Stories in Indian Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Preserved from the Indian culture, fairy tales compiled by folklorist Joseph Jacobs tell us of laughing fish, talking tortoises and a peculiar-looking lion. In this lesson, we'll dig into ~'Indian Fairy Tales.~'

Meet the Author

Joseph Jacobs was what you might call a master of languages. Born in Australia and educated in London before arriving in the United States, Jacob took his worldliness to the next level by tackling stories written in Hebrew, Italian, French and Spanish and translating them into the English language. That act helped to preserve many of the fairy tales we know today, including ''Goldilocks and the Three Bears'' and ''Jack and the Beanstalk.'' You can read more about Jacobs in another lesson on this site.

Yet, that wasn't enough for the folklorist, a person who studies the folklore of various cultures. Jacobs was also inspired to compile a collection of stories from Indian culture which he named, appropriately, Indian Fairy Tales. In this lesson, we'll take a look at some of these lesser-known stories.

Indian Fairy Tales

Compiled inside this collection are some interesting titles: ''The Soothsayer's Son,'' ''The Talkative Tortoise'' and ''Why the Fish Laughed,'' among others. In the book's preface (or introduction), Jacobs tells readers how he believes many of the more popular tales and writers we're accustomed to, including the works of the fable writer Aesop, have origins in Indian culture.

Here's a brief synopsis of some of the tales featured in this book.

''The Ass in the Lion's Skin''

A traveling salesman would roam the land with his goods strapped to his ass (or donkey). To protect the animal, he would cover it in a lion's skin so that the ass could safely graze in nearby fields. The watchman nearby wouldn't go near the animal, fearing it was a lion.

the ass in the lion

One day after word spread of the lion grazing in a field, nearby villagers approached the area, shouting and banging their drums. It startled the ass, who made a noise in fear. Once exposed, the villagers beat the animal to death. The salesman, returning to the area and finding his animal dead, blamed the death on the animal's noise-making.

''The Talkative Tortoise''

The story opens with a talkative king who won't let anyone else get a word in edgewise. The future Buddha starts looking for a way to teach the king a lesson.

A talkative tortoise meets an untimely end in this tale.
talkative tortoise, joseph jacobs

Around the same time, two wild ducks are befriending a tortoise in a nearby pond. They ask the tortoise to accompany them to the place they live, suggesting they carry a stick between them that the tortoise can grasp in his mouth. The only condition is that the tortoise must not utter a word or he will fall to his death.

Just as they're approaching the castle, villagers start to notice the tortoise being carried along by two birds. Unable to keep quiet, he opens his mouth to admonish the villagers, losing his grip on the stick and falling to his death.

The king, curious about the commotion, goes to see what has happened. The king's advisor uses the opportunity to tell the story of the tortoise who couldn't keep quiet. The king is attentive and begins to guard his words more carefully.

''The Broken Pot''

In this story, a poor man has collected some rice through his begging. After he dines, he hangs the pot from a peg on the wall and begins imagining the future wealth the pot will bring.

The rice, he figures, can be sold during a famine for a healthy sum. With that money he can buy goats, then cows, then buffaloes, growing his wealth every time. Soon, he imagines, he'll have enough to buy a house, where he'll be given a beautiful girl's hand in marriage. Together, they will have a son, who one day will get too close to the family's horse. The man dreams of crying out for his wife, who cannot hear him, and instead, he gives her a kick.

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