in more pieces of folklore today.

Tales /märchen

The Crow and the Pot

“So, there’s a crow, and he’s really thirsty, and he’s flying around looking for water, and it’s a hot summer day.  So he comes across this pot, and because pots usually have water in them, he flies down to the pot.  So the crow finds water in the pot, but he can’t safely reach it, so he thinks about how he can get the water safely.  So he finds some pebbles around the pot and decides to start throwing them into the pot, slowly raising the water level of the pot until he can safely drink from it.”


What I found really fascinating about this folk story wasn’t just the story itself, but the fact that the informant didn’t have anything to say regarding the moral or meaning behind the folk story.  This is a great example of folk stories being passed down but the meaning being lost from generation to generation.  The meaning that I took away from it as a listener is that intelligence should be valued just as highly as strength, because, in the end, the crow didn’t get to drink the water because of his strength but because of his intelligence.

For another version of this folk story, see Aesop’s Fables “The Crow and The Pitcher”.


Tales /märchen

The Monkey and the Wedge

“So this is a classic Panchatantra story my mother would read to me as a kid.  So one day, a worker was cutting a big log in half, but when lunchtime came and he wasn’t finished cutting the log in half, he put a wedge between the two sides of the log so that it wouldn’t close up.  But then a monkey came down to the log to play, and once he got curious about the wedge, he pulled the wedge out of the log while he was between the two sides of the log that the worker was cutting, and now, with the wedge gone, the log closed up and crushed the monkey.  It’s kind of a dark story, because I think that would kill the monkey, but I don’t ever remember him dying in the story when I was growing up, so I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t.”


This is a really interesting story because the informant is right: the log closing up would definitely kill the monkey, but because the informant was a child when his mother read it to him before bed, his mother most likely left out that part, as it would be hard for a child to fall asleep after hearing that.  I think this speaks to the inherent nature of folklore, that it has multiplicity and variation.  Folklore can go through countless adjustments as time wears on, and a mother adjusting a story for their child so it’s more kid-friendly is just one of the many ways folklore could undergo change.

Tales /märchen

The Jackal and the Drum

“So there’s this Panchatantra story my mother read me when I was younger about a Jackal.  So this Jackal was wondering this field looking for food when he heard this terrible and loud and scary noise.  The Jackal wanted to run away, and did for a little bit, until he realized that he should find the source of the noise before he decides if he should be scared of it.  So, the Jackal takes all the courage he has and approaches the source of the noise, and finds out it’s just some branches scraping against a drum.  And right next to the drum that the Jackal was so scared of was a ton of food and water for the Jackal that he never would have found if he had run.  My mother always told this story to encourage me to be more brave like the Jackal was, and I really appreciate her for doing that for me.”


This is a great piece of folklore because the informant not only remembers the story extremely well, but also remembers the meaning behind the story.  I think the meaning behind the folklore is one of the most important parts of folklore, and whenever I see that an informant remembers only the folklore story but not the meaning or lesson behind it, it saddens me.  So, naturally, this piece of folklore really uplifted me because the informant took the lesson behind the folklore and really held onto it tightly, something I think that should be done more often.

Tales /märchen

Bear in the Cave

Background: D. Sabela Grimes is a 59-year-old man living in Los Angeles, CA. He is a dance professor at USC. Originally, he intended on going to law school, but decided to change his career path to become a dance teacher.

Original script: “so, um, there are two best friends in the woods… and one of them was like ‘yo – because that’s how people talk in the wood – do you hear that sound?” They turn around and see a, um, bear behind them. And instantly, one friend turns to the other and goes “yo, I’ll distract the bear while you book it to that cave near us. GO.” So they, um, split off and one friend, um, climbs up a tree and is waving his hands and like doing these crazy thangs to get the bear’s attention. Um, so the friend looks up and sees his friend running in and out of the cave. So he’s like “yo, what are you doing?? I said I’d distract the bear while you get to a safe place!! Why the flip are you out of the safe place?” His friend keeps running in then out then in then out and the bear’s sitting there like “What the flip?”. He just couldn’t understand what his friend was doing so he goes “yo, why aren’t you listening to what I’m saying? Get in the cave and be safe!” His friend yells back and goes, “I’m doing this because there’s a bear inside the cave!”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: His mother used this story to teach Professor Grimes about how people always have unseen situations and you must be empathetic at all times.

Thoughts about the piece: I actually really love this piece because Professor Grimes related it to one of the students in our class who hadn’t been showing up to class. The student shared that he decided to drop pre-med over spring break as a senior and pursue a job straight out of college. So, he had been missing class to go to job interviews and job fairs. Professor Grimes told the class that this was a lesson for everybody – that every person is going through something in their lives and as a professor, he doesn’t just want to be an authority figure. He wants to create real, human relationships. This really touched me because he, as a professor, truly cared for his students. I felt loved and respected in his class.

