Jack and the Shitting Donkey

How Jack managed to trick his landlord out of the rent – and to do it three years running

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A trickster tale

As a storyteller, can I get away with the hero doing terrible things? Well, as my good Storytell friend, Richard Marsh, wrote in his recent book A World of Tricksters,

a swindle is the opposite of a trick, although the two seem superficially similar. A swindle enables a person in a superior position to criminally deprive an innocent person of valuables to make the criminal wealthier. A trick enables a person in an inferior position — due to poverty, class or physical weakness — to survive physically or overcome bullying and prejudice. Kings and other figures in a powerful position are the deserved victims of the trickster, who represents most of us, while the swindler or defrauder victimises the vulnerable and innocent, like most of us.

Richard also has variants of the donkey/gold motif in his book.

I was given the tale many years ago by Allan Davies, then a member of Storytell. and had not told it for a long time. But last year I heard Luxembourg storyteller Betsy Dentzer telling her version based on Italo Calvino’s story, “The Story of Campriano” (Italian Folktales, p. 298). And I knew I had to revisit the tale. Calvino’s notes attest to its popularity throughout Italy.

Jack’s final trick is the macabre motif used in The Flute which Raised the Dead, a tale which can be traced back to an 11th century Latin poem “Unibos”. In the UK the tale was made popular by, amongst others, Scottish traveller storyteller Duncan Williamson.


The video clips here are all amateur quality, shot in various theatres or, as here, in my home studio.

Their intention is just to show the range of my storytelling and give a flavour of a live performance.

Permission is granted for use in non-commercial educational contexts.

The videos are © Richard Martin.

Professionally recorded CDs and DVDs are available here.

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For those who are teachers: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling