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Folktales 4U


Why the Bear is Stumpy-tailed

Once upon a time there was a bear. And in those days, the bear had a beautiful long tale, and he was very proud of it. And one day, the bear was out on the ice, and he met a fox. The fox had a string of fish, that he'd just stolen.

And the bear said, "Where'd you get them FISH?"

And the fox said, "I caught them. I been out ice fishin'."

And the bear said, "Gimme some of them FISH."

And the fox said, "I'll tell you what. I'll teach you how to catch your own fish. Then you can have fish anytime you want. Wouldn't you like that? Wouldn't that be cool?"

And the bear said. "OH, yeah! Fishin! I'm gonna learn how to FISH!"

So the fox said, "Here's what you got to do:

First you got to drill a hole in the ice. Then you stick your tail in. At first it'll be really really cold, but don't worry, you'll get used to it. Just hold still.

Next, you'll feel sharp little pins and needles. That means the fish are bitin'. Hold very still so you don't scare them away.

A little while later, you won't feel anything at all, but your tale will be really heavy. That means you got a full load.

Now, pull HARD, back, forth and sideways, and you'll have a big load of fish."

So the bear drilled a hole in the ice. He said, "OH boy, FISH."

He lowered his tail in the water. It was cold!

He held very still, and after awhile his tail started going to sleep, it felt like sharp little pins and needles.

"It's the fish," the bear said, "the fish are bitin. OH boy, gonna have FISH." He held very still.

After awhile, the ice closed up around his tail, and his tail got completely numb: he couldn't feel a thing. "I think I got a full load " said the bear. He tried to pull out, but his tail was frozen in the ice, he couldn't move it at all.

"Oh, it's really heavy" he said. "I got a full load, for sure! Now, what did the fox say I was supposed to do? Oh yeah, I'm supposed to pull HARD: back, forth, and sideways. Here goes--

Uh! Uh! UNH!"

---and he left his tail back in the ice.

And that's why the bear has got a stumpy tale.

about this story
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folktales 4U

about this story

The preceding was drawn from one of my favorite sources of folktale texts: the Norwegian material collected in the 1800s by Asbjornsen & Moe. [Joseph Bruchac gives an Iroquois version which seems substantially the same tale, elsewhere on the web. There was contact going way back-- who knows?] There are lots of editions out of this stuff, and lots more in used book stores Pantheon's Norwegian Fairy Tales and Dover's "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," are both great. (Dasent, the translator/editor, is listed as the author of the latter.)

notes for telling

This version is one of my teaching texts; I use it when a student says, "I can't find a story I want to tell." It's a great story to tell 2nd and 3d grades. And kids that age are very capable of telling it well themselves, with a little coaching.

The bear should be slow of speech and a little goofy; the fox is a con-man, of course. I make the bear a bit of a bully, so people don't mind so much about the trick the fox plays on him.

It's like Road Runner or Bugs Bunny. Milk the ending-- everybody knows what's going to happen, and wants it to happen, so slow it down and have fun with it.

Have the bear "sit down" (you don't need to get up and down-- just show it with your shoulders and butt) and kind of settle his tail into the hole. Have him get real excited when it all happens as just as the fox says it will. The grunts at the end should accompany a little simple -- I don't want to use the "M-word"-- ah-- physicalisation, or demonstration, of the bear pulling with his hind end.

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Jennings & Ponder: World Tales & Celtic Music
PO Box 522 Montpelier, VT 05601
802 223 9103
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