Saturday, February 29, 2020

StorySpotting: A house full of noise (Hunters)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Hunters as a show is, to say the least controversial. Reviews range from "it's awful and exploitative" to "great fun to watch". I'm not going to take sides, however, I spotted a traditional story (actually told in the show) I would love to talk about.

Where was the story spotted?

Hunters, season 1, episode 5 (At night, all birds are black)

What happens?

Two characters from the show's clandestine Nazi-hunting team, the married couple Mindy and Murray, are visited by a rabbi who wants to talk Murray into attending the synagogue again. Murray is a Holocaust survivor and his faith is shaken by the terrible things he'd seen and experienced. In order to show that God might test people of faith, the rabbi tells him a story.
In the story, a man wishes for God's blessing and a better life, and goes to a rabbi for advice. The rabbi tells him to take all his animals inside his home. Soon the man returns at the end of his wits: the house is crowded, noisy, and the animals are wreaking all kinds of havoc. He doesn't feel blessed. The rabbi tells him to take the animals out again. The next day the man returns with a radiant smile: his house feels blessedly peaceful and quiet. 

What's the story?

This is a classic (and very popular) Yiddish folktale known by various titles such as "The Noisy House" or "It could always be worse." It is an entertaining story which many contemporary storytellers love to tell, because it works great both with children and with adults, and allows a lot of space for humor.

Details of the story vary, but the gist is the same. The man usually keeps returning for advice to the rabbi (or wise woman) multiple times, bringing more and more animals inside the house. In some versions it's the family that's too big for the small house, and they invite the relatives to visit as well. The animals brought into the house usually include chickens, goats, and a cow, creating an increasingly uncomfortable environment.

Many people have retold this story over the years. It has several picture book editions, such as The Big Quiet House by storyteller Heather Forest, Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern, Terrible! Terrible! by Robin Bernstein, It could always be worse by Margot Zemach, It couldn't be worse by Vlasta Kampen, The cow in the house by Harriet Ziefert, and Could anything be worse? by Marilyn Hirsh.

You can find a long list of sources in The Jewish Story Finder.


This short tale holds a lot of messages, and says different things to different people. It can be about contentment, perseverance, happiness, simplicity, as well as various other things. Whether the TV show applied it well or not is up to anyone's interpretation.

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