Folk Tales: Idots, Imbeciles, and Asses

In an attempt to better understand the universality of stories, I like to read and study as wide an array of folktales and fables as I can. Sometimes sketches accompany this work, other times whole comics. Below are several stories from eastern Europe that captured my interest.


Fomushka the Village Idiot

Fomushka-WThe sad story of Fomushka comes from a book of Russian folk tales. Despite being “slow,” Fomushka was still a caring and thoughtful person. Unfortunately this didn’t stop the world in general from treating him like trash, or a group of kids from throwing his hat in the mud. After we get a brief tour of his strife-ridden life—including the death of his only childhood friend, a poor mutt—Fomushka falls asleep in the street and dies.




The Wayfarer and His Ass

In this Israeli tale, a poor wayfarer loses his only prized possession and friend, a donkey. This donkey had been given to him by a wealthy merchant. The wayfarer buries his friend by a desert road, marks the grave, and for seven days straight, weeps at the burial site. Folks passing by assume that the grave is for a truly great man to inspire such crying, so they drop coins as alms. As capital accumulates, merchants set up shop near the grave and a town develops. Through the process the wayfarer makes more money than he’ll ever need.

One day, the wealthy merchant who originally owned the wayfarer’s donkey comes to the burial site to pay alms to the great deceased man. He finds the wayfarer who, trusting in the merchant, admits to the secret of his “false” success.

The wealthy merchant smiles and waves his hand. “Don’t worry,” he says, “you’re secret’s safe with me. Do you remember the sacred grave near my shop? Under that soil is the mother of your ass!”


Ivan the Imbecile

The story of Ivan comes from a collection of Russian folk tales.

It’s a surprisingly lengthy tale that takes the “rule of threes” and raises it to the third. Ivan and his two brothers—one a warrior, the other a merchant—undergo three rounds of hardships: first from natural causes, second from the Devil’s imps, and third from the Devil himself. While Ivan’s ambitious and egotistical brothers struggle time and again, the simple-minded Ivan keeps a pure heart and is always ready and willing to work hard to help others. It’s his “imbecility” that steers him clear of the desires that the imps and their master rely on to make humans miserable. It also leads the Devil to his ironic fate when he takes on Ivan directly.


Dr. Fox and the Old Man’s Cabbage

A more extensive comics-based project. Read more.