Folktales for Travelers

Edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1997-2009

All people, black, white, brown, red, and yellow,
are like each other when they tell stories.

--Andrew Lang, preface to The Brown Fairy Book, 1904


  1. The Traveler and the Farmer (North America).

  2. The Two Travelers and the Farmer (North America).

  3. The Two Frogs (Japan).

  4. The Talkative Tortoise (The Jataka Tales, India).

  5. The Tortoise That Refused to Leave Home (The Jataka Tales, India).

  6. The Dog That Went Abroad (The Panchatantra, India).

  7. The Man Who Became Rich through a Dream (1001 Nights).

  8. The Pedlar of Swaffham (England).

  9. The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse (Aesop).

  10. The Town Mouse and the Field Mouse (Romania).

  11. The Citizen of the World (Jewish).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Traveler and the Farmer

North America

A traveler came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. The wanderer hailed the countryman, who looked up from his work.

"How long will it take me to get to the next town?" asked the stranger.

"I can't rightly say," was the farmer's curt reply.

Insulted, the traveler strode off.

"About an hour," shouted the farmer after him.

"Why didn't you say so when I first asked?"

"Because I didn't know how fast you were walking."

The Two Travelers and the Farmer

North America

A traveler came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.

"What sort of people live in the next town?" asked the stranger.

"What were the people like where you've come from?" replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.

"They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too. The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I'm happy to be leaving the scoundrels."

"Is that so?" replied the old farmer. "Well, I'm afraid that you'll find the same sort in the next town.

Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.

Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. "What sort of people live in the next town?" he asked.

"What were the people like where you've come from?" replied the farmer once again.

"They were the best people in the world. Hard working, honest, and friendly. I'm sorry to be leaving them."

"Fear not," said the farmer. "You'll find the same sort in the next town."

The Two Frogs


Once upon a time in the country of Japan there lived two frogs, one of whom made his home in a ditch near the town of Osaka, on the sea coast, while the other dwelt in a clear little stream which ran through the city of Kyoto. At such a great distance apart, they had never even heard of each other; but, funnily enough, the idea came into both their heads at once that they should like to see a little of the world, and the frog who lived at Kyoto wanted to visit Osaka, and the frog who lived at Osaka wished to go to Kyoto, where the great Mikado had his palace.

So one fine morning in the spring they both set out along the road that led from Kyoto to Osaka, one from one end and the other from the other. The journey was more tiring than they expected, for they did not know much about traveling, and halfway between the two towns there arose a mountain which had to be climbed. It took them a long time and a great many hops to reach the top, but there they were at last, and what was the surprise of each to see another frog before him!

They looked at each other for a moment without speaking, and then fell into conversation, explaining the cause of their meeting so far from their homes. It was delightful to find that they both felt the same wish--to learn a little more of their native country--and as there was no sort of hurry they stretched themselves out in a cool, damp place, and agreed that they would have a good rest before they parted to go their ways.

"What a pity we are not bigger," said the Osaka frog; "for then we could see both towns from here, and tell if it is worth our while going on."

"Oh, that is easily managed," returned the Kyoto frog. "We have only got to stand up on our hind legs, and hold onto each other, and then we can each look at the town he is traveling to."

This idea pleased the Osaka frog so much that he at once jumped up and put his front paws on the shoulder of his friend, who had risen also. There they both stood, stretching themselves as high as they could, and holding each other tightly, so that they might not fall down. The Kyoto frog turned his nose towards Osaka, and the Osaka frog turned his nose towards Kyoto; but the foolish things forgot that when they stood up their great eyes lay in the backs of their heads, and that though their noses might point to the places to which they wanted to go, their eyes beheld the places from which they had come.

"Dear me!" cried the Osaka frog, "Kyoto is exactly like Osaka. It is certainly not worth such a long journey. I shall go home!"

"If I had had any idea that Osaka was only a copy of Kyoto I should never have traveled all this way," exclaimed the frog from Kyoto, and as he spoke he took his hands from his friend's shoulders, and they both fell down on the grass. Then they took a polite farewell of each other, and set off for home again, and to the end of their lives they believed that Osaka and Kyoto, which are as different to look at as two towns can be, were as alike as two peas.

The Talkative Tortoise

The Jataka Tales

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the future Buddha was born in a minister's family; and when he grew up, he became the king's adviser in things temporal and spiritual.

Now this king was very talkative; while he was speaking, others had no opportunity for a word. And the future Buddha, wanting to cure this talkativeness of his, was constantly seeking for some means of doing so.

