Tag Archives: Children’s tale

The Princess and the Pea

Informant KK is a USC freshman originally from Pasadena California. KK first heard this tale as a young child from his mother.  


“So there’s this prince in a castle who still has his mother and father, the king and queen, who tell him he needs to find a princess to marry. Women from all over the kingdom offer their hand to become the prince’s wife, but the queen has a test for them. She places a pea under their mattress to see if they’ll notice it, and none of them do. Because none of them do, the queen says that none of them can marry the prince. Then, one night, a girl wearing rags knocks on the castle’s gates in a heavy thunderstorm, and the queen is hesitant to invite her in. But, the prince is adamant that she be let into the castle because it is unfair to let her be outside in the storm. So they let her in and she asks for a place to stay. The prince allows this, so the queen, wanting to make sure the girl can’t pass the test, places 100 mattresses on a bed with the pea at the very bottom, and says to the girl, ‘This is your bed for the night.’ The next morning, when they have all woken up, the queen asks the girl how she slept, and she said, ‘I slept terribly, there was something under the mattress that was bothering me so much, and when I lifted up the mattress, there was a pea there!’ By the order of the game, she became the princess and married the prince. I like how it’s kind of absurd, like how could someone feasibly sleep on a mountain of 100 mattresses, for one thing, and secondly, how would they be able to sense a pea at the very bottom?” 


“Some of the variations of the story are like, the prince tests them, or sometimes there’s no competition, it’s just that the queen wants to test her. Sometimes the number of mattresses changes. I believe there’s one version where the queen first tried one mattress, then she passed the test, then the queen asked her to try again on 100 mattresses. My mom told me the first version, and I learned later about the other variations. I believe she told me a very simple version because I was very small.”

As an additional note, the Princess and the Pea is known as ATU 704 from the Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type index.


This tale has many characteristics from Axel Olrik’s 1921 book, Epic Laws of Folk Narrative research, such as the limitations to two characters to a scene — either the lady and the prince, the lady and the queen, or the queen and the prince — and the repetition of threes, presumably in the number of potential brides which offered their hand in the challenge, which is a common motif in tales. Presumably, the tale carries the moral that a person is not defined by their financial status. The queen wanted to find a “real” and “worthy” princess, so she made it difficult for the lady with the rags to win the challenge, yet she ultimately won in the end, showing she had the value all along inside of her heart — a good lesson to teach a child.

Children’s tales – Bird who poops gold


Once upon a time there was a magical bird who lived in the mountains. Every time her droppings fell to the ground, they turned into gold. A hunter was passing by and he noticed these droppings, and he wanted the gold for himself so he could be rich. He set a trap for the bird in the tree. The bird did not notice the trap. She was caught and was upset with herself for being careless.

The hunter walked away with the bird, thinking he could sell the gold droppings and get rich. But the next day, he got scared. He thought that if he becomes rich so suddenly, people will get suspicious and accuse him of all kinds of things. So the hunter decided he would give the bird to the king as a gift. The hunter went to the palace and told the king how the bird pooped gold. The king’s ministers did not believe the hunter and made fun of him. The king punished the hunter for lying and ordered the bird to be set free. The bird flew away and sat on the gates of the palace. That’s when the ministers saw the bird’s gold droppings. They realized the hunter was telling the truth. The ministers sent many hunters all over the kingdom to capture this bird. No one was successful. The magical bird had learnt her lesson and was always careful.


JG is 59 years old and my mother. She grew up in India with a very religious Hindu family, before immigrating to the USA. She passed down this story to me when I was a child. She had heard it from her parents as well. Though not a religious folktale, the story of the bird is often told to children in India, to reinforce morals at an early age.


This story somewhat echoes ancient Indian history – putting a heavy emphasis on hunting in the mountains and the woods, as well as featuring an interaction between a civilian and royals. It shows how India’s days as a monarchy affect its culture today. Furthermore, it instills morals important to Indian culture in young children, teaching audiences not to steal or be greedy. It teaches children that if you take what does not belong to you, it will never stay with you. Plus, through the bird’s perspective, a second moral of the story is to think through things and be aware of your surroundings. These universal themes make the story resonate. The fact that this fable is on the lengthier side, yet its plot is compelling and keeps you wondering what’s happening next, makes it a great one to pass down from generation to generation.

