Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION | Annotated Tale

Fisher Joe

THERE was once a poor man, who had nothing in the world but his wife and an unhappy son Joe. His continual and his only care was how to keep them: so he determined to go fishing, and thus to keep them from day to day upon whatever the Lord brought to his net. Suddenly both the old folks died and left the unhappy son by himself; he went behind the oven and did not come out till both father and mother were buried; he sat three days behind the oven, and then remembered that his father had kept them by fishing; so he got up, took his net, and went fishing below the weir: there he fished till the skin began to peel off the palms of his hands, and never caught so much as one fish. At last he said, "I will cast my net once more, and then I will never do so again." So he cast his net for the last time and drew to shore a golden fish. While he was going home he thought he would give it to the lord of the manor, so that perhaps he might grant a day's wages for it. When he got home he took down a plate from the rack, took the fish from his bag, and laid it upon the plate; but the fish slipped off the plate and changed into a lovely girl, who said, "I am thine, and you are mine, love." The moment after she asked, "Joe, did your father leave you anything?" "We had something," replied her husband; "but my father was poor and he sold everything; but," continued he, "do you see that high mountain yonder? it is not sold yet, for it is too steep and no one would have it." Then said his wife, "Let's go for a walk and look over the mountain." So they went all over it, length and breadth, from furrow to furrow. When they came to a furrow in the middle his wife said, "Let us sit down on a ridge, my love, and rest a little." They sat down, and Joe laid his head on his wife's lap and fell asleep. She then slipped off her cloak, made it into a pillow, drew herself away, and laid Joe upon the pillow without waking him. She rose, went away, uncoiled a large whip and cracked it. The crack was heard over seven times seven countries. In a moment as many dragons as existed came forth. "What are your Majesty's commands?" said they. "My commands are these," replied she: "you see this place--build a palace here, finer than any that exists in the world; and whatever is needed in it must be there: stables for eight bullocks and the bullocks in them, with two men to tend them; stalls for eight horses and the horses in them, and two grooms to tend them; six stacks in the yard, and twelve threshers in the barn." She was greatly delighted when she saw her order completed, and thanked God that He had given her what He had promised. "I shall now go," said she, "and wake my husband." When she came to him he was still asleep. "Get up, my love," said she, "look after the threshers, the grooms, the oxen, and see that all do their work, and that all the work be done, and give your orders to the labourers; and now, my love, let us go into the house and see that all is right. You give your orders to the men-servants, and I will give mine to the maids. We have now enough to live on;" and Joe thanked God for His blessings. He then told his wife that he would invite the lord of the manor to dine with him on Whit Sunday. "Don't leave me," replied his wife; "for if he catch sight of me you will lose me. I will see that the table is laid and all is ready; but a maid shall wait on you. I will retire into an inner room lest he should see me."

               Joe ordered the carriage and six, seated himself in it, the coachman sat on the box, and away they went to the lord's house; they arrived at the gate, Joe got out, went through the gate, and saw three stonemasons at work in the yard; he greeted them and they returned the greeting. "Just look," remarked one of them, "what Joe has become and how miserable he used to be!" He entered the castle, and went into the lord's room. "Good day, my lord." "God bless you, Joe, what news?" "I have come to ask your lordship to dine with me on Whit Sunday, and we shall be very pleased to see you." "I will come, Joe;" they then said good-bye and parted. After Joe had gone the lord came into the courtyard, and the three masons asked him "What did Joe want?" "He has invited me to dine with him," was the reply, "and I am going." "Of course; you must go," said one of them, "that you may see what sort of a house he keeps."

               The lord set out in his carriage and four, with the coachman in front, and arrived at the palace. Joe ran out to meet him, they saluted each other, and entered arm in arm. They dined, and all went well till the lord asked, "Well, Joe, and where is your wife?" "She is busy," said Joe. "But I should like to see her," explained the baron. "She is rather shy when in men's society," said Joe. They enjoyed themselves, lighted their pipes and went for a walk over the palace. Then said the baron to his servant, "Order the carriage at once;" it arrived, and Joe and he said "Farewell." As the baron went through the gate he looked back and saw Joe's wife standing at one of the windows, and at once fell so deeply in love with her that he became dangerously ill; when he arrived at home the footmen were obliged to carry him from his carriage and lay him in his bed.

