Tag Archives: Children’s tale

Tale of Golem (Kid’s Version)

Main Piece:

Collector (me): So like, what’s the version [of Golem] you first grew up with and are most familiar with?

Informant: So the first one I heard is not gonna be the most common, but the first one I heard, but it’s like trying to teach little Jewish kids “Don’t be a kvetcher,” which is like someone who complains a lot. And so it was this story of this girl like had this golem who was like her pet golem, but not really her pet golem, but that was the idea of it. And, like, he was a very bad golem— he would just complain all the time when he was alive, so he wasn’t your “saving the day golem,” but he was a kvetcher, and he would just complain and complain and complain and complain. And you know at first the girl wanted to be like the golem, so she would also complain all the time, and then her parents were like “No,” and so they killed the golem, and then the girl was all sad. And then you know, they were like, “This is what happens.” Not dying, but people won’t like you and will get rid of you if you complain all the time.”

Collector: So is it like a cautionary tale or moral lesson for kids?

Informant: Yeah, so that one’s like, you know, your typical children’s story. Like if you do this bad thing, this bad thing will happen, so don’t do this bad thing.


My informant here is a 20-year-old student from USC, and was raised Jewish. To those unfamiliar, my informant explained a golem as a figure made of clay that comes to life when someone puts “a piece of paper with Hebrew writing on it, and you put it in its mouth,” and depending on the version, they can either be good or bad guys. My informant learned about this version of golem during storytime at the Jewish preschool they attended when they were little. While it’s not one of the more known versions of the tale, it’s the one the teachers at the school told to my informant and their peers. 


This came up when I was telling my friend about a golem figure that one of my classmates brought for the “Show and Tell” activity we had in one of our folklore lectures the other day. I knew that my friend was familiar with golem because of a conversation we’d had about him in the past, and I asked if they could tell me more about him and what version they were familiar with. 


While I’m not as familiar with Jewish folk tales or golem, I thought it was interesting to see that this version my informant presented me with was depicted through his actions as a moral lesson for children to abide by. In this version of the tale, we can observe the main lesson: in order to be well liked and taken seriously by others around you, one shouldn’t blindly follow the example of someone else, especially if they know their behavior would be frowned upon in society. This tale interweaves the expectations and values of the culture in a manner that makes it easy for children to understand. The fate of the golem isn’t a literal reminder of what could happen to those who don’t heed the lesson, but by portraying it in such a drastic measure, it helps kids piece together the way that they should conduct themselves in their group. Of course, this is only one version of the golem—

(For a more well known version, see Abedon, May 15, 2020 “The Golem – Jewish Folk Tale”, USC Folklore Archives).

Children’s Folk Tales in Estonia

Background: The informant is a 48-year-old woman who was born in Estonia and immigrated to the United States, and currently lives in California. She still participates in Estonian traditions by attending the “Estonian House” which is an Estonian community located in Los Angeles.

Context: The folklore was collected during a scheduled zoom meeting in which I interviewed two native Estonians who currently live in Los Angeles and who are close friends.

Main Piece: “A huge part of my growing up was ‘Eesti ennemuistsed jutud’ and in the Soviet Union we had the series ‘Saia rahva lood’ or ‘tales of a hundred nations’, I read them, we enjoyed them very much. But what the Estonians had was ‘Eesti ennemuistsed jutud’, Estonian ancient tales, and one very big part of it was a farmer called ‘Kaval Ants’ fighting an evil called ‘Vanapagan’. It’s not called Satan, but it’s, you know the one who came from down. And this witty farmer, poor witty farmer always outsmarted the evil ‘Vanapagan’. ‘Vanapagan’ is ‘old pagan’ but it actually means ‘devil’. So ‘Kaval Ants’ and ‘Vanapagan’, those are the tales of my childhood, we read them and it’s a big thick book of Estonian fairy tales, where always this poor boy or poor girl was working, slaving for a master and at the end he or she got justice. Not always, Estonian fairy tales are not always very happy endings, but not as grim as you may think. And many tales had animals, like instead of people. Usually there were foxes and wolves, and the foxes outsmarted them.”

Interpretation: The first thing that caught my attention was the distinction the informant made between Estonian folk tales and the more “official” stories that the Soviet authorities used that were called ‘Saia rahva lood’. While the informant did not go into too much detail about the narrative and plot points of these tales, many of the common themes in Estonian folk tales are made very clear here. Furthermore, this serves as further evidence that Estonian tales are completely different from what was seen in the more Western nations. Many tales from the West center around royalty and fantasy, whereas Estonian tales are very grounded and have a peasanty humbleness to them. The characters are often farmers or animals and they have to use their wits, not sheer strength, to outsmart their opponents. Another thing that really caught my eye was how ‘old pagan’ is synonymous with the devil in the tale of Kaval Ants. This provides some interesting insight into the more religious realm of Estonian culture and how pagans were seen as devils and evil doers in the eyes of the Orthodox Christian Estonians. There is a lot of interesting history surrounding Estonian religion that ties to many of the themes seen in these tales.

