Wali Dâd the Simple-Hearted

A discussion on the Storytell listserv in 2012

My 2023 performance can be seen here.

A difficult tale to tell?
I find this an appealing story: Wali’s naive generosity setting such conseqences in train, yet it all ends happily. The story has been suggested by a number of tellers as a useful tale to tell at Christmas (avoiding the excessive sentimentality of many “Christmas” stories).
However, the main reason for including it on my website is because, although the hero is simple, his tale is not. Rather, it is one I initially found diffcult to tell, and not only due to the difficulty of keeping the development of the presents clear in my mind. I discovered from a 2012 discussion on the Storytell listserv that I am not alone in this.

Here is Andrew Lang’s version in The Brown Fairy Book (complete text).
Here is a sample text as written by Aaron Shepard. This rather different version (above all, note the ending) is in his The Gifts of Wali Dâd.

Teaching Notes
Educators may like this Houghton Mifflin Harcourt lesson guide.
(Personally, I do not find such a prescriptive and highly structured approach helpful, but perhaps that says more about my teaching than these materials.)

Comments posted in 2012 on the Storytell listserv

I wrote
I’ve only told it a couple of time, and those about two years ago. With all the to-ings and fro-ings in the plot, I found it hard to keep the telling “tight” enough to maintain the energy. Consequently I dropped it from my repertoire without ever feeling that I had mastered the tale.
I know quite a few on the list tell this. Have you found this a problem? (Perhaps it is just me.)
My tutor group in school has ordered a tale for our final school day, which is next Friday. I think I’ll give Wali Dad another outing.

Tim Sheppard replied:
I find the tale does go down well, but the pacing is a real challenge. The multiple back-and-forths go on for longer than the usual traditional tale, and each one has dialogue which is vital to the progression so they can’t really be squeezed easily into a diminishing/speeding-up formula. The dialogue is key – there’s a lot more than the average folktale and it can slow things right down, so it has to sparkle instead and be the vehicle for regulating the pace and infusing a growing tension and drama. I’ve certainly not mastered this in the tale, but it’s where an understanding of structure and arcs is essential.

My response
Yes, I had not clearly identified the predominance of dialogue, but I am sure you are right. I’ll give some thought to using that as a positive feature to bind the narrative together rather than allow its weight to pull it down.
Now I’m really looking forward to trying it out.

Gail Froyen wrote about telling the tale at a UNI Foundation President’s Club Holiday Brunch
I do not remember any difficulties I had telling the story but in re-reading the tale both from Aaron Shepherd and Lang’s Brown Fairy Tale, First I would find it necessary to describe the custom of giving a gift when one was received and the why of outdoing gift for gift. I think I would play up “The Grass Hut” and, exaggerating in voice and gesture, the difficulty of keeping the various gifts in such a place. Also the motive for the first gift to the princess i.e. “with the respectful compliments of one who admires virtue far more than he desires wealth.’
This is a story I love so the telling came from my heart. Perhaps that is why I had few difficulties. Also I was telling to adults, so could make assumptions about their understanding of terms and ideas that might need an explanation for children.

Papa Joe added
I must say Wali Dâd is one of my favorite tales to tell. But then, I’ve been a Grass Cutter. And I, like Wali Dad, love the peace and simplicity of that lifestyle. And like Wali Dâd, I have a Turkey Totem: Potlatch. Those extra coins just get in the way.
The story is about Wali Dâd loving his life and not wanting his society to change him. He loved being a Grass Cutter.
In telling the story, I feel the joy he has for what is his, as well as, his fear of losing it.  (Here is Papa Joe performing the story, beginning at 02:30).

Daire added
I wondered upon reading it if audience participation might help. If there was a gesture, exclamation, and/or rhyme that Wali Dâd (like your ‘grass will sell well’), the princess and the prince each said upon receiving/ sending the gifts, and the audience joined in, might that help keep the goings and comings straight (for both you and your listeners)? Just a thought!

If you have any comments to add, please mail them and I’ll include them here.


Below is the skeleton I made for my own use after reading Lang’s text. (It might help to read Lang first.)

Wali Dâd is a poor grass cutter who is quite content, but his wants so few he still saves money. After years, discovers he’s saved so much that on impulse buys a beautiful bracelet.

Merchant’s advice: Wali sends it to a beautiful and virtuous woman – Princess of Khaistan.

She responds by sending a gift of rich silks.

Asks merchant – sends silks to a good and noble man – Prince of Nekabad

Prince responds with 12 horses – Wali sees horses coming: “Grass will sell well”, hurries to cut!

“What, my horses?” – sends them to princess

Princess asks merchant about Wali – merchant vague: “a man who has heard of your beauty and goodness”

She confers with father – king determines to end this – “We’ll send a gift so magnificent he other cannot match: in place of each horse, 2 mules with silver”

Wali, can replay prince for his generosity – sends all to prince

Prince also determines to end by magnificent gift Wali cannot match:
20 horses, wonderful saddles, silver bridles, 20 racing camels, 20 elephants

Wali sees animals coming: “Grass will sell well”, hurries to cut!

His riches? “What should old man like me do with them?” – sends to princess

King of Khaistan sure Wali wishes to marry princess – perhaps good idea – “we shall visit him”

Vast caravan – merchant to guide them – he’s terrified of consequences

Day’s march away, merchant halts caravan, goes to prepare Wali

Wali overcome with despair – tries to jump from cliff – cannot – peris appear – transform him

Next morning merchant finds Wali in palace

Days of feasting – then King asks re. marriage – “No, too old, but will send for Prince of Nekabad”

A wedding, happiness – happiest of all is Wali Dad, at the wedding, she wore the simple gold bracelet he had given her.

Wali – generous to all, as he was when he was a simple cutter of grass.

Cheat list of presents

  • Wali sends to princess: brooch
  • Princess sends: silks
  • Prince sends: 12 horses
  • Princess sends: mules/silver
  • Prince sends: horses/camels/elephants
  • Princess visits Wali

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