The Grateful Dead

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 505
edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2008


  1. Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock (Russia).

  2. The Three Pennies (Denmark).

  3. Links to additional stories.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock


There was once a tsar, named Chotei, who had three sons -- the first, Aspar Tsarevich; the second, Adam Tsarevich; and the third and youngest son, Sila Tsarevich. The two eldest brothers entreated their father's permission to travel in foreign countries and see the world. Then the youngest brother, Sila Tsarevich, also begged the tsar's permission to travel with his brothers.

But Chotei said, "My dear son, you are still young, and not used to the difficulties of traveling; remain at home, and think no more of this fancy you have taken."

But Sila Tsarevich had a great longing to see foreign lands, and entreated his father so much that at length the tsar consented, and gave him a ship likewise. As soon as the three brothers embarked, each on board his ship, they all gave orders to set sail. And when they were out on the open sea, the eldest brother's ship sailed first, the second brother's next, and Sila Tsarevich sailed last.

On the third day of the voyage they saw a coffin with iron bands floating on the waves. The two eldest brothers sailed past without heeding it, but as soon as Sila Tsarevich saw the coffin, he ordered the sailors to pick it up, lay it on board his ship, and carry it to land.

The next day a violent storm arose, by which Sila's ship was driven out of its course, and cast upon a steep shore in an unknown country. Then Sila ordered his sailors to take the coffin and to carry it on shore, whither he himself followed, and buried it in the earth.

Thereupon Sila Tsarevich ordered the captain to remain upon the spot where the ship was stranded, and await his return for three years; but adding that, should he not come back in that time, he should be free to set sail and return home. So saying, Sila took leave of his captain and his crew, and went forthwith, journeying on and on.

He wandered about for a long while, without seeing anyone; at length he heard a man running after him, dressed all in white. Then Sila Tsarevich turned round and saw the man following him; whereupon he instantly drew his sword to be upon his guard. But no sooner did the man come up to him than he fell on his knees and thanked Sila for having saved him. And Sila asked the man what he had done to deserve his thanks.

Then the stranger stood up and answered, "Ah, Sila Tsarevich, how can I thank you enough? There I lay in the coffin, which you picked up at sea and buried; and had it not been for you I might have remained floating about for a hundred years."

"But how did you get into the coffin?" asked Sila.

"Listen, and I will tell you the whole story," replied Ivashka. "I was a great magician; my mother was told that I did great mischief to mankind by my arts, and therefore ordered me to be put into the coffin and set adrift on the open sea. For more than a hundred years I have been floating about, and no one has ever picked me up; but to you I owe my rescue, and I will therefore serve you, and render you all the help in my power. Let me ask you whether you have not a wish to marry. I know the beautiful Queen Truda, who is worthy of being your wife."

Sila replied that if this queen were indeed beautiful, he was willing to marry her; and Ivashka told him she was the most beautiful woman in the world. When Sila heard this, he begged Ivashka to accompany him to her kingdom. So they set out and traveled on and on till they reached that country.

Now, Queen Truda's kingdom was surrounded by a palisade; and upon every stake was stuck a man's head, except one, which had no head. When Sila saw this, he was terrified, and asked Ivashka what it meant; and Ivashka told him that these were the heads of heroes who had been suitors to Queen Truda. Sila shuddered on hearing this, and wished to return home without showing himself to the father of Truda. But Ivashka told him to fear nothing and go with him boldly, so Sila went on.

When they entered the kingdom, Ivashka said, "Hearken Sila Tsarevich, I will be your servant, and when you enter the royal halls, salute King Salom humbly. Then he will ask you whence you came, and whose son you are, what is your name and business. Tell him everything and conceal nothing; but say that you are come to sue for his daughter's hand. He will give her to you with great joy."

So Sila Tsarevich went into the palace, and, as soon as Prince Salom saw him, he went himself to meet him, took him by his white hands, led him into the marble halls, and asked him, "Fair youth, from what country do you come, whose son are you, what is your name, and what is your business?"

"I am from the kingdom of my father the Tsar Chotei," replied Sila. "My name is Sila Tsarevich, and I am come to sue for your daughter, the beautiful Queen Truda."

