May 11, 2023

#08-309: Ivan the Fool

Left to right: Simeon, Ivan, and
Tarras "the fat" (Gutenberg)

Note: This moral tale, itself simple, teaches the virtues of simplicity. It's also fun to read!

Get Ready: If you could have one wish at this very moment, what would it be?

Count Leo Tolstoy's short story "Ivan the Fool" is an excellent moral tale.

A rich old peasant has three sons. Simeon, the oldest, is a military man; Tarras "the Fat" is a merchant; and Ivan, as the title says, is a fool, who stays home to work the farm and care for his elderly parents and his mute sister Martha.

For various reasons the two older brothers come and ask for their third of their father's estate. The old man says "no" but the kind-hearted fool says, "Why not?" and gives them what they ask for. They all prosper.

The Old Devil is unhappy with the brothers' success in their various fields, and the fact that they live in harmony, so he sends three little demons to disrupt them. The two demons assigned to Simeon and Tarras succeed, but the one assigned to Ivan can't seem to shake him. He continues to prosper because of simple kindness and hard work.

However, the little devil does succeed in making Ivan sick. When Ivan discovers him and is about to kill him, the demon offers him a wish. Simple Ivan, not thinking of grander goals, just wishes to feel better. The demon gives him a root to make an herbal tea and he sends the demon off, saying "You may go, and God bless you." At God's name, the little devil shoots into the earth leaving a slight hole.

Simeon's devil now attacks Ivan, with similar results. This one teaches Ivan to make soldiers from straw. The third is also caught and shows Ivan how to make gold coins. Like the first, they shoot into the ground at Ivan's blessing.

Simeon uses Ivan's straw soldiers to become a great military leader, and Tarras uses his gold coins to increase his business. But Ivan terminates his gifts to them when he realizes that Simeon's soldiers are killing people, and Tarras's business practices are hurting the peasantry.

In the end, Ivan uses his newfound medical skills to cure the Czar's daughter of a serious illness, and ends up as ruler of the kingdom.

His brothers, meanwhile, are ruined by the Old Devil, who cannot touch Ivan or his people as they are all simple, kind-hearted fools like he is, not tempted by power or greed. In the end the Old Devil, too, disappears into a hole in the ground.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. disrupt
  2. fool
  3. greed
  4. harmony
  5. mute
  6. peasantry
  7. prosper
  8. straw
  9. tempted
  10. terminates

  1. be successful; get rich
  2. a simple-minded person
  3. the poor people as a class
  4. upset; disturb
  5. a dried stalk or stem of hay
  6. the desire for wealth
  7. peaceful co-existence
  8. ends
  9. unable to speak
  10. attracted to do something wrong

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 11, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. b; 3. f; 4. g; 5. i; 6. c; 7. a; 8. e; 9. j; 10. h