The Story Finder

Voices in Fairy Tales

by Michelle Tocher

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Merchant Father of Drunken Son

Themes: Regret | Rejection

My youngest son wanted to sail a ship to foreign lands but he was an idle boy who spent most of his time in alehouses and taverns. He kept begging me to go, insisting that he would earn his living by his wits.

“You’ll spend everything on drink and come home without your head!” I told him.

In the end, though, I let him go. I thought I was rid of him but now he’s returned — and he’s interrupting my eldest son’s wedding. To a princess, no less!

Why is the princess embracing him? Why is she weeping?

“He made a fortune trading in salt,” she tells me. “And his two older brothers threw him overboard. I thought he had drowned at sea!”

I can’t believe it. My drunken son, the darling of a princess? Things are not as they seem. She’s calling him the salt of the earth!

Merchant Father of Drunken Son in Salt, Russian Fairy Tales Collected by Aleksandr Afanase’ev. Image by Andrey Shishkin.

Merchant Father of Drunken Son

Who is the first person who comes to mind when you think of someone who is the “salt of the earth”? What are five adjectives that would describe that person? When you bring that person into your mind’s eye, what do you see them doing?