Brown Fairy Book
Front cover of The Brown Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang ; with eight coloured plates and numerous illustrations by H.J. Ford. London, New York and Bombay : Longmans, Green, and Co., 1904.

I was looking at my list earlier, and realized I haven’t done many tales from Iceland, so I hunted one up. “Which Was the Foolishest?” was published by Andrew Lang in The Brown Fairy Book, 1904, but his source was the Neuislandische Volksmärchen. I don’t actually like the story much. First, let my give you the gist of the story and then I’ll tell you why it bothers me.

Two couples lived side by side in a little village and the men were good friends. The wives, however, argued constantly over whose husband is the most stupid. One put the baby’s clothes on upside and planted rocks instead of potatoes, the other gave the wife’s best hat to the hen to lay eggs in and returned from the market with 150 ducks instead of butter. The two women decided to prove once and for all whose husband was the most foolish.

One wife made her husband a coat of the finest wool, so fine he couldn’t see it (à la the “Emperor’s New Clothes“). Even when he said it wasn’t very warm, she convinced him that it was splendid.

The other wife convinced her husband he was ill and dying. She even had the undertaker come and measure him and ordered a coffin. She cried and told him to just lie still, that he would be dead by morning. That evening the coffin was delivered and in the morning, she put him in the coffin and had the undertaker’s men fasten down the lid and carry him to the prepared grave. All their friends were waiting. Just as the coffin was being placed in the ground, the other woman’s husband came running up with no clothes on, as far as anyone could tell. Everybody burst into laughter, even the men carrying the coffin. The “dead” man was surprised at the commotion, and peeped out, exclaiming, “I should laugh as loudly as any of you, if I were not a dead man.”

The “dead” man was of course let out of the coffin. The two women confessed what they had done to prove which husband was stupider, but the villagers couldn’t decide which had been more foolish, so the two women continued to argue.

First of all, I may make fun of my husband occasionally, but to argue constantly about whose husband is the more foolish seems mean, especially when the husbands themselves seem so easy-going. I’m also not against convincing your husband of something that’s not true, not that I’ve ever done that to David, but it’s always been little things, stuff you laugh about but that is not horribly embarrassing.

My real problem, though, is that I have a tiny fear of being buried alive and the guy letting himself be nailed into a coffin and lowered into a grave sounds just horrible! What kind of wife would go that far?

So tell me, have you ever convinced someone of something that wasn’t true, just for amusement’s sake? David was convinced he was 27 for three or four weeks, until we celebrated his 30th birthday.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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