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Friday, July 31, 2020

Wiggin and Smith - The Lion, the Fox, and the Story-teller - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Are you feeling in an endless Covid loop?  Maybe what you need is a story...possibly a story that doesn't end.  This story is from The Talking Beasts edited by Kate Douglas Wiggin and her sister, Nora Archibald Smith, but is also in other collections.  I found it within their section simply called Indian Fables, but the Contents credit "Fables from P. V. Ramaswami Raju. (Indian)."

It could be said that this is a story "fit for a king." 

The Lion, the Fox, and the Story-teller

A Lion who was the king of a great forest once said to his subjects: "I want some one among you to tell me stories one after another without ceasing. If you fail to find somebody who can so amuse me, you will all be put to death."

In the East there is a proverb which says; "The king kills when he will," so the animals were in great alarm.

The Fox said: "Fear not; I shall save you all. Tell the king the Story-teller is ready to come to court when ordered." So the animals had orders to send the Story-teller at once to the presence. The Fox bowed respectfully, and stood before the king, who said: "So you are to tell us stories without ceasing?"

"Yes, your Majesty," said the Fox.

"Then begin," said the Lion.

"But before I do so," said the Fox, "I would like to know what your
Majesty means by a story."

"Why," said the Lion, "a narrative containing some interesting event or fact."

"Just so," said the Fox, and began: "There was once a fisherman who went to sea with a huge net, and spread it far and wide. A great many fish got into it. Just as the fisherman was about to draw the net the coils snapped. A great opening was made. First one fish escaped." Then the Fox stopped.

"What then?" said the Lion.

"Then two escaped," said the Fox.

"What then?" asked the impatient Lion.

"Then three escaped," said the Fox. Thus, as often as the Lion repeated his query, the Fox increased the number by one, and said as many escaped. The Lion was vexed, and said: "Why you are telling me nothing new!"

"I wish that your majesty may not forget your royal word," said the Fox. "Each event occurred by itself, and each lot that escaped was different from the rest."

"But wherein is the wonder?" said the Lion.

"Why, your majesty, what can be more wonderful than for Fish to escape in lots, each exceeding the other by one?"

"I am bound by my word," said the Lion, "else I would see your carcass stretched on the ground."

The Fox replied in a whisper: "If tyrants that desire things impossible are not at least bound by their own word, their subjects can find nothing to bind them."

This is part of an illustration by Harold Nelson in Talking Beasts -- it's not this story, but foxes do get around in this book and beyond


One storytelling principle suggests it is better to let the listener draw their own conclusion to a fable, even though fables are intentionally teaching tools.  This story version may add one, but the story could have been stripped down to just the unending story that you, too, could tell. 

Back in 2015, before a Michigan storytelling festival that ended its long run last year, I posted another endless story and said:

For some unknown reason I've heard the type called "French Irritating Tales."  They are the kind of story where it returns to the beginning lines of the story and starts all over again in an endless loop.  May your storytelling be endless and Keep the Public in Public Domain!


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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