What a man should choose when offered a magic wish
What should a man choose when offered a magic wish? Gold to end his family’s poverty? The chance to give his wife what she has longed for? Or should he repay his mother’s love and care?
Variants of this folk tale are told in many different cultures. Of course, in the Grimms’ comic tale it all goes horribly wrong, involving a sausage (or worse) on someone’s nose.
In the summer I asked the Storytell listserv if anyone knew more about the tale’s provenance.
Listserv member Mary Hamilton wrote the following:
I heard it from Sarah McCoy, who heard it from Rick Carson. Rick heard Jenny Armstrong tell it as a tale about Jack and the Lord. Jenny heard Michael Parent tell it as a tale about Petit Jean (Little John) and the Lord. Years ago, when I called Michael, he told me he found it in an archival collection of tales from the French-African islands of Reunion and Mauritius.
So, that’s my chain of transmission. And I don’t remember anymore if I changed “the Lord” to wishgiver, or if Sarah told it to me with a wishgiver. I’ve heard Rick tell it, he made Jack delightfully lazy in his retelling, but I can’t recall if Rick told it with a wishgiver or with the Lord. So, I’m no longer sure when that switch happened in the chain to my retelling.
I have since heard Liz Weir tell it at a festival as an Irish tale about Jack and I can’t recall if she used “the Lord” or “wishgiver”.
I’ve also seen a Jewish version in print from storyteller Cheri Karo Schwartz – I forget the “Jack” character’s name in her version, but the wishgiver role is held by Elijah in her version.
This recording was made a couple of days ago at one of my favourite gigs, the annual performance for the Schiller-VHS in Bietigheim, Baden-Württemberg.
That was only the second time I’ve told the tale, and – as always – I am still in the process of “polishing” it. Listen at 34 seconds into the tale, and see if you agree with me that the Wishgiver should say one additional piece of information. In future tellings, I shall add a sentence. If you wish, you can send me a mail with what you would add.
(Even if you come up with the same addition as mine, I’m afraid that there is no magic reward.)
The video clips here are all amateur quality, shot in various theatres.
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.
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For those who are teachers: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling