Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: The Fox and the Horse
“A peasant had a faithful horse which had grown old and could do no more work, so his master would no longer give him anything to eat and said, ‘I can certainly make no more use of you, but still I mean well by you; if you prove yourself still strong enough to bring me a lion here, I will maintain you, but now take yourself away out of my stable,’ and with that he chased him into the open country.”
In this quick tale, the fox character once again exhibits cleverness and cunning, and while he uses both to save our horse protagonist, he does so at the demise of another animal.
After the peasant presents the horse with this ultimatum, the horse is believably sad, and winds up the forest where he finds the fox. The horse explains his situation to the fox, and the fox says he will help. He instructs the horse to lay down as if he were dead, and then the fox goes to the lion’s den and says:
“A dead horse is lying outside there, just come with me, you can have a rich meal.” The lion went with him, and when they were both standing by the horse the fox said, “After all it is not very comfortable for you here—I tell you what—I will fasten it to you by the tail, and then you can drag it into your cave, and devour it in peace.”
The lion falls for this little trap, and at once the fox ties the lion’s legs together with the horse’s tail, and commands the horse to “‘Pull, white horse, pull'” all the way back to the peasant who had cast him out.
When the master saw the lion, he was of a better mind, and said to the horse, “You shall stay with me and fare well,” and he gave him plenty to eat until he died.
I don’t know much about horses and their strength, and I don’t know the strength of this particular lion, but it seems wild that the horse was able to drag the lion back to his owner’s home. The conclusion also has me thinking about the horse’s desperation—was his living situation really so good (with a peasant who thought nothing of casting him out) that he would sacrifice another being in order to get it back? His devotion and effort as a work horse was not enough for the peasant to simply keep the horse into his old age; he required this one-time test to prove the horse’s worthiness instead. I pity the horse, feel the most sorry for the poor lion, and wonder what sort of tricks the fox will be up to next…
- Read and/or listen to The Fox and the Horse.
I suspect that we’re supposed to see the lion as a bad animal, who attacked the farmer’s livestock. That would make sense of the farmer’s desire for his death. I’m surprised the farmer didn’t just kill the horse and eat it, so perhaps his treatment of the horse isn’t as cruel as it appears at first.
Kelsey @ There's Something About KM
I am grateful for your perspective – particularly about the lion’s role as an off-page antagonist. And when animals are the main characters of a tale, I tend to see the humans in a general negative light from the get-go. It’s hard to shake that off. 😆