Tales /märchen

Russian kolobok story

Alexander is a 20 year old student at USC. He is currently a freshman, and is old for his grade because he spent an extra year in Russia, where he grew up his entire life. He said life there was very different and while he is good at English, he still struggles slightly as he is very new to the country. When I asked if there were any stories he learned growing up this is how he replied:

“There was a grandpa and grandma and they didn’t have children, the grandma decided to make kolobok, which is literally a round piece of bread, and made him alive, she baked him, he got bored, and she put him in the window, and he jumped out the window and went to the forest. And so he’s walking through the forest, and he first meets a rabbit, and the rabbit wants to eat him, and he’s like “oh I ran away from my grandma and my grandpa and I’m gonna run away from you” then he runs away. Then meets a wolf, and the wolf wants to eat him and says “I’m gonna give you a cookie come here” and then he says “I ran away from my grandma and grandpa, I’m gonna run away from you” so he runs away. Then he meets a fox, and the kolobok says “I ran away from my grandma and grandma, I will run away from you” and the fox says “I can’t hear you well, or see you well, can you come closer to me” and the kolobok comes closer and the fox eats him”

Alexander said this was the first story he learned, in fact he says it is the first story your mother tells you and he learned it when he was very young. He takes it now as a lesson to never run away from home, or trust the sly fox. I have never heard this story, but again within this story is the prominence of the number 3. The kolobok repeats the “I ran away from my grandma and grandma, I will run away from you” phrase 3 times before the story ends, and I see this in many stories all over. I also think this story has a good message and find it interesting that Alexander said that “this is the first story your mother tells you” as if she has to.

Tales /märchen

The Woodcutter and the Angel

The 22-year-old informant was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. at a very young age. She chose to share this story because it is commonly told in Korean culture.

“So there’s this woodcutter, and he’s in the woods and he walks to find some water and he comes down to this lake and sees all these angels bathing in the lake. So he keeps coming back day after day to watch these angels bath, and he notices that when they bath, they take off their wings and all their clothes and everything. So one day, he just picks one of the angels and grabs her wings so she can’t fly back up to the heavens when all the other angels go. So she’s lost there and crying and he comes up to her and is like, ‘Hey do you wanna come home with me and be my wife?’ and she says yes. Basically the woodcutter had found out to take the wings from this old fortune-teller, so after the angel takes the woodcutter home, he goes back to the fortune-teller and is like ‘Ok now what do I do?’ and the fortune-teller’s like, ‘Make sure to not give her back her wings until you have more than 2 children’ and the woodcutter’s like, ‘Ok sure.’ So basically they live together and they’re happy and they have 2 babies, and he remembers that the fortune-teller said to wait until after 3 children, but he’s like, ‘Eh whatever, I really love this person and she loves me,’ so he gives them back to her and she puts them on and takes one kid in each arm and flies back up to the heavens. So then the woodcutter is left alone without children.”

I found this story to be quite sad, despite the wrongdoing of the woodcutter in the first place. If there’s a lesson, I believe that it’s “What goes around, comes around,” for the most part. Sure, the woodcutter and the fallen angel were happy and had a family together, but that was all because he stole her wings so she couldn’t fly back up to the heavens. So, in the end, the woodcutter kind of got what he deserved.

Tales /märchen

The Ungrateful Tiger

The 22-year-old informant was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. at a very young age. She chose to share this story because they are commonly told in Korean culture.

“So basically this tiger falls into this deep, deep pit. And he calls out for help and this rabbit comes, and the tiger’s like ‘Please help me! Please help me out of here!’ and the rabbit’s like, ‘No if I do, you’ll eat me.’ And the tiger’s like, ‘No no, I promise I won’t eat you!’ and the rabbit’s like ‘Are you sure? Do you promise?” and the tiger’s like, ‘Yes, I promise,’ so the rabbit agrees to help him. So he throws down this long vine and he the tiger uses it to climb back up. And when he gets back up, he’s like, ‘Ok now I’m going to eat you,’ and the rabbit’s like ‘Hey that’s not cool! You can’t do that. Let’s ask someone else their opinion,’ and the tiger’s like, ‘Fine, let’s ask someone else what they think.’ So this other animal–I forget what kind of animal it is–but some other animal comes along and is like, ‘Woah what’s going on here?’ and the rabbit’s like, ‘This tiger’s trying to eat me!’ and tries to explain what happened. And then, the rabbit’s like, ‘I know, I’ll just show you what happened. Tiger, can you show us what happened?’ And the tiger’s like ‘Yeah sure.’ and he jumps in the pit, and then they leave.”

