Tuesday, February 23, 2021

StorySpotting: Murder and garden works (As seen on the news)

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!

Unlike usually, this post is not about a folktale posted in a movie or TV show. Nope. This time, I spotted an actual folktale in the actual news! Or rather, someone taking a page out of a very old book...

Where was the story spotted? What happens?

According to a news source from Transcarpathia in the Ukraine, a man had enough of the authorities not sending any snow plows to his snowed-in town of Chernihiv. So he called the police and told them he had accidentally stabbed someone to death, and he was ready to give himself up. The police showed up with a snow plow to access the town, effectively clearing the way for everyone. The man was fined about $5 for the false confession. 
(Here is the news item in English)

What's the story?

This age-old trick in the book has already made the jump from folktales to urban legends (it even has a Snopes page!). It also proliferates on the Internet as a joke or funny anecdote. I have heard it from Irish storytellers, and even as a "true story" from my own grandfather's village. I am especially delighted by all this because it shows how well-done trickster stories can survive several centuries...

The tale type number is 910E (Find the treasure in our vineyard!)

The earliest known version of the story is from Aesop's fables. In The farmer and his sons, a dying man tells his children that he has hidden treasure in the vineyard. The three greedy sons dig all over the vineyard, and find no treasure - but they earn a great harvest. The story is supposed to illustrate the value of hard work. Almost the same story was also collected in India in the last century, and from the Italian-American community in the 1960s. It is included in protestant teaching narratives from Hungary from the 19th century, and it appears in several Jewish folktales. Margaret Read MacDonald lists a bunch of other parallels too.

The story has its own motif number: H588.7 - Father's counsel: Find buried treasure. 

I could not quite trace the moment when the teaching tale became a humorous trickster anecdote, but it suddenly starts popping up in all kinds of story collections


Side note: I can't even tell if this news item an urban legend, or someone taking genius advantage of an urban legend. Either way, folklore is alive and well!


  1. I love these story connections. Thanks for tracking the tale

  2. This just goes to show you can learn all kinds of things from a book or story. That's why parents have always told their children stories!

  3. I heard a fun modernized version of this, that's pretty similar to the news story:
    A father is sending his son a text, complaining about how hard it is to do all the work around the house alone, esp diggin uo the garden that the son has moved away and can't help him anymore.
    His son replies: OMG! Please do NOT dig in the garden! That's where I hid IT!
    The next day the police comes to house, searching the whole garden and digging around to look for "IT". Unsuccessfully...
    Few hours later the story is sll over the news.
    The next day the father gets a text from his son: "Sorry, I couldn't come over to help you, but I think my "friends" did a great job"