King Salom was overjoyed that the son of such a renowned tsar should be his son-in-law, and immediately ordered his daughter to prepare for the wedding. And when the day for the marriage came, the king commanded all his princes and boyars to assemble in the palace; and they all went in procession to the church, and Sila Tsarevich was married to the fair Queen Truda. Then they returned to the palace, seated themselves at table, and feasted and made merry.

When the time came to retire to rest, Ivashka took Sila aside and whispered to him, "Hark, ye, Sila Tsarevich, when you go to rest, beware lest you speak a word to your bride or you will not remain alive, and your head will be stuck on the last stake. She will in every way try to make you embrace her, but attend to what I say."

Then Sila Tsarevich enquired why he warned him thus, and Ivashka replied, "She is in league with an evil spirit, who comes to her every night in the shape of a man, but flies through the air in the shape of a six-headed dragon. Now, if she lays her hand upon your breast and presses it, jump up and beat her with a stick until all her strength is gone. I will meanwhile remain on watch at the door of your apartment."

When Sila Tsarevich heard this, he went with his wife to rest, and Queen Truda tried in every way to get him to kiss her, but Sila lay quite still and spoke not a word. Then Truda laid her hand upon his breast and pressed him so hard that he could scarcely breathe. But up jumped Sila Tsarevich and seized the stick which Ivashka had laid there ready for him, and fell to beating her as hard as he could.

On a sudden there arose a storm, and a six-headed dragon came flying into the room and was going to devour Sila Tsarevich, but Ivashka seized a sharp sword and attacked the dragon, and they fought three hours, and Ivashka struck off two of the dragon's heads, whereupon the monster flew away. Then Ivashka desired Sila Tsarevich to go to sleep and fear nothing. Sila obeyed him, laid himself down, and fell asleep.

Early in the morning King Salom went to be informed whether his dear son still lived, and when he heard that Sila was alive and well, the king rejoiced, since he was the first who had been saved from his daughter; and he instantly ordered Sila to be called, and the whole day was spent in merrymaking.

The following night Ivashka gave Sila Tsarevich the same caution as before, not to speak a word to his wife, and he placed himself on watch at the door. Then it fell out as before, and when Sila Tsarevich began to beat the queen, on a sudden the dragon came flying in, and was going to devour Sila Tsarevich. But Ivashka rushed from behind the door, sword in hand, and fought with the dragon and struck off two more of his heads. Then the dragon flew away, and Sila Tsarevich lay down to sleep. Early in the morning the king commanded Sila to be invited, and they spent this day in the same pleasures as before.

The third night the same happened again, and Ivashka cut off the last two heads of the dragon, and he burnt all the heads and strewed the ashes in the fields.

Thus time passed on, and Sila Tsarevich lived with his father-in-law a whole year, without speaking to his wife or gaining her love. Then Ivashka told him one day to go to King Salom and ask permission to return to his native country. So Sila went to the king, who dismissed him, and gave him two squadrons of his army to accompany him as an escort. Then Sila took leave of his father-in-law, and set out with his wife on their journey to his own country.

When they had gone half way, Ivashka told Sila Tsarevich to halt and pitch his tent. So Sila obeyed and ordered the tent to be put up. The next day Ivashka laid pieces of wood in front of Sila's tent and set fire to them. Then he led Queen Truda out of the tent, unsheathed his sword, and cut her in twain.

Sila Tsarevich shuddered with terror and began to weep; but Ivashka said, "Weep not, she will come to life again."

And presently all sorts of evil things came forth from the body, and Ivashka threw them all into the fire. Then he said to Sila Tsarevich, "See you not the evil spirits which troubled your wife? She is now relieved from them."

And, so saying, he laid the parts of Truda's body together, sprinkled them with the water of life, and the queen was instantly sound and whole as before.

Then said Ivashka, "Now, farewell, Sila Tsarevich, you will find that your wife loves you truly, but you will never see me more." And so saying he vanished.

Sila Tsarevich ordered the tent to be struck, and journeyed on to his native country. And when he came to the place where his ship was waiting for him, he went onboard with the fair Queen Truda, dismissed the escort which accompanied him, and set sail. And on arriving at his own kingdom, he was welcomed with salvos of cannon, and Tsar Chotei came out of his palace and took him and the beautiful Queen Truda by their lily-white hands, led them into the marble halls, placed them at table, and they feasted and made merry.

