A Ukrainian Folktale Turned Modern Parable

The Ukrainian folktale of “The Crow and The Snake” is not one that’s well known in the West. Very little information exists about it in English, and I’ve had trouble discovering anything about its origins or publication history. But it has turned out to be a remarkably poignant story in light of the current war being waged by Russia against the nation and people of Ukraine.

Corvus cornix, the Hooded Crow, which is commonly seen in Ukraine. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Original file found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corvus_cornix_2019-08-02.jpg

“The Crow and the Snake” can be seen as a parable or allegory of the invasion and subsequent war, which makes it useful to parents and teachers who are at a loss for ways to explain what’s going on to their children.

You can hear the entire folktale here:

Activity: Should the Fox have helped more?

In “The Crow and The Snake” a Crow is attacked by her neighbor, a  Snake who eats up her children. The Crow never considers fleeing from her home, choosing instead to defend it. A passing Fox offers advice to the Crow, which ends up working, and the Snake is killed. The morality of the Fox’s actions are worth considering.

Have students engage with the following questions. This could be in a class discussion, in written essays, or in small group conferences.

    • Why do you think the Crow didn’t try to fight the Snake herself?
    • Why do you think the Fox gave advice to the Crow?
    • Can you think of any reasons the Fox should have offered direct help to the Crow?
    • Can you think of any reasons why the Fox would not have wanted to offer direct help to the Crow?
    • If you were the Crow, would you have abandoned your nest or stayed behind to fight for your home?

The Crow and The Snake: A Ukrainian Folktale

This audio version of “The Crow and The Snake” pairs with the episode “A Ukrainian Folktale Turned Modern Parable.” It can be freely used by parents, teachers, and other educators for non-profit purposes.

I don’t have a great degree of familiarity with the folklore of Eastern Europe, but recent events have led me to look for stories from Ukraine as a way to learn more about the culture of a nation that is fighting for its survival. Unfortunately I can find very little English-language scholarship on Ukrainian folklore. If any listeners have tips for me about reliable sources for research, please send a message to [email protected].

Ricky the Racer

“Ricky the Racer” is a tale that has been in TQ Townsend’s family for four generations. It was written by her grandfather, E. Harlow Mortensen, and originally had the title “Dick and the Racetrack.” It’s been modified and added to over the years, so what is presented here is an expanded retelling. A few details have been changed from the original, but it’s mainly the same story that was first told almost 70 years ago.

The folk history of this tale:

This story was first made up in the mid-1950’s. The cars in the original version of the story were Volkswagen Bugs. Dick was the driver of a blue bug, and to the best of my memory the other bugs were green, red, and white. I believe the sounds the cars made were “ZEEEEEEE,” “BWAAAAAA,” and “BUH-BUH-BUH-BUH.” But it’s hard to remember exactly because it’s been so long.

I have changed the name of the main character from Dick to Ricky because, in the years after this story was first written, this nickname has acquired a vulgar connotation and I don’t want my kids to accidentally get in trouble for innocently saying a word that will get them in trouble at school. Also, when my oldest daughter heard this story she wanted to hear about a female protagonist, so when I tell it to her, Ricky becomes Ricki and she saves Lucky the Puppy.