At that time there was living, in a pond in the Himalayan Mountains, a tortoise. Two young wild ducks who came to feed there made friends with him. And one day, when they had become very intimate with him, they said to the tortoise, "Friend tortoise, the place where we live, at the Golden Cave on Mount Beautiful in the Himalayan country, is a delightful spot. Will you come there with us?"

"But how can I get there?"

"We can take you, if you can only hold your tongue, and will say nothing to anybody."

"Oh, that I can do. Take me with you."

"That's right," said they. And making the tortoise bite hold of a stick, they themselves took the two ends in their teeth, and flew up into the air.

Seeing him thus carried by the ducks, some villagers called out, "Two wild ducks are carrying a tortoise along on a stick!"

Whereupon the tortoise wanted to say, "If my friends choose to carry me, what is that to you, you wretched slaves?" So just as the swift flight of the wild ducks had brought him over the king's palace in the city of Benares, he let go of the stick he was biting, and falling in the open courtyard, split in two!

And there arose a universal cry, "A tortoise has fallen in the open courtyard, and has split in two!"

The king, taking the future Buddha, went to the place, surrounded by his courtiers, and looking at the tortoise, he asked the Bodisat, "Teacher, how has it possible that he has fallen here?"

The future Buddha thought to himself, "Long expecting, wishing to admonish the king, I have sought for some means of doing so. This tortoise must have made friends with the wild ducks; and they must have made him bite hold of the stick, and have flown up into the air to take him to the hills. But he, being unable to hold his tongue when he hears anyone else talk, must have wanted to say something, and let go of the stick; and so must have fallen down from the sky, and thus lost his life." And saying, "Truly, oh king, those who are called chatterboxes--people whose words have no end--come to grief like this," he uttered these verses:

Verily, the tortoise killed himself
While uttering his voice;
Though he was holding tight to stick,
By a word he slew himself.

Behold him then, oh excellent by strength!
And speak wise words, not out of season.
You see how, by his talking overmuch,
The tortoise fell into this wretched plight!

The king saw that he was himself referred to, and said, "Oh teacher, are you speaking of us?"

And the Bodisat spoke openly, and said, "Oh great king, be it you, or be it any other, whoever talks beyond measure meets with some mishap like this."

And the king henceforth refrained himself, and became a man of few words.

The Tortoise That Refused to Leave Home

The Jataka Tales

Once on a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in a village as a potter's son. He plied the potter's trade, and had a wife and family to support.

At that time there lay a great natural lake close by the great river of Benares. When there was much water, river and lake were one; but when the water was low, they were apart. Now fish and tortoises know by instinct when the year will be rainy and when there will be a drought.

So at the time of our story the fish and tortoises which lived in that lake knew there would be a drought; and when the two were one water, they swam out of the lake into the river. But there was one tortoise that would not go into the river, because, said he, "here I was born, and here I have grown up, and here is my parents' home. Leave it I cannot!"

Then in the hot season the water all dried up. He dug a hole and buried himself, just in the place where the Bodhisatta was used to come for clay. There the Bodhisatta came to get some clay. With a big spade he dug down, until he cracked the tortoise's shell, turning him out on the ground as though he were a large piece of clay. In his agony the creature thought, "Here I am, dying, all because I was too fond of my home to leave it!" And in the words of these following verses, he made his moan:

Here was I born, and here I lived; my refuge was the clay;
And now the clay has played me false in a most grievous way;
Thee, thee I call, oh Bhaggava; hear what I have to say!

Go where thou canst find happiness, where'er the place may be;
Forest or village, there the wise both home and birthplace see;
Go where there's life; nor stay at home for death to master thee.

So he went on and on, talking to the Bodhisatta, until he died. The Bodhisatta picked him up, and collecting all the villagers addressed them thus: "Look at this tortoise. When the other fish and tortoises went into the great river, he was too fond of home to go with them, and buried himself in the place where I get my clay. Then as I was digging for clay, I broke his shell with my big spade, and turned him out on the ground in the belief that he was a large lump of clay. Then he called to mind what he had done, lamented his fate in two verses of poetry, and expired.

So you see he came to his end because he was too fond of his home. Take care not to be like this tortoise. Don't say to yourselves, 'I have sight, I have hearing, I have smell, I have taste, I have touch, I have a son, I have a daughter, I have numbers of men and maids for my service, I have precious gold.' Do not cleave to these things with craving and desire. Each being passes through three stages of existence."

