Childhood
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Boy that Cried Wolf

Informant: “When [my children] were growing up, sometimes they would be upstairs, and I would be in the living room minding my own business, and suddenly there would be this frantic screaming from upstairs. And I would run up the stairs and I would go ‘what’s wrong?! is everything ok?! are you hurt?!’ and it would turn out that they just wanted to ask me a question or some little thing like that. And I would of course get mad at them because they just scared the crap our of me. And I would tell them this story about the boy that cried wolf and how they shouldn’t be yelling their heads off like there’s some emergency if there’s nothing wrong.”

Collector: And how does the story go?

Informant: “Well, the way I would tell the story is that there was this shepherd boy in this village somewhere, and he was in charge of watching the sheep. So he takes the sheep to the pasture and watches them, but he found it super boring though. So he says to himself, ‘I know, I’ll go run into town and yell “Wolf! Wolf!”‘, and so he runs into town and yells ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ and all the villagers run out to the pasture because there’s a wolf, only the shepherd boy bursts out laughing because he knows there’s no sheep. And he does the same thing the next day where he runs into town and yells “Wolf! Wolf!” and everyone runs out to the pasture and he starts laughing at them. Then the third day, there actually is a wolf, and when he runs into town to get help, everyone thought he was joking, and the wolf ends up eating all the sheep. And the moral was supposed to be that a liar can never be trusted. And I would tell this story to my kids and say that once they start yelling for no reason, I can’t ever trust them again. Actually [laughs] I remember I did exactly the same thing growing up, and my mother would tell me the same story.”

Informant is a middle aged mother of three who lives in the suburbs in the Midwestern United States. She identifies as of “American” heritage, which she bases on her admission that she never particularly looked into her family’s European heritage.

Collector Analysis: This is a relatively common variation of a well known story. In this case, it was used as a metaphor in order to teach a lesson the the informant’s children how to properly behave. These sorts of stories are important as they provide children with rules as to what to do and not do, they provide a memorable context for the lesson so that the children never forget, and they provide a clear depiction of the results of not following the moral of the story.

For an additional version of this story, see citation:
T. Ross, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, 1991.

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