The Baba Yaga

The interlocutor (MT) is a friend of the interviewer’s (INT). She took a class on Russian literature at her university and learned about the Baba Yaga through her professor’s telling of the legend as well as through conducting her own research.

DESCRIPTION: (told over text)
(MT): “So the Baba Yaga is kinda a mixed figure in slavic folklore bc in the stories I’ve personally encountered, she’s a witch with cannibalistic tendencies (and a preference for children) who lives with her two other sisters (also named Baba Yaga, think Macbeth and the three witches). She lives in the woods and she’s depicted as super ugly and repulsive and often with reptilian traits.”

(INT): “Sorry, what kind of reptile?”

(MT): “A crocodile!!! So in the late 17th century, early 18th century, she was also used in these things called a lubok, which was this wooden tablet to tell stories and the ones that had the Baba Yaga were used to relay political messages and depicted her as a crocodile.”

(INT): “Okay, thanks.”

(MT): “Yeah, totally! in general, she’s a villain (hello! she eats children) and a scary figure who’s a hag, super ugly and lives in the woods, away from the “civilized” people in the cities and villages. But, like, some stories (like, later works of Russian lit) complicate her morality by making Baba Yaga more of a guiding figure who has wisdom from her age. That’s it, I think.”

Final Thoughts/Observations:
While I’ve definitely heard of the Baba Yaga before, it was interesting to hear about this folk tale from someone who’s studied her in more depth and tracked her through different pieces of Russian literature! The Baba Yaga is interesting because she’s another example of the stories people across different cultures tell children to scare them into good behavior. I noticed how MT’s telling of the Baba Yaga falls into the category of “redeemable villains” that we discussed in class. Overall, she’s clearly a fascinating and memorable figure in Slavic folklore that’s well-known for a reason.

Anansi and the Sky God

The interlocutor (RS) is an African-American woman whose parents told her this story as a child.

DESCRIPTION: (told through video call)
(RS): “I know that there is an African folktale about this spider called Anansi basically to teach children not to make bad decisions. Does that work?”

(INT): “Yeah, that’s good.”

(RS): “‘Kay, good. So the Anansi is basically this spider, right? Right. There’s a lot of stories about him, because he was this trickster guy, like, like, like… Loki from Marvel, I guess? Yeah. So there used to be this sky god dude and one day Anansi was like, “Hey buddy, I want all the stories people to tell about you to be about me, yeah? What do I gotta do?”

And the sky god was like, “I don’t know, my guy. Prove you’re worthy and stuff,” and then he was like, “Do these THREE tasks and you can get my stories, but these are also mad difficult, ‘kay?'”

(INT): “What were the tasks?”

(RS): “Relax, woman, I’m getting there. So the tasks were like… ‘get me a whole swarm of bees,’ and ‘bring me a python,’ and ‘get me a leopard,’ just casual stuff that you’d buy at the grocery, yeah? Yeah.” (She laughs.)

“So Anansi managed to get the bees with like, a gourd and some honey, I don’t really know, and then like he tricked the snake into coming with him, and then he bamboozled that silly little leopard because Anansi is a bitch.”

(INT): (laughing) “Okay.”

(RS): “So after KIDNAPPING these poor creatures, he goes up to the sky god and is like, “Bitch, give me my stories.” And the sky god’s like, “Ugh, fine. Here you go.” And that’s what happened! All the sky god’s stories about his greatness and stuff went to that bitch-ass spider. Annoying little guy. He’s smart though. I guess.”

RS’s interpretation of this tale was a lot of fun to listen to! I’m still unclear about whether or not there’s some kind of moral to this story. I’m not very familiar with a lot of African folklore, but the story of Anansi definitely reminds me of other stories about tricksters that I know of, such as the Norse god Loki (as RS mentioned) or even fox figures in short stories and tales.

