Folk literature is a concentration of wisdom and moral values. Fairy tales open the world where good confronts evil, and good always wins. The main character is usually a hero: virtuous and courageous. He faces challenges, defeats the enemy, and gets the desired reward. However, in a fairy tale, a magic aspect or the lucky chance are often present. Thus, victory is not always just a merit of a character. This time, let us consider two tales: the Native American Legend The Orphan Boy and the Elk Dog, and the German tale rewritten by Grimm Brothers The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs. The idea is to observe the behavior of the main characters on their way to the primary goal and assess the heroism of each of them.
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The Orphan Boy and the Elk Dog
The legend tells about the boy Long Arrow. Since he was deaf and could not speak, people thought he was not smart. Later his ability to hear returned to him and the boy was lucky to be adopted by a generous man Good Running. Long Arrow grew up to become a decent and brave young man.
His noble nature is seen in his desire to help the people who gave him home when he was a little boy. He said, “I want to do something to make you proud and show people that you were wise to adopt me” (Blackfoot 2). Good Running said that someday he would be a chief and do great things. However, the boy wanted to be useful that time: “But what’s a great thing I could do now, Grandfather?” (Blackfoot 2). His foster father told him about Elk Dog, a mysterious animal that lived at the bottom of a faraway lake. Many men went to find it, but no one returned. Long Arrow decided to travel there and try his fortune.
On his way, he proved to be a brave boy. Once he came “face to face with a tall man, fierce and scowling and twice the height of most humans” (Blackfoot 2), he was not scared. The stranger was the spirit of the lake who asked Long Arrow, “Little one, aren’t you afraid of me?” And the boy answered, “No, I am not” (Blackfoot 3).
Long Arrow behaved like a hero when he was invited to the bottom of the lake. Of course, he was afraid to be drowned, but said to himself, “I knew all the time that this would not be easy. In setting out to find the Elk Dog, I already threw my life away” (Blackfoot 3). Thus, he “boldly jumped into the water” (Blackfoot 3). His courage was appreciated by the old spirit of the lake who said, “Some came before you from time to time, but they were always afraid of the deep water, and so they went away with empty hands. But you, grandson, were brave enough to plunge in, and therefore you are chosen to receive a wonderful gift to carry back to your people” (Blackfoot 3). The boy spent a couple of days in the lake and finally got the reward he came for. The spirit of the lake gave him half of his beautiful and strong animals that we call horses now.
Long Arrow returned home as a hero. He did something that no one before managed to do. Due to his courage, the life of his people became easier. He was not only brave. Like a real hero, he was generous. He gave all Elk Dogs to his grandmother and grandfather and left only two for himself to grow a new herd. He said, “My grandfather and grandmother who adopted me, I can never repay you for your kindness. Accept these wonderful Elk Dogs as my gift” (Blackfoot 5). And Good Running responded, “You have indeed done something great, Grandson” (Blackfoot 5). Thus, his deed was appreciated.
The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs
The German tale presents another kind of character. A boy was born to a poor family; he had a caul at birth, which was a sign of great luck. He was predicted to marry the daughter of then King when he is nineteen. When the King heard of it, he decided to kill a baby putting a box with him into the river. The boy was lucky not to drown. The miller rescued him and brought up and his son. Then the King made another attempt to kill him sending the boy with a letter to the Queen. Still, this time the young man was fortunate again. On his way, he got lost in a large forest and came to a small house. It was a den of robbers. He was so tired that he fell asleep. The old woman who met him explained the robbers who he was, “he is an innocent child who has lost himself in the wood, and I took him in out of compassion” (Grimm and Grimm 107). The good luck followed the boy, for the robbers “took the letter from his pocket, and read in it that as soon as the bearer arrived at the palace, he was to lose his life. …and their chief tore up the letter and wrote another, in which it was stated that as soon as the boy arrived, he should be married to the King’s daughter” (Grimm and Grimm 108).
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When the King saw what happened, he gave the young man another task which seemed impossible, to get three golden hairs of a devil. He had no choice and started his trip. He promised to “fetch these golden hairs very quickly” and said he was “not the least afraid of the demon” (Grimm and Grimm 108), which shows that apart from being lucky, he was a brave man. He was fortunate one more time to meet devil’s grandmother who “turned him into an ant” (Grimm and Grimm 108) and hid him. She promised to get the three golden hairs and help with the information on the disasters of three towns that the boy passed on his way. So she did, and the young men left for home. On his way back he shared the secrets that the devil told with the citizens of towns who needed help and got gold as a reward. Finally, he got home, rich and happy. He looked like a hero, but in fact, his successes were mostly due to the other people he met. The good luck predicted at birth followed him wherever he went.
The two stories depict the adventures of young men in search of their main aim. On the one hand, they seem similar. The boys have certain tasks, and they do what they can. On the other hand, their participation in achieving goals is different. Long Arrow does everything by himself. It was his initiative to go to the faraway lake and bring Elk Dogs home. The story of another young man is like a quest. He is sent here or there to fulfill a task. Besides, he is considered destined for great life from the start. His adventure is a succession of lucky coincidences. Every time a problem appears, a good chance is there. In fact, he does nothing by himself.
He gets help from the old woman and the evil’s grandmother. Another difference is in their reasons for what they did. Long Arrow had a noble aim to bring Elk Dogs to help his grandmother and grandfather who adopted him. It was a dangerous trip to the unknown mysterious place, and the young men overcame the obstacles with dignity. For his courage and decent behavior, he got what he wanted. The boy from the second tale did not have a distinct aim at first. He went where he was sent to. After he had married the King’s daughter, he went on the other adventure to prove he was a worthy man. Besides, he seems a cruel young man, for he sent the King into a trap to the ferryman. On the whole, Long Arrow proved to be more brave and decisive man than the second one. Thus, he deserves being called a hero, for he had a noble aim and did his best to achieve it.
Blackfoot. “The Orphan Boy and the Elk Dog.” First People, Web.
Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. “The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs.” The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Race Point Publishing, 2013, pp. 106-110.