A.M.'s Myth and Folklore Blog

Myth and Folklore ML-3043-996

Category: Week 7

Week 7 Story: So Much for That

One time in a corner of the world, a goose and a mongoose walked along the bank of a raging river.

“Only a goose can swim in such turbulent waters” said the goose.

“I am a mongoose, and so, being more than a goose, I too can swim in such waters” said the mongoose.

And so the mongoose dove in, and, being more or less a sort of carnivorous rodent, drowned.

So much for the sin of delusion.

One time in a corner of the world, there was a foolish but kind king who delegated much of the work of ruling to his ministers. His ministers, however, were cruel, and passed many villainous acts on his behalf. Each day the ministers would bring their decrees to the absentminded king, who would stamp each in turn with his signet ring.

One day the cruelest of the ministers decided to remove the middleman and steal the signet ring for himself. He planned with great care and eventually found himself before the signet ring, unguarded, in the king’s private chambers. Upon taking it into his hand, a hole opened in the ceiling and deposited a quite enormous cucumber onto him, crushing him.

So much for the sin of theft.

One time in a corner of the world, two old men, one kindhearted and one covetous, lived as neighbors. One day, the kindhearted man found an injured bird in his garden, and nursed it back to health. Later, the bird brought him a special seed that in time grew into an enormous squash, which the kind old man found to be made of solid gold.

The covetous neighbor, jealous of this fortune, asked how it was acquired and schemed to replicate the process: he shot down a bird into his garden, nursed it back to health, and did, eventually, receive a seed.

In time, the seed grew, as before, into an enormous squash. But when the greedy old man went to cut open the squash it parted, and, from its insides sprang a fierce old man.

The fierce old man produced a large measuring scale and preceded to violently measure the greedy man, finally proclaiming that he was of no use at all. He then cut off the greedy old man’s head.

So much for the sin of covetousness.

Quite important to ethics, as far as I can tell. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Story Source: “The Golden Squash,” from Albert Shelton’s book of Tibetan folk tales, via the course UnTextbook.

Author’s Note: This story was inspired by the rather strange (to my mind) about-face turn in tone in the translation of one of the Tibetan folk tales. (Which inspired the third segment of this story.) The random and bizarre form of the punishment metered out on the tale’s antagonist — a greedy old man who tries to scheme his way into supernatural rewards — inspired me to make some gentle fun of the often ridiculous, random, and even silly ways the punishment is delivered in many moral tales. (While at the same time emphasizing the age-old tropes and forms that often set up those same stories.)

The bookend phrases: “One time in a corner of the world” and “So much for the sin of ____” are both taken directly from the source story. And the “fierce old man” is straight from the source as well.

Week 7 Reading: Tibetan Folk Tales, Part B

Source:Tibetan Folk Tales, by Albert Shelton. From the course UnTextbook.

The kind old man with the bird. (Image from the course UnTextbook.)
  • For these reading notes I decided to focus on the story of “The Golden Squash.”
  • This story starts of predictably and ends in an almost surreal fashion — I rather like the bizzare stylistic twist and the nonchalant ending:
    “So much for the sin of covetousness.”
  • A summary:
    • Two old men live humbly in plots next to one another. One is kindhearted and generous, while the other is greedy and desires riches above all else.
    • One day, an injured bird comes to land in the kind old man’s garden, where he discovers it in pain. He takes in the bird and cares for it, nursing it back to health.
    • Eventually, having recovered and been released, the bird returns to the kind old man with a special seed, telling him that it will, in time, grow into a very good squash.
    • The kind man plants the seed and, indeed, come harvest season a single, enormous squash has grown, taking the efforts of several men to even get it into the old man’s house.
    • Upon later attempting to cut into the squash to prepare dinner, the kind old man discovers that the squash is made from solid gold, and goes on to live a prosperous but humble life, giving generously to the poor and needy.
    • His neighbor, witnessing this chain of events, asks the kind old man how he came to such riches, and, upon hearing the story, devises a devious plan: he shoots down a bird into his garden and, pretending concern, nurses it back to health.
    • The bird, as the original had done, returns to the greedy old man with a seed. The greedy man plants it with glee, and, in time, another enormous squash is harvested and brought with difficulty into the cottage.
    • Eagerly, the greedy old man goes to cut into the squash, but rather than finding it to be made of solid gold, he finds instead a great empty cavity from which a fierce man springs.
    • (Now things get suddenly and briefly strange.)
    • The new, fierce man says that he was sent by the “king of the lower regions” (some kind of devil?) to “weigh him.” He produces a scale and proceeds to weigh the greedy old man, eventually pronouncing him of “no use at all.”
    • Without fanfare, the fierce man then decapitates the greedy man.
    • The narrator, fairly unconcerned by this turn of events, concludes:
      “So much for the sin of covetousness.”

Week 7 Reading Notes: Tibetan Folklore, Part A

Source: Tibetan Folk Tales, by Albert Shelton. From the course UnTextbook.

The rat visits the rescuer in the dungeons. (Image from the UnTextbook.)
  • For these reading notes, I chose to focus on the segment “The Ingratitude of Man.”
  • A man, a crow, a rat, and a snake are traveling through rough and dangerous terrain and become trapped in a deep chasm.
  • Just as they begin to despair, another man traveling through the wood comes across them and manages to rescue them from the chasm.
  • The animals and the man all swear gratitude to their rescuer and that, given the chance, they will repay the debt. The traveler discounts the promises of the animals, doubting that they could ever serve him usefully, but considers that the man may indeed later be of use.
  • Later, the crow is flying around the royal palace when he sees the queen’s previous jewels set aside and thinks to take them for his rescuer as repayment for his debt.
  • The rescuer, coming across the man he had saved in the street, mentions that the crow had, to his surprise, brought him a gift. He shows the man he had rescued the jewels.
  • The man, recognizing the jewels, reports immediately to the king, who imprisons the rescuer in the dungeon.
  • In the dungeon, the rescuer meets with the rat from the woods, who immediately goes to bring him food from the king’s table, saving him from starvation.
  • The snake then comes to the dungeon and promises to free the man. The snake turns out to be magic and goes to torment the king, who summons his holy men to explain the disturbance.
  • They explain that the spirit is tormenting him on behalf of one of his prisoners, so the king promptly releases the rescuer, who learns that the gratitude of animals is valuable.