               At daybreak the three masons arrived and began to work. They waited for their master. As he did not appear, "I will go and see what's the matter with him," said one of them, "for he always came out at 8 a.m." So the mason went in and saluted the baron, but got no reply. "You are ill, my lord," said he. "I am," said the baron, "for Joe has such a pretty wife, and if I can't get her I shall die." The mason went out and the three consulted together as to what was best to be done. One of them proposed a task for Joe, i.e. that a large stone column which stood before one of the windows should be pulled down, the plot planted with vines, the grapes to ripen over night, and the next morning a goblet of wine should be made from their juice and be placed on the master's table; if this was not done Joe was to lose his wife. So one of them went in to the baron and told him of their plan, remarking that Joe could not do that, and so he would lose his wife. A groom was sent on horseback for Joe, who came at once, and asked what his lordship desired. The baron then told him the task he had to propose and the penalty. Poor Joe was so downcast that he left without even saying "good-bye," threw himself into his carriage, and went home. "Well, my love," asked his wife, "what does he want?" "Want," replied her husband, "he ordered me to pull down the stone column in front of his window. Since my father was not a working-man, how could I do any work? Nor is that all. I am to plant the place with vines, the grapes have to ripen, and I am to make a goblet of wine, to be placed on his table at daybreak; and if I fail I am to lose you."

               "Your smallest trouble ought to be greater than that," said his wife. "Eat and drink, go to bed and have a good rest, and all will be well." When night came she went out into the farmyard, uncoiled her whip, gave a crack, which was heard over seven times seven countries, and immediately all the dragons appeared. "What are your Majesty's commands?" She then told them what her husband required, and in the morning Joe had the goblet of wine, which he took on horseback lest he should be late; he opened the baron's window, and, as nobody was there, he placed the goblet on the table, closed the window, and returned home.

               At daybreak the baron turned in his bed. The bright light reflected by the goblet met his eyes, and had such an effect on him that he fell back in his bed, and got worse and worse.

               The three masons arrived and wondered why their master did not appear. Said the tallest to the middle one, "I taught him something yesterday; now you must teach him something else." "Well," said the middle one, "my idea is this, that Joe shall build a silver bridge in front of the gate during the night, plant both ends with all kinds of trees, and that the trees be filled with all kinds of birds singing and twittering in the morning. I'll warrant he won't do that, and so he will lose his wife." When the baron came out they communicated their plan; he at once sent for Joe and told him what he required. Joe went away without even saying good-bye, he was so sad. When he got home he told his wife what the baron wanted this time. "Don't trouble yourself, my love," said his wife, "eat and drink and get a good rest, all shall be well." At night she cracked her whip and ordered the dragons to do all that was required, and so at daybreak all was done. The birds made such a noise that the whole of the village was awakened by them. One nightingale loudly and clearly to the baron sang, "Whatever God has given to some one else that you must not covet; be satisfied with what has been given to you." The baron awoke and turned over, and, hearing the loud singing of the birds, rose and looked out of the window. The glare of the silver bridge opposite the gate blinded him, and he fell back in bed and got worse and worse. When the three masons arrived they could not enter, for the splendour of the silver bridge dazzled them, and they were obliged to enter by another gate.

               As they were working, the shortest said to the middle one, "Go and see why his lordship does not come out; perhaps he is worse." He went in and found the baron worse than ever. Then said the shortest, "I thought of something, my lord, which he will never be able to do, and so you will get his wife." "What is that, mason?" demanded the baron. "It is this, my lord," said the mason, "that he shall ask God to dinner on Palm Sunday, and that he can't do, and so he will lose his wife." "If you can get Joe's wife for me you shall have all this property," said the baron. "It's ours, then," said they, "for he can't do that." Joe was sent for, and came at once to know what was required of him. "My orders are these," replied the baron, "that you invite God to dinner on Palm Sunday to my house; if you do not your wife is lost." Poor Joe went out without saying good-bye, jumped into his carriage, and returned home dreadfully miserable. When his wife asked him what was the matter he told her of the baron's commands. "Go on," said his wife; "bring me that foal, the yearling, the most wretched one of all, put upon it an old saddle and silver harness on its head, and then get on its back." He did so, said good-bye, and the wretched yearling darted off at once straight to heaven. By the time it arrived there it had become quite a beautiful horse. When Joe reached the gates of Paradise he tied his horse to a stake, knocked at the door, which opened, and he went in and greeted the Almighty. St. Peter received him, and asked him why he had come. "I've come," said he, "to invite God to dinner at my lord's on Palm Sunday." "Tell him from me," said the deity, "that I will come, and tell him that he is to sow a plot with barley, and that it will ripen, and that I will eat bread made of it at dinner. That a cow is to be taken to the bull to-day, and that I will eat the flesh of the calf for my dinner."

