The Quest of Cleverness – A Brazilian Folktale
Posted on: January 8, 2021.

This folktale entails the endeavors of a king to redeem his son from a bout of stupidity. No amount of schooling could make the boy learn anything and years just passed.

All his teachers who tried to teach him out of books eventually gave up. They felt it a waste of their valuable time as the lad was hopelessly helpless.

The foolish prince had to soon become king, and it needed him to be wise and clever. All the wisest men in the kingdom were summoned to discuss together with the king for an idea that would really work.

It was the unanimous decision of the wise men—after a year and a day had passed since they’d begun talking about the matter—that the lad be sent on a journey through many lands as he had to learn only on his own.

That was because, evidently, the young boy could never learn out of books. Mounted on the back of a splendid black horse with a great bag full of money, the prince was equipped to depart.

It was a bright morning, and his father, the king, and the wise men of the kingdom gave the lad their blessings, and he started forth.

Through many lands the prince journeyed, learning one thing in a country, and another thing from another. There was no country that did not have something to teach the prince, or a kingdom so small or poor.

Neither his father nor his teachers had understood how he learnt, which was why they had ended up frustrated. Only the wise men had known that the prince could only learn through travel.

Stored knowledge in poorly chosen books had made the prince appear insufferably stupid—an illusion that hid the young lad’s real worth. An auction was underway in the city that the prince had presently arrived at.

Being offered on sale was a singing bird. Asked the prince, “What is so special about this particular bird that I must bid for it?” He was told that anyone who listened to the bird sing will be put to sleep.

Deciding that the bird was worth purchasing, the prince bought it. Next, a beetle was being offered for sale. Asked the prince, “What is so special about this particular bird that I must bid for it?”

He was told that the beetle could gnaw its way through any wall in the world. The prince bought it. Next was a butterfly “strong enough to bear upon its wings any weight which is put upon them”. The prince bought it.

Before long, the prince realized that he’d gotten lost in a jungle, travelling forth with the songbird, beetle and butterfly. He climbed to the top of the tallest tree—so dense was the foliage—to see his way out.

The young lad spied in the distance, what looked like a mountain, from the summit of the tree. He set out for it only to realize that he’d approached the land of the giants.

The faraway “mountain” that he’d seen from the summit of the tree in the dense jungle was really the wall which surrounded it. The songbird put the guard to sleep and the beetle gnawed a way through the wall.

The beetle’s hole led directly to the giant land’s dungeon, through which the prince entered the land of the giants. A lovely captive princess was the very first person he saw.

When asked how she could be rescued, the princess replied that, at the door of the palace, was a giant on guard who never sleeps, and in rescuing her, the lad would thus never succeed.

And who should walk into the dungeon at that moment but the giant himself! The prince commanded the songbird to sing, and the giant, who had never taken a wink of sleep in all his life, instantly fell asleep.

The prince then informed the princess of the entrance that the beetle had gnawed through the great wall and the guard on top put the sleep by the songbird. They could now easily escape but had to hurry.

The princess then informed the prince that she’d even forgotten how to walk in the long, long years of her confinement in the dungeon. The prince reassured her that his butterfly will bear her upon his wings.

The giant on the wall—still good for another hour’s nap—yawned in his sleep. The prince and the lovely princess swiftly escaped from the land of the giants, borne safely upon the butterfly’s wings.

As soon as the prince could find his way back, he eventually returned to his father’s kingdom, accompanied by the lovely princess and his powerful, magical animals—the songbird, the beetle, and the butterfly.

It was with great joy that the king and the people of his kingdom received the prince. After hearing the prince’s account of his journey, and the adventures therein, the wisemen lauded his intelligence and wisdom.

The prince was praised as the cleverest youth in the land by virtue of the singing bird, gnawing beetle, and strong-winged butterfly, in his possession.



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