Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories | Annotated Tale

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Why does the wren hide himself?

The Story of the Wren, the Eagle, and the Owl.

THE wren is called by the Rumanians the little king. The reason for it is that the birds once came together to elect a ruler. They were all there, big and small, and after much wrangling and discussion they agreed that he who flew highest of all should be king. It was the eagle who suggested it, for he knew that no bird could fly so high as he could, and he told them that the highest place they could reach would be the region of the wild winds. They arranged that he who would reach so high, should give them a sign and then they should descend. They all started for the race. There was much fluttering of wings and shrieking and boasting, for every bird believed that he would be the winner. But they had not measured their strength, for after a while the weakest stopped in their flight and began to descend slowly. The stronger ones flew a little higher but they too got tired and came down to the ground, until at last almost every bird that had entered the race had given it up. Only one bird was continuing the flight. It was the eagle, who was soaring higher and higher. At a certain moment, the eagle signalled to them that he had reached the wild wind, that is the wind which blows very high up in the sky and is bitterly cold, much colder than ice and frost. But the eagle was not to win the race. The little wren, a midget among the birds, had crept stealthily under one of the outer feathers of his wings; the eagle did not feel it, and so it was borne aloft to the very high heavens. Now when the eagle stopped in his flight, and began to descend, the little bird, not at all tired, came out from under the wing, and he, flying higher, far above the eagle, shouted:

               "He! he! you thought you would be the king, that no one could fly as high as you do! You see I have flown much higher, no one can deny it, you can all see me, and though I am very small and light, I am your king." The birds, hearing the little wren and seeing that it had been flying far above the eagle, wondered greatly, but they could not help themselves, they had to stand by their agreement, and so the wren was proclaimed king.

               But the birds soon learnt the trick by which the wren had outwitted them, and furious at the way in which they had been played, they wanted to tear him to pieces. The little wren, knowing what was in store for him from the enraged birds, ran away quickly, and hid himself inside the hollow of a tree, slipping in by so narrow an opening that no other bird could follow him. When the birds found out the hiding-place of the wren, and that they could not get at it, they decided to starve him out, and put some to watch over the opening to prevent the wren escaping. The wren thought it better to starve than to come out and be torn in pieces. "I will wait my chance," he said to himself, and the chance came when they appointed the owl to watch over the tree. The owl is a lazy bird, and sitting down quietly soon fell asleep. That was just what the wren was waiting for, and before the owl could have turned round, it was out and away in the bushes and under the roots of the trees. When the owl awoke it found that the prisoner had gone: catch him if you can! The birds, full of wrath, turned on the owl for letting the wren escape and the owl had to run for its life. It is for that reason that the owl never shows itself in day-time. It is frightened of the birds, for they bear it a grudge for not keeping careful watch over the wren, and as the wren knows what the birds have in store for him, he hides himself under the bushes and trees and has become a very furtive bird.


Cf. Grimm, No. 171.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why does the wren hide himself?
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: ATU 221: The Election of King of Birds

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