Today, let me tell you another Mongolian animal tale. One that is poetic and beautiful and – pretty long. As always – at the end you will find some information on the folkloristic background. Enjoy!
The Fox and the Little BirdieOnce upon a time, a little birdie had become friends with a fox and he adored him very much. But the fox had a cunning character and thought all the time, how to outsmart him. One day, the fox said: “Let’s sow wheat, the two of us together. We will share the work equally and the wheat as well.”
People say, the birdie agreed. And off they went to the cornfield as it was time to sow the grain. But since the fox was unbelievably lazy, he outfoxed the birdie.
“Oh, this does not look good at all. The sky is about to crumble. I will hurry to climb that mountain and brace the sky. If I don’t do it, then the sky will surely fall down and crush out cornfield,” he told the birdie and the little birdie believed him.
“My friend, how will you be able to do that all by yourself? Can you then lift the sky?” he asked in worry.
“How I will do it? What can I do but to give my very best so that we may live,” said the fox. And so the cunning fox climbed upon the mountain, lay down with his legs folded comfortably beneath him and slept the day away. Meanwhile, the poor birdie did all the hard work – he scattered the grain, he sowed the wheat.
When the seasons turned to fall and it was time, to cut the wheat, the fox helped himself to another trick. “Oh,” he said, “this does not look good at all. It is surely about to rain. And then our wheat will be spoiled. I will have to go again and fence the clouds.” And the birdie believed him again.
“My dear friend, how will you do that all by yourself? Can you really just fence the clouds?” he asked concerned.
“How I will do it? can I do but to give my very best so that we may live,” the fox replied and off he went until he was out of the birdie’s sight. Then he stretched himself and said himself down comfortably, so people say.
The poor little birdie who did not doubt the fox at all, worked in a great to hurry to harvest the wheat. When the time came to bring the cut wheat into their barn, the fox found another excuse.
“If I don’t protect it from the wind, it will surely be blown away!” he announced and went off. And so the poor birdie again worked hard the whole day to bring the cut wheat into the barn and to separate it from the chaff, so it is told. Meanwhile, the fox was lazy and lie in the sun. After the little birdie had finished fanning the wheat and had done away with the chaffs, it called for the fox: “Fox, my dear friend, please come here! Now we want to share the wheat.”
Hearing this, the fox hurried back. When the little birdie saw him, it asked: “Fox, my friend, how will we share the wheat between us?”
The fox pretended to think about and then he said: “I will take nine parts out of ten. I will give you that tenth part. It is so because my work was harder than the work you did. Not everybody can brace the sky, fence the clouds and hold off the wind.”
“That is very true,” said the birdie and gave him nine parts out of ten. But since the tenth part that remained for the little birdie was all too small, it started to cry. When a guard dog saw it crying so bitterly, it came over and asked: „Little birdie, why are you crying? Who has wronged you?”
And so the birdie told him all that had happened. After the dog had heard his tale, he became very angry. “Why have you become friends with a fox who is such a bad, bad animal? Oh well, I will think of something and teach him a lesson!”
When the fox came to see after his wheat the next day to get it grinded, a big ear peaked out from the pile. The fox thought this would be a tasty meal. But when he bit into the ear, the big dog jumped up from beneath the wheat, pounced on him and grabbed him.
“You can’t outfox me the way you did the poor birdie again and again!” he said. The fox was suddenly very afraid and as soon as the dog let him go he raced off as fast as his legs would carry him.
And this is the story of how the dog helped the birdie. Together they brought the wheat home that the fox had obtained by his trickery, so people say. And from this time on, the little birdie is no longer friends with the fox.
Copyright for translation and narration: TaleTellerin
Copyright for the image: The Dog in the Manger @ Wikimedia Commons
This Mongolian animal tale has a few very typical features language-wise. One is the phrase “so people said” or “so it is told”. The other one is the repetition – in the three (the magical number of folklore) times the fox tricks the birdie, the dialogue is always the same. In parts, exactly the same.
Also typical for a Mongolian animal tale is the structure of the plot: A cunning animal – often the fox – tricks an overcredulous, not particularly clever animal; then a third animal comes along and saves the day by outfoxing the fox. Another example for this type of folktale is, of course, the tale of The Lame Magpie Who Had Seven Green Eggs that I’ve told you before.
But if one takes a closer look at the identity of the ‘hero’ in this tale, doubts begin to rise that this one is originally Mongolian. The dog typically plays not a big role in Mongolian animal tales – for whatever reason, since there are actually guard dogs in the steppes. If one also takes a closer look at the motif of this tale – the harvesting, the barn – then it becomes pretty clear that this is not an original Mongolian animal tale but one that was adapted wonderfully. Where it does come from? Maybe Russia? Who knows…