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1001 Stories Collection

Riaba the Hen

1001 riabathehen stephenmierendorf
Added on 11th September 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from Russia

A curious folktale about a golden egg.

Story

Once there lived an old woman and an old man in a very small village, with their hen Riaba. One miraculous day, Riaba laid a golden egg. They both tried and failed to crack the golden egg. Then, a passing mouse broke the egg as it ran by. The couple despaired, longing for the return of the precious egg, but the hen spoke wisely, and told them she would lay another egg for them, but this time it would simply be a normal egg, not a golden one.

Why we chose it

A quirky and unusual story of a bird who lays golden eggs.

Where it came from

Riaba the Hen is a very popular traditional Russian folktale for young children, which also appears in Ukraine and Belarus. The name ‘riaba’ comes from the Russian word ‘ryabaya’ (‘рябая’) which means ‘spotty’ or ‘speckled.’ Although the first Russian folktales appeared in the 12th century, the version of Riaba the Hen as it is most often told today has its origins in the 19th century, when Konstantin Ushinsky cut the ending. In this version, the moral of the story is that one should prize the simple things in life, like having food to eat, over riches. There are many variants with much stranger endings, which were collected by Alexander Afanasyev in his Russian Fairy Tales, published between 1855 and 1863. In this version, the destruction of the egg escalates, as each character who learns of it breaking destroys something else, eventually culminating in the pope, who, passing by, demolishes some towers.

Where it went next

The tale has been adapted many times for books and film, particularly for young children, including an animated short in 2011. It has even been made into an interactive app for children, as a bilingual version of the tale with images and audio. It also influenced the 1994 film Ryaba, My Chicken, directed by Andrei Konchalovsky.

Associated stories

A similar idea can be found in The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, an Aesop’s fable in which a greedy couple discovers their goose lays golden eggs and kills the goose in order to get the eggs from inside it. When they open it, there are none, and the couple learn that immediate gratification is not always the way.

Added on 11th September 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from Russia