The Peasant and the Bear

Story Power author Kate Farrell has posted a new blog post on the Russian fable “The Peasant and the Bear” which tells the story of how trying to game the system leads to failure.

Gaming the system, or baiting the bear, won’t work forever. This harvest fable, told in many traditions, gives “leveling the playing field” a whole new meaning. No matter how you say it: Lying and cheating does not bring in a fair harvest.

The Fable

Once a certain peasant lost his wife, then he lost his other relations, and then he was left alone with no one to help him in his home or his fields.

So he went to Bear and said, “Look here, Bear, let’s keep house and plant our garden and sow our corn together.”

And Bear asked, “But how shall we divide it afterwards?”

“How shall we divide it?” said the peasant, “Well, you take all the tops and let me have all the roots.”

“All right,” answered Bear.

So they sowed some turnips, and they grew beautifully. Bear worked hard, and gathered in all the turnips, and then they began to divide them.

The peasant said, “The tops are yours, aren’t they, Bear?”

“Yes,” he answered.

So the peasant cut off all the turnip tops and gave them to Bear, and then sat down to count the roots. And Bear saw that the peasant had tricked him. He got huffy, lay down in his den, and started sucking his paws.

The next spring the peasant again came to see him, and said, “Look here, Bear, let’s work together again, shall we?”

Bear answered, “Right-ho! Only this time mind! You can have the tops, but I’m going to have the roots!”

“Very well,” said the peasant.

And they sowed some wheat, and when the ears grew up and ripened, you never saw such a sight. Then they began to divide it, and the peasant took all the tops with the grain, and gave Bear the straw and the roots. So he didn’t get anything that time either.

Bear said to the peasant, “Well, good-bye! I’m not going to work with you any more, you’re too crafty!” And with that he went off into the forest.


Source: Project Gutenberg, More Russian Picture Tales by Valery Carrick. Translator: Nevill Forbes [1914]

Note: Several tales of this type are collected by D. L. Ashliman under the heading, Crop Division between Man and Ogre, Aarne-Thompson-Uther Motif 1030. Among them is the quaint English tale, “Jack O’ Kent and the Devil: The Tops and the Butts.”
Read them here:

Story Power by Kate Farrell

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