Sila Tsarevich lived with his father two years. Then he returned to the kingdom of King Salom, received from him the crown, and ruled over the country with his Queen Truda in great love and happiness.

The Three Pennies


Many years ago an old soldier was discharged from the army. He received in consideration of his excellent and faithful service a small loaf of rye bread and three pennies, whereupon he was at liberty to go whither he pleased. As he was walking along the highroad, he met three men. The one carried shovel, the second a pickaxe, and the third a spade.

The soldier stopped, looked at them, and said, "Where are you going?"

"I will tell you," answered one of them. "Today there was buried a man who owed each of us one penny, and now we will dig him up, since we are determined upon getting our dues."

"What an idea!" returned the soldier. "You had better leave the dead man alone. At any rate, he is at present unable to pay you even one penny, so don't disturb his peace!"

"It is all very fine for you to talk," answered the man. "But we must have the money, and up he must come."

When the soldier felt that his fair words could not settle the matter, he said, "Here, I have two pennies. Will you take them and promise to leave the dead man undisturbed?"

"Two pennies are not to be refused," said the man again, "but they will pay only two of us. What can you give the third one, since he is bent upon having his share?"

As the soldier saw that there was no dealing with these three wretches, he resumed, "Since you are so desperately determined, here is my third and last penny. Take it, and be content."

Now all three were well satisfied, so they pursued their way with the three pennies in their pockets.

When the soldier had advanced a distance, a stranger came walking along. He looked rather pale, but saluted the soldier in a very civil manner, and followed him along the road without uttering a single sound.

At last they reached a church, and here the stranger turned to his companion, saying, "Let us walk in!"

The soldier looked wistfully at him, and answered, "That would not do. What business have we in the church at midnight?"

"I tell you," replied the stranger, "we must walk in!"

Upon this they entered the church and walked straight up to the altar. There was an old woman sitting with a burning light in her hand.

"Take a hair from her head, and smell at it!" commanded the stranger.

The soldier complied, but nothing remarkable happened. The stranger asked him to repeat the action, which he did; but there was no effect. The third time, however, when he tore a whole tuft of hair from the woman's head, she became so furious that she darted off, out above the church, carrying the whole leaden vault with her.

The two men went out of the church and down to the beach, where they found the whole leaden vault. Turning to the soldier, the stranger said, "Sit up. We will put to sea!"

"Is that so?" remarked the soldier, who understood nothing of all this. "I see no ship, however."

"Let me manage it all," says the stranger. "Just seat yourself by me on the vault! Beyond the sea there is a princess of whom it was predicted that she would be married only to a man who should come across the sea in a leaden ship. Here you will be able to make your fortune."

The leaden vault now floated out upon the open sea, and landed them safely on the other side. Great was the joy and happiness throughout the country, and the marriage between the soldier and the princess was celebrated with such pomp and splendor as was never seen, before or after.

When the ceremony had been performed, and the carriage was standing in front of the church door, bride and groom entered, with the stranger who had followed the soldier all along. The coachman asked to what place he might drive them.

"Drive away, as fast as you can, towards the side where the sun will rise," said the stranger, and in a little while they were carried along at a furious rate.

Somewhere they saw a large herd of cattle. They stopped, and the soldier called the herdsman to the carriage door, asking who he was. "I am the Count of Ravensburg," answered the shepherd, "and yonder is my castle."

The stranger again bid the coachman drive as fast as possible. In a little while they rushed up to Ravensburg Castle. As they were ready to alight from the carriage, there was someone who knocked hard at the gate. It was the herdsman, who was anxious to come in. The stranger walked to the gate, inquiring what, he could do for him. He wished to come into the castle, he said, for it belonged to him, and he had a right to demand admittance. The stranger meditated a little, whereupon he told the herdsman, who was a conjurer, that he might be allowed to come in, but first he must suffer the whole fate of the rye.

"The fate of the rye!" repeated the conjurer. "What do you mean by that?"

"I mean," answered the stranger, "that next fall you must be sown deep in the ground, and towards spring, when you come up, you must ripen in the sunshine and grow in the rain until you are ready for the harvest. Then you will be mowed and dried, and kept in the barn, until at length you will be threshed."

"How is that!" cried the conjurer. "Am I to be threshed?"

"Of course you are," replied the stranger. "First you will be threshed, and then taken to the mill and ground."

