The Little Woodchopper and the Ogres


There was once a woodchopper who lived in the forest chopping wood and selling it, and his wife had died when she was young and had left him a son.  When the woodchopper got old and was nearing his end he asked his son to come close to him and said “Jewels and gold I don’t have.  Silver plate I don’t have.  Tin plate I don’t have.  But I will give you advice.  Don’t assume everyone you meet in the world is an idiot.”  And he died.  His son was a little man, and could hardly lift his father’s axe, so he knew he could not live by chopping wood so after he buried his father he set out on the road to seek his fortune.

After a few hours he came to a table with a bag on it full of coins.  He thought to himself “I would like that money.  But for sure whoever left it there would not have wanted it taken.  And I will not assume that the person who left it is an idiot, so they must have someone watching to make sure it’s not stolen.  So I will stay here and meet them and see what betides and what haps.”  And he sat by the table watching the money.

In a few hours two fighting men came down the road.  “What ho little woodchopper?  Are you here to steal our money.”  “No” said the little wood chopper.  “I knew you two are not idiots and have some way to keep your money safe and sound.  I have been waiting to see who you are and meet you and perhaps learn something from you.”

“Well then listen to a tale.” said one of the knights.  “The mayor here is troubled by a pair of ogres, as vicious and cruel as they are thirsty of blood, and as fond of sexual abuse and cannibalism as they are of necrophilia, murder, and swinishness.  Not one week ago the ogres captured the daughter of the Lord Mayor.  We were taken in a hurry to speak to him and that is why we left the coins on the table.  The fool was you because you could have taken it and made yourself a start in life.  Nevertheless you seem a pleasant enough fool and we will tell you what our plan is.”

The first knight said that he would strap a barrel around his body and thereby stand up to the blows of the ogre.  The second knight laughed and laughed.  “Such a barrel will make you so slow the ogre will be able to light a fire beneath your feet and cook you.  What a fool and braggart thou art.”

“Then what is your plan?” asked the second knight of the first.

“My plan is to strap wheels to my feet.  I will thereby be able to increase my speed so much I can fly into the camp of the ogre and dispatch him.”

“What a dolt thou art” said second knight to first knight.  “With wheels on thy feet thou will certainly slip and slide everywhere and be right sport for the ogre to break your neck and strip the meat from thy bones.”

The two knights agreed that each was an idiot.  “Truly the greatest idiot is the mayor for trusting us.” said the first knight.

“How so?” asked the little woodchopper?

“The fool mayor gave us each another bag of coins to begin our journey.  Since our plans are ill-wrought we will flee from here with his money and never have to fight the ogre.”

And the two knights galloped away but not before giving the little wood chopper a coin to keep their secret.  They were cowards and foolish but not cruel.

The Little Woodchopper thought about the two knights and about his dead father’s advice.  Perhaps the second was an idiot as the first knight said, perhaps the first was an idiot, as the second knight said, but he would believe that they were both wise men.  So he used the coin they gave him and used it to buy a barrel and wheels for his feet.  He wrapped his body in the barrel and strapped the wheels to his feet with leather straps and asked where the ogres lived.

“Down this trail and in the valley.” said the man who sold him the barrel and the wheels.  “But if you go seeking them you are as idiot as the day is long, and as big a fool as any.”  So holding his axe above his head he set rolling down the hill towards where the ogres lived.

As the ogres saw the little wood chopper coming down the hill they threw rocks off him which bounced off the wooden barrel.

They began to lumber away but the woodchopper easily caught them from the wheels on his feet.  They stared at him as he came sliding up to them axe over his head.

“What a strange sight” said one ogre to the other.

“Indeed.” said second ogre to the first.

“My goodness, these two are idiots!   Even my father, wise man that he was, wasn’t right about everybody” and he lopped their heads clean off with his ax as they stood gaping at him like moon calfs.  He returned to town and passed the gibbet where the two knights had been hanged for lying and cowardice and met the mayor.  The mayor of the town gave him his daughter to marry and they had a feast with roast swans, and a pig and all manner of cakes and the little woodchopper lived to be a kindly old man, and when the mayor died he became mayor himself.  And he was a good one.

Moral: Don’t assume everybody is an idiot.


10 thoughts on “The Little Woodchopper and the Ogres

  1. N.S. Palmer says:

    First, good story.

    Second, “idiot” is more a term of derogation than of description. We all have limitations and we’ve all done stupid things (at least I have), but to call someone an”idiot” expresses hostility. “Don’t assume everybody is an idiot” really means “Don’t treat everybody with hostility.” That applies even in heavy traffic, where it’s prudent to avoid hostile feelings even while assuming that every other driver on the road is technically an idiot. 🙂

    • I can treat people with hostility whom I think are intelligent, can’t I? The problem of the two knights was not that they treated each other with hostility — it was that they each thought the other one was an idiot.

  2. Mikey says:

    I think there’s a Native American way of starting stories, which goes: “I don’t know if it happened like this or not, but I know this is true:” Or something like that. I really like that as a start to a story, but I haven’t come across the “Listen.” solo paragraph before. I like that a lot too.

  3. “Listen” as the opening word of an opening sentence turns up surprisingly often (e.g., Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” McCammon’s Mister Slaughter, chapter 2 of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five), but I agree that it’s especially powerful when presented solo, as it is here. It also occurs standalone at the start of Beowulf (although that’s a topic of ongoing scholarly debate; e.g., if one may take a few liberties with Seamus Heaney’s observation, it might be rendered “So . . . ,” which is how most American English speakers seem to launch into a story anyway).

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