For another version of this tale read:

Kreutzwald, Friedrich Reinhold. Eesti rahva ennemuistsed jutud. Avita, 1996 (first published 1866).

Lazy Donkey Tale

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my mother. It was told casually as both entertainment and to teach a lesson at the same time

Background: The informant heard this from her grandmother in her mountain village. They remember this for the entertainment value that the story provided as well as for the moral advice.

Main piece: 

There was once a merchant who loaded his salt onto his donkey and took it to the market every day. On the way, they had to go through the forest and pass over a small stream. One day, the donkey slipped as it was crossing that stream, and the salt on its back dissolved in the water. As it stood up, the donkey noticed with glee that its heavy load had lightened considerably. 

Remembering this the crafty donkey made a plan. From that day on, every time he crossed the stream, the donkey purposely dove into the stream and pretended it was an accident. However, the merchant understood what the donkey was doing, and one day he loaded the donkey up with cotton instead of salt. When they reached the stream, the donkey once again plunged into the water. This time, however, his burden was increased several times over, and he was forced to continue with the sopping wet cotton on his back.

By the time that the donkey reached the market, it could barely walk. The next day, the merchant put salt on the donkey’s back yet again. However, the donkey didn’t fall into the stream this time but passed over it without issue. It had learned its lesson from the previous day and didn’t try to act up out of laziness again. 

Analysis: This fable is similar to many others with its inclusion of animals as characters and a negative characteristic resulting in a bad outcome, leading to the learning of a lesson. Although it is a specific version of a story, this seems very similar to any such story that might have been told around the world to children in order to teach them not to try to take advantage of things and be lazy, or else there may be consequences.

Origin of Fairies

The Main Piece: 

Every Irish folk tale has the christianized version, and the non christianized version. So, how the fairies came to be, you know back before the old testament there was this big war between God and Lucifer. And you know they all fought and stuff and some angels and then some stayed on the fence and they were like, “I don’t know, we’ll see who can win.” And then afterword, God was like, “YOU didn’t take my side, I’m going to banish you to hell!” And as they’re falling down from Heaven the Archangel Michael was all, “No, no, no you can’t banish them. They’re not good enough for Heaven, but they’re not bad enough for Hell.” And so God decided that they can stop where they land and that’s where they can live. So they all land in Ireland, and uh you know, obviously they’re not human and obviously they’re not the one and only God. They’re fallen angels! That’s why they’re powerful and that’s why the fairies, ya know they’re all just fallen Angels.

Background: The informant was born in Ireland, and moved to the United States as a baby. He is a Dual-Citizen and feels closely connected to his Irish roots. He shared with me one of the folk legends that he heard growing up as an Irish kid. This is an origin story, and the informant stresses that it’s easy to lean into the magic of it in Ireland. It’s clear this is an important part of the informant’s childhood and national identity. He also says that he does believe fairies are in Ireland, because Ireland to him (and many others) feels like a magical place.

Context: This story was told while bored in the house one night. I asked the informant if he had anys stories he wanted to share, and he decided to perform this in a very hilarious way to the people in the room. 

My thoughts: The performative nature of this story is captivating and varied. It sounds to me that the magic kept the informant fixated on this story when it was told. While it was told to him as an origin tale, he turned around and shared with us a very comedic rendition. Here, the captivating part was not just the magic, but also how whimsically humorous it could be for God to kick out some neutral fairies from Heaven. The variation of these stories lies at the heart of folklore and storytelling. I had never heard this story, nor questioned the origin of fairies, but I am glad I was able to experience it from someone who was so fond and understanding of the story, that he made it his own.

The Peach Boy: A Japanese Tale

The following is a conversation with SS that details her interpretation of the popular, Japanese tale about the Peach Boy.


SS: There’s an old couple who wanted a boy and then the grandmother goes to wash clothes in the river area, and then she sees this gigantic peach coming down, and she thinks ‘Oh, great! I’ll this this home with me so we can have this for dinner!’ And when they cut open the peach, there’s a little baby in it. He grows up to become this super-power, amazing boy, and eventually goes and destroys these bad demons that were living on a nearby island and were coming and attacking the farmers or the people in the community.


EK: How did you learn this tale? What is your relation to it?


SS: I tend to focus on tales because it’s just what I teach, but there’s a lot about an old couple wanting a child, and then getting a superhuman child. It’s a pattern, but one really famous one is this story. So this is a story that everyone hears if you grow up in Japan, a story that, I think there’s probably some more sophisticated narrative originally from the Medieval period, that’s probably shared by the warrior community, and then there’s a repackaging of it into this cute little story and that’s just been passed down. So yeah, if you look at Japanese folklore collections, it’s like one of the first stories that will be there.


My Interpretation:

It seems that this is a fairly popular tale that many Japanese children learn when they are young. Like fairytales we learn in the U.S., such as Snow White or Pinocchio, it appears that the Peach Boy tale is the equivalent in Japanese culture. As Japanese children grow up, this is a tale that they take with them that they most likely will tell their children and will be passed on for generations.