"Ground, too!" shouted the conjurer. "Will I be ground also?"

"Yes, both ground and sifted," answered the stranger.

But the conjurer, hearing this, became so furious that he burst all into flint-stones.

The stranger now bid good-bye to the princess and the soldier, shook hands with them, and said, "Now I have seen you married to the princess. The troll of Ravensburg is dead and gone, and his castle, with all its treasures, is yours. I was as good to you as you were to me when you gave away your three pennies for my sake!"

"What do you say?" exclaimed the soldier. "I never thought of those three pennies again!"

"I know that," answered the stranger, "and otherwise I would not have been able to help you. However, I bid farewell to you and your, wife, for I must return to the place where I belong."

Links to Additional Stories

Links open in new windows. Most links lead to volumes in the digital library

  1. Andersen, Hans Christian. Reisekammeraten (1835). This link leads to a Danish-language site sponsored by Det Kongelige Bibliotek.

  2. Andersen, Hans Christian. The Travelling Companion.

  3. Andersen, Hans Christian. The Travelling Companions [sic]. In Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen, pp. 361-78. London: J. M. Dent and Co., 1907.

  4. Asbjørnsen, Peter Christen. The Companion. In Tales from the Fjeld: A Second Series of Popular Tales, pp. 71-88. Translated by G. W. Dasent. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874.

  5. Campbell, J. F. The Barra Widow's Son. In Popular Tales of the West Highlands: Orally Collected, vol. 2, pp. 110-2.1 Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1860.

  6. Crane, Thomas Frederick. Fair Brow. In Italian Popular Tales, no. 35, pp. 131-36. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1885.

  7. Curtin, Jeremiah. Shaking Head. A Forgotten Books electronic publication. This story originally appeared in Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland, pp. 186-203. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1890.

  8. Gale, James S. The Grateful Ghost. In Korean Folk Tales Imps, Ghosts and Fairies Translated from the Korean of Im Bang and Yi Ryuk, no. 18, pp. 80-82. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1913.

  9. Gerould, Gordon Hall. The Grateful Dead: The History of a Folk Story. London: Published for the Folk-Lore Society by David Nutt, 1908.

  10. Groome, Francis Hindes. The Dead Man's Gratitude [Turkish-Gypsy]. In Gypsy Folk-Tales, pp. 1-4. London: Hurst and Blackett, Limited, 1899.

  11. Grundtvig, Svend. De tre Mark. In Gamle danske Minder i Folkemunde: Folkeæventyr, Folkeviser, Folkesagn og andre Rester af Fortidens Dictnung og Tro, pp. 105-108. Copenhagen: C. G. Iversens Forlag, 1855.

  12. Grundtvig, Svend. The Three Pennies. In J. Christian Bay, Danish Fairy and Folk Tales , translated by J. Christian Bay, pp. 23-27. New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1899.

  13. Kennedy, Patrick. Jack the Master and Jack the Servant. In Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, pp. 32-39. London: Macmillan and Co., 1866.

  14. Lorimer, D. L. R. and E. O. The Story of the Grateful Corpse. In Persian Tales, pp. 169-75. London: Macmillan and Co., 1919.

  15. MacManus, Seumas. The Snow, the Crow, and the Blood. In Donegal Fairy Stories, pp. 153-74. New York: McClure, Phillips, and Co., 1900.

  16. Spence, Lewis. The Man of Honour. In Legends and Romances of Brittany, pp. 147-55. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., [1917]

  17. Straparola, Giovanni Francesco (or Gianfrancesco). Night 11, Fable 2. In The Facetious Nights of Straparola, translated by W. G. Waters, vol. 4, pp. 19-39. London: Privately Printed for Members of the Society of Bibliophiles, 1901.

  18. Tobit. Article in Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia about The Book of Tobit, a scriptural account with parallels to the "grateful dead" folktales.

  19. Wolf, Johann Wilhelm. Des Todten Dank. In Deutsche Hausmärchen, pp. 243-50. Göttingen: Dieterich'sche Buchhandlung, 1851.

  20. Wratislaw, Albert Henry. The Spirit of a Buried Man. In Sixty Folk-Tales from Exclusively Slavonic Sources, pp. 121- 25. London: Elliot Stock, 1889.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised March 19, 2013.