Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stone Soup

I have to believe that you may be defined by the fairy tales that you have read, either to yourself or to your children. I always read "The Little Red Hen" to my kids. It's a story of Russian origin with strong entrepreneurial, even capitalist overtones. I'm not really the "Donald Trump" of mothers, but I did love the self sufficiency of the little red hen, who, as the story goes -

1. Planted some wheat seeds that she had found. Now, she did ask for help from the other occupants of the farm - a dog, a cat and a duck. However, they graciously declined the offer, and so the little red hen planted the wheat herself.

2. She also tended the wheat herself, weeding and watering it, as needed, while the cat, dog & duck, just watched, each having declined a second chance to help.

3. When the crop had ripened, the little red hen cut the wheat, took it to the miller, had it ground into flour and brought the heavy sack home - all by herself, while the others just watched!!

4. Finally, she asked for help to bake the bread - another rebuff.

5. However, when she asked for help to eat the bread, the others were all there at the table. In true capitalist style, she answered, that since she had done all the work, she was going to reap all the rewards and ate the entire loaf herself!!

I know that I should have done the very "moral" thing and said that maybe the little red hen should have shared her wealth; however, the message of the story was very clear - you work, you win!

Stone Soup

Now I also read another favourite, to my kids, the legend of stone soup. Ironically this is also a fairy tale of Russian origin, which begins with -

1. A group of soldiers find themselves, without food, in a small town. They ask the townspeople for food and are told that they are very poor people and have none.

2. The soldiers commiserate with them and say that they will make soup from stones to feed the entire town. They set a cauldron boiling in the main square and add some stones. The townspeople are fascinated and gather around. One soldier says that the soup will be good, but would taste better with carrots. I few people leave and get some carrots, which are added. Another soldier says that the soup would be greatly improved with onions. Another group leaves and brings the much needed onions. The suggestions continue until the soup has been augmented, with beets, potatoes etc and lastly the coveted meat!!

3. When the soup is done, everyone sits down to a wonderful meal.

Now I am torn. The story of the little red hen, is clearly a lesson in - you do the work; you get the benefits and those who are unwilling to work, do without. Stone soup may appear at first to be a socialist sharing of wealth, however, were the townspeople actually duped into sharing their wealth by some clever government officials - read, taxes.

The only story that I remember reading to the kids that perhaps had a true socialist theme was "The Enormous Turnip," which also may have been Russian in origin.  I can't ever remember reading Cinderella or The Golden Goose.

Their dad read them Harry Potter!! Clearly I'm a work-a-holic, with pedestrian tastes, who has issues with sharing!!

Have a fulfilling day!


  1. Never thought much about the social meanings behind these tales but very interesting to ponder. What about the girl who spun wheat (or was it straw?) into gold...

  2. I loved reading The Little Red Hen to my kids! I didn't think about it in a larger sense as you did, but more about everyone pitching in around the house, sharing work and chores, and reaping the benefits. I also remember Stone Soup as a classroom activity where all the kids had to bring in an ingredient and they made soup at school to share. Great books!

  3. Have to tell you that I have yet to come across a Russian folk/fairy tale that didn't have a social meaning! Love stone soup because actually, everyone benefits by the altruism..,

  4. I really enjoy the stories and the meanings they have for not just the children but for all of us. Thanks for allowing us to read the again.

  5. I love the stone soup story...Come to think of t, I love old tales.

  6. I was always uncomfortable with the Little Red Hen because I was taught to share even with those who didn't do the work.

    My mother-in-law read Stone Soup to my children, but I thought it involved a mouse.

    What I think of the story now is that we all think we are too poor to help each other; but if we all add a little of what we have, we can all enrich each other.

    Hum. Different ways of looking at the same thing. That's what makes life enjoyable. Thanks.