Thus did he exhort the crowd with all a Buddha's skill. The discourse was bruited abroad all over India, and for full seven thousand years it was remembered. All the crowd abode by his exhortation, and gave alms, and did good until at last they went to swell the hosts of heaven.

The Dog That Went Abroad

The Panchatantra

In a certain place there once lived a dog by the name of Tschitranga, which means "having a spotted body." A lengthy famine set in. Because they had no food, the dogs and other animals began to leave their families. Tschitranga, whose throat was emaciated with hunger, was driven by fear to another country. There in a certain city he went to a certain house day after day where, due to the carelessness of the housekeeper, many good things to eat were left lying about, and he ate his fill. However, upon leaving the house, other vicious dogs surrounded him on all sides and tore into him on all parts of his body with their teeth. Then he reconsidered his situation, and said, "It is better at home. Even during a famine you can live there in peace, and no one bites you to pieces. I will return to my own city."

Having thus thought it through, set forth to his own city. When he arrived there, all of his relatives asked him, "Tschitranga, tell us about where you have been. What is the country like? How do the people behave? What do they eat? What do they do?"

He answered, "How can I explain to you the essence of a foreign place? There are good things to eat in great variety, and housekeepers who do not keep watch! There is only one evil in a foreign country: You will be hated there because of who you are!"

The Man Who Became Rich through a Dream

1001 Nights

Once there lived in Baghdad a wealthy man who lost all his means and was thus forced to earn his living by hard labor. One night a man came to him in a dream, saying, "Your fortune is in Cairo; go there and seek it." So he set out for Cairo. He arrived there after dark and took shelter for the night in a mosque. As Allah would have it, a band of thieves entered the mosque in order to break into an adjoining house. The noise awakened the owners, who called for help. The Chief of Police and his men came to their aid. The robbers escaped, but when the police entered the mosque they found the man from Baghdad asleep there. They laid hold of him and beat him with palm rods until he was nearly dead, then threw him into jail.

Three days later the Chief of Police sent for him and asked, "Where do you come from?"

"From Baghdad," he answered.

"And what brought you to Cairo?"

"A man came to me in a dream and told me to come to Cairo to find my fortune," answered the man from Baghdad "But when I came here, the promised fortune proved to be the palm rods you so generously gave to me."

"You fool," said the Chief of Police, laughing until his wisdom teeth showed. "A man has come to me three times in a dream and has described a house in Baghdad where a great sum of money is supposedly buried beneath a fountain in the garden. He told me to go there and take it, but I stayed here. You, however, have foolishly journeyed from place to place on the faith of a dream which was nothing more than a meaningless hallucination." He then gave him some money saying, "This will help you return to your own country."

The man took the money. He realized that the Chief of Police had just described his own house in Baghdad, so he forthwith returned home, where he discovered a great treasure beneath the fountain in his garden. Thus Allah gave him abundant fortune and brought the dream's prediction to fulfillment.

The Pedlar of Swaffham


Constant tradition says that there lived in former times in Soffham (Swaffham), alias Sopham, in Norfolk, a certain pedlar, who dreamed that if he went to London Bridge, and stood there, he should hear very joyful news, which he at first slighted, but afterwards, his dream being doubled and trebled upon him, he resolved to try the issue of it, and accordingly went to London, and stood on the bridge there two or three days, looking about him, but heard nothing that might yield him any comfort.

At last it happened that a shopkeeper there, hard by, having noted his fruitless standing, seeing that he neither sold any wares nor asked any alms, went to him and most earnestly begged to know what he wanted there, or what his business was; to which the pedlar honestly answered that he had dreamed that if he came to London and stood there upon the bridge he should hear good news; at which the shopkeeper laughed heartily, asking him if he was such a fool as to take a journey on such a silly errand, adding, "I'll tell you, country fellow, last night I dreamed that I was at Sopham, in Norfolk, a place utterly unknown to me where I thought that behind a pedlar's house in a certain orchard, and under a great oak tree, if I dug I should find a vast treasure! Now think you," says he, "that I am such a fool to take such a long journey upon me upon the instigation of a silly dream? No, no. I'm wiser. Therefore, good fellow, learn wit from me, and get you home, and mind your business."

