Friday, April 24, 2009

Stone Soup

You've heard the story of stone soup, right?

It's a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. The first time I heard it must have been twenty years ago and I found it fascinating, intriguing and very useful. I saw it as the story of someone who brings absolutely nothing to the table, and yet gets folks to give him a good meal. The perfect scam, the fruits of blarney, the easy life of a man with the gift of the gab.

Anyway, I heard it again the other day and this time realized the stone in the story represents cooperation. The villagers have enough to eat, but lacking cooperation they are unable to do so. A stranger supplies this missing (but inedible) ingredient, and everybody eats.

I wondered for a while if it were me that had changed – that's a big change for anybody to go through and I thought I'd gone a bit soft. So I looked it up on the web and there are countless variants, from selfish traveler to bringer of cooperation.

It's nice to know I haven't changed. It's just America, moving from Reagan's Eighties to today's so-close-to-the-right-part-of-the-center-it's-almost-socialism! Obamania.

Stone Soup, from extremelinux

Once upon a time, somewhere in post-war Eastern Europe, there was a great famine in which people jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbors. One day a wandering soldier came into a village and began asking questions as if he planned to stay for the night.
"There's not a bite to eat in the whole province," he was told.
"Better keep moving on."
"Oh, I have everything I need," he said. "In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you." He pulled an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire under it. Then, with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.
By now, hearing the rumor of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows. As the soldier sniffed the "broth" and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their skepticism.
"Ahh," the soldier said to himself rather loudly, "I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage -- that's hard to beat."
Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a cabbage he'd retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. "Capital!" cried the soldier. "You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king."
The village butcher managed to find some salt beef . . . and so it went, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for all. The villagers offered the soldier a great deal of money for the magic stone, but he refused to sell and traveled on the next day. The moral is that by working together, with everyone contributing what they can, a greater good is achieved


Extract of Stone soup, from a historical folklore site at
© 1998 by D. L. Ashliman.

A tramp knocked at the farmhouse door. "I can't let you in, for my husband is not at home," said the woman of the house. "And I haven't a thing to offer you," she added. Her voice showed unmasked scorn for the man she held to be a beggar.
"Then you could make use of my soup stone," he replied, pulling from his pocket what appeared to be an ordinary stone.
"Soup stone?" said she, suddenly showing interest in the tattered stranger.
"Oh yes," he said. "If I just had a potful of water and a fire, I'd show you how it works. This stone and boiling water make the best soup you've ever eaten. Your husband would thank you for the good supper, if you'd just let me in and put my stone to use over your fire." The woman's suspicions yielded to her desire for an easy meal, and she opened the door. A pot of water was soon brought to a boil. The tramp dropped in his stone, then tasted the watery gruel. "It needs salt, and a bit of barley," he said. "And some butter, too, if you can spare it." [snip]
"My thanks for the use of your pot and your fire," said the tramp as evening approached, and he sensed that the husband soon would be arriving home. He fished his stone from the bottom of the pot, licked it clean, and put it back into his pocket.
"Do come again," said the thankful woman.
"I will indeed," said the tramp, and disappeared into the woods.

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