The Tale of Salmon Boy

Main Piece:

The way that I heard it— so I heard different versions of it over time, like all my teachers told me slightly different stories. Um one of the field trips we went on in elementary school was going to the salmon hatchery which is the place where you hatch salmon…as I’m sure you could tell by the name (laughing). So we heard the story there as well. But basically what I heard the story was that there was this young boy who was not very respectful to the salmon. He would like spear them and just for fun he would like… torture the fish basically and just treat them horribly and was not respectful of the all of the things that having salmon meant, for their family, for their society, for him and he just was not was not aware. If he was aware he didn’t care, he was just a really selfish dude. And the gods got angry at the way he was treating their gifts to their society basically, and to teach him a lesson they turned him into a salmon. And he was living with the salmon and living their way of life and, um, going through the process of, you know, laying eggs in the river and going to the ocean, and going back to the river and he befriended the salmon and gained a lot of respect for their way of life. 

And this is where things get a little fuzzy and in the details of the different versions I heard was— one version I heard was that once he gained respect for the salmon, he befriended this other salmon that had taken him in and was like, making sure he was protected because he had no idea what he was doing as a fish… like you would if you were a human and turned into a fish… But there was another boy in the tribe that Salmon Boy knew, and that boy killed the fish he had befriended and was treating the fish horribly. And Salmon Boy was horrified and lost somebody that was very important to him and it, um, changed him and changed the way that he viewed salmon and the world, and having learned his lesson, he was turned back into a human and he was changed forever, you know. He was far more respectful and very careful with the way he interacted with salmon, and he still ate them because it was food, but he did it in a much more respectful way as opposed to actively torturing. 

So that was one version, but I heard another one where instead of it being a friend of Salmon Boy’s that got hurt, it was he himself that got hurt, and so the friend he’d known from the tribe that still remained human speared him instead of the [fish] friend, and treated him horribly and then he, like, you know, turned back into a human. And the other dude was like “oh no!” This is not the proper terminology obviously but that was the gist of it, that then he was treated horribly and then he goes to the salmon and learned his lesson that way. 


My informant, one of my friends, is a 20-year-old USC student from Washington state. Having grown up there her whole life, a significant part of her education from K-12 focused on the history of Washington state with emphasis on the Native groups that live there. She told me that Washington State History was a mandatory graduation required course for her and her peers, where they would learn “a lot about all the elements of their culture, words specific to the Pacific Northwest, so obviously salmon was one of them.” As stated in the main piece, this story was often told to her by various teachers. To my informant, the meaning of the story of Salmon boy was about “being respectful of the environment and being respectful even when you are using it. There are spirits and animals and you have to treat them gently, and not be cruel, and not think that you’re better than anything around you.” 


This story came up after I asked my informant that in one of my previous classes, we studied the Native American groups in the Pacific Northwest, and I told her that I heard a story about Salmon Boy. I asked if she happened to know the story, when she said yes, I asked for the versions she’d heard.


 The story of Salmon Boy is a well known tale (told as a  among the people of the Pacific Northwest, whether they’re Native American or not. What I liked is that my informant was able to tell me two different versions of the story that she heard, showcasing Alan Dundes’ idea of multiplicity and variation within folklore that allows it to grow as it’s told over and over to different groups of people. With a story that has two very different endings, it’s interesting to consider the way that it was used and during what circumstances. For example, it could’ve been told to misbehaving children as a cautionary tale with a tragic ending, but simultaneously, the other version could have emphasized the themes of forgiveness and growth.

What I also found interesting about this piece is that it’s considered Native American folklore, yet it’s continuously taught in schools across the Pacific Northwest. As a whole, the United States doesn’t hold folklore on the same pedestal as it does anthropology in part because of the country’s colonialist roots, meaning that a good percentage of folklore within origins in the United States is that of Native Americans’. Additionally, this exchange serves as an example of active and passive bearers: I had only heard of the story of Salmon Boy in an academic setting, but couldn’t remember it enough to tell it on my own. My informant on the other hand, became the active bearer by being able to recite two versions of the story, having grown up hearing them so often in her youth.