The pedlar observing his words, what he had said he dreamed, and knowing they concerned him, glad of such joyful news, went speedily home, and dug and found a prodigious great treasure, with which he grew exceeding rich; and Soffham (Church) being for the most part fallen down, he set on workmen and rectified it most sumptuously, at his own charges; and to this day there is his statue therein, but in stone, with his pack at his back and his dog at his heels; and his memory is also preserved by the same form or picture in most of the old glass windows, taverns, and alehouses of that town unto this day.

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse


Now you must know that a town mouse once upon a time went on a visit to his cousin in the country. He was rough and ready, this cousin, but he loved his town friend and made him heartily welcome. Beans and bacon, cheese and bread, were all he had to offer, but he offered them freely.

The town mouse rather turned up his long nose at this country fare, and said, "I cannot understand, cousin, how you can put up with such poor food as this, but of course you cannot expect anything better in the country; come you with me and I will show you how to live. When you have been in town a week you will wonder how you could ever have stood a country life." No sooner said than done: the two mice set off for the town and arrived at the town mouse's residence late at night.

"You will want some refreshment after our long journey," said the polite town mouse, and took his friend into the grand dining room. There they found the remains of a fine feast, and soon the two mice were eating up jellies and cakes and all that was nice. Suddenly they heard growling and barking.

"What is that?" said the country mouse.

"It is only the dogs of the house," answered the other.

"Only!" said the country mouse." I do not like that music at my dinner." Just at that moment the door flew open, in came two huge mastiffs, and the two mice had to scamper down and run off." Good-bye, cousin," said the country mouse.

"What! Going so soon?" said the other.

"Yes," he replied. "Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear."

The Town Mouse and the Field Mouse


A mouse living in the town one day met a mouse which lived in the field. "Where do you come from?" asked the latter when she saw the town mouse.

"I come from yonder town," replied the first mouse.

"How is life going there with you?"

"Very well, indeed. I am living in the lap of luxury. Whatever I want of sweets or any other good things is to be found in abundance in my master's house. But how are you living?"

"I have nothing to complain of. You just come and see my stores. I have grain and nuts, and all the fruits of the tree and field in my storehouse."

The town mouse did not quite believe the story of her new friend, and, driven by curiosity, went with her to the latter's house. How great was her surprise when she found that the field mouse had spoken the truth; her garner was full of nuts and grain and other stores, and her mouth watered when she saw all the riches which were stored up there.

Then she turned to the field mouse and said, "Oh, yes, you have here a nice snug place and something to live upon, but you should come to my house and see what I have there. Your stock is as nothing compared with the riches which are mine."

The field mouse, who was rather simple by nature and trusted her new friend, went with her into the town to see what better things the other could have. She had never been into the town and did not know what her friend could mean when she boasted of her greater riches. So they went together, and the town mouse took her friend to her master's house. He was a grocer, and there were boxes and sacks full of every good thing the heart of a mouse could desire. When she saw all these riches, the field mouse said she could never have believed it, had she not seen it with her own eyes.

While they were talking together, who should come in but the cat. As soon as the town mouse saw the cat, she slipped quietly behind a box and hid herself. Her friend, who had never yet seen a cat, turned to her and asked her who that gentleman was who had come in so quietly.

"Do you not know who he is? Why, he is our priest, and he has come to see me. You must go and pay your respects to him and kiss his hand. See what a beautiful glossy coat he has on, and how his eyes sparkle, and how demurely he keeps his hands in the sleeves of his coat."

Not suspecting anything, the field mouse did as she was told and went up to the cat. He gave her at once his blessing, and the mouse had no need of another after that. The cat gave her extreme unction there and then. That was just what the town mouse had intended. When she saw how well stored the home of the field mouse was, she made up her mind to trap her and to kill her, so that she might take possession of all that the field mouse had gathered up. She had learned the ways of the townspeople and had acted accordingly.

The Citizen of the World


The Holy One gathered the dust for the creation of the first man from the four corners of the earth, The Spirit of Life asked God why did He do this.

The Holy One replied, "If a man should chance to come from the East to the West, or from the West to the East or to any place on the face of the earth, and his time comes to depart from this world, then the dust of the earth which is in that place where he dies shall not say to him: 'The dust of thy body is not mine. Thou wast not born here in this land. Return to the place whence thy dust was gathered at thy birth.' It is for this reason that I have taken the dust to form man from the four corners of the earth. Every place on earth is man's home. Wheresoever he happens to be when he dies there is the resting-place for the dust of his body and there it returns to Mother-Earth."

The Spirit of Life praised the Lord whose mercies are over all His works.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

travelers have visited this site. Tabulation by WebCounter.

Revised April 15, 2013.