The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship


Written by Arthur Ransome, Illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968

Awards: Caldecott Medal

There were once upon a time an old peasant and his wife, and they had three sons. Two of them were clever young men who could borrow money without being cheated, but the third was the Fool of the World. He was as simple as a child, simpler than some children, and he never did anyone a harm in his life.

The plot in a nutshell:  A simple man seeks a fortune and a princess, with the help of some friends

When the Czar announces that he will wed his daughter to anyone who can bring him a flying ship, the two older brothers leave together to seek for one. Their parents give them fine clothes, good food and corn brandy. The youngest decides to try as well, but his parents, thinking him to be wasting his time, gives him only dry bread and water. He meets an old man and offers to share his food with him, but when he opens his bag, he discovers fine food and brandy. The old man helps the Fool create a flying ship and the Fool sets out in it. Along the way, he meets several men, each with a special talent. He invites each one into the ship with him. The Czar does not want to marry his daughter to a peasant, so he devises impossible tasks for the Fool to complete and the Fool uses the special talents of his new friends to pass every test. In the end, the Czar fulfills his promise and all ends happily for all of them.

This story is a Russian folk tale that was first published in Andrew Lang’s The Yellow Fairy Book in 1894. Author Arthur Ransome originally included it in a compilation of Russian tales from 1916 and this version, illustrated by artist Uri Shulevitz came out in 1968, winning the Caldecott Medal for that year. The artwork keeps the feeling of old European folklore, in color, style, setting and character design.

Old school carpooling.

This is how they carpooled in fairy tales.

You’ll want to read this one when you have plenty of time, though, as Mr. Ransome takes his time to tell the story. It’s definitely not a quick read. I enjoyed the story, but I felt that it dragged a bit, with overlong descriptions of each new person and then having them complete all the tasks. If you read and enjoy this, you can bop over to YouTube and watch the stop-motion animated version that came out in 1990. I haven’t seen the whole thing, but it seems pretty faithful to the story.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that, with the right support network, you don’t need the finest resources to accomplish your goals.


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