               With this Joe took leave, and the foal flew downward. As they went Joe was like to fall head-foremost off, and called upon the deity. St. Peter told him not to fear, it was all right; he would fall on his feet. When Joe arrived at home the barley was waving in the breeze and the cow was in calf. "Well, wife," said he, "I will go to the baron's and give him the message." So he went, knocked at the door, and entered the room. "Don't come a step further," cried the baron. "I don't intend to," said Joe: "I've come to tell you I have executed your commands, and mind you don't blame me for what will happen. The deity has sent you this message: you are to sow a plot with barley, and of it make bread for His dinner. A cow is to go to the bull, and of the calf's flesh He will eat." The baron became thoughtful. "Don't worry yourself, my lord," said Joe, "you have worried me enough, it is your turn now;" and so he said "good-bye," and went off home: when he got there the barley-bread was baking and the veal was roasting.

               At this moment the deity and St. Peter arrived from heaven and were on their way to the baron's, who the moment he saw them called out to his servant, "Lock the gate, and do not let them in." Then said the deity, "Let us go back to the poor man's home, and have dinner there." When they reached the foot of the mountain St. Peter was told to look back and say what he saw, and lo! the whole of the baron's property was a sheet of water. "Now," said the deity to St. Peter, "let us go on, for the mountain is high, and difficult to ascend." When they arrived at Joe's he rushed out with outspread arms, fell to the ground, and kissed the sole of the deity's foot. He entered and sat down to dinner, so did Joe and his wife and also St. Peter. Then said God to Joe, "Set a table in this world for the poor and miserable, and you shall have one laid for you in the world to come; and now good-bye: you shall live in joy, and in each other's love."

               They are living still if they have not died since. May they be your guests to-morrow!


Kriza, xvi.

                Page 16. Grimm, vol. i, "The Gold Children," p. 331, where a man draws a gold fish out of the water, which tells him if he will throw it back into the water he shall have a splendid castle. He throws it back, and all comes as the fish said. The fisher must not reveal how it has come about; but his wife's curiosity makes him break his word, and all disappears. [1] The man catches the fish once more, and the same things happen, wealth and destitution; and then the fish is caught a third time. This time the fish is cut into six pieces, two of which are put in the ground, and grow up as golden cities; two are given to the man's horse, which has two golden foals; and two to the man's wife, who bears two golden children. See Grimm's notes, p. 453. Gubernatis, vol. i. p. 249 (as to Phallic Significance), and vol. ii. sub. art. "Fish," p. 330. Also Caballero's (Spanish) Fairy Tales, "The Bird of Truth," p. 1, and the "Knights of the Fish," p. 29, where a poor cobbler, with no work, goes a-fishing as a last resource, catches a fish, and cuts it into six, with the same result as in the above tale. And Portuguese Folk-Tales, Folk-Lore Society, 1882; "The Baker's Idle Son," p. 72; Payne's Arabian Nights, vol. i. pp. 33-51.

               Just as Fisher Joe lays his head on his wife's knee, and sleeps while wonders happen, so does the drummer rest, while the maiden does his tasks for him, in the story of the "Drummer," in Grimm, ii. 335.

               Cf. also Dasent's Tales from the Norse. "The Mastermaid," p. 84, and Denton's Serbian Folk-Lore. "The Golden Fleeced Ram," p. 71.

               Page 18. The trouble that comes from the king (or lord) seeing the hero's wife, or bride, is a common incident in Folk-Tales.