I find this piece to be quite funny, but what I find interesting about it is the lesson to not be cruel or too foolish, as it will cause problems in one’s life, just like what happened to the tiger.

Tales /märchen

The Frog Princess

The 26-year-old informant was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. at a young age. During his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, he was a teaching assistant for a Russian folklore class and found these pieces of folklore to be particularly interesting or representative of Russian culture.

“So there’s this prince named Prince Ivan who has two older brothers. Their dad, the King tells them that they have to find wives and they must do so by shooting arrows in different directions to find their brides. The first two brothers shoot their arrows and they land in the houses of noble and wealthy merchants. Ivan shoots his arrow, and it lands in the mouth of a frog that lives in a swamp. Ivan gets upset and is like, “How am I supposed to marry a frog??” but the King says he must because that was the agreement and he must meet is fate.

So Ivan marries the frog and his brothers marry their beautiful brides, and after, the King tells his sons that he wants each of their wives to bake him some bread for the next day. Ivan is freaking out and goes home and his wife, the frog, asks him what’s wrong, so he tells her what his dad just asked of him and his brothers. The frog tells Ivan not to worry and that she’ll take care of it. She tells him “morning is wiser than the evening,” and so Ivan goes to bed. That night, the frog takes off her frog skin and turns into a beautiful maiden and bakes the bread. The next day, the King is impressed and likes the frog’s bread best.

He then asks the three wives to make him a full silk carpet, and that night, the frog does the same thing and makes the best carpet. The next day, there’s a ball at the palace and wants all the princes to come with their wives. Once again, Ivan is sad because how can he go to a ball with a frog? But the frog tells him to go to the ball alone, and when he hears thunder and the earth starts shaking, just tell the other guests not to worry and that it’s just your frog coming in a little box. Ivan does this.

At the ball, the frog performs other magical feats. One thing she does it pour some water into her left sleeve and bones into her right sleeve. So as she dances, she swings her left sleeve out and creates a lake. She swings her right sleeve out and swans appear on the lake. The other wives are understandably jealous and try to do the same thing, except since they have no magical powers,  they just spray water and bones at the King and the guests.

Meanwhile, Prince Ivan sneaks away back home and finds the frog skin lying on the ground. Since he wants his wife to stay in human form, he burns the skin. When his wife gets home, she’s like, “What did you do? If you had just been patient for one more night, I would’ve been free from this curse, but now you must find me 33 kingdoms away in the castle of Koshei the Deathless,” who’s like a major evil figure in Russian folklore.

So Ivan sets off on his quest, and he first sees an old man. He tells the old man of his misfortune, the old man says, “Why’d you burn the frog skin?” But he decideds to take pity on him and gives him a magic ball of yarn. and tells him to follow it to find the right path. Along the way he sees a bear, which he wants to kill, but the bear speaks to him and says “Don’t kill me! I’ll be useful to you in the future,” so Ivan takes pity on him.

Next, he sees a duck, and wants to kill it, but the duck also asks him to take pity, so Ivan takes pity again. Next, he sees a rabbit, and the same thing happens. Then, he comes across a fish trapped in a shallow pond, and the same thing happens.

So then, he reaches the home of a witch named Baba Yaga, who lives in a magical house on chicken legs. He tells the house to turn to face him, and it does, so he’s able to enter. Baba Yaga can be helpful or sometimes a cannibal, so she’s like, “What are you doing here, young man?” and he tells her she’s got bad manners because she’s asking a guest questions before offering a meal and a bath, which is really representative of Russian culture. So Baba Yaga then provides both, and then Ivan tells her of his dilemma.

Baba Yaga’s possibly the only creature that knows where to find Koshei’s death, which is on the tip of a needle. The needle is in an egg, and the egg is in a duck, and the duck is inside a rabbit, and the rabbit is in a big chest, chained to the top of a tall oak, which is hidden. So, Baba Yaga tells Ivan where to find the oak.

When Ivan gets there, he doesn’t know how to get to the chest. Suddenly, the bear he spared shows up and destroys the oak, and breaks the chest open. Out of the chest springs a rabbit, which runs away, but the rabbit that Ivan spared appears and kills it. Out of that rabbit, a duck flies into the sky, but the duck that Ivan spares kills it. Then, the egg with the needle falls into the sea, but the fish that Ivan saved retrieves it from the bottom of the sea. Ivan then breaks the needle, and now Koshei is mortal, so he defeats him, getting his wife back and living happily ever after.”


For another version of this fairytale, see Vasilisa the Beautiful. Dir. Vladimir Pekar. Soyuzmultfilm, 1977. Film.