The Intelligent Child

15/11/2019 15:08

This story is from the Treasury of Vietnamese Fairy Tales

Illustrations by Do Dinh Tan


Once upon a time, there was a king who wished to find talented men. The king's official traveled far and wide and challenged applicants with difficult riddles. Despite great efforts, no truly brilliant individuals were found. 

One day, the official was passing a field when he caught sight of a father and a son plowing with a buffalo. He stopped his horse and said: "Hey old man! How many lengths of the field can your buffalo plow each day?"

The father was stunned and unable to respond. But the son, who was only seven or eight, threw back a witty question:  "If you can tell me how many steps your horse can take in a day, I will tell you how many lengths of the field my father’s buffalo can plow in a day."

The official was taken aback. He assumed he had found a true talent. He asked for their address and hurried back to inform the king.

The king was pleased by this news. However, he wished to make certain. He granted the village three baskets of sticky rice and three male buffalos, then commanded the villagers to make the buffalos give birth to nine calves by next year, or face punishment.

The villagers were confused and worried sick. They felt cursed. Hearing this news, the son told his father: "What an opportunity! The king doesn’t always bestow such abundant gifts! Father, please tell our villagers to cook two buffaloes and some sticky rice for a feast. But remind them to leave one buffalo and one basket of sticky rice for us to prepare for the trip to the palace."

The father hastened to follow the boy's advice. The villagers were suspicious and made the father and son sign a document taking responsibility before they ate the buffaloes.

The two prepared to visit the king’s palace. When they got there, the son told the father to wait outside. He then went inside, crying loudly.

“Hey kid, why are you crying?” asked the king.

“My king, my mother died young but my father won't agree to give birth so I don’t have a younger sibling to play with. That’s why I’m crying. My king, please persuade my father,” said the boy.

The king and his officials burst out laughing. “Find your dad a new wife if you want to have siblings. Your father is male. Males cannot give birth!” said the king.

The kid stopped crying: "So why does our village have to make three male buffalos give birth to nine calves as commanded? A male cannot give birth!"

The king smiled: "It was a test. Why didn’t your village just eat those buffalos?"

"My king," said the boy. "After receiving the buffalos and sticky rice, our village understood your good intentions, so we already had a great feast."

The king and his officials now realized this kid was very clever, but they didn’t give up. The next day, the king sent a sparrow to the boy's family and ordered them to make three tables of food from the one sparrow. The child asked his father to give him a needle then told the king’s ambassador: "Please bring this to the king and ask him to make me a knife to cut up the meat."

The king was now convinced.

A neighboring country wished to invade. To learn whether our country had any geniuses, their ambassadors brought a long, empty snail shell and asked: "How can we string a thread through the snail's guts?"

Upon hearing this riddle, the king and his officials exchanged questioning glances. Failing to solve the riddle would make them seem inferior. Therefore, all high officials racked their brains. Scholars and wise men were summoned but no one could find an answer. Eventually, the royal court decided to ask the smart boy.

After listening to the riddle, the child sang:

Ring a ding ding! Ring a ding ding!

Tie a thread around an ant

Cover one end of the shell with paper,

Put some grease on the other end. The ant happily will happily thread...

Ring a ding ding...

He said: “I don’t need to go to the palace. Just follow my words!

The official told the king. Everyone was relieved. As expected, the ant threaded through the snail shell as the ambassador of the neighboring country watched in admiration.

After that, the child earned the title of Best Doctoral Scholar from the king.

About the illustrator: Do Dinh Tan graduated from the University of Industrial Fine Arts, majoring in Graphic Design. He holds a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from the Vietnam University of Fine Arts. Tan works as a lecturer at the University of Architecture and is a member of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association. 

Tan uses various materials such as oil paints, acrylic, pastels, and watercolors. He is particularly fond of engraving, a traditional painting technique. His works tend to be simple, telling stories of people’s daily lives, or his vivid recollections. 



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