               See the Finnish "Leppäpölkky" (Alder Block). S. ja T. ii. p. 2, where the hero, after infinite trouble, secures the lovely Katherine, who is said to be so beautiful that--

"One can see her skin through her clothes,     
Her flesh through her skin,     
Her bones through her flesh,     
Her marrow through her bones!"

                When he arrived at home with his lovely prize, the king wished to know the whole of his adventures. Now it so happened that Alder Block had during his travels changed himself to an ermine, and had heard Syöjätär--who was the mother of the snakes he and his comrades had killed--tell what plans she had for destroying her children's murderer, as in the Magyar tale of "The three Princes, the three Dragons, and the Old Woman with the Iron Nose," p. 202 of this collection. Syöjätär declared at the same time that whoever dared to repeat her words [2] would be changed into a blue cross. Alder Block saved his comrades from the snares till the last one, which took the form "of beds with feather pillows;" and this time his companions, before he could stop them, threw themselves down, and were caught. The king ordered him to explain why his companions were not with him; and as Alder Block did so, he changed into a blue cross, standing in the churchyard. The whole story is a most interesting one, weaving in materials that are ordinarily to be found, not in one, but in many folk tales. The end of all is, the king got the lovely Katherine, and "took her to his castle, where they still live to-day, and perhaps to-morrow also; and there came good sons and beautiful daughters. I was also at the wedding. They gave me a wax horse. The saddle was made of turnip and the whip of peas. The feast lasted for many days; and when I came from it I came to Riettilä's corn kiln. [3] The kiln began to burn, and I to extinguish it. In the heat my horse began to melt, my saddle to roast, and the village's illegitimate children to eat it up. I began to drive them away, but the dogs were set at me; and when I began to whip them, they bit my whip to pieces. So all my things were destroyed, and poor me fell down. Perhaps I shall never be well again, it was so long." Compare this characteristic ending with that of the Magyar tales.

               In the Finnish "Ei-niin-mitä" (Just nothing), S. ja T. ii. 53, a man catches a swan-maiden of great beauty. The king, so soon as he hears of her, determines to have her for his son, and the courtiers advise him to make the man procure--1st, "A table, on which is painted the moon and stars;" this his wife gets her husband while he is asleep; 2nd, "he was to go nowhere and fetch nothing." His wife again helps him, by sending him to a house where an old woman summons all her servants (Cf. "Fairy Elizabeth," p. 106). This time it is a frog who takes the man, and he at length comes to a palace; and as he paces the floor at night, he mutters to himself, "Just nothing." "Beg your pardon," says a voice; and he finds that he has an invisible companion, who obeys all his commands, and answers to the name of "Just Nothing." When he returns to the king, he finds they are just celebrating the wedding of the king's son with his own wife, who does not recognise him till he drops a ring into the empty goblet out of which he has drunk the corn brandy the bride had given him. By his new powers he soon upsets the bad king and his host, and then all is joy and happiness. Cf. Musaeus, Volksmärchen der Deutschen von J. L. Klee. Leipzig, 1842. "Der geraubte Schleier"; Walachische Märchen von A. und A. Schott. Stuttgart, 1845. "Der verstossene Sohn." Weil, Tausend und eine Nacht, vol. iv. "Geschichte des Prinzen Ojanschach;" Irische Elfenmärchen, von Grimm. Leipzig, 1826. "Die Flasche."

               Kletke, Märchensaal aller Völker, für Jung und Alt. Berlin 1845, vol. iii. "Der Wundermann."

               Cf. "Bondesønnen, Kongesønnen og Solens Søster," Friis, p. 140; where the hero, by means of a fox, rescues the Sun's sister's sister, "Evening Red," from the giants who had stolen her, and who were turned into pillars of stone as soon as they caught sight of the Sun's sister, Dawn. So soon as the king heard of her, he determined to have her for his son's wife, and set heavy tasks for the hero to perform, which he does by means of his wife's power.

               In another tale from Tanen, "Bæive Kongens eller Sol Kongens Datter," Friis, p. 152, the hero will insist upon the king knowing that he is going home with the Sun King's daughter, whom he has caught by stealing her swan dress, and so gets into trouble, as the king does all he can to get possession of the girl.

               In "Gutten, som tjente hos Kongen," Friis, p. 167, from Tanen, the hero is to have the king's daughter in return for faithful service but at the last moment the king demands certain labours before he will allow the marriage to take place. In this case it is the Gieddegæs̃ old woman, that is, a wise or troll woman, who helps the hero.

               A magic ship that can sail over land and sea is a favourite in Lapp stories, and is often one of the tasks set. Cf. "Ruobba [4] Jætten og Fanden," Friis, p. 67. Here the third son feeds axes, augurs, planes, and all sorts of tools, [5] which come and beg for food, and by their means builds the ship. See Finnish "Maan, meren, kulkija laiwa" ("The Ship that can Sail on Land and Sea"), from Ilomantsi. S. ja T. ii. p. 22.

               Somewhat similar incidents occur in the tale "Seppo Ilmarisen kosinta" ("Smith Ilmarinen's Courtship"). S. ja T. i. p. 1, wherein Ilmarinen goes to woo fair Katherine, the Hiihto king's daughter. The first task was to plough the king's snake-field--where the snakes were crawling two yards deep--in bare feet and bare skin. Then he sang a lake full of fishes into the courtyard. Next he went to bring a chest which had been covered for a long time, and which the old man, Untamoinen, had. When Ilmarinen asked for the beautiful Katherine's wedding chest the old man replied, "If you can stand on my tongue, jump and dance, then I will give it to you." The smith jumped on to his tongue, but the old man's mouth was so wide he swallowed Ilmarinen. The smith did not mind that; he made a smithy of his shirt, bellows of his trousers, used his left knee for an anvil, and his left hand for tongs. Of the copper buckle of his skirt he made a bird with claws of iron and bill of steel. He then sang a song and the bird became alive, and by its means he dug his way out of Untamoinen's stomach, got the chest, and after a great many troubles with fair Katherine at last got home.

               In the latter part of the tale one is reminded of such stories as Household Stories from the Land of Hofer, "St. Peter's Three Loaves," p. 265; Grimm, vol. ii., "The Rich Man and the Poor Man," p. 1, and Notes, p. 373; Stokes's Indian Tales, "Rajah Harichand's Punishment," p. 224.


[1] Cf. "Haastelewat Kuuset" (The Talking Pines), S. ja T. ii. p. 73, where the man is about to reveal to his wife, who has been plaguing him to tell her, why he laughed when he heard some birds twittering, and, as this means death, he puts on all his clothes and lays himself out on a bench. Just then the hens are let loose, and as they run about the floor of the chamber where the man is the cock struts about and says, "Cock, cocko, cock, cocko! See, I have fifty wives and govern them all; the master has only one and can't manage her, therefore the fool is going to die." The man heard that, got up and kept his secret. Animals' language must not be revealed. Cf. Benfey, Ein Märchen von der Thiersprachen in Orient und Occident. Naake's Slavonic Tales, Servian story of the Language of Animals, 71-99; and "Woman's Curiosity," p. 301, in the present volume.

[2] Old Deccan Days, "Rama and Luxman," p. 66.--Thorpe's Yule-Tide Stories, "Svend's Exploits," p. 343.--Grimm, "Faithful John," vol. i. p. 33, and Notes, p. 348.--"Secret-Keeping Little Boy," p. 233, in this volume.

[3] Near the bath-house (vide supra, p. 308) is the kiln to dry corn, a most important building in the Finnish farmstead. It is built of wood like the bath-house. On one side of the doorway is a stove (built of stones, see Land of the Midnight Sun, vol. ii. p. 274, where there are illustrations of somewhat similar stoves or ovens), that gives out a great heat and smoke, which fills the inside of the building, especially the upper part. This "ria" or kiln is used to dry the corn in. All Finnish rye is dried in this way. Retzius, p. 120.

[4] Ruobba, scurfy skull, or Gudnavirus, i.e. Ashiepattle.

[5] Cf. Dasent: "Boots and His Brothers," p. 382, where Boots finds an axe hewing away at a fir tree, and a spade digging and delving by itself, and by their means he got the princess and half the kingdom.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Fisher Joe
Tale Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Book Title: Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Book Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Publisher: Elliot Stock
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1889
Country of Origin: Hungary
Classification: unclassified

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